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After the Philippines’ “Coup”: Anger, Apathy and a Sense of Deja Vu

Last week there was an attempted coup in Manila, resulting in a declaration of emergency rule.

So what's new?

That was the reaction of some Filipino bloggers who wrote about last week's murky events. Leftists and groups opposed to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had planned protests between Feb. 22 and 24, days which happened to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the country's 1986 “People Power” revolution, a bloodless uprising that overthrew longtime dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Rebel elements of the military were to join the protest. Two senior officers in the military said as much to the armed forces chief of staff. So on the morning of Feb. 24, Arroyo issued a decree, Proclamation 1017, which placed the country under a state of national emergency.

In Manila, the city that cannot keep a secret, rumors of a coup had been circulating for days before the proclamation. On Feb. 24, caffeine sparks wrote: “When I woke up today, I knew something was up. I texted my friend Luisa “I've a feeling something's gonna happen today. There's electricity in the air.” She responded, “Is it good or bad?” I replied, “Good for some, bad for others, but exciting for all.””

Jessica Zafra only found out about it while talking on the phone with her sister in Minneapolis. She realizes she is out of groceries and decides that martial law or not, she won't go hungry. She pens a dispatch from the supermarket: “Everyone is brisk but quiet, except for the middle-aged white European in line at the checkout counter. He seems frazzled. That's what happens when you're accustomed to living in an orderly society: a little rebellion throws you into a tizzy.”

Marches and rallies did occur that day, which Torn and Frayed in Manila attended (the rallies were dispersed later that day). Manuel L. Quezon III was there, too. Professional journalist Jove Francisco, who covers the President, tells us what it was like in and around the presidential palace.

Reactions in the aftermath of Proclamation 1017 have been varied. Bangketa Republique is indignant and angry. The media worried about threats to civil liberties. Local law bloggers, such as San Juan Gossip Mills Outlet and Sassy Lawyer, discussed the legal implications of Proclamation 1017. Walk This Way declared his support for Arroyo: “Long live the midget.” Notes from the peanut gallery expressed exasperation: “Oh, please. Enough of this crap. I have better things to do. We do not understand democracy. We are political juveniles, mired forever in schoolyard agenda.”

Most of all, though, the events were eerily reminiscent of Marcos’ 1972 declaration of martial law, which cemented his rule and ended – 24 years later – in the very People Power revolution that last week's coup plotters were invoking. Writes Zafra:

The question is not “Why is this happening?” but “Why is this happening. . .again?” We are caught in a loop and forced to relive recent history at regular intervals. We are living proof of Nietzsche's theory of eternal recurrence—on speed. Or maybe we all have that neurological condition that prevents new memories from forming, and we're doomed to repeat the same day over and over and over again…

By the time Monday rolled around, caffeine sparks‘ initial excitement had been replaced by bemusement.

I can't make heads or tails of what just happened and what my own reactions are for the time being. I am neither indignant (as many middle class folks are) nor pessismistic (as many academics are). What I am is entertained…

…People power is the first in the long wave of democratization in the late 80s; appropriate time, ripe context. We showed the world how to overthrow a useless (and I say this because he failed to be developmental) authoritarian leader without a single drop of blood shed. Well and good! But let us leave it in the annals of history as a short and sweet moment of glory.

Today, EDSA People power is no longer “revolutionary.” It has become as predictable as Kris Aquino‘s lipo sessions. It has become good entertainment, excellent television.

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