Scenarios of doom if polls fail

Scenarios of doom if polls fail
By Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The country will celebrate the 24th anniversary of the Edsa People Power Revolution on Feb. 25 amid threats to the holding of the presidential election on May 10.

Ahead of the Edsa I anniversary, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile raised last week the specter of military intervention in the event of a power vacuum stemming from a failed election.

On Wednesday last week, National Grid Corp. of the Philippines placed Mindanao under red alert, warning that the region, home to about a fourth of the country’s 50 million voters, faced a critical power shortage that could disrupt the conduct of automated elections on the island.

The warning triggered a call from a member of the House of Representatives to grant President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo emergency powers to ward off an energy crisis on Election Day.

What’s curious about this move is that this crisis is claimed to be due to a dry spell.

It was quickly pointed out that if the problem was acute water shortage, how could emergency powers create rain to fill the dams. (Half of the power supply in Mindanao comes from hydroelectric plants whose turbines are run by water.)

The proposed solution could allow Ms Arroyo to cling to power if the May general elections failed to elect a new set of national leaders.

Fraught with more peril

What this illustrates is that there is no shortage of opportunities to create a political vacuum or of individuals or groups ready to take advantage of chaos arising from an election failure and to grab power.

The May elections are fraught with more peril to the orderly transfer of power than any election since Edsa I.

The populace is lukewarm to any boisterous celebration of this anniversary; the government is not encouraging any celebrating that would reawaken the spirit of the popular uprising.

Last year, Ms Arroyo hosed down the 23rd anniversary, saying, “The world embraced Edsa I in 1986. The world tolerated Edsa II in 2001. The world will not forgive an Edsa III, but will condemn the Philippines as a country whose political system is unstable.”

From that succession at Edsa II, the stability of the democratic political system has deteriorated and has been undermined by tampering with the system, such that the country now faces one of its most uncertain elections since Edsa I.

Of the four key players in Edsa I—along with opposition leader Cory Aquino, Jaime Cardinal Sin and Gen. Fidel Ramos—Enrile came out the loser in the power-sharing after Aquino was inducted President after Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown.

Edsa I for Enrile has been an event of painful memories—over his frustrations to seize power from Marcos against whom he plotted with seditious colonels in the coup attempt in 1986.

Celebration scorned

On Feb. 23, 2009, Enrile scorned the official celebration of the 23rd anniversary, saying, “… seemingly lost in the festivities and often glossed over in the yearly celebration, is the patriotism and sacrifices of our soldiers who were willing to lay not only their careers, but [also] their very own lives on the line to pave the way for such change to happen.

“For this reason, I have mostly foregone the opportunity to celebrate the Edsa Revolution publicly. I have long nursed a certain discomfiture at being paraded as an ‘Edsa hero’ while those who bravely dared to fight the hard battle with us seemed to have been forgotten, their idealism ignored, and even their heroic contribution belittled.”

Seizing power

Enrile added, “This chamber (the Senate) which I now head probably would not even be in existence now, if not for the bravery and commitment of the men behind the RAM (Reform the Armed Forces Movement), who gambled their lives to redeem the freedom of our countrymen.”

Let us not forget that the RAM’s coup plot was primarily aimed at seizing power from Marcos—not to restore democracy.

One of the many archival materials on the military revolt of Enrile and Ramos, in their breakaway from Marcos, narrates that “on Saturday, Feb. 22, 1986, Enrile, accompanied by the RAM colonels, flew by helicopter to the defense ministry compound inside Camp Aguinaldo, while Ramos was ensconced in Camp Crame … where he commanded the loyalty of constabulary forces.”

Ambivalent toward Corazon Aquino, Enrile’s aim was to head a National Reconciliation Council (euphemism for junta) which would rule in the transition until another election.”

Making a fresh pitch for the importance of military intervention in a political crisis, Enrile reechoed his dangerous ideas justifying military takeover in the event of a failure of democratic processes governing the transition to power.

Military to choose leader

Speaking in the crypto-fascist accent derived from his experience as martial law administrator of the Marcos dictatorship, Enrile was at home last week when he told ABS-CBN that in case of massive failure of election, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police could intervene and choose an acting head of government.

He invoked a provision of the 1987 Constitution, drawn after Edsa I, Article II, Section 3, which anoints the AFP as the “protector of the people and the State.”

This provision is an upshot of the key role played by the military rebellion in ousting Marcos. This provision seems out of character of the 1987 Constitution, which restored the pre-martial law democratic institutions, and sticks out like a sore thumb in a libertarian document.


The provision opens a way for the backdoor entry of the military into power, making a mockery of the central tenet of democratic constitutions, that of the supremacy of civilian authority over the military.

Built on the concept, dearly cherished by authoritarian regimes, that the military is the paramount institution for national salvation, the provision was used by the AFP chain of command to withdraw support from President Joseph Estrada, when his impeachment was aborted by Edsa II in 2001—in reality a bloodless extra-constitutional coup.

Enrile has provided a legal argument for the AFP to intervene in a crisis when, in their opinion, they had to intervene to break an impasse and restore public order and safety.

Should there be a failure of elections, there would be no civilian authority on June 30 when Ms Arroyo’s term ends because there would be no President, Vice President, Senate President and Speaker of the House, Enrile said.

Most organized

“The only authority that you have are those with guns except they are the most organized people in the bureaucracy,” he said. They are the “permanent institutions” and the only ones who could “control the country at that point.”

Enrile added that the AFP chief of staff and the PNP director general could pick a civilian authority “to administer the government in transition.”

He said the PNP was one of the state “institutions of legitimate violence” in the caretaker role.

“The Constitution is just a piece of document and if it is not enforced, nothing will happen,” Enrile said.

“Who will enforce the Constitution? It is the police and the military if there is no civilian authority that can enforce,” he added.