a blast! In Manila on a literary excursion last
week (15-20 Jan 2001), I witnessed ''People Power
2'' from the beginning to its startling conclusion.
evening we arrived, the Estrada impeachment had Manila glued
to the TV and radio.
in ''crisis'' remained a city of stark contrasts
proceedings were tied in technicalities over key bank documents.
dinner, our hosts were buzzed by frantic mobile-phone messages.
The Senate had voted 11-10 against admitting the evidence.
implied that any hope of a legal ousting of the President
would be thwarted by his allies in the Senate, who had now
shown their hand in moving towards an early acquittal.
night, the prosecution team resigned. While we slept, Manila
- summoned by cellphone SMS - was taking to the streets.
A carefully orchestrated movement was in the works.
next day, thousands had gathered at the historic Edsa shrine,
site of the 1986 ''People Power'' uprising that had ousted
were cancelled at most colleges to let students and staff
join in the rally. On campus, black ribbons and ''No class
before Erap resigns'' posters were everywhere.
a book launch held at Cardinal Sin's palace, guests-of-honour
Cory Aquino and the Cardinal were conspicuously absent.
They were speaking to the 300,000-strong rally crowd. The
conscious evocation of 1986's People Power was unmistakable.
in ''crisis'' remained a city of stark contrasts.
nights before the President fell, Miss Saigon played to
a full house of city elites. And while the rich live in
estates with armed guards, the streets spill over with slum
children and uncleared piles of rubbish.
Estrada himself embodies this juxtaposition.
into office on his mass appeal as a film actor playing underdog
roles, he was distrusted from the start by the business
elite and intelligentsia, who were among the known faces
in the rallying crowd.
of graft gave his opponents a perfect excuse to stage an
ousting. Yet ''Erap'' retained his popularity among the
poor despite the millions he is said to have absconded.
so-called ''popular'' uprising was more likely an affair
of Manila's urban population, rather than the provinces
Manila, top writers in the opposition camp control the media
and write speeches for politicans.
Friday, the ''Edsa 2001'' rally had become a massive street
party, hundreds of thousands strong and growing. To the
sound of rock music and chants of ''Erap resign'', the rally
teemed with clergy, political groups, families and young
people dancing. The atmosphere was festive, buoyant.
don't overthrow bad leaders, we party them out,'' said protestor
Alma Anonas, a journalist and veteran of the 1986 Edsa uprising.
despite the legendary bloodlessness of ''People Power'',
the possibility of violence was present.
region has not settled down to the hard work of
rebuilding confidence and economic stability
surrounded himself with his own demonstrators, some said
to have been paid 150 pesos each to rally on his behalf.
groups included street gangs who had thrown rocks and broken
windows in downtown Makati.
was fear that the two sides could meet and clash.
it was clear that the military's sudden defection on Friday
was the real clincher.
had been rendered toothless.
their own admission, the military chiefs had been plotting
a coup behind the scenes.
the anti-Erap rally gave them the public legitimacy of ''enforcing''
the people's will. But just outside Manila, attack helicopters
and tanks had quietly assembled.
the military's critical move, there was concern that Estrada
could hold out till the May elections and obtain political
reinforcements by poll-rigging, said our host Alfred Yuson,
a writer and journalist in Arroyo's camp.
supporters could still attempt a comeback later in the year,
pundits quote astrology when railing against Erap. ''The
Year of the Snake is lucky for Estrada,'' said one insider,
''so he must be out before the Lunar New Year or he could
the time we flew out of Manila, Gloria Arroyo had been installed
as the new President.
survive, she will have to marshall what support she enjoys
among the Manila elite.
she has earned a reputation in her camp for a quick temper.
still, is the extent of the challenges ahead - the income
divide, poor economic performance, an ascendant and politically
simmering racial tensions - resentment against a Chinese-dominated
business elite and Muslim separatists in the wings.
its illustrious predecessor, ''Edsa 2001'' may be nothing
more than a well-staged coup, rather than People Power re-enacted.
is part of a series of corrections and political reshufflings
across the region since the economic crisis: as incumbent
governments from Thailand to Indonesia and Malaysia lose
their grip on power acquired in a lost era of growth.
can observe the turmoil with relative serenity.
the political disquiet of our Asean neighbours signals that
the region has not settled down to the hard work of rebuilding
confidence and economic stability.