Understanding why Filipinos are getting skeptical of political protests

The Philippines has made history on February 22, 1986, when millions of Filipinos joined the EDSA Revolution to peacefully put down a regime that lasted for several years. The country has proven that if the entire nation unites in removing a dictator in office, it is possible.

More than a decade later, EDSA II took place and using the same strategy that once succeeded in ending a dictatorship; the country has once again unseated a president. Millions of Filipinos joined the call for then President Joseph Estrada to step down, and eventually he did.

If history has taught us one thing, it’s the fact that the collective voices of the people are strong enough to further political causes. This means Filipinos should have understood by now the essence of peaceful demonstrations in making their sentiments heard by the government. Those who are not in politics can organize a group of people to take their grievances on the street as a legitimate tool for their causes to be heard.

Since EDSA I and II, several other protests took place, although none was as huge as the forces that drove two presidents out of office. We have heard issues being raised here and there, organized by various political groups. Most of these concerns are valid. Usually, protests concern minimum wage hike, lowering of diesel prices, removal of US bases in the Philippines and many others.

The erosion of sympathy

The reason why protests are successful is because they represent what most people think. They take their causes to the street because they believe they are fighting for what is right. Back then, organizing protests was easy because those who were sympathetic of the cause would eventually be a part of the movement. Some took part on the actual demonstrations while others donated money to fund the organization.

These days, you don’t see a lot of people joining protests even if there are a lot of issues that the government needs to hear. In fact, the recent protest organized by Filipino Catholics with the support of bishops, only gathered over 7,000 people – a number way too low relative to the number of protesters joining demonstrations in the past. In fact, it is already a huge figure by today’s standards. Many other protests have only gotten the support of a handful of people.

Don’t we believe in democracy anymore?

Peaceful protests are considered the foundation of a healthy democracy. It is through these protests that people remind the government to work for them and not on special interests. In the US for instance, millions of people took it to the streets of key cities in the country just a day after Trump’s inauguration to protest his presidency. While Americans are energized in resisting against an oppressive government, Filipinos on the other hand, have become apathetic.

The first reason could be the number of protests being organized. We have grown numb to these protests because we think they keep happening. People also keep bringing up different issues in one rally, that not everyone going there supports the same causes. It has also diluted the issues because a lot of them are rolled in the same event.

The organizers behind these protests could also be a major factor behind the skepticism. We have heard of reports about protesters being paid to join rallies. When asked about why they were on the streets, they could barely make a rational explanation. Even children were used to blow up the number of people joining an organized protest.

Perhaps, the worst reason is that some protests end up in violence. The EDSA Revolution took pride in being a peaceful gathering of people who want to fight for democracy. There were chants and yells, but there were also flowers and messages of peace. Today, we see protests where the authorities have to make use of strong force to prevent major damages in government properties. A protest at the US embassy last year even ended up with the police van hurting the demonstrators. Protesters also block roads and organize protests even in areas where they haven’t secured a permit. This becomes annoying to those who are not involved in the protest.

Viewing protests in a different light

Whether we like protests or not, we can’t deny the fact that in the end, protesting is the only way for us to have a direct involvement in governmental policies. We have already witnessed the power of political protests in shaping the government. We can’t let our skepticism stop us from believing in the power of peaceful demonstrations.

Although the branches of the government are structured in such a way that there are checks and balances, we can’t expect it to be balanced at all times. The only way to stop the abuse of power is when the people take the power back. After all, democracy is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

If there are meaningful protests worth supporting, we have to continue our support. You don’t have to be physically present to show your support. There are a lot of other ways to let those protesters know that you are one in fighting for their causes.

You can only imagine how it feels for people who live in countries where power doesn’t belong to the people. Organizing peaceful demonstrations is not even allowed. In the absence of a strong collective voice, the government can do whatever it wants. For the most repressive countries, dictators have held on to their power for decades. Those who have gone against the government were silenced. The critical media is also absent in the picture. Only state-run media are allowed to provide information to the people.

This might be advertised as a functional democracy by those dictators, but definitely isn’t. We are too far from being in that state. However, our skepticism in political protests could be our downfall. For as long as we are given voices, we have to use them to fight for what is right.

Image Attribution: Manila Protest Photo