In my previous column on our 12-day vacation from President Aquino, which starts today, I could not fit in an interesting bit of research that could send blood pressures rising on both sides of the pro-Aquino, anti-Aquino divide.
With no thought of encouraging anyone or any group to take up this option, and with real apprehension that some may apply this solution to our governance malaise, I share with readers this historical factoid:
Presidents and prime ministers have been toppled from power while they were on extended trips abroad – usually by a military takeover or sometimes by a political coup.
Coupled with the fact that September is a month that has great appeal to the power-hungry (Hitler started World War II in September 1939; Ferdinand Marcos proclaimed martial law in September 1972), this is a time for watching out for the littlest signs of crisis.
Thaksin’s great fall in Thailand
The most recent and closest-to-home example is the overthrow of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand in September 2006.
On September 9 that year, Thaksin departed from Bangkok in a Thai Airways jet, bound for Finland on an extended foreign tour. Informants say that the government-assigned aircraft, named Thai Koofah, was loaded with 58 large suitcases and trunks.
A second aircraft carrying 56 suitcases —an Airbus 340-600—was dispatched from Bangkok on September 17 to meet up with the prime minister. For a week, the Thai Koofah was parked in Finland, before Thaksin moved on in his itinerary.
On September 19, the Thai military toppled Thaksin and his government in a bloodless coup. There is speculation that Thaksin knew of the coup in advance and hence moved some of his vast assets out of the country.
Earlier, In January 2006, the then-prime minister sold the centerpiece of his empire – telecoms giant Shin Corp.—to Singapore’s state investment company, Temasek Holdings, for a tax-free 73.3 billion baht (£1 billion).
Thaksin and one of his children stayed in London after the coup, while his wife and two other children remained in Thailand.
Thaksin has not returned to Thailand ever since. His sister Yingluck Shinawaputra was elected prime minister in 2011 with the backing of Thaksin’s re-named political party. But she was also toppled by a coup in May this year.
Fragility of power
Thaksin is a prime example of what the historian Howard Zinn calls the fundamental “fragility of power.”
Zinn is the author of A People’s History of the United States (Harper Collins, 1980), and The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace (Beacon Press, 2002).
I often quote Zinn to readers and friends who despair that nothing will ever change in our country because President Aquino is incorrigible and he has Congress by the balls to do his bidding.
In a famous essay, “The optimism of uncertainty,” Zinn perceptibly writes: “Throughout history people have felt powerless before authority, but at certain times these powerless people, by organizing, acting, risking, persisting, have created enough power to change the world around them, even if a little…
“Those who have power and seem invulnerable are in fact quite vulnerable. Their power depends on the obedience of others, and when those others begin withholding that obedience, begin defying authority, that power at the top turns out to be very fragile. Generals become powerless when their soldiers refuse to fight, industrialists become powerless when their workers leave their jobs or occupy the factories.”
Break that obedience and their infrastructure of power will crumble.
He concludes with these words that are apposite to the situation in which we find ourselves today:
“We must [envision]the long-term change if we are not to lose hope. Pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; it reproduces itself by crippling our willingness to act.
“There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often in the 20th century we were astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people’s thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.
`“Political power, however formidable, is more fragile than we think. Note how nervous are those who hold it.”
Toward a Philippine epiphany
The Twelfth Day of Christmas is the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, which celebrates the visit of the Magi and their bringing of gifts to the child Jesus.
The word “epiphany” denotes a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way. It also means a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something; an intuitive grasp of reality through something usually simple and striking: an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.
I dare to hope that during the 12 days of our vacation from Aquino, we Filipinos will gain invaluable insight into our national condition today. We will see the many possibilities before us. And by the twelfth night, we will be blessed with an epiphany of what we need to do to free ourselves from the grip of misgovernance and oppression by those who have sworn to serve us.
We will all realize that the brazen and lawless power that oppresses us is fragile and can be successfully challenged and stopped.
President Aquino is weak and incompetent.
Congress can be stopped by the people’s withdrawal of support.
And we can count on the Supreme Court to be our people’s tribune.
One reader suggested that citizens should be readying banners and streamers for September 24 that read “You are not welcome anymore.”
If we can “unfriend” people on facebook, we can also “unwelcome” politicians in our public life.