A People-Power Precept

The Christian Science Monitor, January 23, 2001 | Go to article overview

A People-Power Precept


If Americans need one more lesson in how bad money can erode good democracy, they can take it from last week's "People Power II" revolt in the Philippines.

A popular movement against corruption led to the ouster of President Joseph Estrada on Saturday, four days after his Senate allies derailed his impeachment trial.

Graft and greed in high places had become so pervasive during Mr. Estrada's three-year rule that even the military and Supreme Court joined the nonviolent effort in the final days to force his resignation.

In fact, their actions - buzzing helicopters and a dubious court order - severely strained the rule of law and the nation's Constitution. When the head of the military finally joined the crowds at a street rally hours before Estrada fled, a band fittingly played "Wooly Bully" (a 1960s song by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs).

Still, the lesson for Filipinos - as in many Asia nations in recent years - is that freedom means little if top officials accept money to influence their decisions. Estrada was accused of keeping multimillion-dollar bank accounts under false names.

Does this lesson from the Far East mean that Sen. John McCain should enlist the US Army and start a Filipino-style "constitutional coup" in his latest effort at campaign-finance reform?

No. American voters can, if they want to, still elect lawmakers or presidents committed to not accepting large amounts of campaign money from special interests. They also can observe due diligence in keeping better informed about who's giving how much to whom. But it's instructive to see how much Filipinos were willing to put their democracy at risk to remove officials who follow the money rather than the people's will. …

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