Mong Palatino

Blogging about the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific since 2004


@mongster is a Manila-based activist, former Philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of Asia-Pacific affairs.

“Funeral power” is a potent political phenomenon in the Philippines. Filipinos have long been expressing their political sentiments by attending the funeral marches of celebrated political icons.

In 1983 the funeral march for murdered opposition leader Ninoy Aquino was attended by more than 1 million people. His death was blamed on former Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

It was Aquino’s death that helped to unite the various opposition forces against the Marcos dictatorship. His widow, Cory Aquino, became the country’s president in 1986 through a peaceful People Power uprising.

In December 2004 the country mourned the death of Fernando Poe Jr., the most popular showbiz local actor and defeated presidential candidate. Poe, along with his legions of supporters, accused incumbent President Gloria Arroyo of committing electoral fraud.

Poe’s fans attended the funeral march while chanting anti-government slogans. During the funeral march, the government barricaded the presidential palace with container vans because it feared the angry crowd of mourners would attempt to oust the president.

In May last year, labor leader and party-list lawmaker Crispin Beltran died while trying to fix the roof of his house. Beltran was a consistent critic of the Arroyo government who had been detained for more than a year on trumped-up rebellion charges.

Beltran’s funeral march attracted more than 100,000 mourners, mostly from the organized left. The funeral march became the biggest anti-government protest of the year. It proved that the opposition and the left could still manage to gather this huge number of people in the streets.

Two weeks ago, former President Cory Aquino succumbed to cancer. Aquino is the country’s original democracy icon and People Power symbol. The death of the former beloved president prompted hundreds of thousands of Filipinos to express their love, devotion, and respect not just for Aquino but also for the democratic legacy she left behind.

More than 300,000 people attended Aquino’s funeral march on Aug. 5. Many of them were young people who were not familiar with People Power politics. Aquino’s death inspired the youth to review the history and relevance of People Power in restoring the country’s democratic institutions. People Power is now again part of the political vocabulary in the Philippines.

The most inspired sector today is the so-called “middle forces” in society. They have been motivated by the spontaneous display of affection by ordinary Filipinos for Cory Aquino. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos have been wearing yellow ribbons in honor of the late president. Civil society groups believe the middle forces are ready to launch a new People Power movement.

Groups supportive of a People Power movement have vowed to fight the tyrannical policies and plans of the Arroyo government, which include the controversial Charter Change proposal. Can People Power defeat Arroyo’s plan to stay in power beyond 2010? The answer to this question is a resounding yes.

But the country needs a new People Power. It should not be a mechanical adoption of the People Power formula used in 1986. There is no more Cory Aquino or an activist church hierarchy to lead the people. A new People Power movement should be broad and inclusive. The middle forces should not insist that their tactics and platforms will be acceptable to everybody.

We have seen how the funeral marches of Poe, Beltran, and Aquino became national political events that gathered the biggest number of people in the streets. Imagine an activity that would assemble the core constituencies of these famous political icons. It would definitely be a specter that would haunt the Arroyo government.

Poe commands the loyalty of the poor. Beltran is a respectable icon of the left. Aquino is a former president who is adored by many Filipinos, especially the middle class. The success of the new People Power depends on the coordination of these major political forces.

No more celebrity death is needed to galvanize people into action. What is needed today is the unity of groups that are serious in launching a new People Power revolution.

This new People Power will be used to block the efforts of the administration’s allies, who want to extend the term of President Arroyo. Arroyo is no ordinary enemy. She has proven many times that she is a skillful politician. So far, she has thwarted all initiatives by the political opposition to remove her from power.

She has mobilized the full power and resources of her office to defeat and demonize her enemies. She uses the iron hand of the state to prevent various groups from launching another People Power.

Funeral power is not enough to unseat a president. It can rattle the administration but the latter can still survive as exemplified by the tenacious Arroyo government. But funeral power can metamorphose into a genuine People Power movement. It can inspire people into action; it can sustain a movement for good governance; it can reawaken the flames of democracy.

Through the Cory Aquino funeral march, we have witnessed the latest demonstration of funeral power in the Philippines. Can this movement gather enough momentum to become a stronger political movement that would challenge the supremacy of President Gloria Arroyo?

Related articles:

People Power politics
Conjugal dictators

3 Responses to “‘Funeral power’ in the Philippines”

  1. Mong Palatino

    Cory’s death only ignited one thing: NOYNOY FOR PRESIDENT though it is very palpable that he is INCOMPETENT.

    Your so-called funeral power can not inspire people into action. It can create HYPES AND FADS but that’s just it! Look around you and you will see a lot of Aquino merchandise being sold in the malls. These things stemmed out from the dramatic Filipinos who are so thirsty for heroes.

    If you want CHANGE to happen, Mr. Palatino, you shouldn’t rely on the deaths of such people for it to take place. What this country needs is Filipinos who actually use their heads rather their emotions when choosing who they want to vote.

    Victoria Alferez

  2. Now, what can you say about what I told you?

    Victoria Alferez

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