Date: 01-19-2001

HONOLULU -- While "People Power" in the Philippines has forced a fast change in leadership there, specialists at the East-West Center do not believe it will lead to the kinds of social reforms so badly needed in the country.

"The illusion of mass Filipino 'People Power' bringing social change will instead maintain a system that produces great wealth for a few but abject poverty for many," said researcher Gerard Finin, who has been observing Philippine politics for more than two decades.

Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is set to become the next Philippine president after hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets demanding the resignation of President Joseph Estrada. Estrada has been accused of accepting millions in illegal payments. Philippine senators indefinitely adjourned his impeachment trial Wednesday.

Peter Xenos, who conducts research on health, population and social change in the Philippines, said there is no evidence to suggest that Macapagal Arroyo is corrupt. However, "the fact is that power in the Philippines definitely corrupts."

Macapagal Arroyo is an economist, and Xenos served on her master's thesis committee. "She is taken seriously by other economists," Xenos said. "But it's very naive to think that just by having a technically trained person things will go better."

What has changed, Xenos believes, is Filipinos' tolerance of corrupt leadership. "The kinds of things Estrada is up for are really no different than the kinds of things done by politicians for a long time. But the tolerance has diminished. People are blowing the whistle a lot sooner."

Filipinos took to the Manila streets in 1986, forcing the late President Ferdinand Marcos out of the country and sweeping Corazon Aquino to power. Marcos held power for 20 years.

Xenos said "new connectivity" among Filipinos due to Internet and other fast communication allowed Filipinos to mobilize quickly. He noted there were protests in all the major urban centers, not just Manila.

While forcing Estrada to step down is a positive development, long-term problems remain: the undermining of the government by the intervention of the armed forces, as well as the erosion of separation between church and state; and the vast gap between rich and poor. While Estrada has received most of his support from the poor, Finin said he did little to help them. "Millions of Filipinos will continue to live in poverty."

Gerard Finin can be reached at 808-944-7751 or and Peter Xenos at 808-944-7410 or
This is an East-West Wire, copyright East-West Center