The Philippines: Should the "right" result come from undemocratic means?

As you proably know, in the past week, the Philippines has had a second “People Power” revolt, and the President, Joseph Estrada, was removed from office. I have had a personal interest in the Philippines for many years, and my response to these events was one of relief and happiness.

But today, I was reading a leader in The Economist that caused me to think. They wrote: “Mr. Estrada is no loss … But there is much to regret in the manner of his passing, which serves as a reminder of how far the Philippines still has to go before it can be regarded as a nation of laws, not of man.” The article pointed out the following things:

  1. What happened was actually a bloodless coup;
  2. The prescribed constitutional means for removing Mr. Estrada, did not do so;
  3. The events legitimized the interference with the army in politics, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the former Vice-President who is now President knows that the army essentially put her in power; and
  4. Mr. Estrada has never formally resigned.

The reason impeachment failed was that Mr. Estrada’s allies in the Philippines Senate refused to allow into evidence documents proving his guilt.

What is a democrat to do? When democractic means fail to get the right result, are undemocratic means acceptable? Let’s transfer this to the U.S. and give a hyperbolic hypothetical. The President of the United States is caught on tape ordering the assasination of a political opponent. He is impeached, but the Senate, controlled by his party, refuses to convict him. Should the Joint Chiefs of Staff go to the President and say that, in good conscience, we can no longer obey your orders, and that you should resign?

I honestly don’t know the answer to this, and I don’t know what else the Philippines could have done. Any thoughts would be appreciated.


the system was corrupt. democracy and law can’t effect change if the system is corrupt enough. it seems as if the fair and just way was tried, and failed.

pretty analogous, in some ways, to our own foundations. we didn’t break away democratically, and I can’t recall if King George ever renounced his claim to us.

What matters is where they go from here, not where they came from.

Actually, I had no idea.

I love The Economist, but it’s so damned dense that I barely get to Lexington and the next issue has arrived. sigh

First of all, the “right” result differs depending on whom you talk to. Anyway, the “right” result in a true democracy “of laws, not men” is the democratically arrived at result. I mean, Sua, baby, look at the most recent Presidential election. I believe that there was compelling evidence of votor disenfranchisement, and that the recount should have continued. (Haven’t heard anything from the Miami Herald yet, have you?) Nevertheless, I accept the decision of the Supremes, as did Gore. In my view, the Supremes have the ultimate say. Did they get it right? I don’t think so. Do I go along with their “wrong” decision and its result? Absolutely.

Once you resort to undemocratic means, democracy is at an end. That is one of the biggest differences between Watergate and Iran-Contra, on the one hand, and Travelgate and Whitewater, on the other, and one of the reasons that calling every scandal “X-gate” bugs the shit out of me. The former imperiled the Republic because our leaders were using undemocratic means to achieve (arguably) the “right” ends. (And I don’t want to start a debate about Iran-Contra, either, so let’s say that we assume that Reagan knew what was going on.) The latter were stupid, potentially criminal pecadillos - but they were picayune and did not strike at the basis on which the country is governed. Even Clinton’s impeachment was for private conduct - lying under oath is a crime, but it does not threaten the basis for our society the way bypassing the Constitution did.

Hmmm…here’s your soapbox back. :slight_smile:

To answer your hypothetical (accepting that political pressure wouldn’t be enough to sway the Senate), the Joint Chiefs should not say any such thing. The People would either accept the result, demand the president’s resignation, or revolt. The latter, if it led to the reintroduction of the democracy, might be seen as an undemocratic means to a democratic end, depending on what happened thereafter (as jb_farley said). It would nevertheless be undemocratic, if understandable.

Well, there is precedent:

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this justifies the overthrow of any government you happen to disagree with, but it does prove that at least some people believe(d) that if there is no other way to resist tyranny, other means of remedying the situation can be used in good conscience.


Let’s not forget that “Erap” did not sign the resignation letter, did say that his incapacity to perform his duties was only temporary, and did say that Gloria’s “rule” is only temporary.

Not to mention that he appears to have valid constitutional issues ro raise (don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten that the Supreme Court isn’t likely to agree with him).

Oh, and let’s not forget that 900,000 folks in Manila do not constitute the entire plebiscite of the Republika ng Pilipinas.

I agree with the OP, in that I was kind of disappointed in them, too, the way a parent feels disappointed when a kid tries to do the right thing but goes about it in the wrong way. One could wish that the Third World could get a clue about democracy and make it work right. Still, I suppose it’s better than nothing. And at least (so far) nobody’s accusing the CIA of having had a hand in it. I mean, right? I hadn’t heard anything…

As long as it’s The Will of the People, I can’t get too upset about it. At least he wasn’t simply shot by his own security guards like Kabila.

It’s progress, of a sort.

And I think it’s actually kinda cool that they did it all with cell phones. There’s a certain style to it, somehow, some kind of Pacific Rim thing going on there. I like the mental image of a million Filipinos with cell phones clamped to their ears, not checking the stock market or saying hello to the girlfriend, but changing their government. Democracy in Action in the 21st century.

I know you mean well, DDG, but that smacks a bit of cultural arrogance . . . and anyway, what about India, Taiwan, South Korea, and much of South America?

[pauses American flag-waving to consider]

Hmmm…“cultural arrogance”…

You know, I like it. “Cultural arrogance”. It’s got a certain ring to it, you know?

[resumes flag-waving]

Whoa, DDG - your maternal instinct towards developing nations makes me warm and fuzzy. :rolleyes:

SuaSponte, I wrestled with this question quite often in my undergrad days. The converse question is:

What happens when the wrong result results from democratic means? What happens when democracy brings despots to power? Hitler comes to mind. Algeria comes to mind - France is supporting a secular government that has jailed democratically elected Islamic fundamentalists, because they fear if the fundamentalists come to power their first act will be to crack down on civil liberties, women’s rights, and other ostensibly good things about a government. On the one hand, jailing democratically elected candidates is outrageous! Reprehensible! The act of a dictatorship!

But if the majority of the people choose something that will restrict everyone’s rights, and share the religious beliefs of the elected officials, how do you protect the minority?

I don’t have answers for you, Sua. Just one question down and a few continents over…

[heresy]As opposed to the early U.S. case, with a mess o’ relatively homogenous people with a shared common goal, the Philippines is quite Balkanized. Erap’s stint there represented a brief return of a faction of Marcos cronies & backers, using political arts dating back to Lonsdale, who had been cut out since 1986. The last two administrations, while improving the general economy, did little for the masa which is why they had went for him; remember, to this day, dirt farmers all over the country still pine for Marcos’ public works projects. (“Yeah, he was corrupt, and his cronies made x $$$ over it, but before that bridge was built I had to hike two days to get to market…”).

So given a somewhat balkanized and heterogenous population, often wanting to split off in various directions, perhaps the Western expectation of “democratic means” is unfair and/or irrelevant. In a sense, the military - rather democratic within itself - has both the power and the overarching national interest to snuff out (no pun) the various machinations of intertribal warfare betwixt the various plutocrats. Don’t laugh - we’re going there next…[/heresy]

As Cecil said, “We don’t vote on the facts”. Democracy only means what the majority of people want, it doesen’t make what they want right.

And FTR: the recent People Power II debacle in the Philippines was not conducted by the majority of the people.

Eh, Magdalene, you know, I did have lots of warm fuzzy maternal feelings towards developing Third World countries, back when they were much younger. They were so cute, you know? The way they’d toddle around, and sometimes needed to hold a grownup’s hand to negotiate a flight of stairs, just so doggone cute that you just wanted to pick 'em up and squeeeeeze 'em, you know?

But that was a long time ago, and some of them are, what, in their 40s? And they’re still toddling around, needing a grownup’s hand to negotiate a flight of stairs, and, I dunno, it just isn’t cute anymore.

I remember Cory Aquino’s election quite vividly, for various reasons. The media images were indelible–the voters guarding the ballot boxes with their bodies, the yellow dress… “This is it!” we said to each other. “The Philippines have finally grown up. Watch how well they do on these flights of stairs!”

And the next thing you know, Cory’s out, and somebody else is in, and it’s Business As Usual in Manila. It’s as if the last 15 years didn’t even happen. There they are, right where they were in 1986, except that of course Imelda Marcos and her shoe collection are no longer in the news. (And wasn’t THAT a 15 minutes that went on about 10 minutes longer than it needed to?)

So. I’m just a little burned out, I guess.

I have to agree with Baloo - Americans are the last people who can say that another country’s people have no right to overthrow a government that has become intolerable. We also, unfortunately, no longer have the right to complain about anyone else’s elections reflecting the will of the people, or about the unacceptability of another country’s legislature trying to remove an executive against the will of the people, even if legal mechanisms are used. I recognize that the corruption/bribery charges against Estrada were probably well-founded, not trumped-up.

The issue to me is if overthrowing Estrada really did reflect the will of the bulk of the Philippine people. The fact that the military aligned itself against Estrada speaks strongly to that, IMHO - a dictator, or quasi-dictator like Marcos, wouldn’t have had to worry about that.

Even though I have no personal connection to the Philippines, this has still been a difficult issue for me to sort out, too. I’d really like to know what the popular views of the citizens of that democracy were, but it may not be possible to find out. That country seems desperately screwed up in many ways, and I join all of you in wishing them well in fixing it.