Last week Filipino president Gloria Arroyo declared a state of emergency in the country after a group of disgruntled military officers tried, then failed, to mount a coup that would have toppled their leader and brought 'people power' back to the streets, twenty years after a similar spontaneous movement ousted the disgraced leader Ferdinand Marcos and his shoe-lovin' wife, Imelda.
If you find much, if not all of the preceding sentence somewhat incomprehensible, join the club.
Living in a new country forces you to assimilate, then comprehend, an astonishing array of information, most of it coming at you at a dizzying rate of speed, in a language you don't understand, featuring a cast of characters who whose parts you haven't quite figured out yet. Kind of life watching a foreign movie without the subtitles. Everything looks exotic and tilted, the mannerisms and interactions between the participants odd and unintelligible, the developments of the story odd, if not completely suspect. But everyone around you seems to get what's going on. So all you can do is nod and say right, right, sure...
Here, what happened, as best as I can understand it, is that the president, fearing both military and civil unrest, called a state of emergency in a concerted, determined attempt to stifle any rising momentum. She shut down the schools, scolded the instigators, and advised (or ordered) the media to be quite careful in what they say or do. There is much television and newspaper debate now, after the fact, especially since the state of emergency was lifted just the other day, as to whether or not what Arroyo did was even legal within the bounds of the Philippines' constitution. As of now, the raucous story continues...
And what a story it is. The Filipinos are poor, fed up, and tired of Ms.Arroyo, who earlier last year was caught in a vote-rigging election scandal. Twenty years ago, with Marcos given the boot, there was hope that the Philippines would rise to a more prominent, developed position within the Asian economy, but little of that promise has materialized or been fulfilled. Their last leader, Estrada, a former action-movie star, was kicked out of office after only two years for stealing a shitload of cash. It seems like the people desperately want a functioning, humane government here, but nobody is quite sure how to go about getting it put in place.
Hence, the recent, aborted coup. The military was hoping the people would follow their lead and march in the streets. Didn't happen.
Why? Maybe because you can't orchestrate spontaneity; you can't instigate a sudden uprising. People are frustrated, yes, and aggravated, most certainly, but whether those feelings will collectively explode into a civil call for action is not somethign that armed forces can control.
For now, things seem to have settled down a little bit. The plotters are in the process of being arrested; the pundits are castigating the government for putting them under suspicion and ordering their mouths to remain shut. Everyone's wondering what kind of a country they live in, and whether it's ultimately going to change anytime soon.
Me? I'm looking out the window, watching the streets, searching for clues.