In the mid nineteen eighties, the Philippines was rocked by a sustained people’s resistance movement that finally deposed of the hated and corrupt dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, who had to flee the country in a US Air Force helicopter. The Catholic Church, representing the majority of the people, played a critical role in this dramatic change. The people’s uprising was catalyzed by the defection of two key military officers- Enrile and Ramos, who occupied the office of the Defense Secretary. They called on the people to depose Ferdinand Marcos and declared that they stood for democratic reform. When Marcos tried to cordon the office and arrest them, Radio Veritas, run by the Church called on the people to defend the two army officers. The people rallied to the call en masse. Marcos deployed the armed forces to quell the rebellion, including tanks and riot squads. The people resisted. Nuns went on their knees and began praying and blocked the tanks. Women were in the forefront of the resistance. Tens of thousand people took part in the spreading rebellion, defying martial law. They took over the main radio station of the government and silenced Marcos. Finally, Marcos was deposed by the power of the people. The hatred for Marcos had reached explosive proportions due to the rot of corruption, arrogance and despotism. He had earned the wrath of the people due to the vast fortunes – billions of dollars -that he, his wife, Imelda and his cronies, had robbed, while the majority of the masses lived in dire poverty. This glorious people’s uprising came to be named the “Parliament of the Streets”.
However, the Parliament of the Streets failed to bring about radical democratic change in the Philippines due to the fact that the people’s resistance movement failed to dismantle the apparatus of Dictatorship- the State, and left the armed forces intact. They were not prepared for taking over state power. This is much the same as what has happened in the “Arab Spring”, where even though some changes in the composition of the rulers had changed, the status quo remains effectively in power. The same ties of economic dependence remains and the poverty and misery of the masses continue- in the Philippines and in the “Arab Spring”.
In Sri Lanka, we are moving towards such a political crisis. The Mahinda Rajapakse regime is increasingly facing the tribunal of the people for reeking corruption, arrogance and despotism. We are facing a situation where white vans abduct people within the court compound in broad daylight, where workers and fishermen are killed while engaging in peaceful democratic protest, where students are attacked by riot squads, arrested and hunted down in their homes in the dead of night. The regime is on trial for series of unaccounted abductions, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, inhuman torture and alleged war crimes and barbaric atrocities. It is on trial for attacking and looting media institutions and killing journalists. It is facing the tribunal of the people for the gross abuse of power, rigging of elections, manipulating the Constitution and the Judiciary and violating the Rule of Law. It is being indicted for robbing the Land of the people, robbing their dignity, their livelihood and for enforcing military rule over the Tamil people in the North and East. It is indicted by the people’s court for harboring rapists and murderers. It is served summons for enforcing a militarist-chauvinist, dynastic dictatorship over society. It is condemned for having brought shame and infamy to us all, and defiling our honor and dignity in the eyes of the world.
This spiraling political crisis is compounded by an equally severe economic and financial crisis brought about by insatiable greed, wanton waste and sheer financial and economic mismanagement. ( Mihin Air-loss of 13 billion, Hedging Deal-20 billion, Deyata Kirula-loss loss of 2 billion, Air Lanka-loss of 23 billion, IFFA cost 1 billion, Asian Games-loss of 1 billion). The cost of living is soaring. The Rupee is on a downward spiral and will continue to be devalued. Colossal amount of funds of the tax payers hard-earned money, have been invested in utterly wasteful grandiose schemes, on bloated foreign tamashas and spectacular victory parades intended to glorify the emperor and perpetuate his dynastic power, while the country sinks into an irrevocable and spiraling cycle of debt. State coffers have been bled dry and the Regime is bankrupted, forcing it to pile even more debt at exorbitant interest, while foreign marauding powers and international financial institutions sink their deadly fangs into the very lifelines of our economy. Seven star hotels and hospitals, super-highways, airports, sports stadiums, tourist havens and skyscrapers glitter the skyline. Luxurious spas, brothels and bars dot the landscape – all to feed the appetites of robber barons, sex perverts, drug lords, speculators and gangsters that have no bearing on alleviating poverty and misery of the masses, but which accumulate vast fortunes for the ruling dynasty and its mafia cronies. This is the trajectory of the hybrid neo-liberal path of development pursued by the Regime, encapsulated in achieving the “ Miracle of Asia”, which is but a path of highway robbery, corruption and reeking parasitism, a path of blood, pillage and plunder.
This combination of a spiraling political crisis and economic-financial breakdown will heap even more unbearable burdens on the masses, rain more indignity and degradation, strain their limits of tolerance, searing through the veils of deception and illusion. Repression will only fuel the simmering rage. The recent JVP rally and the UNP-led Opposition rally were tear gassed and baton charged by the Police and then the Army. Yet, the UNP-led rally reassembled and held ground for hours. People, including observers from atop their apartment roofs, belted the police with stones. In time, the people will demand radical democratic change. They will mobilize to hold their Parliament of the Streets. The writing is on the Wall- if you care to read it! The challenge is to ensure that the people’s resistance and rebellion will not result in the same dead end as in the Philippines and the “Arab Spring”.
If a resolution in Geneva calling for an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes succeeds- and even if not- the government will respond by raising the banner of ‘patriotic nationalism’. Its social base among the Sinhala rural masses, the comprador mudalalis and contractors, the thriving business elite will be reactivated by claiming that the Western powers, the Tamil Diaspora and NGOs are all ganging up against the Regime, country and the people, and that the UNP-led Opposition and particularly the emerging new Left People’s Resistance Movement are all part of this ‘conspiracy’. We should not underestimate the effect such a propaganda war will have on the broad chauvinist social base of the Government, including the armed forces, given that the opposition/alternative voices will be effectively suppressed and silenced. Given the imploding crisis, the Regime would have no option but to unleash fascist terror to save its rotting skin. The beast is most ferocious when it is in its death-throes, although fatally vulnerable. Ramos, Shah Palavi,Mubarak, Gaddafi, Assad are examples. Whatever the case, battle lines are being drawn and society will be polarized between two rival camps: The camp of Democracy and Freedom and the camp of Militarist-Chauvinist- Fascist Reaction. We must rise to the momentous challenge that history has placed before us. Only a genuine, bottom-up, people’s resistance movement can overcome the challenge. For this, we must overcome fear, our worst enemy. They can kill us, but they can never silence us! Truth and Justice shall prevail! This is the Law of Nature and the Dialectic of History!
In order to ensure that the democratic resistance of the people will result in a profound, radical, structural democratic transformation of the State and Political Order, we need to prepare and not be caught off guard. We should begin to articulate our own alternative vision and path of freedom, as a basis to convene a People’s Constituent Assembly. We should work on drafting the basic framework of a new constitution that enshrines the Rule of Law and Human Rights; that gives expression to the national-democratic aspirations of the people, constituted by the various nations, nationalities and communities of Lanka; that entrenches the enforceable rights of the workers, farmers, fishermen, students, university lecturers, youth, women, professionals and all social forces and; that shall empower the People of Lanka to design, own and control their State, in the form of a system of democratic assemblies, with direct and directly accountable people’s representatives. This is so we may all regain our dignity and humanity, share and nurture this Land, and live with equality, security, autonomy and democratic freedom, stand proud and tall second to none in the community of nations, and lay claim to the bounteous fruits of the 21st Century. What is needed is vision and daring! As Bob Dylan sang in the raging Sixties “ The Times They Are a Changing”. Nothing is impossible if we dare to scale the heights!