Wednesday, September 20, 2006

One Night in Bangkok...

I couldn't sleep last night, after coming home from a dinner celebrating my borther-in-law's promotion. He's just 28 but he was promoted ahead of others more senior in age and experience than him, making him AVP of the bank he worls for.

Perhaps it was the coffee I drank or probably the anticipation for the next day's work that kept me up. Whichever it was, it was depriving me of rest. So I turned on the television, and scanned through the cable channels.

A thought ran through my mind, wondering in amazement at how television has changed in the past decade. I thought back to the time when my wife and I stayed up late watching over our eldest son, born in 1990. Back then, there was no cable TV and the local channels stayed on only up to around midnight. Beyond that hour, it seemed the world was dead.

It was during those sleepless nights taking care of our baby that I watched the unfolding of the first Gulf War, when the Americans kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait which he invaded. I'm proud to say I caught it live when Bernard Shaw of CNN declared to the world that "the skies over Baghdad have been illuminated".

Only one local channel stayed up beyond midnight back then, airing the CNN coverage of Gulf War 1. And that was my entertainment while I held my baby's milk bottle, which he eagerly sucked on for nourishment. Now, that baby is already 15 years old, ready to take on the world. Time flies....

Anyway, going back to my channel surfing, I scanned towards the direction of one of my favorite channels (aside from Discovery, National Geographic and Jack TV)---CNN. As I switched to that institution of world news coverage, images of soldiers clad in fatigues and riding on a Hummer flashed on the screen....could this be IT? WHether by anticipation or just a failure of instant recognition, I thought I saw Philippine Marines out in the streets doing maneuvers. Flashbacks of the Marine Stand-off enter my head....

After a few moments, although the soldiers had skin as brown as mine and the camouflage looked eeringly similar to the Philippine Marines', I realized that this was not happening in the Philippines. OF course, the realization was helped by the big bold letters on the screen identifying the event as happening in Bangkok, Thailand...

With the same excitement I had when I witnessed other historical events in my young lifetime, any semblance of sleepiness left me and I watched the unfolding coup happen, once again amazed at the wonders of present day technology in news coverage. As I was sitting there in my chair, a government was actually being overrun right before my eyes.

Then as those events in Bangkok was happening, the screen was split, to show audiences the ongoing General Assembly at the United Nations in New York City. At the same time that the Thai troops were maneuvering in their tanks and hummer vehicles, US President George W. Bush was about to take the podium to address the assembly of nations. Wow! This beats MTV anytime!

The audio then cut off from the news anchors' commentaries about the Thai coup to the speech of President Bush. I switch to BBC, more interested in the developments in Thailand. Only muted images in a Picture-In Picture was there, with BBC giving preferential treatment to the strongest leader on Earth. I change to another inernational news channel, Bloomberg, Bush is also The Man there. SO I went back to CNN and just listened to his speech about terrorism while watching the smaller screen showing the video from Bangkok.

I stayed awake up to around 4:00 AM, until I realized I had to leave the house later that morning at 7:00 AM. I needed some shut-eye. SO I turned on the TV and went to sleep, still in amazed at what the Thai have once again done.

The coup is the 18th since World War II, and the first since 1992. Thailand has the reputation of changing governments through military intervention, with the Philippines seemingly wanting to play second fiddle. OF course, we became the model for People Power, which has been copied by many countries over the years.

Back here in the Philippines, proponents of CHarter Change say that a shift to a parliamentary system is a guarantee that coups and military intervention will no longer happen to us. They try to sell the idea of a Utopia under a new sytem of government where the decisions on the destiny of the country are confined to a specific group of people who will choose the nation's leader among themselves. Only God knows how good we are on that one....

Parliamentary system is a guarantee against coups? But doessn't Thailand have a parliamentary government? Thailand, touted as the "twin" of the Philippines, seems to be saddled with the same condition as the PHilippines---a politically involved military.

I believe that the system of government is irrelevant to whether there will coups or not. The basic reason why the military will take the initiative against a government is when the government itself fails to get the confidence of the people and the military. Prime Minister Thaksin SHinawatra was beset by issues concerning corruption and legitimacy (the elections he called for were invalidated by the Thai court). The issues against his government were becoming more and more intolerable, especially since the issues were far from being resolved. His hold over his partymates, which translated to a hold of Parliament (it's a game of numbers), ensured their stay in power in spite of those issues.

But not for long. Thaksin and his political allies may have the political power, but they obviously do not have the military might on their side. The self-preservation afforded by the system of government crumbled in the face of the rolling tanks, even with a constitutional provision which tags coups as treason, therefore punishable under their law. The military simply abolished the constitution and dissolved parliament. That's that.

SO if there is one lesson that we FIlipinos (especially the politicians) should learn about this recent Thai expereience, it is this---- we may fool some people some of the time, but we cannot fool all the people all of the time. The Cha-Cha proponents may fool a few people with their idea that a change in the system of government will eradicate coups, but many people, especially the military, know that a change in government without a change in the hearts and minds of those running the government, will still provide the reason for elements in the AFP to take the initiative on behalf of the people.

Now if only they could learn from the Thai military how to do it....

No comments: