2011 will be remembered as the year individuals made a difference.
A year ago a Tunisian fruit vendor called Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, went to the local Government office and set himself on fire. The authorities had been hounding him daily for bribes and finally seized his pushcart and contents. The event went viral launching the Arab Spring that took down Tunisian leader Ben Ali, Egyptian President Mubarak and Mohamed Gaddhafi of Libya. The personal if tragic gesture of one individual morphed into a collective consciousness that toppled oligarchs, something international pressure had failed to do for decades.
In India, one man, Anna Hazare, went on hunger strike to protest the corruption in the system. He attracted a following of thousands forcing the Government to introduce an Anti-Corruption Law that while meek has brought awareness to the issue.
In Russia, an anti-corruption blogger, Alexei Navalny, is credited for the protest movement now taking place against the reportedly rigged parliamentary elections, threatening the presidential election of Vladimir Putin.
In Wall Street and in world cities, an Occupy Movement has flowered to protest the wrongdoings of bank and corporate executives and the growing gap between the wealthy 1 percent and the 99 percent that make up hard working people.
In the Philippines three individuals- Teddy Casiño, Liza Masa and Carol Araullo- filed a complaint against GMA on the ZTE deal. It became the basis for criminal charges by the Ombudsman. This is significant not so much for the allegations but for the fact the Ombudsman, for the first time in memory, has given voice to ordinary citizens wishing to make the equivalent of a citizens’ arrest. This will encourage other civic-minded individuals to take similar action on issues of national import.
Time magazine voted these “Protesters” as Man of the Year. A UK reader sent me a headline of The Daily Telegraph’s year-end edition: “Corrupt Elites Are Being Named And Shamed- By The People”.
In the Philippines, the origin of People Power, Noynoy Aquino, a President but an individual nonetheless, has vowed to transform our society.
The initiative started unsteadily with the formation of the Truth Commission, a body that it was hoped would bypass the ineffectiveness of the judicial process to prosecute corruption. In fact it was a legal eunuch that lacked the power of enforcement. It was subsequently declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Ironically it was the demise of the Commission that was the genesis for the resignation of the Ombudsman, Merceditas Gutierrez, the hold order on GMA and the current move to impeach the SC Chief Justice.
Had the Commission taken its legally ineffectual course, it would have been mired in administrative delays and fact-finding struggles even today. Its abolishment forced Malacanang to face head on the problems of the Judiciary starting with the impeachment of Ms. Gutierrez. Its success in getting her to resign and the favorable public reaction, emboldened the Administration to challenge the Supreme Court in the GMA TRO matter and now to seek the removal of the highest judge of the land.
In a separate but parallel track, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee led by two Senators-Enrile and Osmeña- is looking to unearth seeming corporate wrongdoings in the Philex, MRT and other mega-transactions.
The Committee’s probe is principally “in aid of legislation” and, like the Truth Commission, lacks the legal teeth to prosecute. As a collegial body, it is also restricted by political considerations. What it does have, however, is the liberty of discovery on national television, unrestrained by court rules of evidence to uncover complex business structures- offshore hedge funds, nominee shell companies, directed trusts- and schemes. The information so gathered may be used by the Ombudsman and, for that matter, any individual(s) who understands the issues and can present them in a fully-formed narrative; to file plunder charges against the suspects, a non-bailable offense (R.A. 7080 defines plunder as ill-gotten wealth of over P50 million in a pattern of behavior). As in the ZTE case, regular citizens have now been empowered to bring wrongdoers to justice.
This is the story of 2011: That ordinary people doing extraordinary things can make ours a better place. This may take the form of action against social, corporate, political or criminal injustice; or it may take the form, simply, of love and respect for one another, the remembrance of small kindnesses that make for a gentler society. Witness the coming together of the Japanese following the tsunami.
The story is the power of one, one act, one voice that collectively can be a clamor against repression or a chorus of our humanity. Either way it is inspiring to behold.