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The US Capitol riot: Seizing the moment

By JOANNE RAE M. RAMIREZ, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 14, 2021 4:00 pm

What’s in a moment? A lifetime of changes. An era of consequences.

Victory. Defeat. Eternal fame. Eternal shame.

All these can be the consequences of a moment.

What happened at the US Capitol last week was probably not conceived in a moment, but the first bold surge towards the Capitol was, followed by another, and then another until it was no longer a string of moments but an insurrection.

On Jan. 6, 2021, an angry mob composed of thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to overturn his defeat in the 2020 elections. They wanted to disrupt, nay, stop, the electoral college vote that would certify the election of Joe Biden as president of the United States. They breached police lines, vandalized and looted parts of the building for hours. At least one policeman was crushed by the door in the onslaught. Another policeman died. Four civilians lost their lives as well.

Here are excerpts of what Trump told his supporters before they marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, according to a report by The New York Times: “Republicans are constantly fighting like a boxer with his hands tied behind his back. It’s like a boxer. And we want to be so nice. We want to be so respectful of everybody, including bad people. And we’re going to have to fight much harder…”

The images of the storming of the Capitol, the vandalism, the Trump supporter getting comfy on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s chair, reminded me of the storming of Malacañang Palace in 1986, and later, in the so-called EDSA Tres in 2001.

EDSA 1986 was euphoric and largely non-violent. It succeeded in deposing the dictator, and world leaders immediately acknowledged the legitimacy of the presidency of Corazon Aquino.

But there were also those who took advantage of the euphoria of the moment, or perhaps, were just feeling uncaged after years of being chained — storming the Palace and looting its offices, and breaking into the personal quarters of the deposed president. 

I know from Malacañang veterans that typewriters were scurried away from a building adjacent to the main Palace that housed the offices of the Department of Budget. I have no knowledge of which items were spirited from Malacañang Palace itself when people ogled its grandiosity and its secrets, seeing leftovers on a dining table, a bedroom with a hospital bed, and thousands of pairs of shoes. (Thank God, the chandeliers in the main halls were too big to smuggle out, but I did hear whispers of other sparklers — of the smaller kind, comparatively  — being brought out.)

I had long sighed and cried at the many pockmarks in the face of democracy in the Philippines – labeled “democrazy” by some pundits – and was stunned that the United States, the country I had long looked up to as the true bastion of democracy in the modern world, had not just a pockmark but a black eye.

The May 1 riots of 2001, or EDSA III, were sparked by the arrest of then newly deposed President Joseph Estrada. The protest was held for seven days on EDSA, which eventually culminated in an attempt to storm Malacañang. Some protesters were reportedly under the influence of drugs, and charged through barbed wire, as though the latter were invisible.

I recall the storming of Malacañang in 1986  (EDSA I) as cathartic for a long-oppressed people. (Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez believes that EDSA I was perhaps the only “legitimate” people power revolution in the Philippines.)

EDSA II deposed Estrada and installed Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Jan. 2001. EDSA III was a cry by the masses, albeit infiltrated by troublemakers, for a populist leader and history should heed its lessons as well.

None of the three EDSAs had a sitting president calling on his/her supporters, in so many words, to storm the bastions of government.

I had long sighed and cried at the many pockmarks in the face of democracy in the Philippines – labeled “democrazy” by some pundits – and was stunned that the United States, the country I had long looked up to as the true bastion of democracy in the modern world, had not just a pockmark but a black eye.

How? Why? Tell me it isn’t so. Because the country that I believed helped preserve democracy in the Philippines when one of its senators asked Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 “to cut and cut cleanly,” the very country that sent fighter jets to help save the besieged government of Corazon Aquino during the 1989 coup attempt, was now talking about how to deal constitutionally with its very own president who at the time of this writing was still refusing to concede defeat. The proof of the pudding, to my mind, was the “Gloria Dance” caught in a video of Trump and his supporters shortly before the Capitol was burning, so to speak. Betchabygollywow. I didn’t expect this from my country’s democracy mentor.

“[But] what is happening in the US also illustrates the checks and balances built into the US Constitution, that allows the US government to contain [Trump’s] damage,” believes my sister Dr. Geraldine Mayor, a New Jersey-based psychiatrist who is also a US citizen like my parents. “The Legislative Branch rebuked him.”

True enough, the wheels of the US Congress immediately rolled into action, carrying on the tasks the rioters sought to disrupt and certifying the election of Joe Biden in the wee hours of the morning following the attack on the Capitol.

Last Wednesday (Tuesday night in DC), the House of Representatives passed a nonbinding measure calling on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove President Donald Trump from office. Pence has said he won’t invoke the amendment.

As of this writing, the Associated Press has reported that the House “was expected to impeach President Trump for his encouragement of supporters who stormed the US Capitol, a vote that would make him the first American president to be impeached twice.” They don’t expect the Senate to hold a trial to convict or acquit Trump before Biden’s inauguration, but they believe a clear message has been sent.

Will all other countries who look up to the United States be terribly disillusioned by the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol?

Or will the US Congress, and the American people, seize the moment, nay, seize the day, and turn around a dark day for democracy into a teaching moment that will buttress its foundations for generations to come?

I am rooting for democracy, however flawed it sometimes is.

After all, it is never too late for even the most seasoned virtuosos to learn something new in the perfection of their craft.