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Whither Asia's pioneers of protest?

Corruption cases against Filipino President Arroyo haven't sparked another 'people power' revolt.

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Analysts cite a number of reasons: Many Filipinos now question the usefulness of protests that seem to replace one corrupt leader with another. Others feel that, with elections slated for 2010, it is better to allow democracy to run its course. But some say people do want change. What People Power is missing is leadership, they add, particularly from the Church.

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Angelito Banyo, director of PR Politik, a think tank in Manila, cites a recent poll by Pulse Asia indicating that 16 percent of the 1.5 million people in Metro Manila, a cluster comprising the capital and 15 surrounding cities, are ready to go out on the street.

"That's more than what we had in [People Power I] and [People Power II]. There are sleepers who could be People Power revolters," Mr. Banyo says, adding that "in the absence of a recognizable crop of leaders, it's probably the Church who could give some moral authority to another people power revolt."

But the Church isn't taking on the role. For many Filipinos, this was driven home with Arroyo's scandal in February. Though the Church publicly condemned the corruption, it didn't call for Arroyo to step down. If it had, analysts say, a popular revolt might have resulted. "A decision [by the bishops] to join a street clamor for the President's resignation would have ... sparked a massive people power revolt," an editorial in the influential Manila Times said in late February.

Church officials defend their action, saying that doctrine recently promulgated by the Vatican instructs the Catholic church to refrain from direct political involvement.

"The bishops now have specified some activities as purely political activities, for example, calling on the president to step down," says Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, head of public affairs for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, the governing body of the clergy.

But for many Filipinos, there is a perception that something more is at play. Local newspapers revealed in March that the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, a lottery agency run by the office of the president, has given tens of thousands of dollars to the Church for various projects since 2006. "[Arroyo] has 'bought' most of the bishops in the sense that, she's given them support for their social projects," says Banyo.

Church officials have defended the donations, saying they need money, but critics say it shows that the Catholic church has grown weak financially – and is willing to make deals with the government in return for support.

Not that all bishops support the president. "Some of us are rabidly supportive of the government. Some of us are angrily against the government," says Archbishop Oscar Cruz, a prominent critic of the administration.

As a result, the clergy in the Philippines find themselves deeply divided over Arroyo's rule. And that makes it impossible to lead. "We don't speak as one voice," the archbishop continues.

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