Jennifer Santos's eyes gleamed as she recalled her days as a young housewife staring down government tanks ordered to the streets by longtime dictator Ferdinand Marcos. For the better part of a week in 1986, she and tens of thousands of other Filipinos, carrying flowers and rosary beads, camped along the capital's gritty Edsa Boulevard until Marcos fell.
She remembered with less enthusiasm returning to the boulevard four years ago when another graft-tainted leader, Joseph Estrada, left office after a single night of protests. "By the next morning," Santos recounted, "I was in Starbucks drinking coffee, and we had a new president."
Now, that president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is facing a crescendo of calls to step down due to allegations she cheated in national elections last year. But like the vast majority of other Edsa veterans, Santos, 44, is not very interested in joining the few protesters on the streets.
"I got tired. It happens over and over again," Santos said. "Our political system never changes."
Across Manila, disappointment in Arroyo is surpassed only by a weary recognition that the Philippines' celebrated protest movement known as "people power" has run its course, and that no new political savior is at hand to rally the masses.
Arroyo has been buffeted by mounting pressure that she resign, from members of her cabinet, prominent political allies and businessmen. But only several thousand flag-waving demonstrators joined the main anti-Arroyo rally Friday in Manila's business district. Local office workers appeared almost oblivious to the event.
On Saturday, the six-lane Edsa Boulevard was clogged with traffic. Not a protester was in sight and the adjacent plaza at the heroic People Power monument was empty.
Luzviminda A. Santos, 52, a compact woman with intense brown eyes and shoulder-length black hair streaked with gray, was invited by several friends to join a small anti-Arroyo demonstration Saturday morning outside the local Santo Domingo church. She told them she would try to make it, but instead stayed home drinking coffee and watching the dizzying political developments on television.
"I said to myself, 'What for?' "
She said she held no affection for Arroyo; a poster of the president with snakes writhing in her hair hangs in her foyer. But she frets there is no worthy successor -- Vice President Noli de Castro and Senate President Franklin Drilon are no better in her view -- and the public is divided over whom to support.
"Who will replace her? Another politician? Another trapo?" Santos asked, using the local slang term for traditional politician.
Luzviminda shares more with Jennifer Santos than their common Philippine last name. She is also a disheartened veteran of the two earlier protest movements. Luzviminda is part of a small group of Filipinos who have long fought for political change.
In 1986, she was a community activist newly released from a Marcos jail in the southern Philippines when the crowds of protesters began to swell. With a soft laugh, she recalled the euphoria of being swept along by the throng through the gates of Malacanang Palace after the dictator fled. She recounted elderly Filipinos being moved to tears because it was the first time they ever had been able to pass the barbed wire and visit the fortified seat of their own government.
Yet within six months, Santos said she had grown disillusioned with the new president, Corazon Aquino, because her policies favored the wealthy, not the peasants and urban poor. Aquino served a term in office until 1992, and has been credited for defending the country's transition to democracy.
Four years ago, Santos said, she was among the first to reach Edsa Boulevard and demand Estrada's ouster. But this time there was little idealism, and the ascension of Arroyo, a product of the wealthy landed classes, was an immediate letdown.
"Everyone is fatigued now with people power. It can't snowball to people power again," she said.
By contrast, Jennifer Santos, who had studied law at the elite Ateneo de Manila University where Arroyo was a professor, said she initially had great expectations for the president.
"I got so disappointed. I think she cheated and the economic situation is not improving," she said, her hands cradling a pair of mobile telephones she always carries so her family can find her.
Still, she added, "We have no choice. If we go to the streets again, who do we choose to lead this country?" De Castro, a former television news anchor who recently entered politics, is unfit to be president, she said.
Raised under martial law, Santos said she had raced to Edsa Boulevard in 1986 to teach her young children to care about their country. "I didn't want them to grow up indifferent to the political and economic situation," she recalled.
"I saw tanks coming right at me," she continued. "I was a housewife with no job and three kids at the time. What do I do? I helped place sandbags. Would they shoot at us? We hope not."
After the first day, the confrontation turned into a carnival.
"All my relatives were there. I bumped into people I hadn't met in a really long time. And afterward, we were all happy," she said.
But now, she said her family is less interested in the current political showdown than the basketball game Sunday between the country's two premier universities. She predicted the Manila sports coliseum would attract more people this weekend than any demonstration.
"Are there people in Edsa now?" she asked. "Is anything happening now? I don't even care."