EDSA People Power Revolution
The Philippines was praised worldwide in 1986, when the so-called bloodless revolution erupted, called EDSA People Power’s Revolution. February 25, 1986 marked a significant national event that has been engraved in the hearts and minds of every Filipino. This part of Philippine history gives us a strong sense of pride especially that other nations had attempted to emulate what we have shown the world of the true power of democracy. The true empowerment of democracy was exhibited in EDSA by its successful efforts to oust a tyrant by a demonstration without tolerance for violence and bloodshed. Prayers and rosaries strengthened by faith were the only weapons that the Filipinos used to recover their freedom from President Ferdinand Marcos’s iron hands. The Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) stretches 54 kilometers, where the peaceful demonstration was held on that fateful day. It was a day that gathered all Filipinos in unity with courage and faith to prevail democracy in the country. It was the power of the people, who assembled in EDSA, that restored the democratic Philippines, ending the oppressive Marcos regime. Hence, it came to be known as the EDSA People Power’s Revolution.
The revolution was a result of the long oppressed freedom and the life threatening abuses executed by the Marcos government to cite several events like human rights violation since the tyrannical Martial Law Proclamation in 1972. In the years that followed Martial Law started the suppressive and abusive years–incidents of assassination were rampant, particularly those who opposed the government, individuals and companies alike were subdued. The Filipinos reached the height of their patience when former Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Sr. was shot and killed at the airport in August 21, 1983, upon his return to the Philippines from exile in the United States. Aquino’s death marked the day that Filipinos learned to fight. His grieving wife, Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino showed the Filipinos and the world the strength and courage to claim back the democracy that Ferdinand Marcos arrested for his personal caprice. Considering the depressing economy of the country, Ninoy’s death further intensified the contained resentment of the Filipinos. In the efforts to win back his popularity among the people, Marcos held a snap presidential election in February 7, 1986, where he was confronted with a strong and potent opposition, Corazon Aquino. It was the most corrupt and deceitful election held in the Philippine history. There was an evident trace of electoral fraud as the tally of votes were declared with discrepancy between the official count by the COMELEC (Commission on Elections) and the count of NAMFREL (National Movement for Free Elections). Such blatant corruption in that election was the final straw of tolerance by the Filipinos of the Marcos regime. The demonstration started to break in the cry for democracy and the demand to oust Marcos from his seat at Malacañang Palace. The revolt commenced when Marcos' Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and the Armed Forces Vice-Chief of Staff command of Fidel V. Ramos, both withdrew their support from the government and called upon the resignation of then President Marcos. They responsibly barricaded Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo and had their troops ready to combat against possible armed attack organized by Marcos and his troops. The Catholic Church represented by Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin along with the priests and nuns called for the support of all Filipinos who believed in democracy. Radyo Veritas aired the message of Cardinal Sin that summoned thousands of Filipinos to march the street of EDSA. It was an empowering demonstration that aimed to succeed peacefully with the intervention of faith. Nuns kneeled in front of tanks with rosaries in their hands and uttering their prayers.
With the power of prayers, the armed marine troops under the command of Marcos withdrew from the site. Celebrities expressed their support putting up a presentation to showcase the injustices and the anomalies carried out by the Marcos administration. Finally, in the morning of February 25, 1986, Corazon Aquino took the presidential oath of office, administered by the Supreme Court Associate Justice Claudio Teehankee at Club Filipino located in San Juan. Aquino was proclaimed as the 11th President of the Republic of the Philippines. She was the first lady president of the country. People rejoiced over their victory proving the success of the EDSA People’s Power Revolution, the historic peaceful demonstration. Although in 2001, there was an attempt to revive People Power in the efforts to oust then President Joseph Estrada, it was not as strong as the glorifying demonstration in 1986. The bloodless, People Power Revolution in EDSA renewed the power of the people, strengthened the meaning of democracy and restored the democratic institutions of government. Continue to the 5th Republic (1986) up to the Present Time.
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We are at the start of a revolution that is uniquely Filipino in the same way that Edsa I was. The past decades that were a slow drift to an implosion due to rampant corruption, weakened institutions and the apathy of Filipinos have finally been arrested—not by a man on a white horse, or a soldier atop a tank, but through the ballot by a foul-mouthed Indio, the first politician courageous enough to challenge the Catholic Church and the powerful, arrogant and, yes, unclean media. His ideology in its basic simplicity is love of country and people, and a willingness to sacrifice for it.
The ramifications of Mr. Duterte’s assault on the rotten status quo, which has begun with the war on drugs, will go deeper into the matrix of our society and government as police, politicians and powerful Filipinos are subjected to the harsh scrutiny of the revolution. Eventually the highest enclaves of privilege will feel its impact for the simple reason that rampant corruption also afflicts our business and banking sectors.
Many of our problems are due to the irresponsibility of the oligarchs; they are the No. 1 culprit of our economic and moral decline. They argue and make decisions from comfortable positions. The revolution is happening, and they cannot see it. Perhaps, when it reaches them, they will be forced to be more socially involved and invest in enterprises that will “spread money like fertilizer.” They may even bring home the money they have stashed or invested abroad, and participate in the resurgence of ethics and patriotism.
Populist programs particularly in education, in health and in housing are an absolute necessity, but they should not cultivate mendicancy. It is important that many jobs are created as President Roosevelt did during America’s Great Depression. The monetary aid being dispensed to the very poor under the past administration should be stopped and jobs put in its place.
Populist programs should not bankrupt the economy and result in dire shortages of food and medicines, as is happening in oil-rich Venezuela. Apart from creating jobs and therefore increasing production, the Duterte administration should also widen the tax base and intensify tax collection. As in the United States, tax evasion should be dealt with severely by imprisonment and confiscation of assets. There is hardly anyone in this country that is put in jail for tax evasion. It will take a lot of courage to do this, but President Duterte has tons of it.
His massive support cuts across ethnicities, across social, economic and generational divides. All sorts of people supported his election, among them those who saw where the wind was blowing. Even the Moros did. The Left did not; as in Edsa I, their feet were not on the ground. They supported Grace Poe, unmindful of the big money that was behind her.
Yet, upon occupying office, President Duterte took the high moral ground by accommodating the communist left and extending a hand to the Moro rebels. The response of these rebel movements to his offer of a unilateral ceasefire and peace will validate—or invalidate—their sincerity. It is only with peace that we can have real development.
The first weeks of the Duterte administration have given us hope in several sectors—in agriculture, in the welfare of our overseas Filipino workers, in transportation, education, housing, telecommunications and services. And most of all, access to the very top for the aggrieved, and transparency of government transactions, long withheld by politicians and the powerful with secrets to hide.
His major failing, as I see it, is his accommodation of the Marcos dictatorship. Why? He is fully aware of its evil, its immoral excesses, and its singular role in impoverishing our country. For that reason it is too early to be euphoric.
Make no mistake, though. This revolution is rooted in ethics and patriotism, as were most revolutions in the past.
It will not be a quick fix. The Mexican and Vietnamese revolutions lasted one generation; we must be prepared for the painful process, the collateral damage, the emotional travail.
Yet there is no certitude, no guarantee, that this revolution will create a free and just society. Remember how the French revolution devoured its own children, Madame Roland exclaiming before the guillotine, “Oh liberty, what crimes are committed in your name!”
That revolution ushered in Napoleon, just like the American revolutionary war preceded the civil war, the Chinese revolution brought about the great proletarian cultural revolution that decimated hundreds of thousands, and the Iranian revolution brought about Islamic fundamentalism. But the revolutions changed these countries forever. For this is what every revolution does: It alters society, and transfers power from the oppressor to the oppressed.
It is a risk that all people must take to be free of oppression, to have justice. It is up to the survivors of any revolution to realize that it does not bring immediate social benefits to the people. At its conclusion, it is precisely at this opportune time that revolutionaries have to work harder to make that cataclysmic change bear fruit. It is the time when they should depart to be replaced by excellent administrators who have the technical knowledge and expertise for development. The sword must now be forged into a plowshare.
In ushering in meaningful change for the Philippines, President Duterte has incurred the wrath of so many in all levels of society, from the slums to the perfumed precincts of the very rich who feel that their status and privileges are threatened. It is very possible that this very day, conspiracies are being hatched to assassinate him. If such plans succeed, they may well halt the revolution although several changes have been made permanent.
But our past has shown how Filipinos easily forget and are not all that vigilant. Soon, the baser side of our nature, our instincts, will prevail. President Magsaysay brought about a clean government but upon his death in 1957, in that airplane crash which up to this very day is considered by many as sabotage, corruption returned instantly. And the very stalwarts who supported Magsaysay could do little to stop the resurgence of this evil.
Whatever good the Duterte revolution succeeds in implanting in the Filipino consciousness must therefore be made permanent, institutionalized. This can be made possible by constant testing under stress, as metals are tested and strengthened by fire, and by also ingesting in our hearts the ideal of love of country and people—and the willingness to sacrifice for it—so that we can redeem this unhappy country at last.
F. Sionil Jose is a national artist for literature.
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TAGS: revolution, Rodrigo Duterte