The People Power that was
Feb. 25, 2018 was a public holiday. No big deal, it was a Sunday anyway. It has been 32 years since People Power wrested back the democracy that was stolen and plundered by the 14-year dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos. Is it just a cynical “Walang forever” (Nothing is forever) that the passion of the EDSA I People Power Revolution of 1986 has waned, and the anniversary celebrations have become tepid, as in the often natural decline of an aging, erstwhile romantic relationship? Sad.
Corazon “Cory” Aquino, who emerged as romantic heroine and unexpected heiress to the democratic groundswell of EDSA I, suffered several coups d’états during her term. The Davide Commission that investigated these concluded that then Defense secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and members of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) were behind the “God Save the Queen” plot and the August 1987 coup led by then colonel Gregorio Honasan ( The Davide FactFinding Commission . The Final Report of the Fact-Finding Commission [ pursuant to R. A. No. 6832]. Makati City: Bookmark, Inc. ISBN 971-569-003-3).
The story of the coups has to be told, vis-à-vis the bothersome, nagging questions in the deep collective consciousness — why the betrayal of Cory and of the EDSA principles by EDSA defenders, and why the now-perceptible lack of interest by many of the common tao, the disenchantment, or maybe a growing disrespect for EDSA I and its significance to us as a people? The Davide Report said of the Marcos loyalists’ attempted takeover of government in July 1986: “Perhaps the most significant indication of the public sentiment towards the Manila Hotel incident was the fact that people generally went about their own business, unaffected by the loyalists’ call for support (Ibid.).”But neither was there a collective strong condemnation against the power-grab try, nor was there anger and indignance at the coups.
“Wala lang,” says the hip slang, meaning, “whatever.” So was it “wala lang” for the military coups and attempted coups on the simple housewife suddenly made President? The public did not really get infuriated with the post- EDSA I attacks on hardrestored democracy and on their birthright to ruling the country, and not being ruled by a dictator. Contradictorily, the people were expecting the leader that replaced the dictator to be strong, firm, and powerful. Perhaps the common people thought: they did their part in People Power ousting the big and powerful dictator Marcos — now, Cory, prove yourself strong enough to shoo the many little dogs that yelp and nip at your heels. We fought and won the big war — now fight your own battles.
The coup situation in Cory’s time was quieted by Fidel Ramos, erstwhile partner with Enrile in leading the military component
of the EDSA People Power Revolution. Enrile had fallen from grace, with Cory and with the people. Ramos became president after Cory, and served his six-year term under Article 7, Section 4, of the 1987 Constitution, which states the president is not eligible for reelection.
But presidents after Cory have all seemed claustrophobic with the six-year term constraint in the Constitution. Was it the experience of cushy power in being president of over a hundred million Filipinos ( yet voted by less than 15%, most likely) that might have tempted presidents to want to stay in power beyond six years? Was it the self- serving reading by sitting politicians that Filipinos will let well enough be in the “wala lang” attitude as demonstrated in the diminishing of the “Cory magic” and the waning of the EDSA I People Power glow? “The issue of charter change has been brought up by almost every administration since martial law (Rappler, “Look Back: Past Charter Change attempts and why they failed,” Jan. 17).”
Dante Gatmaytan of the University of the Philippines College of Law was quoted as saying that the 1987 Constitution was crafted as the country was emerging from the decades-long martial law period. “Our skepticism is rooted in the Marcos era where the dictator used constitutional change to duck term limits. Since that trust was betrayed, politicians have not earned our respect,” Gatmaytan said ( Ibid.) In the same report, Retired Supreme Court ( SC) Justice Vicente Mendoza said: “The reason the many attempts of Congress or groups to change the 1987 Constitution failed is not by reason of intrinsic merit. It is because the attempts were viewed as nothing but veiled attempts to extend the term of office of the president. That is the simple reason (Ibid.).”
And so, presidents after Ramos (excluding Benigno S. C. Aquino III) have tried to downplay the glory of EDSA I, and what it would remind the Filipino people — “Never again” to dictatorship and its various faces of term extensions and political dynasty perpetuation. Shame on the shame-faced “Divide and Rule” motivation, in pushing for self-interested federalism in a country too small and yet too poor — to be chopped and fed in bite-sized morsels to insatiable political dynasties.
Never has it been until now that the celebration of the EDSA People Power Revolution has been so grudgingly allowed by the incumbent governance. “Last year, President Duterte, who openly admits having close ties with the Marcos family, also did not attend the commemoration of the bloodless revolt (as he did not, this year) (GMA News, Feb 21).” It was announced early enough that the President will be in Davao for his usual quiet weekend with his family. Pastor “Boy” Saycon, former Cory supporter recently appointed by Duterte to the “EDSA People Power Commission” announced that “all ‘ Yellows’ are invited to go to EDSA, unlike in the past”(ABS-CBN, Feb. 21).”
“Duterte has been critical of the so-called ‘ Yellows,’ identified with the previous ( Aquino) administration and whom he earlier claimed were plotting to destabilize his administration,” the news report said (Ibid.). “There should be no color at the EDSA Anniversary,” Saycon, former “Yellow,” said in the live TV interview.
The double-talk on factionalism, regionalism, and divisiveness can waylay the focus on true democracy in our country, just as the blurring memories of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution might make us lose sight of our heritage of being one people who has repeatedly proven that we will together fight for what is right and good for all.
Students in Metro Manila and other parts of the country staged a walkout on Friday to protest a number of issues, such as charter change, federalism, tax reform law, and martial law in Mindanao (CNN Philippines, Feb. 23). At the EDSA People Power Monument, Tindig Pilipinas protested against charter change. The group had said the real intention behind moves to amend the Constitution is to provide term extensions for those who are already in power (ABS-CBN, Feb. 20).
On Saturday Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle led the “Walk for Life” held simultaneously in other dioceses, against extrajudicial killings, the death penalty, and the removal of pro-life provisions in the Constitution. In February last year, more than 20,000 people joined the Walk for Life, making a stand for the value and dignity of human life (cbcpnews.net, Feb. 12).
People Power is alive, thank God!