Satur C. Ocampo | Edsa 1, Broadly

At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

Juxtaposed with the anti-dictatorship upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East, last week’s 25th anniversary of the 1986 Edsa popular uprising again stirred feelings of pride and frustration among Filipinos.

The pride stems from our having successfully carried out the first “people power” that ousted a dictatorship through peaceful mass action. The frustration boils out of the unfulfilled promises of post-dictatorship reforms.

These contrasting moods are depicted in one newspaper’s editorials on Feb. 25 and Feb. 26. The first editorial hails the four days of Edsa as a “truly glorious, shining moment in our history… The dictator was ousted, an entirely new government took over, democracy was restored.”

The next day’s editorial rues: “After Edsa, the Marcos-era ills didn’t flee with the dictator. They merely changed spot – or, more crudely, changed hands, and continued thriving… Edsa’s unfulfilled promise has lasted 25 years, and counting…”

There are a number of reasons why the promised changes have not come about. Before we look into these reasons, let’s dwell awhile on who should be credited for the emergence of that “shining moment in our history.”

Much of the published recollections in the media tend to limit Edsa 1’s beginning to just the weeks preceding the mass-up of people on Edsa, or to the four days in February, and highlight the roles of personalities who still haunt the corridors of power today.

One seasoned journalist-opinion writer critically notes the military’s efforts to “dominate the narrative of the commemoration with their own self-serving versions” that, he adds, “hardly mentioned the importance of the unarmed people on Edsa in toppling Marcos.”

Another grey-haired journalist disdainfully writes: “People power erupted as Filipino communists quarreled, in safe houses, whether they’d join or not. They didn’t – and ended up as ‘history’s orphans.’”

On the other hand, two highly respected religious leaders offer a deeper and broader perspective on how the events that led to Marcos’s ouster developed over several years of struggle. I refer to Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, SJ, and Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB.

Fr. Bernas points out: “Edsa was but a part of a process, albeit the most memorable both for the intensity of its emotion and its dramatically eye-catching and infectious symbolism. But the long process of which it was a part includes both the struggles that precipitated the imposition of martial law as well as the struggles during the long dark nights that followed.”

Specifically, Fr. Bernas cites “the underground struggle, the bloody encounters, the groans of torture victims, the pamphleteering, the rallies, both political and religious, the silent storming of heaven by contemplative nuns, the whir of fax machines, the electoral struggle under the most adverse circumstances,” among other factors.

Sr. Mary John, in an oral testimony on Edsa Stories, a website project of Focus on the Global South-Philippines, emphatically states, “Without the Left, there would have been no Edsa.”

Narrating her own experience of participation in the Left-initiated seminars on how to analyze the problems of Philippine society and how to conduct protest actions and mass mobilizations against the Marcos dictatorship, she concludes, “Without all that, how could we nuns have summoned the courage to face up to the tanks and fully-armed soldiers?”

Let’s now look at the reasons why reforms, which could have made her government “the exact opposite of the Marcos dictatorship” as President Cory Aquino promised, have not happened. Briefly, I can cite the following:

1. The Cory government was not an “entirely new government.” It adopted Marcos’s entire defense and military establishment, led by Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel V. Ramos, the martial law implementers who later abandoned Marcos. The duo publicly opposed Cory’s peace initiative with the Left, sabotaged the 60-day ceasefire agreement with the CPP-NPA. Till her term ended, the military opposed the resumption of peace talks.

Despite the formal inclusion of human rights in the formation of military and police officers and men, the martial-law mindset ingrained among the armed state agents — that they can wantonly violate human rights without being punished — have persisted.

2. Notwithstanding the recommendation of the late Sen. Jose W. Diokno, then chair of the Presidential Committee on Human Rights, to repeal all repressive Marcos decrees and orders, Cory retained several of them, reportedly upon the advice of her legal counsels.

Among these are: GO 66 and 67 (authorizing checkpoints and warrantless searches); PD 1866 (filing illegal possession of firearms charge in political offenses); BP 880 (restricting and controlling the right to peaceful assembly); EO 129 (authorizing demolition of urban poor communities); EO 264 (legalizing the CAFGUs).

3. Against the urgent calls to either repudiate or seek the condonation of loans that had bloated the nation’s external-debt-to-GDP ratio from 31% in 1971 to 94% in 1986 (according to then NEDA head Solita Collas-Monsod) without benefitting the people, Cory opted to pay all such debts.

Why? Ask Jose Concepcion Jr., Cory’s trade and industry secretary. Today he still gets all riled up when he recalls the arrogance of the IMF representative in telling the Cory cabinet’s economic team to pay the loans accumulated by Marcos. — Reposted by (

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