People Power Revisited

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It was the military who drove Ferdinand Marcos out of Malacanang and into exile in 1986, and they who handed over the power they had wrested from him to Corazon Aquino. For this service the country should thank the civilian and military leaders–specifically then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and then Armed Forces Vice Chief of Staff Fidel V. Ramos– who made the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship possible.

If the Marcos soldiery did not fire at the EDSA crowds during the five days of the EDSA 1 revolt (February 22 to 25), it was out of the goodness of their hearts. They could not bear to fire on the people massed at EDSA because these were their people, and Filipinos like them.

People Power itself–through which the people in their millions drove a dictator out of office–was an inexplicable phenomenon, an event made possible by no more than revelation, and it was the result of God’s special love for the Philippines and Filipinos.

We’ve been hearing these claims again lately, as the country–or at least some Filipinos–celebrated the 20th anniversary of EDSA 1. But the Arroyo government, a reluctant commemorator of EDSA 1 if ever there was one, has also come up with a few claims of its own in addition to those of the usual suspects’.

About the military’s pivotal role in EDSA 1, now Senator Juan Ponce Enrile has been the most vocal. The former defense secretary declared recently in an interview with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism that if ever there were another EDSA he would not “turn power over to the unprepared.”

By “the unprepared” Enrile meant Corazon Aquino, from whom he became politically estranged almost immediately after EDSA 1. Apparently Enrile now agrees with his former boss, the late Ferdinand Marcos, that Aquino was unfit for the presidency. The claim that Aquino was “walang alam” (she knows nothing) was Marcos’ campaign line during the snap elections of 1986. Enrile also implied that he would take power himself, if ever such a golden opportunity presented itself again.

That’s as candid as Enrile’s ever been in years, and I suppose that in his view he, Ramos and company were in control of the situation when the coup they were plotting against Marcos was discovered, and they were in imminent danger of being arrested and thrown into one of their own dungeons. They didn’t need the millions of Filipinos who streamed into that part of EDSA between Camps Crame and Aguinaldo when the late Jaime Cardinal Sin asked them to protect Enrile and Ramos.

Enrile thus acknowledged Aquino as the duly elected president, and “turned power over” to her not because it wasn’t really his choice, but because that was the patriotic thing to do. All those coup attempts from 1987 to 1989 led by his former close-in security chief Gregorio Honasan were, to follow his argument, merely means to recover what was really his to give. That means it was Enrile who should have been president from 1986 onwards, not Aquino, who was, still according to Enrile, the beneficiary of his generous heart rather than of the people’s acclaim.

On the other hand, nuns and priests as well as middle class personalities are the principal authors of the second claim. Unlike the first, this is not always driven by arrogance and self-serving interests. It is often based on a belief in the essential goodness of people including Marcos’ soldiers, as well as the hope that any opportunity for change in the future would be as “bloodless” as EDSA 1 was.

As for the third claim, it’s based on middle-class assumptions that before it contributed the bulk of the millions at EDSA in 1986, no one was fighting the Marcos regime, except, possibly, Ninoy Aquino, who was subsequently killed in 1983. That means that no one died, no one was arrested, detained and/or tortured until 1983. There was no underground press, no activists living in constant threat of death, no New People’s Army, no Moro National Liberation Front, no international human rights groups opposing the Marcos dictatorship from 1972 to 1986. The anti-Marcos resistance began in 1986 and ended in 1986. EDSA 1 and People Power were like Pallas Athena, who sprang fully-grown from the head of Jove.

As quaint as these claims are, the more interesting interpretations of People Power have issued from Malacanang ever since it decided to mark the 20th anniversary of EDSA 1 with a flag-raising ceremony. The most recent is Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s declaration that the “spirit of EDSA” is best lived by “helping each other”.

Since Mrs. Arroyo made that declaration when she was about to enplane for Leyte to help the victims of the landslide and their kin in front of the cameras and with a legion of media people in tow, the conclusion is that it’s Mrs. Arroyo who best exemplifies the EDSA spirit.

Being the great unifier that she is, Mrs. Arroyo has also sniped at former presidents Ramos and Aquino by proclaiming that she’s the best leader the country can ever have in these troubled and troubling times–a less than oblique reference to Mrs. Aquino, whose watch even the most well-meaning are at a loss to praise–and by attacking those (read: Ramos) who claim to have “a franchise on People Power”.

Mrs. Arroyo herself has no franchise on People Power, having been only the beneficiary of EDSA 2, and being in constant danger of being the victim of the next People Power uprising. That is why she’s now joined the list of those who, for various reasons, have been trying to reinterpret EDSA 1 ever since it happened.

Some of the interpretations are based on inadequate information, which is forgivable. But others, including Enrile’s and Mrs. Arroyo’s, are simply self-serving. These latter attempts at historical revision Filipinos may safely dismiss as of no moment to the main point about People Power, which is that a sovereign people does have the power to remove presidents and entire governments. And if they’ve done it twice, they can do it again.

(Business Mirror)

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