EDSA 1986: The revolution that wasn’t

People Power Monument
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“Low key” is how this year’s commemoration of the February 1986 civilian-military uprising known as EDSA 1 is being described by the Duterte regime. There will be none of the “Salubungan” (the meeting of the key leaders of the mutiny and defecting police and military officers) that had been part of the celebration since the overthrow of the Marcos regime. Instead of its being celebrated at the People Power Monument on Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue (EDSA) in the vicinity of Camps Crame and Aguinaldo, whatever rites will mark that event 31 years ago will be held in the the latter military camp.

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Promises, promises

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THIS February the Philippines celebrates — if that indeed is the word — the 27th anniversary of the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship. Although the institutions of liberal democracy, among them elections, have since been restored, the promises of EDSA 1986 have not been fulfilled, and are quite probably doomed to join the vast collection of lost Filipino hopes and opportunities that is so much a part of this country’s history.

Philippine elections themselves have been far from the democratic exercises that in 1986 the progressive forces of the anti-dictatorship resistance hoped would emerge from the martial law experience. They expected the flowering of authentic democracy with the political ascendancy of workers and farmers — the most marginalized sectors in Philippine history — for the sake of the just and equitable society that for three hundred years and despite the Revolution of 1896 had eluded the Filipino nation.

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EDSA hijacked

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DESPITE its failure to deliver on its promises, some Filipinos still hail the 1986 EDSA uprising as a model of how peacefully change can be achieved.

The shift in Thailand from military rule to democracy in 1992, and the fall from power of Indonesia’s Suharto in 1998, for example, were supposedly among the political upheavals the event inspired. Changes in other parts of Asia and in Eastern Europe have similarly been credited to the demonstration effect of Philippine People Power, or EDSA 1986.

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The 1986 restoration

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If Filipinos were not massing in droves along Manila’s Epifanio de los Santos Avenue in celebration of the 24th anniversary of EDSA 1 this year, it was because most of them had forgotten or never really knew what exactly was being commemorated. Some of those who do remember, however, don’t see what the fuss is all about, and would go along with the self-serving assessment of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. that EDSA 1 was “a failure.”

If the attitude of the latter suits Marcos fine, the amnesia of the former is equally agreeable to some of the principal actors and beneficiaries of EDSA. They’ve been saying for years that People Power — the means through which the government of Ferdinand Marcos fell in 1986 in EDSA 1, and which in 2001 forced Joseph Estrada out of Malacanang in EDSA 2 — is better left to future generations to remember and appreciate.

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