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.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, for example, proclaimed this year that People Power has been “divisive” and politicized — i.e., it has become a constant threat to sitting governments, particularly hers. Since demands for her resignation escalated in 2005, Mrs. Arroyo has downplayed EDSAs 1 and 2 in her government’s scheme of things, marking both anniversaries as an afterthought and as something to get over with, like Monday’s flag-raising ceremony.

Fidel V. Ramos, who as chief of the defunct Philippine Constabulary in 1986 withdrew his support for Ferdinand Marcos when he moved to arrest him for involvement in an alleged coup, has disparaged People Power for the image of political instability its exercise presents to the world and foreign investors.

As for Juan Ponce Enrile, who was implicated in the coup plot being hatched by the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) in 1986 and was forced to seek the people’s protection together with Ramos, he’s long written off EDSA 1 as an anomaly because it led to Corazon Aquino’s, rather than to his, assuming the Presidency.

Enrile also credits the military for the overthrow of Marcos in 1986, and for Estrada’s abandoning Malacanang in 2001– in the belief that what matters most is who has the guns rather than the numbers that democratic theory says should prevail in political disputes.

The bottom line for these three worthies is that, having benefitted from People Power, no one else should, henceforth — a view that’s both self-serving as well as based on fears that what put them in power can remove them (or could have), and that People Power can go ”too far” if encouraged.

One can appreciate their apprehension. Suppose People Power actually put someone in power other than a member of the handful of families that have been in power in this country since 1946? What if People Power actually changed something?

Filipinos aren’t as enthusiastic or even as interested in People Power as many think they should be precisely because it didn’t change much, whatever it changed is constantly under challenge, and it didn’t go far enough.

It’s customary to say today that what EDSA 1 was about was to remove Marcos. But the more perceptive knew even then that it wasn’t Marcos who was really the country’s problem. As putrid as his dictatorship and his clutch of military and civilian goons were, they were only a symptom of the centuries-old malaise of Philippine society. The dictatorship may have been a particularly brutal one as symptoms went, but symptom it was nevertheless — of, among others, a political system built on patronage, fraud, deceit and violence which allowed only the moneyed and unscrupulous access to power, while denying it to the majority. Martial law and the Marcos dictatorship merely stripped away the populist mask of a system that claimed to be democratic but wasn’t.

Martial law was, among others, nevertheless a reaction to majority demands for social and economic change as well as a voice in governance — demands to make democracy a reality. When martial law was declared, the streets, factories and fields of the country were echoing with cries for land reform, a living wage, and industrialization. Implicit in those demands was the call for the democratization of power necessary for the realization of the social revolution that for centuries had eluded the legions of the poor.

When the Marcos regime was overthrown, it was inevitable that the many sectors that had resisted the dictatorship would see it as the prelude to that revolution — to the dismantling of the land tenancy system, to authentic industrialization, and to the widest possible participation in decision-making by the voiceless and disempowered.

It wasn’t to be. The anti-Marcos wing of the elite that had control of People Power — the likes of Ramos and Enrile, for example, and Corazon Aquino herself — could not have countenanced such changes as giving up their lands and sharing power with the people from whom they claimed to derive their authority. Land reform has yet to be realized as a consequence. The rest of Asia may be industrializing; the Philippines isn’t. And money, violence and fraud continue to rule Philippine elections, thus assuring the election of the husbands and wives, the sons and the daughters, etc., from the same families and dynasties that have monopolized political power in this country since 1946.

A revolution EDSA 1 wasn’t, but a restoration — of the same land-based and comprador elite the country’s colonizers had used to rule the country in colonial times, which itself had ruled in its own behalf since alleged independence, and of the same power brokers in Church and State. It also saw to it that the same social and economic system that limits opportunities and dooms millions to the ever harsher consequences — hunger, disease, misery and early deaths — of increasing poverty was intact when the dust had settled.

People Power a failure? Not from the standpoint of the Ramoses and Enriles. But certainly from that of the Filipino people themselves, who gave their names and even lives to it, and received little in return.

(BusinessWorld)

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