Corazon Aquino
Corazon Aquino swears in as President of the Philippines at Club Filipino, San Juan on February 25, 1986 (Malacañang Photo)

Perhaps the most outlandish lie ever concocted by one of the most notorious disinformation hirelings of the Duterte regime is that the Marcos kleptocracy was overthrown in 1986 because of the “fake news” that the communists and the “yellows” had supposedly been spreading about Ferdinand Marcos, his wife, his family and his government.

The same huckster says the nuns who faced tanks, machine guns and attack helicopters for four days on Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue (EDSA) did so for “dramatic effect” and were in no real danger.

To these attempts to denigrate EDSA 1986, regime trolls as well as its media hacks and mercenaries add that only the Aquino family benefitted from the EDSA uprising. The late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. was no hero, they falsely contend, and was the founder of the New People’s Army (NPA).   

The mindless advocates of authoritarian rule in the vast social media apparatus the Duterte regime orchestrates daily say that with his huge collection of medals for fighting the Japanese during Wold War II, it was Marcos who was the real hero. He was also a true patriot, who, by declaring martial law in 1972 ushered in a “golden age” of peace, prosperity and freedom. 

They ignore, or are completely unaware of those medals’ having been exposed as fraudulent by both the US military and by the late Congressman and former military intelligence officer Bonifacio Gillego. Marcos was indeed no hero, and neither was the martial law period a golden age, but an era of conflict and war, mass poverty and brutal repression.

Marcos’ own family members nevertheless chime in by excusing the human rights violations that so characterized their late patriarch’s regime by saying that they were few and far between and only the doing of rogue members of the military. They claim without an iota of evidence that the torture, the rapes, the enforced disappearances and the summary executions were not driven by government policy but were aberrations carried out by overenthusiastic members of State security forces who were moved by their desire to keep the country safe. To this, the death penalty zealots and the other monsters to whom human rights and lives have no value add that those who were tortured, raped, killed, etc. nevertheless deserved it because they were communists subverting the democracy that Marcos had already destroyed.

Add to these litany of lies and plain imbecilities a more recent falsehood: that what EDSA 1986 was about was the Filipinos’ collective desire for peace. This was the theme of the commemoration at the EDSA Shrine in Quezon City of the 34th anniversary of that momentous event — a theme that was either a concoction due to the ignorance of the Catholic Church-based organizers or a deliberate attempt to reinvent EDSA 1986 as an innocuous and benign event far removed from what it really was.

What makes the latter more likely is the Philippine institutional Church’s refusal to confront and hold the Duterte regime to account for the extrajudicial killings, the human rights violations, the lawlessness, corruption and deceit, and even the attacks on its priests and bishops, the Pope and God Himself. By reinventing the EDSA “revolution” as something practically meaningless, it is in grave danger of being complicit with the despotism it should instead be combating.

Hardly an event that materialized out of nothing, the civilian-military mutiny of 1986 was the culmination of a 14-year struggle by  the loose coalition of armed and unarmed groups of democratic personalities, journalists, human rights defenders, farmers and worker leaders, and political activists to overthrow the brutal, corrupt and murderous conspiracy against the Filipino people by the bureaucrat capitalists whose military thugs and foreign partners in crime were keeping in power.

Part of the fiction is also the presumption that EDSA 1986 is solely the legacy of the Catholic Church. The lives of the nuns, priests and seminarians who confronted tanks, armored personnel carriers, machine guns and attack helicopters were in real danger, and if only for that the Church was indeed part of it. But there were other groups and sectors as well as hundreds of thousands of ordinary folk who had had enough of the Marcos despotism to resist it in various ways.  EDSA 1986 is the Filipino people’s legacy to the nation and themselves.

Information was crucial in the making of the resistance that overthrew the Marcos tyranny. But if anyone was spreading false information, it was the dictatorship itself. It had total control over the media, which during the first years of martial rule consisted of newspapers owned by Marcos cronies and relatives, over which the regime created a system of censorship to prevent the dissemination of information contrary to its version of events. Filipinos were thus unaware of the gargantuan dimensions of the country’s foreign debt, the energy crisis, the food blockades on communities that supposedly supported the NPA, the human rights violations, and the raging wars not only in southern Philippines but in many other areas of rural Philippines.

So effectively did the system spread disinformation that it took more than ten years before some Filipinos acquired, through clandestine publications, lightning rallies and demonstrations, enough knowledge and understanding of the depths to which the country had fallen before they massed at EDSA and elsewhere in the country in 1986.

The sacrifices not only of such authentic heroes and people’s martyrs as Benigno Aquino, Jr.  but also of the poets, journalists, artists, students, academics, farmers, workers, nuns and priests and professionals who risked their lives and fortunes and in many instances lost them also made a difference. Hence the current attempts to dismiss their efforts as meaningless by the minions of a regime that in so many ways is replicating the Marcos tyranny.

While all these were happening, the institutional Church remained committed to its policy of “critical collaboration” with the regime primarily because it approved of and supported its US-sanctioned and -abetted anti-communism. Only in the latter years of the dictatorship did the critical part of its martial law era policy assume more prominence as the princes of the Church realized that they were in danger of losing the allegiance of the clergy who had been politicized by the suffering and injustice to which they were bearing witness daily.

The Church managed to regain the trust of both its rank-and-file and the faithful only in the final years of the Marcos regime. It should have learned from that period the signal lesson that it has to repudiate its identification with, and links to the Philippine power elite to remain relevant. But if its approach to the 34th anniversary of EDSA 1986 and its indifference to the need to combat the threats to what little remains of Philippine democracy are any indication, it is once again engaged in pandering to the powers-that-be by reimagining that event as a quest for peace rather than the overthrow of a hated regime through direct people’s action.

As flawed as the legacy of the EDSA “revolution” has been, it nevertheless returned the country to the long and narrow path towards authentic democracy. Like American conquerors and Japanese invaders, Marcos and company diverted the country from that path during their years in power, and the current regime of Marcos idolators is trying to do the same thing. That and the possibility that it can happen again are what make EDSA 1986 meaningful and still relevant 34 years after.

Also published in BusinessWorld. Photo from Malacañang.

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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