By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
EDSA myths (Part I)
A ruling president shunning people power and a presidential aspirant
eagerly laying claim to it. Neither one can be expected to explain to the
people what Edsa was all about, what was achieved and what could not be
achieved. And what is its continuing relevance to our people’s situation
De facto President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is conspicuously absent again
at the official celebration of the anniversary of Edsa I, the people’s
uprising that toppled the dictator Marcos 24 years ago. In 2001 Mrs.
Arroyo, then Vice President, was catapulted to power after a second
unarmed uprising cum military rebellion dubbed “Edsa Dos”. But she quickly
eschewed people power as she chose to anchor the legitimacy of her
presidency on the legal fiction that President Joseph Estrada had
“resigned” rather than being ousted, claiming that she merely assumed the
office when there was a vacancy, no thanks to people power.
Presidential candidate Sen. Noynoy Aquino, on the other hand, struggles to
lay claim to the Edsa people power legacy in his latest television
advertisement. Young people are gathered around him in the style of the
grandmotherly storyteller, Lola Basyang. He preaches, “Sa Edsa nagsimula
and laban, sa Mayo ipagpapatuloy natin ang laban…” (The fight began in
Edsa, in May we will continue the fight…) Of late it is the crassest
example of how the EDSA I uprising has been debased in an attempt to
appropriate it and turn it into political capital for the May 2010
First of all, one needs to explode the myth that EDSA I happened
overnight, like some kind of inexplicable phenomenon, and that it all
started with the military rebellion led by then Defense Secretary Juan
Ponce Enrile and Philippine Constabulary chief Fidel Ramos. It didn’t.
It took all of fourteen years before the Marcos dictatorship was
overthrown; throughout that time our people struggled against despotism
and misrule. This found concrete expression in the broad urban resistance
movement both underground and above ground, the armed revolutionary
movements of the CPP-NPA and MNLF, and the various anti-Marcos opposition
groups both here and abroad.
From the outset, it was from the ranks of the poor, exploited and
oppressed classes that resistance to authoritarian rule emerged: workers
who were not allowed to strike over legitimate grievances; poor peasants
who were being driven off their land; the urban underclass whose homes
were being demolished to give way to Mrs. Imelda Marcos’ beautification
projects; students from the hotbeds of activism like the state
universities who were being rounded up or gagged from expressing their
In time, personalities and groups from among the middle forces began to
raise their voices in protest. Notably it was the religious who ventured
out of their comfort zones, breaking bread with the struggling masses
wherever they found them, sharing their weal and woe, until they
themselves were targeted by the military as “subversives” or “communist
Later, professionals such as lawyers and physicians also took up the
cudgels for human rights victims, asserting their right and duty to
minister to those in need regardless of ideological or political
orientation. Teachers and other government employees also became restive
borne of their own economic issues and the political repression they were
subjected to by the authoritarian state.
Even artists joined the fray with noted film directors, writers and
painters becoming activists against censorship and the climate of
suppression of freedom of expression. The “mosquito press” was pioneered
by the xeroxed newsletters of the religious then the newspapers fearlessly
put out by press freedom icon, Joe Burgos and others.
The politicians in the anti-Marcos opposition were outstandingly
represented by Senators Lorenzo Tañada, Jose W. Diokno, Benigno “Ninoy”
Aquino and Jovito Salonga. They distinguished themselves by the fact that
they fought martial law from the outset, courageously, consistently and
with a clear-sighted and statesmanlike appreciation of the need to unite
the broadest array of social forces to topple the dictator, including
those on the Left of the political spectrum.
The sector of big business, especially the foreign chambers of commerce
and their local partners, welcomed martial law and benefited from the
dictatorship’s foreign investment-friendly policies. It was only when
Marcos cronies and favored multinational corporations started to elbow out
other vested interests, when the economy started to go down, and the
political situation became more unstable (especially with the raging
communist-led and Moro secessionist armed struggles in the countryside)
that sections of the economic elite began to abandon Marcos and look to
the anti-Marcos opposition for an alternative leader from the same elite
As for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Marcos made sure the hierarchy
was well-fed from the trough of the kleptocracy such that the era of
multi-millionaire generals all started under his regime. It was only when
the rivalry between the Marcos/Ver faction and the Enrile/Ramos faction
heated up that the ground became fertile for the establishment of the
Reform The Armed Forces Movement (RAM), the organization of military
officers that eventually figured in the failed coup attempt preceding the
Edsa uprising. The god fathers and leaders of RAM were fiercely
anti-communist, had track records as human rights violators, were beholden
to the US and had a messianic complex about their role in bringing about
reforms, not just in the AFP, but in Philippine politics in general.
Verily, it was after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino that the simmering
cauldron of resistance and protest boiled over into a wave of non-stop
massive demonstrations calling for Marcos to step down until, with the
not-too-gentle prodding of his principal backer, the US, he called for
The snap presidential elections of 7 February 1986 pitted Corazon “Cory”
Aquino, the unassuming widow of the martyred opposition leader, Ninoy, and
Ferdinand Marcos, the ailing Strongman believed to be behind her husband’s
brazen assassination. Mrs. Aquino quickly became the rallying figure for a
people sick and tired of years of unmitigated suffering under
authoritarian rule; the elections, the opening they had been waiting for
to kick out Marcos.
But it was not to be. Marcos was declared the winner in a massively
fraudulent electoral exercise triggering an outpouring of protest
culminating in gigantic demonstrations where Mrs. Aquino claimed victory
and called for civil disobedience to enforce the will of the people. The
Left began preparations for a people’s strike to up the ante in the
anticipated showdown between the democratic forces and Marcos’ armed
These events preceded the failed coup d’état led by Enrile/Ramos who, in
the first place, planned to install a military junta in lieu of Marcos.
Thus when Cardinal Sin called on the people to flock to the gates of the
two military camps traversed by the main hi-way named Epifanio de los
Santos or Edsa to support the beleaguered military rebels, the response
was instantaneous and overwhelming.
The days of the dictatorship were numbered. ###
By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Edsa myths (Part II)
Was Edsa I a failure? Ferdinand Marcos Jr., heir to the Dictator Marcos’
ill-gotten wealth and discredited political legacy, says so. According to
him, there has been no change: poverty only worsened, there are no basic
services for the people and subsequent governments were not able to clean
up the bureaucracy.
Senator Noynoy Aquino reminisces about his parents’ (and his own)
sacrifices in fighting Marcos. He asserts that his mother, President
Corazon Aquino, successfully restored democracy and defended it by putting
down several coup attempts.
Both, not surprisingly, are resorting to half-truths to peddle lies from
each one’s self-serving perspective.
Mr. Marcos Jr. cites the impoverished, miserable and repressed state that
Filipinos are in to argue that things were better back in his father’s
heyday. Marcos Sr. told the people that they had to give up their
political and civil liberties in exchange for economic and social welfare;
in the end, he gave the people neither. If indeed things are in many ways
worse now than under the Marcos dictatorship it is because its warped
legacy pervades today’s restored “democracy”.
Noynoy, for his part, tries to reprise the good-versus-evil analogy that
worked well for his mother when she ran for president against the
strongman Marcos. He paints a Camelot-like reign: apart from restoring
so-called democracy, she allegedly also banished the evils of corruption,
abuse of power and moral turpitude. Since to many Filipinos, the regime of
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is the embodiment of evil, Noynoy wants us to
believe that he, by pedigree, is the antithesis of Mrs. Arroyo.
Too bad for Noynoy, not even the outpouring of grief during his mother’s
wake and burial can erase the truth about what happened after Edsa I, how
its promise of giving back power to the people and of bringing about
long-sought after reforms was dashed not long after Cory assumed power.
What has been obscured in the furor over whether EDSA 1 was a failure or
not is the fact that while martial law was declared by Marcos in 1972 to
perpetuate his hold on power, he still had to preserve the reactionary
rule of the big landowners, the business partners of the multinational
companies and banks, and the entrenched bureaucrat capitalists from whence
he himself came.
While the other factions of the elite were lorded over by the Marcos
clique, it was the people who bore the brunt of the suffering under the
same old exploitative and oppressive ruling system made worse by fascist
tyranny. Consequently, while the overthrow of the dictatorship was the
immediate common goal of the Edsa I participants, there were as many
medium-term and long-term objectives as there were class interests among
The small but influential and moneyed minority to whom Cory and Ninoy
Aquino belonged was interested only in restoring the formal trappings of
democracy - e.g. elections, Congress, the judiciary and ostensibly,
civilian over military rule - but were averse to instituting genuine land
reform or national industrialization. The larger majority wanted nothing
less than “food and freedom, jobs and justice”.
The more politically mature and seasoned, those who had been at the
forefront of the anti-dictatorship struggle from the outset, harbored no
illusions that overthrowing the dictatorship would solve the fundamental
problems of Philippine society. They had more realistic, if limited,
objectives for a people’s uprising and thus would be the last to judge
EDSA I as a failure.
Edsa I had its inherent limitations. It brought back to power a different
faction of the ruling elite, one that had the advantage of having been
part of the anti-dictatorship struggle and was therefore clothed with the
rhetoric of “reform” and “change” and the mystique of “people power” which
it, however, used to preserve the status quo.
This explains why the Cory regime undermined land reform by letting a
landlord-dominated Congress legislate the bogus Comprehensive Agrarian
Reform Program (CARP). Under CARP, her family’s landholdings, notably the
Cojuangco’s Hacienda Luisita, were exempted from distribution. Four
administrations and more than two decades later, landlessness and rural
poverty - in short, social injustice - has worsened; avowed democratic
gains have been rendered meaningless for more than seventy per cent of the
Edsa I did not end the perennial economic crisis plaguing the country.
Nothing changed as far as economic policies are concerned. The same IMF-World
Bank and later, WTO-imposed, policy framework that the Marcos regime
implemented was carried out by all subsequent regimes from Aquino to
Arroyo. When Cory addressed the US Congress, the most applauded part of
her speech was her declaration that her government will not renege on its
foreign financial obligations, i.e. the Marcos-incurred foreign debt.
Consequently, the backward, feudal-agricultural and unindustrialized
character of the economy has remained the same. Good quality jobs and
income-earning opportunities are so scarce that daily, more than 3000
Filipinos seek work abroad. Those who remain compete for low-paying,
insecure jobs in a tiny manufacturing sector or the few relatively
higher-paying jobs in call centers; become odd jobbers in the informal
sector; but more likely end up among the tens of millions of unemployed
facing a bleak future.
Edsa I did not empower the people. Politics and government continue to be
dominated by the economic and political elite, traceable to the
principalia class from which the Spanish, then the American, colonizers
handpicked those who would rule in their name, and later in the name of
“democracy”. In electoral exercises reinstated after Edsa I, they take
turns holding the reins of power.
This is the reason why the US backed the Cory regime and its successors.
The “persuasion flights” of US F4 phantom jets at a crucial point of the
1989 coup attempt demonstrated beyond doubt the decisive role played by US
imperialism in Philippine politics. It also explains why every post-Marcos
regime has had to pander to and spoil the military and police to retain
their loyalty. Every time the people howl in protest, there are always the
US-trained and equipped state security forces, the pliant courts and
prosecutors, and the shadowy “death squads” to deal with them.
What Edsa I, the first unarmed people’s uprising, succeeded in doing, is
the overthrow of the Marcos fascist dictatorship. The restoration of the
formal trappings of democracy reopened avenues for expressing the muffled
voice and asserting the suppressed will of the people.
The lesson has been learned. The people will no longer be content with
merely overthrowing one regime only for it to be replaced by another
without any basic changes. If there is any reason why the Arroyo regime
has not been overthrown by people power, it is not because “people are
tired of people power”, much less that people are content with Mrs.
Arroyo, but because people still have to build a consensus on what kind of
regime should take its place. ###
A Complete Reversal
Statement on the Commemoration of EDSA People Power I
22 February 2010
Today, as the nation commemorates the historic EDSA People Power I
uprising, the continuing illegal detention and torture of 43 health
workers by the Philippine military stands as a manifest and complete
reversal of everything that EDSA I stood for.
While EDSA I ended the Marcos dictatorship and
all its attendant evils, the Arroyo regime has restored much of these.
Patronage politics and crony capitalism are stronger than ever, albeit
called by other names.
Imeldific dinners and lavish spending abroad
hog the headlines, while more than half of the population goes hungry.
Institutions and processes of our so-called democracy are undermined for
Over the last nine years, we have witnessed
not just the decline of our social landscape but also the growing
ascendancy of military rule.
Today, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and
the Philippine National Police continue to disregard the
basic tenets of due process and defy even the
highest courts of the land. Today, these state security forces remain the
top human rights violators in the country.
Today, like the 43 health workers, everyone
and anyone can be their victim.
Anyone can be arrested arbitrarily,
handcuffed, and blindfolded for almost two days. Anyone can be deprived of
sleep, subjected to hours of interrogation, and denied legal counsel.
Anyone can be tortured and harassed sexually while under detention.
Anyone, like the 43 health workers, can
subjected to the worst forms of abuse and humiliation simply by being
accused, through lies and fabricated evidence, as a New People’s Army
All of these are with the blessings of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, AFP
commander-in-chief and highest-ranking civilian authority. Hers is a rule
marked by everything that was abominable with the Marcos dictatorship:
unbridled greed and corruption, insatiable lust for power, and utter
dependence on the armed strength of state security forces.
Today, it is not enough that Filipinos live
“lives of quiet desperation”. Regardless of what we are doing, we live
under the naked power of the military, like a sword over our heads.
The continuing detention of the 43 health
workers is an irony, if not a tragedy, that highlights the meaninglessness
of any commemoration of EDSA People Power I. The innocents who suffer will
earmark our government’s backward march to history.
This kind of existence is unacceptable. We
demand change. We demand respect for our basic liberties and fundamental
rights. We demand an end to martial rule.
Free the 43 health workers now.
Dr. Geneve E. Rivera
Secretary-General, 0920 460 3712
Dr. Gene Alzona Nisperos
Vice-Chair, 0927 483 2325
Dr. Darby S. Santiago
Chair, 0927 473 7700