It’s that time of the year again. February is always a big month for Filipinos. Two weeks after celebrating Valentines Day, Filipinos hold another annual celebration that is uniquely their own. On the 25th of February of each year, die-hard Aquino supporters have their annual song and dance routine usually complete with a live musical variety show near the Edsa shrine to commemorate the anniversary of the so-called “People Power” Edsa revolution.
The free entertainment is held to remind the rest of the population of how great it supposedly is for Philippine society to be free of the “dictator” and to have restored “democracy.” And this year, the organizers are promising an event that is “bigger than Ben Hur.” A definite treat for avid Aquino supporters or any one who loves freebies since 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of the “revolution” that toppled former President Ferdinand Marcos.
You can be sure that Aquino supporters will have their grins up to their third molars on the day because the so-called “Aquino legacy” has finally come full circle. After 25 years, who would have thought that President Noynoy Aquino (PNoy), the son of People Power icon former President Cory Aquino would follow in his mother’s footsteps, literally? Almost a year after PNoy’s win in the election, a lot of people still can’t believe it. PNoy was so popular in the lead up to the presidential election owing to his own parents’ popularity that the election might as well have been a “mock” election.
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And not even PNoy imagined himself to be in this predicament one day. From his mother’s reluctance to run for the Presidency down to his mother’s incompetence to deliver on her campaign promises, PNoy got his mother’s unique style of “barely there” leadership to a tee.
But what a joy it must be for the rest of the melodramatic Aquino fans who love living in the past at the expense of the poor. Likewise, the oligarchs that benefit from a family member’s stay in Malacanang are basking in the glory coming from a guaranteed grip on the people’s minds for years and years to come. The Filipinos have indeed, given “people power” a new meaning after 25 years. The political opposition should never have underestimated the power of illogical people moving in large groups.
It has been said that the victors get to write history. It has also been said that propagandists get to use history to their advantage. Thanks to the lack of progress in the country, the victors of the so-called “revolution” have been reduced to resorting to propaganda in recent years. Since none of the perpetrators during the Marcos’ years have been put on trial or convicted anyway, the Aquino family and their cronies continue to use media outlets owned and operated by their own family and friends to continue demonizing the Marcos regime. By doing so, the Aquino family likewise continue to come across as martyrs. The victors – the Aquinos — are quite successful applying this approach towards keeping the majority of the population beholden to them even when democracy in the country is alive only in theory.
It is quite a mind-boggling exercise to ponder the question of why most Filipinos have such a screwed up memory of the events that unfolded after Edsa I. Four years after Marcos was ousted, Cory’s administration was highly criticized for its failure to deliver on the much-needed economic reforms and was plagued by allegations of corruption involving Cory’s wealthy and influential relatives — the same allegations they used to topple Marcos in the first place.
In an article published on TIME magazine in 1990, Cory’s incompetence and the allegations of corruption against her own brother Jose “Peping” Cojuangco were documented:
[…] But in the tumultuous four years since Aquino became President, charges of incompetence and graft have increasingly tainted her own government. When rebellious soldiers launched the seventh abortive coup against Aquino on Dec. 1, their most pointed complaints focused on the administration’s failure to deliver basic services and on allegations of corruption among the President’s wealthy and influential relatives.
The charges, magnified by the Manila rumor mill, have inflicted serious political damage. While the President herself is considered incorruptible, critics accuse her of turning a blind eye to family and friends who are said to be enriching themselves at the public’s expense.
[…] A frequent target of reports is Aquino’s brother Jose (“Peping”) Cojuangco Jr., a wealthy and powerful congressman. Shortly after Aquino took office, newspaper stories charged that Cojuangco had helped some of his cronies gain control of a lucrative cargo-handling business; he is also suspected of using family ties to get jobs for friends in Manila casinos. Cojuangco has denied any wrongdoing, and neither he nor any other member of the Aquino clan has been charged with a crime.
Yet lack of prosecution means little in a country where the rich and powerful are perceived to be above the law. “It would take a first-class fool to testify against someone like Peping Cojuangco,” explains Blas Ople, executive vice president of the opposition Nacionalista Party and a former Minister of Labor under Marcos.
In one of the few corruption cases the authorities have pursued, Cojuangco’s wife Margarita was suspected of having taken a $1 million bribe from an Australian businessman last year to help him obtain a gambling-casino license.
Lo and behold, the so-called “Aquino legacy” is not as untainted as the Aquino minions would have everyone believe. PNoy’s term is even beginning to look more and more like a carbon copy of his own mother’s term with allegations of nepotism, favoritism, and incompetence plaguing PNoy’s administration. And with PNoy and his celebrity sister, Kris’s images splashed all over the country like propaganda paraphernalia, Marcos’s “personality cult” drive to send subliminal messages just to keep his popularity high is alive and working for the Aquino family.
Once people get a chance to take a closer look at what actually happened during the Marcos regime and the lead up to the revolt, they will realize that the glorious tales surrounding the Edsa revolution is like, as the saying goes, a lie that has attained the dignity of age. If you ask several people what they remember about Marcos or the Edsa revolution, they will give you several versions of what actually occured. But of course, we all know the media plays out only one version — that Marcos was the big bad bogeyman that had to go.
There is no question that Marcos did abuse his power and overstayed in his seat. However, if people do the math, we find that Marcos was actually only a dictator since 1972 when he declared Martial Law, curtailed press freedom, and suppressed other civil liberties. So technically, he was only a dictator for 14 years not the 20 years that people keep harping about. Not a lot of years compared to the 25 years of banal mediocrity that prevailed after Marcos was ousted.
Although he was allegedly corrupt, none of the allegations against him were brought to court. In fact during his early years in the Presidency, Marcos had spent significant amounts on infrastructure projects, which Filipinos are still using today. He also established outstanding diplomatic relations with the international community that earned him respect with the likes of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and American diplomats.
In retrospect, Filipinos should also give credit to Marcos himself for the success of a peaceful revolution in the country because he made it easy for everybody. The soldiers in 1986 did not fire a single bullet on any of the protesters on Edsa because Marcos and his supporters did not order them to do so. Unlike the leaders in China who ordered the Tiananmen Square massacre or unlike Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his supporters who do not seem inclined to think twice about killing demonstrators on the streets of Tripoli, Marcos did not let the uprising lead to bloodshed.
Instead of prolonging his and everybody else’s agony like the most recent violent street revolution in Egypt, which lasted for almost a month, Marcos bowed down to pressure only after a few days of rallies on the streets of Manila. This fact should say a lot about Marcos and his alleged hunger for power — that it may have been grossly exaggerated.
And before the participants give themselves a pat on the back for the success of the people power revolt, they should consider the fact that it was originally a military coup led by Marcos’s former staff Ramos and Enrile with Gringo Honasan as their sidekick. It has been said that the only reason why the original players called on the people was because Marcos found out about their plan, which left Ramos and Enrile with no option but to resort to going public to gather more support from the people. The people of course, willingly provided the numbers needed to remove Marcos. The several coup attempts during Cory’s term is enough indication that the planned military take over during Marcos’s last days was only just set-aside for another day.
People power revolutions have always been around. It’s not something unique to Filipinos. Filipinos cannot claim ownership over the concept. Who can forget the mob that toppled Marie Antoinette in France in the 18th century? At least that one resulted in the decadent monarch’s beheading. The Philippine revolution though widely regarded as peaceful, bizarrely enough, did not result in the conviction of the alleged corrupt public officials under the Marcos regime. Even more disturbing is that, for all the grandstanding done by the opposition in accusing the past administration for their shortfall, Marcos successors failed to build the strong enough institutions needed to sustain real democracy.
In the lead up to the 25th anniversary of the People Power Edsa revolution and due to the recent violent uprising in the Middle East, there are so many articles that have been written peppered with references to the “success” of our own revolution. Most Filipino writers who are biased for the Aquino family are mostly nostalgic and triumphalist. Their articles just gloss over the failings of the Cory administration and simply recall the “fun” memories of holding hands and the photo ops with the nuns and the military tanks. A few realistic articles point to the lack of economic and social stability in the country as the main focus of comparison to the before and the after of the popular uprising. Logical pundits also cannot help but see the irony of celebrating the anniversary considering the immediate family members of Marcos are now serving as public officials. Ferdinand’s son Bongbong who looks exactly like his dad is now a Senator and will most likely run for the presidency in 2016.
Out of all the dozens of articles with reference to People Power, Hannah Beech summed up the Philippine situation in her essay for TIME magazine:
The withered potential of people power is best examined on its home turf. This month, the Philippines will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the start of its historic uprising. Those following the events in Egypt will find many parallels. Ferdinand Marcos, a corrupt, aging, U.S.-backed dictator, was ousted by a populace that rallied, in part, thanks to technology. (Then it was radio, not Facebook or Twitter.) But a quarter-century later, with the son of people-power heroine Corazon Aquino now serving as President, the Philippines is still beset by the poverty, cronyism and nepotism that provoked the 1986 protests. [Boldface added for emphasis]
Now folks, one can be forgiven for asking the question: what exactly are Filipinos celebrating? Is it the fall of Marcos the dictator or the rise of the Aquino Oligarchy?
In life, things are not always what they seem.