(Note: This post is actually meant to be just a comment to Mike Portes’s latest article. But since it is long, I opted to post is as an article. And I wrote the recollection parts purely from memory.)
It was exactly 30 years ago.
Allow me to share as an ordinary citizen how I viewed it and the events that happened after.
I was 7 years old, and about to finish Grade 1. Looking at the eyes of the adults then, I could tell something ‘scary’ was happening. I remember then President Marcos appeared on TV one night between February 22-25. My parents were both watching and listening to him attentively. Then upon hearing one of Marcos’s statement my mother silently said “Diyos ko” (my God). Adding to my scare was the fact that most of my schoolmates live near or around Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame and they’ve been absent from class ever since this started. Two of my uncles called my parents, pleading to them that we go to the province until all of this passes. We lived less than a kilometer away from Camp Crame.
Suddenly after a few days, everyone was in a festive mood. “It’s all over. Marcos flees.” – I remember this line from a newspaper to which my father subscribes. On TV and on the radio, the songs Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo and Magkaisa played over and over everyday. And on the streets, I can say that if you are spotted and labelled as a Marcos loyalist, you’d be ridiculed or, worse, be mauled. There was much hatred for Ferdinand Marcos, his family, cronies and Fabian Ver, all of which was opposite of how the media adored the Aquino family especially Ninoy, and the so–called heroes of EDSA like Fidel Ramos, Cardinal Sin and, although I think with reservations, Juan Ponce Enrile and his aides (there were three but I can only remember Gringo Honasan and Red Kapunan).
After a few weeks, I remember there was an election. It is only later that I learned that it was for the referendum for the new constitution and the popular vote was “Yes”. From my house, to the school, the neighborhood where I live or almost everywhere I go there was this optimistic view that things will turn out right now that the dictator is gone. And so the Aquino administration pushed through.
First highlight of the changes I’ve seen with my own eyes was that the media was much noisier. Almost everyone on TV and on the radio had someone to criticize: From the ‘villains’ (Marcos and his loyalists) at that time to, slowly, the ‘heroes’ in the new administration, nobody was spared. It was like the press was having a field day, hitting anyone and everyone it pleased. I remember one ‘expert’ then saying that freedom of speech is the number one fruit of this new democracy. The good side was, indeed, that people could now freely speak. The bad side was that they could say whatever they wanted to say. I remember one primetime news cast being criticized for being too violent for reporting crime stories without editing much of its gore. It wasn’t like that before. Oh well, at least no story was left untold, I said.
Second, whenever we went to the province, we were always told to watch out for members of the New People’s Army as they grew stronger since they took advantage of the new-found ‘freedom.’ They were painted like armed bandits. I remember the news that Jose Maria Sison was freed from prison when Aquino took over much to the dismay of a few in the military. But as one former senator and cabinet member of the Aquino administration said, it was necessary to keep their promise of releasing all political prisoners. Otherwise, their credibility would be shot from day one.
Finally, there was always one military mutiny coming after another. What surprised me was that some of those that I heard that were involved in the coups were not from the set of people that was overthrown in 1986 but were among those that I saw celebrating during the oath-taking of Mrs. Aquino. At my age then, it was confusing. I thought this administration was supposed to be the “good” one that they helped build and now they want it crushed? What happened? One elder told me that a few in the military just could not accept the fact that we are not under Martial Law anymore and that they matter less now. “Oh, ok”, I said.
And then after all that and then two major natural disasters (the 1990 earthquake and the Mt. Pinatubo eruption) that hit the country plus the Gulf War in 1991, the Aquino administration was finally over. It was not toppled despite several coup attempts; the US government seemed to have been backing it despite the Philippine Senate rejecting the extension of their lease at Clark and Subic, and it seemed the majority was still happy so I said “perhaps Mrs. Aquino may have done something right despite a lack of much change around. Otherwise, it would have not survived.” And I added, “anyway, hers is just a transition government and the next one should be doing the rest of the work.”
Enter Fidel V. Ramos in 1992. I was in my 2nd year in high school. I remember skipping homework in Biology so I could watch his oath-taking on TV. It was a rainy in June 30, 1992.
Before that, I remember FVR was up against Ramon Mitra for party nomination candidate for president and in that party he was not really the choice. Mitra was. But FVR had Cory’s endorsement. It was because FVR was not the party’s candidate that Lakas-NUCD was established. Lesson that I learned: In Philippine politics, if your party doesn’t like you, create your own.
Like Ninoy, Mitra was also imprisoned during Martial Law unlike Ramos who was one of President Marcos’s generals (not to mention a relative). Aquino may have had her reasons for choosing FVR over RVM despite it but what was funny, as I remember, was that Mitra may have been his party’s standard bearer but it was suspected that his party-mates were secretly rooting for FVR. One Sunday magazine in 1992 after the elections (PDI Sunday Magazine if I remember it right) comically described it this way:
Mitra: “Buti pa sa grupo ni Cristo, isa lang ang Hudas. Sa grupo ko, lahat sila Hudas.
Mitra: “Ang kulay ng manok namin puti, pero nung nanalo ang pula, lahat ng kasama ko, tuwang-tuwa.”
Anyway, moving on, it was during the early part of FVR’s administration that the power crisis got worse. So Mar Roxas’s reasoning that the recent power crisis could be attributed to the growing economy? It was not an original. I heard that first during FVR’s time. And it was supported by the claim that we were called the “Tiger Cub of Asia.” Are we? Well, my father was able to sustain my high school in a private school despite his meager salary. And almost all of the kids in my neighborhood were at school. Almost everyone I knew could afford small luxuries at that time so I guess then maybe the economy was good.
Did EDSA still matter during FVR’s time? Naturally, yes. FVR was one of its major players so the highway was still closed every Feb 25 and it remained a national (non-working) holiday. Nonetheless, the crowd every Feb 25 was noticeably thinning each year.
How was the Ramos administration for me? I was both in high school and college during FVR’s time. From my point of view, except for the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the El Nino of the same year, I guess it went well.
Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada came next after Fidel V Ramos.
The way I see it, Erap benefited much from the ‘freedom’ we gained at EDSA. In my opinion, if Marcos was indeed the dictator-that-wanted-to-remain-in-power-until-he-wanted-to and as intelligent as he was described, he wouldn’t have passed the presidency to a man like Erap. He may have had the skills to manage a town effectively but I don’t think Marcos will have had the confidence in him to lead a country basing it on his other qualifications. I remember in one testimony in Estrada’s impeachment trial, Erap asked one person “anong ibig sabihin ng Executive Summary?” when a report was submitted to him. Good thing for Erap is that Marcos was not in power anymore in 1998. By the way, how does Erap now fare as mayor of Manila which is much bigger and populous than San Juan?
Was EDSA still celebrated during Erap’s time? I think yes. It was still a holiday. Only, he chose not to attend. I think we all know why.
After another EDSA “revolution” ousted Erap, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took over. There wasn’t really much trust in her then. We just didn’t have any choice. She was next in line since she was the Vice-President. After Marcos, GMA had the next longest term as president. She was in power from 2001 to 2010. Was she any better? She was known to be a silent workaholic. How was the spirit of EDSA during her time? I don’t remember her being on any side in 1986 but I remember it was during her time that the celebrations were minimized as February 25 was taken as an opportunity by her dissidents to hold protests against her. Thus Feb 25 was made a holiday only for students.
Question is, are there any cries to make February 25 a holiday and to celebrate it the way it used to be after GMA? Hardly any.
As of this writing, the president of the Philippines is the son of the couple who were regarded as the cause of the 1986 EDSA revolution. So did the spirit of EDSA ’86 remain alive in his administration? On the contrary, especially in social media, there is growing sentiment questioning the motives behind the historical event that is the 1986 People Power Revolution.
As an individual who grew up in the midst of all these events – 30 years and 5 presidents after – I only have one question: Are we now any better than before?
To answer my own question, I want to look back to 1986 and review what we wanted at that time. According to reports, President Marcos was a dictator, a bad one — like a Filipino Hitler. So we ousted him. We replaced the 1973 constitution because they said it was too President-centric. So we came up with the 1987 Constitution. The framers made sure that we would not suffer another dictator again. But, in effect, the new constitution came up with a weak president. Unfortunately, not only did it accord the president limited powers, it also refused to set qualifications for who can run as president. Any person can be president! So an underqualified presidential candidate running as president with limited powers? I wonder what kind of a leader we will have with that.
One of the common phrases I hear from Ninoy in his documentaries is that he always wanted a free, clean, and honest elections. Perhaps our elections now are indeed free compared to the elections for the Interim Batasang Pambansa which is done by block voting. But is it any cleaner or honest than that?
I told the story of what happened between Ramos and Mitra because I remember that during the Marcos era, I am told, being a standard bearer for the administration party was exclusive only to Ferdinand Marcos’s family members. True, political parties now may have the freedom to choose whoever they want as their candidates but is it any better than what is alleged against Marcos? Or, actually, are party members really free? Suddenly I remember the rift between Guia Gomez and Francis Zamora.
The usual reply for anyone who expresses doubts about what we gained after EDSA in 1986 was that if it weren’t for it, we would not be able to speak freely against or criticize the government without fear of arrest or being hurt. However, this age of social media is coming and no matter what Marcos would have done, given the resources of the Philippines, I don’t think he would have been able to maintain control over the internet. Thus, freedom to speak, I guess the way Filipinos understood it, is just going to keep coming and Marcos would not have been able to do anything about it.
My last point is, we’ve already experimented with a system of government that has been in place for the last 3 decades. Haven’t we arrived yet at a conclusion on whether or not it has been as effective as promised? Based on our woes it looks like the answer is a big no. Or if yes, could it be that it has since been outdated? The lack of responsiveness of our current system of government is staring all of us in the face. What are we going to do what about it? Some may contend, it is not our system of government but it is about who is running the government. Then fine, what are we going to do about it? Do our past leaders lack the ability to foresee our present problems and our present lacks the ability to react?
One ad regarding EDSA in the past asked the question “pumanaw na ba ang diwa ng EDSA?” Perhaps what is left worth looking back to every February 25 is the fact that Filipinos may have demonstrated their capacity to be united if given a common goal. The generation of Filipinos in 1986 did that. Can the present generation of Filipinos achieve something similar? So far, most of those I’ve talked to have a sense of wanting to abandon the country because of its leaders and their fellow Filipinos themselves.
We’ve had enough EDSA rallies and I don’t think we can still afford to have one. But if there is one left, I hope it will not be to oust another president or be mounted against certain personalities but, instead, be against whatever it is that is holding us back from sustaining a consistent march to progress – A revolution against our selves and our own hearts and conscience.
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