The movie Maid in Malacanang featured the perspective of the Marcos family on what transpired during the three fateful days that led to then-President Ferdinand Marcos leaving the Philippines. It is definitely a bestseller, raking in hundreds of millions in sales as the movie was being shown in cinemas worldwide. With another Marcos leading the country as the head of the Philippine government, the electorate has basically highlighted just how hapless the 1986 people power revolution really was. From this viewpoint, let’s analyze what made the 1986 revolution an overselling cover-up of political, economic, and social failures in the Philippines.
The usual narrative as to what led to the EDSA people power revolution is the assassination of then-Senator Benigno Aquino in Manila International Airport on August 21, 1983. However, pointing the death of a single man as the last straw that broke the camel’s back is too simplistic. There are economic and political reasons that led to the 1986 revolution. For the economic causes, the first domino piece to fall was the 1979 oil crisis, where the Iranian revolution toppled the leadership of the Persian Shah. Paired with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of the rich Iranian oil fields near the borders of Iraq, it created political uncertainty in the volatile Middle East which led to increased prices of hydrocarbon products. This led to inflation in the United States compelling then-US Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker to aggressively hike interest rates. This action further devalued the Philippine peso and with a greatly depreciating currency, the Central Bank of the Philippines issued these “Jobo bills” to confront this economic malaise. The debt-driven economic growth of the Philippines in the 1970’s put a heavy debt servicing burden on the government as the peso weakened versus the US dollar.
With economic indicators in the early 1980’s working against the Marcos administration, his political support from the various sectors of the society gradually waned. Oligarchic families belonging to the landed gentry were slowly distancing themselves from the president, while militant groups were emboldened and ramped up their recruitment of new members. The political situation became more precarious and unpredictable as state powers turned fraught with Philippine societal sectors colluding to shanghai the government. Aside from these leftist groups spearheaded by the Communist Party of the Philippines and the Marcos-aligned cronies who turned away from the Marcos administration, the Catholic church called on its followers to mount civil disobedience campaign. Marcos-era technocrats also left the sinking ship, and the president’s most influential allies in the military, who were Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Philippine Constabulary General Fidel Ramos, publicly withdrew their support. This tumultuous political environment later forced then-US President Ronald Reagan to pull the plug, as what Henry Kissinger has written in his book, Diplomacy.
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The bloodless 1986 revolution ended relatively peaceful with the Marcos family deciding to quietly retreat, leaving Malacanang and, later, the Philippines for Hawaii. The EDSA revolution was highly publicized internationally, as it was sold as a trendsetter in overthrowing authoritarian regimes. These individuals who say so enumerate the revolutionary experiences of various European countries in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania, glorifying the 1986 revolution as the first domino to fall in countering autocratic governments and its accompanying successes. But, is there something to celebrate about the aforementioned revolution in the Philippines in the first place? Or was it just a celebration created to feed and inflate the egos of Filipinos?
Let’s take a look on what has transpired first in Poland. Right after the downfall of the German Third Reich, Poland was reformed after being sliced into half by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in accordance to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. As a Soviet satellite state, Poland was administered by a USSR-aligned political party where communist policies were followed. However, a trade union named “Solidarity” challenged the Polish state through civil resistance and social movement. Despite the government’s attempt to suppress this movement, public support from the Vatican through Pope Saint John Paul II and the United States eventually pushed for democratic elections, which elevated Solidarity’s leader, Lech Walesa to the presidency. Nevertheless, structural reform in the Polish political economy followed, pushing the country down a continuous economic growth path. Warsaw became one of the European Union’s engine of prosperity and productivity, as it has continuously recorded higher GDP per capita numbers in comparison to the previous years. Observing these inclusive institutions in Poland, it can be said that Lech Walesa and his Solidarity movement was a resounding success.
For Czechoslovakia, its popular civil disobedience movement was called the Velvet Revolution, which witnessed the collapse of communist leadership in a relatively peaceful manner. However, it had a grim past through the Prague Spring, where initial attempts to reform Czechoslovakia were suppressed through militaristic means when then-USSR leader Leonid Brezhnev pursued the Brezhnev doctrine, where Warsaw Pact countries were allowed to intervene militarily in the affairs of their own fellow Warsaw Pact nation-states. With the Velvet Revolution, Vaclav Havel became the president and later allowed the peaceful separation of Czechia and Slovakia in 1992. Presently, both Prague and Bratislava are popular tourist destinations in Central Europe and have adopted free market reforms that made them more competitive. Their integration to the EU and to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as member-states show how Czechoslovakia had transformed into mature and formidable countries in Czechia and Slovakia. Needless to say, the Velvet Revolution of 1989 created victors as these nation-states enjoy political plurality that was recklessly managed during the Prague Spring.
Finally with Romania, its autocratic government came to an end when great masses of the people confronted the Ceausescus and subjected them to a military tribunal after which they were executed. Similar with other Warsaw Pact-aligned countries after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, various reforms were performed, albeit achieving mixed results. Even though Bucharest eventually became a member of the EU and the NATO, it didn’t curb their citizens’ desires to leave their country in search for greener pastures. That’s why there are still numerous Romanian migrant workers employed in the service sector of the economies of the United Kingdom and Germany. Despite its attempts to democratize and liberalize, corruption issues in Romania are also running rampant and child poverty is still a major social issue. These dilemmas being experienced by Romania seems eerily similar to that of the Philippines.
All these European countries, as what Charles Tilly in his book Coercion, Capital, and European States, developed through a continuous process of accumulating and concentrating the means of coercion. These countries have undoubtedly experienced the errors of massive power centralization and attempted to correct them beyond those revolutions through economic and political reforms. Poland, Czechia, and Slovakia leapfrogged, while Romania seems to lag, as their economy is still dependent on foreign remittances just like the Philippines. Waging revolutions is only the means for the society to mobilize, not the ends. Revolutions are worthless, unless it succeeds at creating the necessary state and societal institutions. With such, did the 1986 revolution produce inclusive institutions, or did it just end up staging power struggles between politicians and various interest groups?
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