Friday, February 24, 2012

EDSA I is not a revolution

We Filipinos love romance. We always love a story that ends well. That’s what EDSA I is to many of us, a revolution without bloodletting, and the ultimate triumph of spirit over evil in its most romantic sense.

We shudder at the thought of more than a million people gathered on one long street demanding the end to a despotic regime, and when we recall how they achieved their purpose without resistance from the government’s army, we shudder even more.

Twenty-six years have passed, yet we have not recovered from the euphoria of EDSA I. Every year we celebrate its anniversary, even much bigger than our Independence Day parade. To many Filipinos, EDSA I was the real thing.
Filipino People Power. Photo courtesy of manilamommy. Click link to view, "26th EDSA
People Power Anniversary Rally."
Never again, we tell ourselves, shall we allow one dictator to rule over us. As if this were the magic bullet that we need every time we face a crisis. Just gather about 2 million people and get them to march on the street. Let their voices be heard, that would be enough. That’s the miracle of EDSA I.

Why did we become so enslaved to this romantic notion that EDSA I and all its derivatives of display of people power would be enough, that it is the end-all to our problems?

Was EDSA I a revolution?

EDSA I was a popular protest of close too to 2 million Filipinos against authoritarianism, against almost 20 years of despotic rule, of wanton corruption, of abuse of power, of crony capitalism. Although the protest was staged only in Manila, it was considered a collective entreaty by the nation to the dictator to step down and let a new government take over. A new president was elected, and the people vowed not to tolerate any more cheating and fraud. It was a united plea for change. But even that idea of change was so vague and nebulous.

EDSA I represented a cleansing of the heavy cheating and fraud during the presidential elections held in 1986. It was the penultimate event to the declaration of the genuine winner, Mrs. Cory Aquino, who was catapulted to the role of a reluctant national leader after her husband Ninoy was assassinated. Cory Aquino was immediately embraced as the symbolic leader of a peaceful transition to genuine democratic reforms. But even the idea of democratic reform was alien to Cory Aquino’s state of mind, so she left everything to her advisers to chart the map towards building a new government that is supposed to be responsive to the people.

EDSA I meant the restoration of the old oligarchy that was removed and transplanted by Ferdinand Marcos with his own political cronies. It meant that Cory Aquino’s family would recover their old economic foothold, in the same way as it did for the oligarchs of the past.

EDSA I changed the leadership structure of government, but not the structure of society. The poor remain stuck in the quagmire of poverty. The new leaders and the new politicians are all members of family dynasties bred by the oligarchs. It was a replication of the old Marcos government, except that the people who ran the government are now allies of the restored oligarchy. Where did the poor and downtrodden masses figure in the new government after EDSA I? They became significant only during elections, when it was time to buy their votes. Their disenchantment toward their government continues to the present.

EDSA I was the culmination of the people’s revolt against 20 years of Marcos dictatorship. It didn’t happen just because Marcos cheated Cory Aquino during the snap presidential elections in 1986. It didn’t happen because the people were angry at Ferdinand Marcos for the assassination of Ninoy Aquino three years earlier. It happened because the timing was right. Marcos was frail and already dying. The disgruntled elements of the military seized that opportunity to rally their members who had long been dissatisfied with the military establishment, the Roman Catholic Church and its multitude of followers, and the disaffected business sector to come out to the streets and join the popular protest. Members of the leftist movement who were the most militant and who bore the brunt of repression of all groups in opposing the Marcos rule during the 20-year period, had no choice but to join the wave of protesters as well. EDSA I happened because the United States government supported the idea of disposing Marcos and replacing him with a new one.

EDSA I elevated the military to a hero’s status. After being sworn to office, instead of prosecuting those in the military for violation of human rights and the basic legal right to express a contrary opinion and for being responsible for the many who were extra-judicially killed and disappeared, Cory Aquino pardoned the perpetrators. No effort was made to establish the truth and seek reconciliation as other countries under similar circumstances had done after their political upheaval was over.

To the media and moderate Filipino intellectuals, EDSA I was a revolution. They were responsible in propagating this myth that people power had effectively spoken and that EDSA I was instrumental in restoring democracy in the Philippines. True, the dictator was deposed and forced to exile in Hawaii. But democratic institutions like popular elections, the free press, Congress and the judiciary were all in existence, albeit subject to the whims and caprices of the strongman Marcos.

Military as shadow government

Nothing very dramatic or revolutionary happened after EDSA I. It simply installed a new leader, someone who did not meet the basic requisites of a national leader but symbolic enough to lead the country from dictatorship. This is the singular achievement of EDSA I, the proclamation of Cory Aquino and the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos, the passing of the baton from a dictator to someone more moderate and compassionate.

Cory Aquino’s lack of political experience was tested early by malcontents in the military. Staging a series of coups against the government, the military kept reminding the new president that they were a crucial and integral force in the new balance of power. So Cory had to assuage a more serious military opposition to her administration. The military had become the shadow government, and the eternal threat to succeeding presidents like Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo and now, Noynoy Aquino, the son who also rises.

Restoring the old oligarchy which Marcos destroyed was also a priority for Mrs. Aquino, who herself hailed from a landed class with a vast array of economic and financial interests that were held back by the old Marcos regime. Together with the old oligarchy, the new power-holders cemented their firm grasp of political power. To those with the economic means and resources goes the concentration of political power. They bred and continue to multiply political dynasties who control different positions in national and local governments. Politicians and their relatives have controlled political power since the time of Marcos, and Cory Aquino made sure this arrangement would remain. An emerging breed of politicians such as movie, TV and sports celebrities was encouraged to relieve the growing discontent of the masses so these favourite celluloid heroes were added into the mix.

Same same

This was the very same oligarchy that the American colonial period ushered in from the landed elites in the 19th century. The development of these families as the new oligarchy was important to the American colonisers, and these families were able to dominate the country’s political and administrative apparatus and shape it to serve their own ends.

So EDSA I ensured the continuation of an oligarchy that would always remain in control of the levers of the economy and the powers of government. What revolution are the media and moderate darlings of the Philippine intelligentsia talking about?

A revolution is always followed by fundamental changes in socio-political institutions after the struggle for state power. A revolution does not have to be violent. It could be extra-constitutional and in the form of a popular but peaceful upheaval like the Dandi Salt March led by the pioneer of nonviolent resistance Mahatma Gandhi in 1930. EDSA I did not alter the socio-political landscape after Marcos was deposed. In fact, EDSA I reinforced the oligarchy and its control of the economy and politics of the country.

If the exercise of people power is to be considered relevant, then we should expect some profound changes after all the public fuss is over. We should wait for something more drastic than a mere change in leaders, like prosperity for all, for example.

With Filipino people power as in the case of EDSA I, you could almost expect everyone to join with or without a cause. To be meaningful, a real mass movement must have an unmistakable expression of resentment and desperation. That’s why the call for a new people power or revival of EDSA I to oust Corona as Chief Justice will easily fall on deaf ears, except for the few who are the clear beneficiaries of such public uproar.

The Filipino masses are in a desperate condition all right, but unfortunately there is no sign that they feel the slightest resentment against the Chief Justice. Probably, they would just sit this one at home and blame the President for his penchant for playing political games.

Eventually, however, change of some sort must be made. Not through another EDSA I or a similar expression of people power. That won’t cut. New forms of structure need to be set up, and old forms must be destroyed. This is the critical moment which is properly called revolution.

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