Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Deconstructing EDSA I

By his own admission, President Noynoy Aquino sought refuge in Cebu when his father, the late Senator Benigno Aquino II, was assassinated in 1983. It was also in Cebu where his mother, former President Corazon “Cory” Aquino, took shelter from the political turmoil in Manila during the February 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution that eventually deposed the dictator Ferdinand Marcos from power.
Now on the 28th anniversary of the EDSA Revolution, President Aquino is making a revisionist historical claim that it was in Cebu where his mother Cory planted the seed of civil disobedience against the Marcos regime. Thus, why the President was in Cebu to celebrate the anniversary of the EDSA revolt as he emphasized the role played by Cebu in the initial stage of the revolution. As President Aquino said, “If the last part of the protest happened in EDSA, the first part started in Cebu.”
President Noynoy Aquino contemplates the legacy of his parents,
democracy icons former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. and former
President  Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino on the 28-year anniversary
of  the EDSA I People Power Revolution.
Everyone who knows full well the roots of the people’s protest in EDSA is aware that President Aquino was wrong in claiming that his mother planned the protest while she was in Cebu. Cory Aquino was in Cebu at that time for her own safety just as her own son took refuge there when he was a young boy during his father’s assassination.
The people’s protest in EDSA was the tipping point in the civil society’s struggle against the oppressive Marcos regime. Long before EDSA, the Filipino people had already been waging their battle to depose Marcos from Malacañang. Thousands had been killed and imprisoned by the Marcos dictatorship in its effort to remain in power, but EDSA became the critical moment in the people’s movement against the repressive regime. It was in EDSA where the people’s protest reached a critical mass.
But whether Cebu actually played an important part in the EDSA revolution only downplays its significance. What is more important is for us to grasp the true meaning of the EDSA uprising, and whether it has accomplished its purpose.
EDSA was successful in driving Marcos into exile, but the landscape of political power was never altered. The so-called restoration of democracy in the Philippines in 1986 was simply a transfer of political power into the hands of the oligarchic elite. There was a change in the characters on the political stage, but the play’s storyline remained constant.
Twenty-eight years have passed since the EDSA revolution. Income inequalities continue to intensify despite growth in GDP because the economic gains meant bigger profits to corporations and mainly benefited a few wealthy families. The so-called economic growth under the Aquino administration did not translate to higher and gainful employment, thus worsening poverty among more than 25 percent of the population. In short, the quality of life for many Filipinos either worsened or remained unchanged.
On the political side, political power remains the monopoly of a handful of family dynasties. The Marcoses were driven into exile by the EDSA uprising but it did not prevent them and their followers from coming back to regain their political influence. Now, the Marcos family is in the political picture again, and if unchecked, it may spring its biggest political comeback by capturing the presidency in the very near future, relegating the EDSA revolution to a sad and insignificant footnote in the country’s history.
Public corruption has become a way of life for politicians, making politics the most lucrative of all careers. With its “daang matuwid” mantra, the incumbent administration promises to clean the government of corruption. Yet, looting of the public coffers remains rampant from congressional pork barrel to the President’s own presidential pork barrel, both disguised as earmarks for development assistance.
Notwithstanding the return of democracy and restoration of political and civil liberties after the EDSA uprising, repression of political dissent continues to a point where it is allowed as a permissible culture of impunity. While the Philippine press has been bandied around as one of the freest in the world, journalists continue to be easy prey for government repression. The Philippines had the third most number of journalists killed last year and has continued to be among the countries where press freedom is imperiled.
In an interview with reporters, President Aquino said that online libel is justified since it constitutes equal protection for those who are aggrieved by information through the Internet. It is easy to understand why President Noynoy Aquino would rather protect those he believes could be criminally libeled on the Internet than preserving the lives of journalists and their right to freely express themselves. Journalists scare Aquino because he does not want to be criticized. To President Aquino, protecting him and others from criticism either on the Internet or on traditional media trumps the right to freedom of expression. Thus, it is acceptable for Noynoy Aquino to punish critics for criminal libel rather than to protect and preserve the rights of journalists and other critics to their life and freedom of the press.
This is not to say that no remedy should be made available whenever one defames another. Libel has already been decriminalized in many jurisdictions because the civil court has proven to be capable of providing appropriate remedies for damages rather than imprisonment. Why is it difficult for the Philippines to follow the trend towards decriminalization of libel, but for the very thin skin of President Aquino, Senator Tito Sotto and others who are easily offended by fair criticism?
President Aquino’s disquieting aversion to criticism also demonstrates his lack of human compassion to empathize with the oppressed and the poor. Take for instance the victims of super Typhoon Yolanda when they recently travelled to Manila in order to air their grievances for the government’s slow response to their plight.

Survivors of Typhoon Yolanda joined the People Power celebration at the EDSA
Shrine to press their call for press relief for their fellow victims in the Eastern
Visayas region, and tied violet ribbons in many places at Ground Zero to protest
their plight. Photo by Manny Palmero.
Instead of meeting with the protesters, President Aquino snubbed them for coming to Manila. The President said: “To those who are saying that we have been slow in responding... it seems to me that if they are capable of attending to their trip to Manila, perhaps they can also attend to their livelihood.”
Aquino’s Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman agreed with the President by saying “instead of coming here, they could have used the money to help themselves.”
Even much worse was the reaction of Rehabilitation Czar Panfilo Lacson who denied that the government had been slow in responding to the needs of the calamity survivors and dismissed the protesting typhoon survivors as pawns of communist agitators and leftist groups who wanted to destabilize the government. Here we go again with red-baiting which was a ubiquitous aspect of repression during the Marcos dictatorship.
Certainly, this is not the kind of heartless government we wanted after the EDSA revolution. We threw out a repressive regime but coddled another cruel government that suffers from a lack of consideration and empathy to people’s problems. And if we don’t agree with their demands, we call them communists, as if the end of the Cold War in the 1990s did not already erase that stigma of communism.
People in high echelons of government like President Aquino and his cabinet should be more sensitive to the needs of the people. If people criticize the government for being slow in responding to their problems, like the victims of Typhoon Yolanda, the best thing for the President or his staff to do is to sit down and listen to them, not to scold them for coming to Manila. After all, these people are also part of the constituency the President calls his boss. Unless, calling the people his boss is just another insincere publicity stunt.
The protesters who gathered in EDSA in February 1986 came in droves, armed only with the courage of their words and songs to show the genuineness of their intent and spirit to revolt against repression. They all knew full well that in the event of gunfire, their cause would be lost in a matter of minutes. But the dictator’s minions dithered and avoided the risk of action, in the end betraying their own loyalty to the cruel regime. In a few hours, the Marcos dictatorship crumbled without firing a shot and the entire country and the world begun to embrace the idea that a peaceful revolution was possible.
That was the essence of EDSA I, which was lost in the years of succession from one president to another. The only trouble is that every president after Ferdinand Marcos tried to outdo him, to become better or even greater. They all failed, even the current one.
Instead of transforming the narrative of the peaceful revolution of EDSA into a story of the making of a new country, a new constitution, a new world—every leader after Marcos emulated the dictator’s predilection for punitive action against the voices of dissent, for rewarding his capitalist cronies and members of the oligarchic elite, for reinforcing political dynasties, and for committing petty and grand corruption in all levels of government. The ordinary masses who persevered in the struggle for a better life actually never figured in the country’s democratic renewal after EDSA. They were victims of the old society under Marcos and they have continued to be the sacrificial victims of one regime after another of excess, extravagance, and small-mindedness.
Is it any wonder that those aching for the return of another Marcos in Malacañang are never in doubt that this reality is not any further away? This is a brutal simplification of history after EDSA I, but the fallibility of our memory makes the upcoming narrative almost frightening.

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