IT will be 20 years this week since the Edsa People Power Revolt ended the Marcos dictatorship and restored democracy in the Philippines. Regardless of all the cynicism that Edsa did not deliver Filipinos into the economic ‘promised land’, Edsa stands as a great historic event where we all found ourselves of one mind and heart and achieved a miracle.
It is regrettable that the spirit of Edsa had subsequently been overpowered by the demons of politics and opportunism that showed itself in increasing intensity in the Estrada and Aquino regimes. But not all the subsequent failures of our leaders, not even the lack of awareness of our impoverished majority will ever obliterate that One magnificent moment in our troubled history. In that Edsa gathering of 1986, we showed the world the Power of One, to borrow the title from the novel about a young English boy in Africa whose belief in the myth of the Rainmaker who brings peace to all of the tribes is made real by all the people who had believed the story.
Today, Edsa is perhaps better remembered by the rest of the world than the very people whose heroism made it possible 20 years ago. But even that, too, reflects how flawed our values are, that we cannot even reflect and learn from our mistakes and even our successes.
British playwright and literary icon George Bernard Shaw said that the greater fault is not so much in not learning from one’s mistake but rather in not learning from one’s own success. Learning from our mistakes we avoid repeating them but not learning from the lessons of our success is a form of entrapment that puts us all in a bind from ever moving ahead.
We missed learning from three valuable lessons arising from the events leading to the Edsa People Power Revolt. These lessons have much to do with addressing the cracks in our foundation as a nation which prevent us from achieving our economic dreams.
The first lesson that we should have learned is that we should stop believing that we will be saved by “champions.” Instead we should learn to redeem ourselves by trusting in ourselves. When Ferdinand Marcos enchanted Filipinos with his ‘this nation will be great again’ promise, they gave him their votes and with it their freedom and economic sanity for the next two or so decades. With Marcos’ rule, we saw our country plummeting from being the second best economy in Asia to a classic basket case, now perhaps a bit ahead only of East Timor, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The second lesson we failed to learn is that we are the stakeholders and the title holders of our country. All the politicians and elected officials are tools of our democracy who are there because we are supposed to have selected them to manage what is rightfully ours. They draw their salaries and even their perks because they are supposed to be under contract from us all—for them to ensure that true democracy prevails in our laws, state of affairs and economic opportunities.
Unfortunately, we have ended up being victims of our own democracy. We are manipulated by the very people who are under contract to uplift our conditions. They have also mastered the art of perpetuating themselves in power by such devices as patronage politics, electoral fraud and even legal machinations. We do not express our outrage and cannot even bring about ways to correct the irregularity.
Can you imagine the stockholders of a major corporation allowing its duly elected board of directors and duly appointed CEO not to sit in office because some cheaters manipulated the counting of votes? Yet that in effect is what we have allowed to happen in our country. We have rotten leaders because we are rotten stockholders.
Just examine our choices of presidents in 1998 and 2004 when actors Joseph Estrada and Fernando Poe, Jr. got the most number of votes (Poe was cheated, remember?). In 2004, Raul Roco was the best presidential candidate. He showed that he possessed integrity and capability with his track record as a congressman, senator and secretary of education. Not only that, he had a clear vision of how we can progress from our deplorable social conditions—through education, the very same formula for the success of China. In death they called him “the best president we never had” and yet Raul Roco placed only fourth in 2004. That said a lot about us as voters and how we deserve the leaders we have.
The third lesson we missed is the realization of the value of the role of vigilance in keeping our freedoms and our democracy. Edsa was a national spirit but we quickly lost that spirit even as many other nations were trying to find the formula that had made it possible. In the first two years after Edsa, there was an enthusiastic participation of the citizenry to raise the socio-economic conditions of the country. True to our reputation as a nation of starters we slid back to our ningas cogon tendencies and went right back to our carefree ways. When the system eventually failed, we lament over the failure of the Edsa spirit. But the truth is that we failed ourselves and the Edsa spirit which we have effectively junked.
What I find rather deplorable these days of this winter of our discontent, as Shakespeare said it, is Edsa icon Cory Aquino saying that People Power is no longer applicable as a remedy for our current situation. I have never lost my esteem for Cory Aquino but on this statement—WHOA! This, I have to challenge.
How can Cory Aquino dismiss People Power now as an option to remove the cancer of our political system when the very system and its processes have already displayed inability to heal itself? How can she rule out People Power when the system failure is now threatening to bring the country to another era of military rule or a prolonged miserable period of civil war?
How can Cory Aquino find People Power acceptable as a mechanism for removing the Marcos tyranny and installing her as president and yet not see People Power now as an avenue to effect similar change for a similar situation that we are in?
Filipinos are even more miserable and more hungry now under Madame Gloria M. Arroyo than they were under Ferdinand Marcos. Arroyo’s CPR (Comprehensive Pre-emptive Response) and EO 464 are anachronisms that do not fit in a democratic space. CPR, in effect, is a rehash of the infamous Marcos edict called Amendment #6 which empowered the Marcos State to arrest anyone who is suspected of planning destabilization. In other words, Marcos could arrest you just on the suspicion that you were thinking of something that he did not like. Today, Arroyo can shut down your rally and demonstration—a very basic right in a democracy—just by declaring certain areas as banned or by making an allied local official not issue a permit to hold the exercise of freedom of assembly.
How can Cory Aquino miss altogether the fact that her greatest legacy is not simply democracy but the method of People Power as the ultimate active non-violent alternative for removing tyranny and installing democracy? The Greeks and Thomas Jefferson have made earlier franchises of democracy. Cory Aquino’s historical franchise is People Power and so she erodes her own historic significance when she rules out the option of People Power.
But although I disagree with Cory Aquino’s assertion that People Power is now irrelevant, I also disagree with how some people (with a lot of prodding from Madame Arroyo’s propaganda machine) assert that Cory Aquino herself betrayed the EDSA ideals. Cory did no such thing and true to her ideals she still stands by the principles of democracy as steadfastly as when she took on the mantle of leadership from her husband Ninoy and led us to the restoration of democracy.
Cory Aquino’s administration was delivering double digit growth of the economy and this was only stunted by power-hungry coup plotters led by Gringo Honasan and those who were providing him the wherewithal to mount his 1987 and 1989 misadventures. The single most significant piece of legislation in this country—a law that is delivering progress despite the failings of the national leadership—is the local government code and that is a legacy of the Cory Aquino administration. Under Cory Aquino, we had the cleanest elections since 1965.
While Fidel V. Ramos and Gloria Arroyo were bent on holding on to presidential power, Cory Aquino willingly passed on the presidency to her elected successor. Ramos sought to stay on beyond his term by proposing to change the constitution. Madame Arroyo is believed to have cheated in 2004 to remain in Malacanang and is now also trying to force Charter Change to stay in power even longer.
What Abraham Lincoln described as the government of the people, by the people and for the people is what People Power is all about in a democracy. The key aspect of that is by the people which underscores the people’s obligations as the stakeholders of the country.
We Filipinos forgot that all the thriving democracies operate on the condition that the people are in charge. People Power was only the start of our democratic restoration but most of us thought that it had served its use after February 25, 1986. It is like working hard to get yourself a good car but once you had it—you forgot to make it run.
The representative form of government is just a refinement of the by the people principle. But here we have allowed it to evolve into a master-slave relationship, with us the stockholders taking the orders from our representatives instead.
Over 100 years ago, our national hero, Jose Rizal, very well put it that there are no masters where there will be no slaves. We, the supposed masters of the country, have allowed ourselves to be enslaved and we blame the failure of Edsa People Power for it. This is not to absolve the election cheaters and plunderers amongst us—but it is high time we realized that we, for the most part, are as much the problem as we are also the solution.
Edsa did not fail us. We failed ourselves and our children.
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org