10 years after EDSA 2: Why we still need to remember

Posted: January 16, 2011 in Socio-Political
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I was a participant of the EDSA 2 uprising which marks its 10th year anniversary this year. I was then part of the youth and student movement and was the chair of the youth group Anakbayan. Here is a brief personal account of my experiences.

What transpired 10 years ago offers a lot of lessons for those who still want to see change brought about in our country. Part of that would have to deal with achieving justice for the victims of the Arroyo regime, the principal political beneficiary of the uprising. Remembering EDSA , after more than 9 years of the Arroyo regime, should not make us fall into cynicism when it comes to “people power”.

January 16 was the start of a period in Philippine history known as the EDSA 2 People Power  uprising which culminated in the ouster of then president Joseph Estrada from Malacañang on January 20. The protests started on the evening of January 16 when youth and students and different groups marched to the Edsa Shrine and held a protest program. The protest was triggered by the Senate’s refusal to open the second envelope that contained information on a bank account allegedly belonging to Pres. Estrada.

I joined the protest actions on January 17, marching with UP students and teachers that some estimate to have reached 15,000 people. We stayed at Edsa till past midnight and returned early the following day.

The youth were considered the most numerous of all the participants of EDSA 2. We were part of the Estrada Resign Youth Movement (ERYM) at that time. There was Anakbayan, LFS, NUSP, CEGP, SCM and other student councils and organizations. We were joined by Mon Pagdangangan (who died a few years after EDSA2) and China Cojuangco (who hosted some of the meetings at her parents’ home in Forbes). Mark Leviste, now vice-governor of Batangas, was also present during some of our meetings.

Black was the official protest color. For some reason, I never did wear black though.

Edsa 2 was the first time I really appreciated the MRT. The train line ferried thousands of people from Quezon City and Manila who wanted to join the protest action. I could remember train coaches emptying as they reached the Ortigas station. It was the fastest and cheapest mode of transportation at a time when the EDSA Ortigas area was closed to traffic. (Fast forward 10 years later, fare rates for the MRT are set to increase by 50-100%).

I remember a lot “balimbings” at that time, those who withdrew support from Erap at the last minute and went to Edsa. Some of them were booed by the people. Others were prevented from speaking on stage.

I spoke before the crowd on the fourth day, it was almost 6am. I was asked to provide some agitation before the march to Mendiola. At that time, not everyone was convinced we had to march to Mendiola, but a good majority was already raring to go. I could tell from the reaction of the crowd during the speech.

We already dispatched an advance team of several thousand activists from various sectors to go to Manila to prepare the people for the coming of the main march in the morning of January 20. That was at the dawn of January 20. The main body of the Bayan forces were already in marching formation from the corner of the POEA Edsa and up along Ortigas Avenue. It was a very formidable and solid looking contingent among the different forces assembled at Edsa that day.

The signal to march was given at 6pm. Then Bayan secretary general Teddy Casino gave the announcement. Another announcement however said that some groups will be staying behind at EDSA.

It was a long march from the Edsa Shrine, to Shaw, to Sta. Mesa then Nagtahan, then Lacson, Espana, Morayta then Recto. Everyone knew it wasn’t wise to go through San Juan. (Four years later, I would join another long march from the Edsa Shrine to Makati, at the declaration of a state of emergency by Arroyo.)

It was still dark when we marched. We hadn’t slept but  none of us felt tired. The people of Mandaluyong lined up along the streets were giving us water and food.

We marched along Recto to Mendiola. The Estrada supporters scampered. We took Mendiola. We held a program on top of a flat-bed truck. We received news Erap left the Palace. In a few hours, Mrs. Arroyo was sworn in at Edsa We didn’t go back to Edsa to witnesses the oath taking. For many of us, EDSA 2 wasn’t about GMA . The Mendiola march was the climax for us. Around 75,000 joined that march with started at 6am and ended by noon.

Post-EDSA 2

Arroyo’s rise to the presidency would be followed by the arrest of former president Estrada which precipitated “EDSA 3″. Arroyo  was able to retain her hold on power despite a siege of Malacanang. The following year, on Rizal Day, she promised she would not run for office in 2004.

As everyone knows, she didn’t keep that promise. In 2004, Arroyo ran for president and as many believe, cheated her way to Malacanang. What followed was six more years of illegitimate, fascist, pro-imperialist and oppressive rule.

A broad array of anti-Arroyo forces emerged in 2005 and sought the ouster of the fraudulent president. The broad front would muster tens of thousands of people in the streets between the years 2005-2009. Their efforts to remove Arroyo however would be frustrated because of a number of factors both internal and external.

During this period, Estrada was convicted of plunder, but was later on pardoned by Arroyo. Estrada would be a vocal critic and active opponent of Arroyo on issues like Charter change. Estrada forces were an important part of the broad anti-Arroyo united front. Former president Cory Aquino would also be active again in the protest actions before her death in 2009. She joined many street actions and had called on Arroyo to resign in 2005.

During the period of 2001-2010, hundreds of activists were killed, abducted and tortured by the Arroyo regime. The activists and leaders of the national democratic movement bore the brunt of the fascist attacks, from the policy of extrajudicial killings and abductions, to the calibrated preemptive response (CPR) versus street protests.  The ND forces were the most persistent in the anti-Arroyo movement, and many proved by giving the highest sacrifice.

Along the way, we lost many dear comrades and friends. We lost former secretary Josie Lichauco who was a fierce Arroyo critic and was an active street parliamentarian. Sammy Ong, whistleblower in the Garcia scandal, succumbed to sickness.

Ka Crispin Beltran died from an accident, less than a year after his release from detention. He was a huge loss to the entire peoples’ movement.

Fernando Poe, Jr. , the main victim of election fraud in 2004, died in 2005, rendering his election protest moot. Former Sen. Raul Roco also died from illness during this period.

For some people, the experience of the last 10 years may seem like a good argument that EDSA2 was a “mistake”`. We ended up from bad to worse, they would say.

I won’t argue the fact that Arroyo turned out to be a really bad president. She was the worst president since Marcos. Arroyo didn’t just err. She committed one heinous crime after another.

But EDSA 2 wasn’t about bringing Arroyo to power. It was about removing the Estrada regime which at that time was perceived as corrupt. Arroyo was the beneficiary of EDSA 2 because of the principle of constitutional succession. She would have had a chance to effect reforms but she failed miserably. As we again learned, changing the president is not enough to bring about fundamental change. The problems of society require more than changing the Palace occupant. Arroyo, by virtue of her class position and political affiliation, carried the same ruling class and pro-imperialist interests after she was installed as president.

From the experience of the years after EDSA 2, we can see that there’s no single “formula” for sparking “people power”. Oakwood was not able to muster much public support, as with the Peninsula siege in 2007 and the Marine stand-off in 2006. The bases of the protest actions were valid but this did not necessarily translate into mass mobilizations ala-EDSA2. The protests against the Garci scandal (2005) and the ZTE scandal (2008) had good starts but were not sustained enough to lead to a critical mass that could have removed the despised Arroyo regime.

There were some in the anti-Arroyo front that sought to replicate EDSA 2, though mechanically and artificially at times. Some scoffed at the idea of building a sustained mass movement along various issues. “Puro kasi kayo build-up” was one comment I heard during meetings with various groups.

Some wanted a quick resolution to the problem despite the reality that the problem would require greater effort and greater mobilizations over a period of time. There was no quick fix and attempting to mechanically replicate EDSA was often met with failure. Arroyo was most vicious when it came to suppressing any emerging “people power”.

EDSA 2 was the culmination of a series of huge demonstrations months before the January 20, 2001. There was also a broad united front made up of various political forces. And then there was an event that triggered a spontaneous reaction from the people.

There was also the question of who (or what) will replace Arroyo if she is ousted. For many, the EDSA 2 experience was a reminder that constitutional succession is not always the best route to follow, especially since at the time, it was Noli de Castro who would be the immediate successor. While ND forces had pushed for a “transition council” before the holding of elections, there were also various other ideas on who to replace GMA. There appeared to be no consensus on this matter, even among anti-Arroyo forces.

Why did the broad anti-Arroyo front fail to remove GMA despite her extreme political isolation? Why wasn’t there a repeat of “people power”? These are matters that still need to be studied and assessed, not just as a matter of historical record, but also as a matter for future reference should we be faced with a similar situation.

Reasons for remembering

Ten years after EDSA 2 and we see Arroyo now sitting as a member of Congress as she faces possible prosecution for her many crimes. Former president Estrada ran and lost in the 2010 elections, but still got 8 million votes.

Benigno Aquino III is now president and has promised to go after Arroyo, though no charges have been brought against the former president. Estrada was charged and arrested within Arroyo’s first 100 days. Aquino’s first 100 days was marked by a failure to hold Arroyo accountable.

Even under the second Aquino regime, we see that many of the problems we faced 10 years ago remain. The resolution of these problems is made impossible by the dominant class interests within the current regime. Prices, fares and fees are going up. Land reform remains a dream for many farmers. Corrupt officials are getting off the hook. Foreign impositions such as the “public-private partnership”, despite the dismal track record of privatization in the country, are being  peddled as the solution to our economic woes.

Is there still any reason to remember EDSA 2?

There is. We need to be reminded that genuine change requires more than just a change in the presidency, and this holds true even for the current government that replaced Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The entire oppressive system needs to be replaced, and defeating one anti-people regime after another can help truly empower the people and weaken the oppressors, until such time that the people are capable of bringing about genuine change.

We also need to be reminded that the principal beneficiary of EDSA 2 betrayed it and committed grave crimes against the people in her bid to hold on to power. Remembering EDSA 2 should compel us to see to it that Arroyo is made accountable for extrajudicial killings, corruption, election fraud and the sell-out of national interest.

Lastly, remembering EDSA 2 should give us a sense of hope, that a united and struggling people are a powerful force for change. “People power” is and should always be an option for the oppressed. It may be an old concept, but it will never go “out of style”. How and when the next one will happen depends on the unfolding of events, the severity of the crisis and the determination of the Filipino people to seek a better future. ###

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