I was not a participant of the first EDSA People Power uprising.
I was 10 at the time. I was at home when it happened, monitoring the news through the radio.
In the days after the toppling of the dictator, we were bombarded with songs and videos about the greatness of People Power. Everyday on TV, after the playing of the national anthem, came the songs Magkaisa and Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo. These were the post-EDSA anthems that I remember watching throughout the summer vacation in 1986. There were videos of nuns linking arms, of ordinary folk giving flowers to soldiers in Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo. There were scenes of unarmed civilians trying to block armored personnel carriers of the regime.
I was curious of this phenomenon and at the same time proud that it was the Filipinos who were showing the world this way to achieve change.
However, it did not take long before the EDSA euphoria was replaced by the grim realization that things haven’t really changed. There was the rise of the Kamag-anak Inc. under the regime of Corazon Aquino. There was also the Mendiola Massacre and Aquino’s efforts to keep the US bases in the country. There were the paramilitary groups and anti-communist vigilantes. I remember the several coup attempts at the time. I remember having to walk to school because of the Welgang Bayan and transport strikes. I remember writing in the school paper about the country’s massive foreign debt under Aquino.
I was a freshman in UP when the Ramos regime came to power in the first presidential elections after EDSA. Ramos promised to make the Philippines a newly-industrialized country with the slogan “Philippines 2000”. He then proceeded to deregulate the oil industry and privatize the water system. OFW Flor Contemplacion was executed in Singapore during his term.
I was already deep into activist work when Estrada was elected in 1998. The same promise of economic development was proclaimed. “Erap para sa mahirap” and “Trabaho para sa Pilipino” were his campaign slogans. We protested against economic charter change. We marched against the Viisiting Forces Agreement, budget cuts in UP and the all-out war in Mindanao. We protested corruption in government. I was a participant in the second EDSA uprising.
Gloria Arroyo succeeded Estrada. There were again high hopes from the people that reforms would finally be in place. People Power was again celebrated. We were able to enter Malacanang and even had a dialogue with some officials. I witnessed first hand how Arroyo would betray everything that EDSA stood for. Her regime was brutal in terms of state-sponsored repression, from extrajudicial killings to the curtailment of the people’s right to peaceably assemble. Hers was a regime that bowed down to neoliberal impositions such as the VAT on power and oil as well as to US military impositions such as the war on terror in Mindanao. Under Arroyo, people power was condemned as destabilization.
Arroyo’s 9-year regime ended when a second Aquino, Noynoy, took office on June 30, 2010. The second Aquino regime showed more of the same neoliberal economic policies as well as utter contempt for the plight of the workers, farmers, commuters, senior citizens and lower-income taxpayers. Aquino himself showed disdain for people power or anything close to it. He would turn Commonwealth Avenue into a garrison when he delivered his SONA. He ordered the police to block protesters during the 29th anniversary of the EDSA uprising last year. He waged a war vs the Lumad under his Oplan Bayanihan.
On February 25, we will mark 30 years after the first EDSA uprising. I can’t help but look back at how things have not really changed under the different the post-EDSA regimes. Add to that the supreme irony that a Marcos is now seeking the second highest post in the land, 30 years after his family was booted out of Malacanang.
So if things have not changed, what have we learned or gained in the past 30 years? Laos na ba at walang kabuluhan ang People Power?
I would like to think that one thing is clear by now: we can’t change society by one or two EDSA uprisings, much in the same way we can’t change society through the periodic holding of elections. Changing the head of government is not enough. Unless we change the dominant class relations in society, unless we break up the monopoly of state power by the compradors, big landlords and bureaucrats, there can be no genuine change.
Does this make People Power irrelevant? Quite the opposite, it makes People Power all the more necessary. It has to be sustained and expanded. It has to be developed and strengthened, from the unions, the peasant associations, the youth and student groups, the women’s organizations, the community organizations – gathering enough strength until they are finally able to overthrow the rotten social system. People power must be harnessed to change the system. Along the way, we may also require several uprisings against tyranny, corruption and oppression.
One must also take into account the reality that with the worsening economic and political crisis and absent any meaningful outcome in the peace process, the revolutionary forces in the countryside will continue to grow as it did during the time of the dictatorship. There is a new kind of political power taking root in areas where the revolutionary forces are strong. They are effectively challenging the dominant social system ruled by a few.
The last 30 years tell us that our salvation lies not in the corrupt politicians who compete every six years in the national polls. The elections only provide a change in the personalities from the same ruling elite who hold state power. Notice too that the politicians who were beneficiaries of people power are the first to shoot down the idea of people power once they are entrenched. Ironic, but not really surprising.
So where do we look to now? As it was in 1986, we look to the people and in their collective action. We rely on their strength and persistence. We look to their struggles, in all their different forms, as our inspiration. I will certainly not regret being a part of another EDSA even if the short-term outcome would be the ascension of another politician claiming to be the lesser evil (though a different outcome is also possible). I know that every time the people exercise their sovereign right to overthrow a tyrant, the rotten ruling system becomes weaker and the power of the people becomes stronger. In time, we will have gained enough strength to truly change the system. ###