“We Americans like to think we taught the Filipinos democracy. Well, tonight they are teaching the world.” – Bob Simon, CBS anchorman. February the 25th, 1986.
Revolutions are again on the scope after recent events in Turkey and Brazil. The results and evolution of the Arab Spring have also been getting the attention of several Western media and academics’ analysis. Of course, the recent twist of the revolution in Egypt has contributed to this renewed interest.
One of the less known revolutions in Europe is the People’s Power Revolution or “EDSA I”. This revolution was a series of popular demonstrations in the Philippines, beginning in 1983 and finishing successfully in 1986 with the end of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. It was a civil resistance against regime violence, massive corruption and electoral fraud. Transparency International (TI) estimated that Marcos alone stole at least $5 billion from the Filipino Treasury.
The majority of the demonstrations took place on a long stretch of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, most commonly known as EDSA, in Metro Manila, involving over two million Filipino civilians as well as several political, military, and including religious groups led by Cardinal Jaime Sin, the Archbishop of Manila. The active involvement of the Catholic Church in this pacific revolution gave us images like nuns holding rosaries knelt in front of the tanks. In general, men and women linked arms together to block the troops during those days.
The protests, fueled by the resistance and opposition from years of bad governance and corruption by Marcos, culminated with the departure of the dictator from Malacañang Palace to the US state of Hawaii. The US Air Force took care of the dictator. Immediately, Corazón Aquino was proclaimed as the legitimate President of the Philippines after the revolution. She was the opposition leader, widow of Benigno Aquino, a former Filipino Senator, assassinated when he came back to the Philippines, in 1983.
What were the outcomes of EDSA I revolution? Well, first of all, it made possible the end of a dictatorship. It is true that some freedoms came back for the Filipinos. However, economic disparities and huge inequality remain.
Secondly, without Marcos, the golden era of the Philippines disappeared. With them, this country was the second economy power of Asia (after Japan). The time when Ferdinand Marcos held all the power under him, his wife Imelda traveled around the world putting the Philippines between the most important countries in the world. At that time, Imelda elevated the Filipino culture and arts very high, especially with the construction of the impressive buildings of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The recovered democratic Filipino regime has been unable to reach those achievements.
Thirdly, Filipinos took the streets again in 2001, during the four-days EDSA II Revolution, to peacefully overthrew the President at that moment: Joseph Estrada. Several evidences proved political corruption. Some senators initiated an impeachment process against the President but the people, supported by some important public leaders as Cardinal Sin and the rest of former presidents, wanted him to resign immediately. Hundreds of thousands of protesters choke EDSA avenue again, as they did in 1986, calling for the resignation of President Estrada. They succeed and Vice-President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, took office. The debate whether that was a true revolution or not (a planned coup d’état) is still open. Anyway, it is clear that the real power in the country remains in the same hands that made EDSA I revolution possible. The good news is that this elite has realized that they need people to remove heads of state.
Also, the imperfect democracy that appeared after EDSA revolution has not advanced in some basic Human Rigths. It is easy to check the situation of thousands of unprotected workers in the Philippines. Most of them receive unfair salaries, as a consequence of the lack of trade unions. The usual killing of trade union leaders and the government prosecution of unions is yearly denounced by different international Human Rights associations.
At the same time, the new democracy in the Philippines created a very weak government. The presence of the public sector in the country has clearly stepped back. The time of huge public projects has ended, at least so far. Of course, the Philippines need more infraestructures to foster its development. The best example is the clearly inefficient and small Metro Manila Massive Transportation System. More lines, more trains are more frequences are needed.
It is true that the Philippines is still a centralized country. Some autonomous regions have been created, especially because of the Muslim communities in Mindanao, in order to stop the armed conflict. But a true and deep administration reform is needed to develop and empower the rest of the country, not only Metro Manila.
Finally, there are political writers, especially those living outside Metro Manila, who associate the People Power Revolution with what they term as “Imperial Manila” because it was believed that Marcos was toppled from his position without the participation of Filipinos living in areas outside of the capital region. In an article published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Amando Doronila wrote the following:
“People power movements have been an Imperial Manila phenomenon. Their playing field is EDSA. They have excluded the provincianos from their movement with their insufferable arrogance and snobbery … ignoring the existence of the toiling masses and peasants in agrarian Philippines.”
To sum up, EDSA I or the People Power Revolution brought some advancements to the Philippines: basic freedoms and rights were recovered and Filipinos realized that yes, they can remove corrupts and dictators if they act united. However, oligarchies and elites kept the real policital and economical power. The Philippines still has enormous differences between the rich and the poor. The political parties system is not organized with ideas but with personalities, names and families.
Currently new medium classes are rising, thanks to the new Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies coming to the Philippines. Several multinational corporations are establishing some of its departments in the country, with a huge presence of customer remote services. These young workers are earning more money than other regular employees. Plus, they are interacting with foreigners that bring new ideas. The Philippines, under the presidency of Benigno Aquino III, son of the former president and leader of EDSA revolution, Corazón Aquino, is experiencing a fast economic growth, so the political situation is one of the most stable ever. Thus, we should be optimistic.
However, the question remaining is: are Filipinos ready to move forward and continue advancing in the construction of their democracy?
Enric-Sol Brines Gómez