30 years after the EDSA Revolution

Corporate Watch
Amelia H. C. Ylagan

Posted on February 22, 2016

There was no blood at the EDSA People Power Revolution on Feb. 22-25, 1986. The non-violent revolution of more than two million people that ended the 14-year dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos and the restored the country’s democracy after three years of angry street protests against the assassination of former Senator Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. “made news headlines as ‘the revolution that surprised the world’” (Kumar, Ravindra (2004)).

When Corazon C. Aquino spoke before the US Congress seven months after assuming the presidency in 1986, she said “ours must have been the cheapest revolution ever” (“Cory Aquino -- Her Works.” Retrieved from coryaquino.ph 03.15.2015). She was most probably referring to first, no cost of lives lost, and then, distributed logistical cost because of the voluntary time, effort, and personal contributions of the protestors on the three-day EDSA sit-down. There was little cost to Cory in terms of personal risk or planning/strategizing effort because she was in Cebu, where she waited until she was flown to Manila as the people’s declared winner of the Feb. 7, 1986 snap elections called by Marcos to prove himself legitimate leader. Cory was sworn in by Associate Justice Claudio Teehankee as President at the Club Filipino on the morning of Feb. 25. On the Palace balcony that afternoon, Marcos took his Oath of Office, broadcast by IBC-13 and GMA-7 television networks (Paul Sagmayao, Mercado; Tatad, Francisco S., People Power: The Philippine Revolution of 1986: An Eyewitness History, Manila, 1986).

Perhaps those are the reasons why, 30 years after, memories and attendant emotions about the EDSA Revolution have faded into sepia clips in the minds of Filipinos at least 50 years old today: that EDSA saw no blood on the streets, and as suggested by some political commentators the People Power Revolution was an “Imperial Manila” brainchild actualized on EDSA, in Metro Manila. Maybe the lack of jarring tactile and visual remembrances fails to keep critical and uppermost the present-day Filipinos’ expectations of government, and the abstract philosophies and ideologies that wanted Marcos out in the first place. Those below 50 years old hardly know of Marcos or the EDSA People Power Revolution, and probably have no strong feelings even if they read history on it.

Sociology professor Dr. Cihan Tugal of the University of California at Berkeley would call the EDSA Revolution a “leaderless revolution”. Citing as case study the June 2013, mobilization of “millions of Egyptians against a clumsy autocrat, the elected dictator (Mohammed) Morsi... call this what you like: coup d’ état, elegant coup, or people’s power... presumably the biggest rebellion in Egyptian history hints that different lessons need to be drawn from the Egyptian situation (Tugal, Cihan, “End of the Leaderless Revolution,” Berkeley Journal of Sociology 10.07.2014).

Tugal outlined the successive “leaderless,” “people power” revolutions that ousted “a dictator, Hosni Mubarak, installed Mohammed Morsi then ousted him for his coddling of the Muslim Brotherhood. “And now the “new” military regime (which has refurbished itself through appropriating a revolutionary uprising) is already showing its real face to those who have supported the coup with na´vely democratic expectations,” Tugal narrated. Yes, “na´ve” are those who expect that “‘people’s power’ can have results from a scene without an agenda, an alternative platform, an ideology, and leaders”.

If there is no (strong) leader who has a clear agenda towards an alternative to the hated previous condition or status, then, “this is the danger that awaits any allegedly leaderless revolt: appropriation by the main institutional alternatives of the institutions they are fighting against,” Tugal says. In the case of Egypt’s misadventures with “people power,” the military conveniently stepped in as the ready “institutional alternative” just waiting in the wings for the show of weakness in the unprepared new leadership.

Peter Gelderloos (Anarchy Works, 2010) reacted to Tugal saying “revolutions are not an event, but a process, and a major part of that process involves learning from our failures, developing more adequate theories and analysis, and building up the capacity to defend the spaces we seize and the germinal social relations we create (Gelderloos, Counterpunch magazine, 07.26.2013).

“Every state in history has advanced the exclusive interests of the ruling class it unfailingly creates, necessarily blocking the full freedom of action and self-organization of its subjects,” Gelderloos warns. He could be suggesting that those who want change are up against a vicious cycle of the protestor slumping to the comforts of capitalism and self-gratification that they protested against in others, as opportunities should open with the strength of unified protest that is not necessarily the sum of its parts of individual motivations.

Today we look back at our failed expectations from our own EDSA People Power Revolution -- in the leaders that have emerged and our development as a country and as a people -- from that shining moment in history of having won back democracy from the 20+ years of Marcos (including his initial elected term). Why is Marcos alive and kicking, in the resurgence of the culture of opportunism and greed, and in the seemingly-accepted corruption and plunder in government? How well is the EDSA Revolution remembered as our high moral point in our collective soul?

It is uncanny how, in the 30 years after “EDSA I,” sociologist Tugal’s scenario of how erstwhile protagonists and players in the initial “leaderless” revolution would take advantage of the temporary vacuum of emerging needs and lacks. There were six coup d’états to overthrow the government of Corazon Aquino in 1986-1987, by members of the “Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM)” and by other soldiers still loyal to the deposed dictator Marcos. In the August 1987 coup attempts, 53 people died, in poignant irony to the bloodless EDSA Revolution that they fought for and against.

Yet Corazon “Cory” Aquino plodded on despite the distressing betrayals in her government and the exacting demands and expectations of common society. The 1987 Constitution was set up in the shift from the provisional revolutionary government and into the formal democratic government bridled by a strict six-year term for the President, to preclude extensions of power as in the Marcos dictatorship. Land reform was institutionalized, and civil liberties, human rights and social justice enshrined in a tight Constitution adapted to Filipino culture and values.

The two most high-profile defectors from the Marcos government, then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and then Armed Forces Vice-Chief of Staff Fidel V. Ramos served in the Cory government and then moved up to what they set their eyes on in the New Deal after EDSA I. Ramos became President after Cory, and was restricted to a six-year term under the Constitution although there was a last-minute try to change the form of government to Parliamentarian. Enrile did not display sentimental love for Cory and EDSA I, and set himself up as independent, until he was included in allegations of plunder from the pork barrel funds, in Cory’s son, President Benigno S. C. Aquino III’s (current) term.

Irony upon irony -- plunder had been charged of two successive presidents after the EDSA Revolution that removed a dictator who plundered an estimated P500 billion (indirectly admitted by Imelda Marcos (Philippine Daily Inquirer, “We own practically everything” 05.12.1998) plus the P22 billion ($580 million++) of Marcos wealth found in Swiss banks (Brisbane.org 1999). Shame upon shame that former members of the “Yellow Government” (Cory government) have set up political dynasties since their coming into power from the EDSA Revolution, and have been accused of plunder and corruption in their vantage point of power and influence from borrowed glory in these past 30 years.

Again, Sociologist Tugal and anarchist Gelderloos both, and those who debate about peaceful revolutions and expectations from these are most probably right about many activists betraying principles for the tempting booty of successful unstructured revolutions.

This is the story of the EDSA People Power Revolution and the 30 years thereafter.

Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.