Today is the 33rd anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution (EDSA I). “It commemorates the peaceful demonstrations that occurred in 1986 and led to the overthrow of the corrupt rule of President Ferdinand Marcos….In previous years, 25 February was a work holiday, but today, the Monday nearest that date is a holiday only for school,” a travel service website informs interested tourists (https://publicholidays.ph).
The celebration of EDSA I was downgraded noticeably after the term of Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III, only son of EDSA hero Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino II and the first post EDSA I president of the dictator-free Philippines, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino. In November 2017, the new president, Rodrigo Duterte integrated the functions of the EDSA People Power Commission (EPPC) with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), with the latter commission holding the chairmanship for EPPC and its EDSA-related activities and projects.
The last EDSA I celebration under PNoy Aquino on February 24, 2016 was the last anniversary that could be called “Yellow” (for the “Yellow Ribbon” protest following the Aquino assassination on August 21, 1983), in recognition of his parents’ symbolic leadership of the Revolution thrust on them — Ninoy by his assassination, and Cory by her actual but thwarted victory over Marcos in the February 7, 1986 snap elections.
It was also an election year at the 2016 EDSA I Anniversary, as it is an election year now, in the first outspokenly anti-Aquino president since 1986, Rodrigo Duterte. In 2016, then Speaker of the House Feliciano Belmonte (Liberal Party) said, “In May, we choose new leaders. It should also be an occasion where voters should carefully assess choices based on history and our world-recognized achievement that was EDSA” (The Philippine Star Feb. 24, 2016). “We are each called upon to do our role in choosing government leaders whom we can trust to continue to uphold the gains of EDSA and not set aside the very reason why we live in a democracy today,” he added (Ibid.).
Rodrigo Duterte of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) and Leni Robredo of the Liberal Party (LP) won the 2016 elections as President and Vice-President. The LPs won majority of the seats in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate, but many LPs changed loyalties to Duterte’s PDP-Laban to create a “supermajority coalition.” Such was the “fall of the ‘dilawang’ (Yellow) Liberal Party” (Rappler, June 23, 2017). “As you can see, I am also partly a failure. Why? A lot of the people who were introduced here as PDP were in fact LPs at the time when the president [Aquino] told me to help everybody get in,” Belmonte told reporters then (Ibid.).
“Many local government officials — governors, mayors, provincial and city legislators, even barangay captains — remain loyal or at least, sympathetic to the Liberal Party. But reality on the ground and the need to win in the mid-term 2019 races, go beyond party loyalty and sympathy… Legislators — district representatives, especially — had specific concerns. Not being in the majority meant risking losing funding in their area…(and) risking a loss come 2019,” an interview with Julio Teehankee, professor of political science at the De La Salle University brought out (Ibid.). “Old habits die hard,” he said of traditional politicians [pejoratively called “trapos”] (Ibid.).
Duterte cannot help but be cocky about his “oversubscribed” control and exceeded expectations about his power over friends and foes. He has vented disdain and distrust of the remaining few die-hard Liberals, the “Yellows” whom he downgraded further to “Yellowtards.”
By December 2016, the Duterte-controlled House had already put PNoy’s former Justice Secretary and elected Senator Leila de Lima, a vocal Duterte critic, in detention for alleged complicity in drug trafficking at the Bureau of Prisons, which was under her in PNoy’s time. In October 2017, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Andres Bautista (appointed by PNoy) was forced to resign his post before he would have been impeached for non-declaration of assets in his SALN, as exposed by his estranged wife, Patricia.
The Duterte operatives hounded Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno (appointed by PNoy) who spoke against the drug war and the legalities of his methods and style, until she was removed by “quo warranto” technicalities raised by the Justice Department and carried out by her majority pro-Duterte (and Duterte-appointed) peers at the Supreme Court. Duterte vowed to remove Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales who said she will investigate Duterte’s bank accounts, which allegedly contain millions of pesos that he did not declare in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth [SALN] (The Philippine Star Oct. 4, 2017). She managed to finish her appointive term.
But perhaps the attack on the “Yellows” has been most defended by the ex-military man/putschist Sen. Antonio Trillanes, who first dared Duterte to bare his true assets even before Duterte won as president. Duterte lashed back: “Yung Left, pati ang kaalyado ng Left… ‘yung mga dilaw. Gusto nila ako paalisin dito sa Malacañang (even the Left, the ally of the Left is the yellows. They want me out of Malacañang),” the President said, referring to LP’s color (philstar.com Oct. 5, 2017).
“There is no conspiracy. If at all, it exists as a product of his creative imagination,” cause-oriented group Tindig Pilipinas said in a statement (Ibid.). Activist group Bayan said Duterte was “creating his own ghosts” (interaksyon.com/breaking-news/2017/10/06). The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) accused Duterte of seeking to monopolize political power and, thus, “wants to clampdown and silence all who disagree with his policies and methods” (Ibid.).
And so last Saturday, February 23, Yellows (LP) and various multisectoral groups, as well as the Reds (CCP), who were missing in the 1986 uprising by default, trooped to major thoroughfare EDSA to mark the 33rd anniversary of the People Power Revolution where they called for a united fight against a return to authoritarian rule and against the prevailing culture of impunity in the country (GMA News Feb. 23, 2019).
Since he assumed the presidency in June 2016, Duterte has never joined the traditional celebration of the 1986 People Power Revolution (Sunstar Feb. 20, 2019). Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said, “The President has so many duties and tasks to finish… He’s industrious” (Ibid.).
Of course, die-hard “Dutertists” in government will not have anything to do with the EDSA Anniversary. Not even the former “Yellows” now serving in Duterte’s government will publicly mark February 25 as a special day. Neither will turncoat politicians who had anticipated and desperately prepared for the May 13, 2019 mid-term elections by shamelessly moving over to the “supermajority” early on in Duterte’s assumption of office.
For us ordinary citizens, whether pro-Duterte or anti-Duterte, Yellow, Red, Green, Orange, or whatever color, we must in our hearts and in action, fight to keep our freedoms. EDSA I is still a good symbol for our values and principles, though it is not colored yellow anymore.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.