Whatever happened to the Edsa regime, UP Sociology Professor Randy David asked in his column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the eve of the 33rd anniversary of the Edsa Uprising. He was referring to the political order that was founded on February 25, 1986 when the dictatorial regime of Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown by people power.
He observed that while we continue to live under the Edsa regime, gone is the celebratory spirit with which the people commemorated those historic days in February 1986. To him, the Edsa regime has passed on. In his view, the Edsa regime ended on the day Joseph “Erap” Estrada, a Marcos admirer, was elected president by more or less the same forces that had supported Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, a known Marcos crony, when the latter ran for president in 1992, losing by the thinnest margin to Fidel Ramos, a key figure in the Edsa Uprising.
In my view, the end of the Edsa regime began in 1989, when President Cory Aquino started to drift away from the moral order that she promised the Filipino people to bring about.
As I wrote in these pages in May 1989, the banner headlines of the major newspapers screamed almost daily of graft and corruption involving huge sums of money and public officials at the highest level. But erring officials were not only spared censure or even just a subtle word of disapproval, they were even patronized if not hailed by President Cory Aquino. Her ready word of support even emboldened the officials to dismiss inquiries into their actions with contemptuous reactions.
A Cabinet member continued to draw salary as a congressman even after he had ceased to be one. He did not think he had done anything wrong. Neither did President Cory. He even claimed, “The President has cleared me.” And so in Cabinet meetings the department secretary took his place next to the President, issued directives, and handed down policies.
A bureau commissioner was charged with graft and corruption by the Anti-graft League before the Tanodbayan and the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee. The President, instead of letting him stand trial here, appointed him ambassador to a European country. That was contrary to her argument for not allowing Ferdinand Marcos to come home. Marcos was facing charges of racketeering in the United States and must stand trial there, she said. In the case of the bureau commissioner, the President placed him out of the reach of our courts.
When the administrator of a government agency was asked to explain the disappearance of a shipload of smuggled rice, he said the load “drowned.” The public and the media found the explanation preposterous. But as if to vindicate the official, the President transferred him to a Malacañang position.
The head of another government agency went around the law to get the car of his desire. Also government funds were used to buy him an overpriced therapeutic chair. But the government official’s conduct was glossed over. It was the reprobation of the public, not the reproach of the President that forced him to resign.
That tolerance for transgression of our laws pervaded in government administrative and regulatory bodies. An investigation clearly established that a corporation had evaded taxes for ten years. Instead of filing tax fraud charges, the BIR commissioner entered into a compromise: pay the taxes due on the income for the last five years and all penalties would be waived and the case declared closed. The BIR commissioner happened to be a former business associate of the chairman of the corporation.
The SEC learned that the same foreign corporation had been doing business in the country without a license, in violation of the Corporation Code. It wavered in the beginning about filing charges. It reasoned that the multinational firm could very well engage the services of the top-caliber lawyers. The case could just drag on and on. Nothing much could be accomplished, conceded the SEC.
The BoI was asked why it had not filed charges against the same foreign corporation when doing business in the Philippines without a license was also in violation of the Omnibus Investment Act. “Nandiyan na eh,” was the curt reply.
In its case with the SEC, the corporation engaged the services of what was then considered THE Law Firm. The managing partner was related by blood to the powers that be. The case was quickly dismissed by the prosecutor.
Choice government contracts, such as the handling of the massive advertising requirements of a government-controlled corporation, were awarded to an agency in which another relative of the powers that be had an interest. Jueteng in Central Luzon was generally believed to be under the control of a close relative. Kamaganak, Inc. came to be the talk of the town.
President Cory Aquino also appointed to key government positions men identified with the Marcos dictatorship. At one time, officials involved in the recovery of the hidden wealth of the Marcos-Romualdez syndicate once lawyered for Marcos cronies while a PCGG commissioner was a cousin of one of the two biggest cronies of Marcos.
Not only did President Cory Aquino drift away from the moral order she vowed to bring about, she also drifted away from the people whose power raised her to the presidency. In her 1989 state of the nation address, she said, “Our other great task is to deliver good government. This I believe consists of maintaining closeness to the people. Thus, I have brought an active presidency to bear on the many issues that shape our lives. I shall emphasize even further the standard of my example by exacting the same dedication and discipline from my Cabinet, the bureaucracy, and the local governments.”
In reaction, I wrote here under the title “Arrogant Public Servants” that her declaration was like a tale told by a woman full of sound and fury signifying nothing. In that piece I named several high ranking officials, including a Cabinet member, who I could not even talk to regarding matters they were mandated to attend to and act on.
One instance of arrogance involved the presidential legal adviser. A group composed of former members of the parliament of the streets sent the President a manifesto enumerating cases of graft and corruption. Days later she called us to a meeting. With regard to the case involving military men, she told us to hand over hard evidence to her legal adviser who was present. After days of putting together the incontrovertible evidence we tried several times to set an appointment with the adviser, to no avail. She would not even come to the phone to listen to why we wanted to meet with her.
The other display of arrogance involved an official in charge of insurance of government entities. As a way of paying it forward, I designed a healthcare plan for employees of the Muntinlupa City government and offered my services to then Mayor Toting Bunye, a former comrade in the protest marches against the Marcos regime. I used to run a health insurance company and had studied managed care (better known as HMO) in the US on a USAID grant. I was told to clear the plan to the aforementioned official. The official would not even talk to me on the phone.
As if to symbolize Cory Aquino’s isolation from the millions of common people who went to EDSA in February 1986 to show resolute support for her, attendance of the Mass in the Mary, Queen of Peace church, better known as the EDSA Shrine, to commemorate the anniversary of the people power revolution was limited to the members of Cory Aquino’s family and to other relatives and close friends, making the church look like the private chapel of her family.
The departure of Tita Cory from the moral order she vowed to restore and her isolation from the millions of people who joined Chino Roces in urging her to run for president prompted Chino Roces himself to address President Aquino thus:
“Please allow me to remind you first: that our people brought a new government to power because our people felt an urgent need for change. That change was nothing more and nothing less than that of moving quickly into a new moral order.
“The people believed that when we said we would be the exact opposite of Marcos, we would be just that. Because of that promise, our triumph over Marcos was anchored on a principle of morality. It was not rice, roads, bridges, water, electricity and such other mundane things that people expected of us. It was, and is much more. A moral order led by you, Cory.”
Cardinal Jaime Sin, a dear friend of Cory Aquino and who turned the tide of battle in the evening of February 22, 1986 when he called on the people to come to EDSA to show support to those who broke away from the Marcos dictatorship, also lamented the erosion of the Edsa regime. Said he: “We have gone back to life as usual, to what we really are. A nation of easygoing people, rascals, mayayabang, thieves. No day goes by without newspaper reports of corruption.”
That is what really happened to the Edsa regime. Cory herself eroded it.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.