Carol Pagaduan-Araullo | EDSA Myths (Part I)

Streetwise/Business World
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A ruling president shunning people power and a presidential aspirant eagerly laying claim to it. Neither one can be expected to explain to the people what Edsa was all about, what was achieved and what could not be achieved. And what is its continuing relevance to our people’s situation today.

De facto President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is conspicuously absent again at the official celebration of the anniversary of Edsa I, the people’s uprising that toppled the dictator Marcos 24 years ago. In 2001 Mrs. Arroyo, then Vice President, was catapulted to power after a second unarmed uprising cum military rebellion dubbed “Edsa Dos”. But she quickly eschewed people power as she chose to anchor the legitimacy of her presidency on the legal fiction that President Joseph Estrada had “resigned” rather than being ousted, claiming that she merely assumed the office when there was a vacancy, no thanks to people power.

Presidential candidate Sen. Noynoy Aquino, on the other hand, struggles to lay claim to the Edsa people power legacy in his latest television advertisement. Young people are gathered around him in the style of the grandmotherly storyteller, Lola Basyang. He preaches, “Sa Edsa nagsimula and laban, sa Mayo ipagpapatuloy natin ang laban…” (The fight began in Edsa, in May we will continue the fight…) Of late it is the crassest example of how the EDSA I uprising has been debased in an attempt to appropriate it and turn it into political capital for the May 2010 elections.

First of all, one needs to explode the myth that EDSA I happened overnight, like some kind of inexplicable phenomenon, and that it all started with the military rebellion led by then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Philippine Constabulary chief Fidel Ramos. It didn’t.

It took all of fourteen years before the Marcos dictatorship was overthrown; throughout that time our people struggled against despotism and misrule. This found concrete expression in the broad urban resistance movement both underground and above ground, the armed revolutionary movements of the CPP-NPA and MNLF, and the various anti-Marcos opposition groups both here and abroad.

From the outset, it was from the ranks of the poor, exploited and oppressed classes that resistance to authoritarian rule emerged: workers who were not allowed to strike over legitimate grievances; poor peasants who were being driven off their land; the urban underclass whose homes were being demolished to give way to Mrs. Imelda Marcos’ beautification projects; students from the hotbeds of activism like the state universities who were being rounded up or gagged from expressing their dissent.

In time, personalities and groups from among the middle forces began to raise their voices in protest. Notably it was the religious who ventured out of their comfort zones, breaking bread with the struggling masses wherever they found them, sharing their weal and woe, until they themselves were targeted by the military as “subversives” or “communist sympathizers”.

Later, professionals such as lawyers and physicians also took up the cudgels for human rights victims, asserting their right and duty to minister to those in need regardless of ideological or political orientation. Teachers and other government employees also became restive borne of their own economic issues and the political repression they were subjected to by the authoritarian state.

Even artists joined the fray with noted film directors, writers and painters becoming activists against censorship and the climate of suppression of freedom of expression. The “mosquito press” was pioneered by the xeroxed newsletters of the religious then the newspapers fearlessly put out by press freedom icon, Joe Burgos and others.

The politicians in the anti-Marcos opposition were outstandingly represented by Senators Lorenzo Tañada, Jose W. Diokno, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino and Jovito Salonga. They distinguished themselves by the fact that they fought martial law from the outset, courageously, consistently and with a clear-sighted and statesmanlike appreciation of the need to unite the broadest array of social forces to topple the dictator, including those on the Left of the political spectrum.

The sector of big business, especially the foreign chambers of commerce and their local partners, welcomed martial law and benefited from the dictatorship’s foreign investment-friendly policies. It was only when Marcos cronies and favored multinational corporations started to elbow out other vested interests, when the economy started to go down, and the political situation became more unstable (especially with the raging communist-led and Moro secessionist armed struggles in the countryside) that sections of the economic elite began to abandon Marcos and look to the anti-Marcos opposition for an alternative leader from the same elite mold.

As for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Marcos made sure the hierarchy was well-fed from the trough of the kleptocracy such that the era of multi-millionaire generals all started under his regime. It was only when the rivalry between the Marcos/Ver faction and the Enrile/Ramos faction heated up that the ground became fertile for the establishment of the Reform The Armed Forces Movement (RAM), the organization of military officers that eventually figured in the failed coup attempt preceding the Edsa uprising. The god fathers and leaders of RAM were fiercely anti-communist, had track records as human rights violators, were beholden to the US and had a messianic complex about their role in bringing about reforms, not just in the AFP, but in Philippine politics in general.

Verily, it was after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino that the simmering cauldron of resistance and protest boiled over into a wave of non-stop massive demonstrations calling for Marcos to step down until, with the not-too-gentle prodding of his principal backer, the US, he called for snap elections.

The snap presidential elections of 7 February 1986 pitted Corazon “Cory” Aquino, the unassuming widow of the martyred opposition leader, Ninoy, and Ferdinand Marcos, the ailing Strongman believed to be behind her husband’s brazen assassination. Mrs. Aquino quickly became the rallying figure for a people sick and tired of years of unmitigated suffering under authoritarian rule; the elections, the opening they had been waiting for to kick out Marcos.

But it was not to be. Marcos was declared the winner in a massively fraudulent electoral exercise triggering an outpouring of protest culminating in gigantic demonstrations where Mrs. Aquino claimed victory and called for civil disobedience to enforce the will of the people. The Left began preparations for a people’s strike to up the ante in the anticipated showdown between the democratic forces and Marcos’ armed minions.

These events preceded the failed coup d’état led by Enrile/Ramos who, in the first place, planned to install a military junta in lieu of Marcos. Thus when Cardinal Sin called on the people to flock to the gates of the two military camps traversed by the main hi-way named Epifanio de los Santos or Edsa to support the beleaguered military rebels, the response was instantaneous and overwhelming.

The days of the dictatorship were numbered.

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