There is nothing wrong with trying to revive the luster of the Edsa People Power uprising, if the celebration would be faithful to its essence: the people’s demand for change. There is also nothing wrong with making February 25 a joyous occasion, for as long as it does not try to give the illusion that the struggle for genuine change has been won already.
By BENJIE OLIVEROS
After years of being ignored by the government, February 25 would once again be marked by a big official celebration. The importance given by the different administrations to the February 25 People Power anniversary varied depending on the context the succeeding administrations were in.
Of course, the Cory Aquino administration placed importance to February 25. This was so not only because it was the product of Edsa People Power 1. The horrors of martial law were still very fresh in the collective memory of the Filipino people then. The Marcos family could not even dare to make pronouncements that the dictatorship would have been able to bring progress to the nation, as Bongbong Marcos is doing now. The anniversary of Edsa People Power uprising was made even more significant as forces identified with the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), then Col. Gringo Honasan and then defense secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, launched a series of coup d’ etats. That was why the government-sponsored February 25 celebration attracted many people during the first few years of the Cory Aquino administration. However, when the lives of the Filipino people became more difficult because of the economic crisis, the crowds in the government-sponsored celebrations became thinner.
The Ramos administration tried to revive the spirit of Edsa People Power 1. He needed to, because, as a president who won the elections by a mere 23 percent of the votes, he wanted to rally the people behind his administration. Ramos presented a vision of a Philippine economy taking off from conditions of backwardness and poverty. Perhaps to egg the Filipino people to believe that the country would really take off under his watch, then president Fidel V. Ramos did his traditional jump every government-sponsored February 25 celebration. However, his traditional jump wilted when the Southeast Asian financial crisis hit the country in 1997.
For the Estrada administration, February 25 no longer assumed much significance. In fact, the Estrada administration almost committed the political blunder of mocking the People Power uprising that ousted his former ally Marcos by signifying his intention to bury the former dictator at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. If not for the strong opposition and the potential policital backlash it would bring, he would have pushed through with it. Adding to his political burden is the fact that Estrada had an uneasy relationship with one of the prime movers of the February 25 Edsa People Power uprising the late Cardinal Sin, and the middle class, who staked their claim to the uprising, despised him. In the end, it was another People Power uprising that unseated him.
The Arroyo administration, which came to power through another People Power uprising – this time during the last days of January – could have tried to revive the grand February 25 celebrations. After all, she benefitted from the same political action. On the contrary, the Arroyo administration tried to downplay its importance especially since after only a year of being in power, the foundations of her government was already shaky with the corruption issues hounding her and her family. After the 2004 presidential elections where she claimed a questionable mandate, Arroyo not only tried to downplay the significance of People Power 1 and even 2 – which installed her in Malacañang – she went as far as declaring it as a curse to “democracy.” The world would not want to see another Edsa People Power uprising, she said, because it made the country “unstable.” She feared another People Power uprising so much that her government absurdly declared the Edsa shrine as a no-rally zone. And to mock it further, Arroyo declared a state of national emergency, in an apparent prelude to martial law, during the 20th anniversary of the Edsa People Power uprising.
Now, the administration of President Benigno Aquino III is once again giving importance to the anniversary of the Edsa People Power uprising. To give way to this grand celebration, the government is even closing parts of Edsa and is mobilizing 2,000 soldiers and 1,000 cops to participate in the reenactment. Actors, actresses, and other celebrities are expected to attract the crowds and give luster to the celebration, which is being spearheaded by a committee led by singer-songwriter Ogie Alcasid. The second Aquino administration is trying to get as much political capital out of the fact that his mother was a key figure in the February 25 Edsa People Power uprising that ousted the dictatorship. It is even packaging itself as a product of a similar People Power movement, which, this time, supposedly took the form of the vote.
There is nothing wrong with trying to revive the luster of the Edsa People Power uprising, if the celebration would be faithful to its essence: the people’s demand for change. There is also nothing wrong with making February 25 a joyous occasion, for as long as it does not try to give the illusion that the struggle for genuine change has been won already. Change has been the catchword of President Benigno Aquino III, from his presidential campaign to his inaugural address, up to his first state of the nation address. However, after more than half a year in office, there are still no indications of the change that he promised.
There are expose´s of irregularities in some government agencies; there is currently a Senate investigation into the corruption in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) during the time of former AFP comptroller General Carlos Garcia. But the Aquino government has not yet shown the political will to run after those guilty of plunder, especially former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. If only the small fry would be convicted of corruption then even in this aspect, nothing much would change. What changes could then be expected on the bigger and more difficult issues of the country’s backwardness and the poverty of the majority of the Filipino people?
As of now, what the Filipino people are seeing are disunity and ineptness in the Aquino administration, as manifested in its handling of the August 23 Luneta hostage taking incident, which claimed the lives of Hong Kong tourists, and the deportation of 14 Taiwanese nationals to the People’s Republic of China. And the Aquino administration has been merely continuing the programs of the previous Arroyo administration. The change that the people expect could not even be gleaned from the pronouncements and speeches of the Aquino administration.
Nevertheless, the 25th anniversary of the February 25 People Power uprising is still significant for the Filipino people and valuable lessons could still be learned from it. It shows that a mere changing of guards is not sufficient to bring about change and that the Filipino people could still wield the power of collective action.