Was Edsa Dos a coup, power grab, or an uprising? Was it a farce? It may be all of the above but it’s a political event worth celebrating. Why should we allow the Arroyos, Estradas, Aquinos, and the Catholic bishops to dominate the discussion about what Edsa Dos meant to our country’s history and politics? Let us remember and honor it for what it represented and aspired to achieve. It may not the revolution we wanted it to be but it deserves to be recognized as among the milestones of the people’s movement for genuine democracy and justice. So how should we defend the idea of Edsa Dos? Let me count the ways:
1. The common and understandable critique against Edsa Dos in recent years was that it allowed Gloria Arroyo to assume the presidency. Indeed, Arroyo was a beneficiary of Edsa Dos but only because she was the constitutional successor of Estrada. The people marched in the streets to fight corruption and not because we wanted Arroyo to lead the country. Edsa Dos taught us that there should have been other extralegal options to replace the leadership like creating a transition council or a revolutionary government.
2. It’s convenient to reduce Edsa Dos as a four-day political action that led to the downfall of Estrada. But for many who opposed Estrada, Edsa Dos was a campaign for good governance that saw thousands of people converging in the streets of Mendiola and Ayala, ‘Jericho Marches’ in front of the Senate, and citizen assemblies in the last quarter of 2000. We went to Edsa on January 16, 2001 but we have been protesting in the streets for many months already before that day.
3. Estrada was already unpopular when Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson made his Juetengate expose against Estrada. The first massive street gathering against Estrada took place in 1999, or more than a year before Chavit’s expose, in reaction to the president’s harassment actions and other attacks against the press and people’s civil liberties. Estrada was relentless because a few months after the Makati protest, he unleashed a total war campaign against Muslim rebels that displaced civilian communities in Mindanao.
Estrada alienated his support base when he ignored the workers’ demand for a legislated wage increase; he disappointed his former allies in the anti-bases campaign when he signed the Visiting Forces Agreement; and his slogan “Erap para sa mahirap” was ridiculed because he expanded the globalization policies of his predecessor instead of reversing them.
4. Estrada was forced to leave the presidential palace when the people started the march from Edsa to Mendiola on January 20. Arroyo took her oath in Edsa but the more forceful symbol that week was the long march of the people from Ortigas to Manila in order to surround and reclaim Malacanang. Edsa Dos was not simply a happy gathering of anti-Estrada forces but a political movement that really targeted the storming of the country’s seat of power.
5. It’s misleading to state that Edsa Dos was a people’s uprising that only became successful because of military support. The more accurate formulation is that the military supported Edsa Dos when it became clear that the people have spoken and united against the country’s commander-in-chief. The first point became popular during the Arroyo years that led many to believe that only a military mutiny is required to solve a political impasse. But Edsa was a popular uprising which united diverse groups and the army. A political upsurge with military backing is a potent combination but a military action without organized support from the civilian population will only give us hotel takeovers and young officers running for the senate.
6. Edsa Dos was more than a mini-reunion of some anti-Marcos personalities; it was a broad anti-corruption movement. It was not a noisy political event in imperial Manila; it was a national campaign directed against Estrada. We are flooded with political images that focus on the Edsa Shrine but it doesn’t mean that Edsa Dos activities were restricted within Metro Manila. It was a nationwide upheaval that also paralyzed urban centers and eroded Estrada’s mass appeal. He was certainly detested in Muslim Mindanao. Edsa in Edsa Dos was more than a geographical reference; it became the symbolic name of a national political campaign.
7. Edsa Dos is often described as a remarkable example of middle-class revolt. Then there are those who dismissed it as a mere rambunctious power play of the elite. We do not deny the lively and heroic participation of the middle classes and even some sections of the ruling elite in Edsa Dos. They were there and they mingled with the greater number of people who came from the working classes. Edsa Dos was a true social phenomenon that briefly removed class barriers and allowed the people to fight a common enemy. But to insist that it was a middle class action is to deny (again) the role of the poor and inarticulate in shaping the country’s history.
8. Edsa Dos started the global trend of using mobile phones in protest actions. Through cell phone texting, young people were able to join Edsa Dos with parental consent. Texting facilitated the movement of the crowds and the rapid distribution of anti-Estrada messages and Erap jokes. Anti-Left bashers often use this as an example to assert the alleged superior creativity of virtual activism over traditional street protests. But more than anything else, Edsa was a testament to the enduring power of the mob. Edsa Dos participants didn’t just text their sentiments against Estrada; they marched and texted against corruption. Edsa Dos didn’t invalidate street activism; on the contrary, it reaffirmed the power of collective actions and the value of maximizing new technologies to advance political causes.
Does Edsa Dos deserve to be known as “People Power”? It mobilized the people, it animated the country’s political forces, it aimed to uplift the conditions of the poor, it echoed the narratives of revolution, it led to the ouster of a popular politician. In the eyes of hacienderos, corrupt bureaucrats, and apologists of imperialism, the idea of Edsa Dos is so powerful, radical, and subversive that it needed to be discredited. Therefore, our task is not simply to defend it but also to continue what it aimed to achieve in politics. If Edsa Dos was a failure, it was a failure worth repeating until we could get it right.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org