By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Protesters filled Edsa today, Feb. 25, to commemorate “Edsa 1” – the ouster of the Marcos Dictatorship through a historic, peaceful “People Power” gathering 31 years ago. The same calls for genuine change and to fight fascism resonated, only this time, directed at the seven-month-old Duterte administration which they say is dangerously taking the same path as the ousted despot.
The lesson of Edsa People Power should serve as a warning to President Duterte, the progressives said, as he risks increasing protests if he continues to renege on his promises for change. Edsa 1 in 1986 was followed by Edsa 2 in 2001, when people gathered to oust yet another corrupt leader, President Joseph Estrada.
“Fascism failed then and will definitely fail now,” said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).
“Thirty-one years after Edsa, in spite of the people’s victory, the country’s deep-seated problems remain. Poverty, corruption, human rights violations and trampling of our sovereignty continues up to now. The change in presidency was not enough to change the rotting system,” said a Bayan statement.
Protesters said Duterte is now just as accountable as the past regimes, as his promises for change and tough stance for Philippine sovereignty crumbled under the weight of the killings of some 7,000 drug suspects, continued militarization in the countryside, and killings and illegal arrests of activists.
Late last year, Duterte also granted the Marcos family’s long-awaited hero’s burial for the ousted dictator, a move widely seen as leading towards to the Marcoses’ return to the presidency.
The commemoration echoed the clamour for the resumption of the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), as the protesters lashed out at the AFP’s declaration of an all-out war, which led to a spike in human rights violations.
In the past seven months under Duterte, 32 activists were killed, mostly indigenous peoples and peasants, while 31 activists were arrested.
Vencer Crisostomo, national chairperson of the youth group Anakbayan, gave the most scathing tirade against the President: “Kunwari matapang, andaming satsat, pero ang totoo, duwag…Puro satsat, puro ‘pagbabago’ – pero hanggang sa ngayon, bigo.”
Crisostomo cited how Duterte criticized former US President Barack Obama and the US wars of aggression, but has not revoked any of the onerous PH-US defense agreements. Duterte has also allowed the continued entry of US troops for joint military exercises in the country.
Ang Presidente natin, mamamatay-tao, duguan ang kamay (Our President is a murderer, his hands are bloodied),” Crisostomo also lambasted how police anti-drug operations massed up dead suspects by the thousands.
Aside from the human rights violations, protesters also lamented that Duterte has failed on his promise of economic reforms, such as ending contractualization.
“Duterte, singilin! All-out war, biguin!” went their chant.
Groups led by Bayan and the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacañang (Carmma) held a short program before noon at the foot of Edsa Shrine along Edsa and Ortigas avenue, the site of Edsa People Power 2. The protesters then marched to Gate 2 of Camp Aguinaldo, the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
At the Edsa Shrine, the usual police blockade were placidly lined up. But in front of Camp Aguinaldo, however, the protesters had a brief skirmish with police who prevented them from coming up close to the gate. Eventually, some 100 anti-riot troops from the Philippine National Police, Philippine Army and Philippine Air Force were gathered at the blockade, reinforced with fire trucks from inside the camp.
People vs. Power
Many of the protesters greeted and addressed the state forces, but with only so much sarcasm.
With her usual humour, popular satirist Mae Paner, a.k.a. “Juana Change,” recalled being at Edsa in 1986: “Virgin pa ako noon, pinagtatanggol ko ang kapulisan, nagbibigay ng bulaklak, tinapay, pagmamahal – love pa more.”
Comparing scenes then and now, she lamented that those in power continues to work against the people: “Tingnan mo itsura natin: andaming placard…sa kabila, nakahelmet, naka-full-battle gear, naka-shield. Kung Edsa 1 ito, magkakampi tayo. Ngayong Edsa 2017, ang klaro ng divide (Look at us: with so many placards…on one side, in helmet, full-battle gear and shields. If this was Edsa 1, we’ll be on the same side. But in Edsa 2017, we are clearly divided).”
The line has, indeed, been long drawn, with many of those protesting subjected to state repression by those based in the AFP camp.
Change comes from the people
Present at the commemoration were greying martial law survivors and other activists who were at Edsa in 1986. Many “second generation,” or the children of activists, were also there, many have also become progressives.
Among them was Belle Castillo, whose father Ferdinand, a Bayan-NCR campaign officer, was arrested on Feb. 12 based on trumped-up multiple murder charges.
“Masakit po sa dibdib ang pagkahuli kay Tatay. Bukod pa sa di-makatarungan, me sakit po siya…kaya po nandito ako ngayon para manindigan (It pains us that my father was arrested. It is unjust, more so because he is ill…that is why I am here to make a stand),” she said.
Ferdinand has malaria, gout, rheumatic heart disease, transient ischemic attack (TIA), colon bleeding and hypertension – all of which he has managed with a strict vegetarian diet. His family now worries that his detention will lead to his worsening health.
Meanwhile, Miriam Lacaba read the poem “Open letters to Filipino artists,” written by her father, Emmanuel Lacaba – a rising artist-turned-New People’s Army guerrilla who was killed during martial law. She read the Filipino version translated by her uncle, renowned poet and writer Jose Lacaba.
“Mulat, ang masa ay Manunubos (Awakened, the masses are Messiah),” goes the poem, written in 1975, but still rings true today.
“Change can come only through the struggle of the people. That is the lesson of Edsa that is valid until today. The Duterte government is challenged to make true it promise of change, and address the issues of the people, including the roots of the 48-year-old armed conflict in the countryside,” Bayan’s Reyes said.