By Raïssa Robles
(I gave this talk at the forum of the Ateneo Human Rights Center on Thursday, Feb 24. My thanks to the Center’s executive director Ray Paolo Santiago for inviting me.)
Edsa toppled a dictator.
We will only fail EDSA if we let a Marcos or another dictator take power once again.
EDSA has been taking a lot of hits the last few months.
But even before that, the crowd during the annual commemoration of Edsa had been dwindling in the last decade or so.
And today, those who participated in that first globally televised bloodless ouster of a dictator have been systematically demonized and insulted as “dilawan” by no less than the incumbent President.
Let me tell you that the color yellow does not belong to the Aquino family nor the Liberal Party which both adopted it. The color yellow belongs to the people who fought the dictatorship. The color yellow belongs to the world that stood up in awe to see a vicious strongman booted out by tens of thousands of unarmed civilians.
In the last few years, the color yellow has been used by protesters in Asia, such as in Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong.
Filipinos can proudly say that the Philippines has exported a way of expressing political dissent. It isn’t unique, by the way.
Because in turn, Filipinos who went to Edsa in 1986 had been inspired by what they saw in the movie Gandhi. The idea of passive resistance was inspired by a movie which was shown in local theaters in 1982. The film which depicted the life of Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi struck a chord because like Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., Gandhi was also assassinated.
You can now watch Gandhi free on YouTube.
What is passive resistance?
Gandhi explained it this way: “Passive resistance is a method of securing rights by personal suffering, it is the reverse of resistance by arms. When I refuse to do a thing that is repugnant to my conscience, I use soul-force.”
If you think about it, passive resistance is similar to what Christ did when he died on the cross.
Supporters of President Duterte denigrate Edsa because no one died. Since it was a bloodless revolution, they argue that therefore it was a fake revolution. And since it was a fake revolution, nothing has changed.
See? Corruption is everywhere, they say. There are still millions of poor people.
Those who say that forget one thing about Edsa. Edsa was a touch-and-go situation in all of those four days. Edsa could have erupted in a bloodbath. I know that from personal experience.
I was there covering in the heart of the action.
And those who went to Edsa, each of them knew they could die any moment, just like that. Each of them went to Edsa prepared to die.
They knew how vicious the Marcos dictatorship was.
And that’s the truth.
The fact that no one died is the magic of Edsa. The Catholic Church and the Catholics who went there believe to this day that it was Divine Intervention that prevented violence.
As a journalist, I have no way of knowing. What I do know is that the nuns and priests were everywhere. And the protesters – especially the men – felt ashamed enough not to abandon the nuns to the tanks and simply run away.
I remember in 1990 when I attended a journalism course in Berlin, an Indonesian editor was among the participants. He eagerly asked me how “people power” worked. He said Indonesians were envious of Filipinos and expressed the hope that Indonesia would stage its own people power.
Well, Indonesians did get rid of Suharto eight years later in 1998, but not in a bloodless way.
After the Philippines’ brief shining moment, did everything go downhill?
A lot did. But not everything.
The next three years after 1986 were filled with much violence committed by the soldiers, by the rebels, and by criminals. Corrupt practices in government returned. It was like the ship of state was caught in a gale and the captain did not know how to steer it. That was also partly understandable since we had no change of captains for 21 years – or for a span of one generation.
Looking back, what I think happened was that the method of “passive resistance” worked in booting out the Marcoses.
But the citizenry had to learn to use a different method to make post-Marcos governments function.
They had to learn how to make democracy work.
That was a very difficult undertaking, after 14 years of Martial Law. And it continues to be a very difficult undertaking today.
By the way, it’s not true that Marcos lifted Martial Law in 1981. He only pretended to lift it, on paper. The year 1981 was when his regime even became more vicious. The number of detention cases dropped and the number of massacres and disappearances rose dramatically.
Unfortunately, in 1986, it was mostly the trapo politicians who knew how to make Congress function. And they brought back the pork barrel, which they called by the euphemistic term, Countrywide Development Fund.
I remember that I was covering the Senate then and the senators told us reporters that they needed some kind of fund to dole out to the hundreds of poor people who came to their offices or wrote to them asking for money for medicine, burial, tuition or hospital expenses.
They could not turn them away, they said, because then the administration might lose political support at a time when military, communist and Muslim rebels were fighting the government.
Looking back, such help should have been depoliticized or depersonalized from day one. Meaning, if you are poor and you suddenly need an operation you should not have to go to a congressman or a senator or the Office of the President to get aid.
If you are poor, you should be able to go to a government hospital and get an operation, and pay only very little. Today, those covered by Philhealth – and that automatically includes the poor – can do that, provided they are certified by the DSWD.
To me one of the most important lessons of Martial Law is that if you do not speak out or resist anomalies in government or society, nothing will happen. Or something bad could happen.
That’s why as a journalist I try to speak out. Although sometimes it’s like banging your head against the wall.
The number of poor people today has been used as proof that Edsa failed.
On the contrary, the poverty rate among Filipino families has dropped from 64.1% in 1986 to around 21.6% today. That’s a 42.5 percentage points drop. By any yardstick you can call that an accomplishment.
However, the drop should have been even more dramatic if only the poor had more opportunities to earn.
We can say that between the rich and the poor, the post-Edsa years were most advantageous to the rich. Today we have 11 dollar billionaire families whereas during Martial Law, there was only a handful of them headed by the First Family.
One of the things that need to be corrected after Edsa is the stupendous gap between the uber rich and the very poor. Last year, the 11 most wealthy families had a net worth of US$42.75 billion or P2.137 trillion.
This year’s government budget amounts to P3.35 trillion. So you can say that the wealth of the 11 richest Filipino families is equivalent to two-thirds of this year’s national budget.
And because of this, I find it a crying shame and a grave scandal that two of these very rich families – the Zobels and the Sys – have been squabbling for so many years now over the location of the central station of the MRT.
Do they not realize that millions of commuters are suffering and need that station and the loop closed asap? Let the station be named Zobel or Sy – at a hefty price – even though it is located near the mall that the family does not operate.
One unjust phenomenon of post-Edsa Philippines is that the poor continue to be driven away from Metro Manila where many of the jobs are.
I once asked Fernando Zobel during one press conference of Ayala Land why there was no housing for the poor in Fort Bonifacio Global City. He patiently explained to me that the infrastructure put in place there was far too expensive to include housing for the poor.
In my mind, I thought that was a lost opportunity to integrate the poor so that they would directly benefit from being close to work. I thought residents and locators in Bonifacio Global City could use an army of nannies, gardeners, cooks, etectera.
But the government did not make it a condition to put a social clause into the project.
To this day, the development of Metro Manila and other places in the country has been largely left to commercial developers. Choice areas are being carved out as gated communities for the wealthy.
That was not the promise of Edsa which had the poor and the rich standing shoulder-to-shoulder, risking their lives.
The rich can afford to do much more for the poor. In the past, I used to write about the Corporate Social Responsibility projects of various top companies. Not anymore.
Most companies do it for publicity purposes. They can’t even say how much of their earnings after taxes go to CSR. I suspect, very very little.
Philippine democracy has been bent and slanted to benefit the rich. To this day, Congress has been unable to pass a Land Use Law. Or an anti-dynasty law. Or a new Lobby Law that would replace the 1957 law.
Together with criminal justice, post-Edsa Philippines needs to implement social justice in the manner of distribution of opportunities and privileges in our society.
For social justice to take place, we need an honest-to-goodness anti-dynasty law. I’ve been a reporter for over 30 years and I see the same family names in office. I see the fathers being replaced by their wives or sons as if the political office was a rightful inheritance.
One can make a lot of money holding a political office even without stealing. For instance, a mayor can easily sniff out business opportunities. If a mall is about to be built, chances are, real estate prices in adjoining areas will go up. There is nothing illegal if a mayor’s relative starts buying up land. A political office is more often than not an enriching experience.
With an anti-dynasty law more people who don’t belong to political families can assume office. And hopefully, it will in time reduce the number of political families. We will then have a deeper and wider bench from which to choose public servants.
One other post-Edsa dream that I have is to see a very high government official jailed in an ordinary cell for corruption, without air-conditioning but only an electric fan. That hasn’t happened yet.
Hong Kong may even beat us to it by jailing their former chief executive Donald Tsang for corruption. But I was told that Hong Kong jails are much more comfortable than our prisons.
With all these problems that continue to hound the country it is quite tempting to simply say – to hell with it – let’s just have a bloody revolution and a dictatorship.
Marcos’ Martial Law should give us pause and put a stop to this temptation, because authoritarian rule as a model for development didn’t work for the Philippines. There is no such thing as a benevolent dictator.
Is People Power dead?
Far from it. We saw how people came together swiftly to protest President Joseph Estrada’s transgressions or the pork barrel. But in between flashes of People Power is the daily drudge of trying to make democracy work.
So what’s the point of celebrating Edsa People Power every year?
It is to serve as a warning that those who abuse political power have a shelf life.
Sharing this post. I agree wholeheartedly with the guy. It’s time to stop the blame game and nitpicking among the defenders of democracy, constitution, let’s concentrate on the fight against the return of the Marcos family, dictatorship and plundering / corrupt officials.
From Nash Tysmans 27 February at 01:09 ·
Saan ba dapat lumugar kapag hindi ka dilawan at tutol ka rin sa pagiging abusado ng estado? Today, the Philippine Daily Inquirer talked about a divided nation but I don’t think I agree with the dividing line–or at least, I have reservations. Being “yellow” and “pro-Duterte” are just some aspects of being Filipino and if the nation is divided as such then I’m afraid the limit of our political imagination is so narrow and obtuse, with our lenses unable to see the whole beyond these very noisy parts. I did not go to EDSA because I worship the yellows. I went because I read history and I understand the meaning of the 1986 People Power Revolution to us as a nation–despite being born two years after the fact. Yes, it was a fact.
So many people from my parent’s generation have tried to convince me to let this shit go. EDSA, in their view, was a failure because nothing’s changed blah blah blah and it was only about the elite’s blah blah blah. Every time I hear this being told to me, I bite my tongue in exasperation, hoping the topic would naturally switch so I won’t have to be my parent’s rude child. But as of late, the historical revisionism rife in their tirades has forced me to be a bit more vocal and aggressive.
First, when you bitch about EDSA being a failed revolution and decide to pitch camp in “strongman” Duterte’s lines, are you trying to assert that the Martial Law years were better? That we were free under the tyranny of a dictatorship (that left us in the kind of debt my generation is still paying for, btw) and that you prefer that over the non-violent overthrowing of said dictator? I’ve heard many of you express how fearful you were for your lives under Martial Law. Perhaps that explains the silence and while I find enough compassion in my heart to understand, that doesn’t change our complicity in the atrocities that happened during those years. In grade school, when we were tasked to ask our parents about ML, I felt it anti-climactic to hear that my parents kept to themselves but I realize now that the conditions then must have been so bad that even they who have always been civic-minded preferred to stay out of trouble.
Second, when you bitch about EDSA’s failures because it enabled elite capture and benefitted only a few, are we millennials supposed to assume that you just sat back and watched this happen? What part of People Power was so hard to come to terms with? Did it not occur to you that the task of nation-building involved citizen action and not the same apathy you lent to an already hurting country? At yan pa–elite, elite. Who the fuck are we speaking about when we say “elite”? Because in case you haven’t realized, there are elites on both sides and their faults cannot be denied especially if it is done only to win an argument that continues to “divide the nation” under very narrow divisions.
Third, when you bitch about EDSA because it didn’t change anything anyway could you be more specific about what you had in mind? What’s the vision? What is the character of this change you speak of? Change keeps winning people elections but up to now no one has articulated a vision for ALL Filipinos regardless of their political affiliations. I mean, wasn’t it the death of Cory Aquino that also plunged us into this rabid fanaticism that won us another Aquino in Malacañang? And Titos and Titas, weren’t you at the forefront of those calls to action as well? Believing in the power of the dead to inspire the living and knowing with some certainty that leadership belonging to parents can somehow also be transferred to their children? Necropolitics is alive and well, isn’t it? That was change, too, and now you deny it, opting for another change…so what has changed? What do you hope will change? If we are only propagating a history of vindictiveness then please, count me out of that. Besides, hindi lang kayo ang hurting, pwede. Napakaraming Pilipinong umasa at patuloy na pinapaasa ng mga punyetang lider-lideran na yan at ng middle class na tanging pagpapayaman lang sa angkan ang iniisip. So, kung hurt ka dahil hindi mo friends yung nasa previous admin or nanggagalaiti ka kasi sila lang yung friends mo at wala ka nang friends ngayon–naman.
Fourth, I get it. Jim Paredes was provoked and he fought back. Not classy, reflective of his privilege, blah blah blah. So many others had better analyses of this situation–for what reason, I wonder? Is he the end-all-and-be-all of EDSA? But the fact remains: a group of guys came to a rally–not with the intention of joining or engaging but clearly out to provoke, and the rest you’ve seen and now everyone’s upset but wait, who gives a hoot about Jim or those ten guys? I mean, seriously, critics and companions alike–did we really go to EDSA just to be entertained? To watch a scene between these people unfold and use that to dilute the essence of commemoration? Naman. I didn’t come for that shit.
I came to honor members of the Agrava Board who found that there was military conspiracy in the assassination of Ninoy Aquino (never mind his politics, the fact is he was murdered and the Commission discovered glaring things that were dangerous to reveal). I came to honor the 35 COMELEC workers who walked out of PICC, in protest of election fraud, and who sought refuge in Baclaran Church. I came to honor Radio Veritas, for being true to their name, and Cardinal Sin whose leadership gave courage to ordinary Filipinos. I came to honor brave women like Jun Keithley and Tina Monzon-Palma who spoke truth to power and did not flinch when Marcosian forces came upon them.
I went to the monument at EDSA last night because I wanted to be reminded about our democratic values and our history of resisting tyranny. These have little to do with what one man says he’ll do for all of us and have more to do with our collective sobriety and capacity to courageously say yes to the task of building this nation to benefit its peoples.
So, if you found yourself confused by today’s headlines and where you fit in the imposed divide, please know that you are not alone. That divide is illusory and imposed on us to confuse us. It seeks to mar our grasp of reality by framing the issues Filipinos face solely as valuable only to red or yellow, whatever the hell that even means. But let me tell you, the shit we have to face as a country today is messier than two bickering sides and let’s not be confused. We have a history worth studying critically–which doesn’t mean you throw lazy arguments like “EDSA was a revolution that failed” around. The materials and the people are out there. Engage them with a view to understand and when our elders are quick to criticize then tell us, “Bahala na kayo dyan.” Reel them back in, hold their hands, and say, “Last I checked, we’re in this together. Age is no excuse. This is your country too.”
Let’s not be confused. There are glaring inconsistencies out there and they cannot be ignored or silenced by bashing on social media. Hunger is as real today as it was yesterday and so is conflict in far-flung places. While these times have brought out the worst in us and in our Titos and Titas, remember that we’re all we’ve got so gently bring back the frustration to what matters: the right to life and liberty, access to healthcare, education, social protection, adequate compensation and employment opportunities. Let’s also push for justice that’s blind to political influence, that ensures that men and women are equal in the eyes of law.
May lugar tayo dito, hindi lang tayo shoot sa agenda ng iilan kaya wag din tayong magpapagamit, okey? At kapag maingay na ang talakayan ukol sa mababaw na dibisyon sa pagitan ng dilawan at ka-DDS, manahimik naman tayo at mag-isip. Eto na ba? Eto nalang ba ang puno’t dulo ng kasaysayan at pulitika ng bansang ito? Palagay ko hindi.