Pacific Media Watch

20 February 2012

PHILIPPINES: Was EDSA 1986 People Power coup really for Filipinos?

Hero image
Forner President Fidel Ramos ... reflections on the People Power revolution in the Philippines. Photo: Globalzero
Empowering the Filipino people

Former Philippines President Fidel V. Ramos

OPINION: MANILA (Manila Bulletin / Pacific Media Watch): It is time again to commemorate our EDSA People Power Revolution. We mark its 26th anniversary starting on 22 February 2012 - just two days from now. The first day, 22 February 1986, was the most crucial.

Looking back, it seems many Filipinos have forgotten that soldiers and constables/policemen made the do-or-die decision that day to move against then President/Commander-in-Chief Ferdinand Marcos and his authoritarian regime.

On 22 February 1987, the Department of National Defence and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) started the practice of honoring soldiers and policemen who had died or were killed in the line of duty during the year before by laying wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Libingan Ng Mga Bayani.

Veterans of WWII, the Korean War (1950-1955) and the Vietnam War (1964-1971), students, teachers, LGUs, civilian volunteers, and foreign diplomats were also there to honor our fallen heroes.

It was on 22 February 1986 that the first tiny handful – then the greater majority of the Philippine Army, Navy, and Air Force, including the Constabulary-Integrated National Police (as the 4th AFP Major Service) – made that fateful “cross-over” to side with the people fighting for freedom against the dictatorship.

It was a “patay–kung–patay” (do-or-die) situation for the anti-Marcos rebels when they decided to offer their lives, fortunes, and futures on the altar of freedom, and implored God to support their noble cause.

This transforming event (hailed worldwide because it was non-violent and resulted in our democratic restoration) could be called the crowning glory of the men and women of our DND-AFP and National Police.

Critical events: 22 February 1986
In 2011, under the auspices of DND Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, the events of 22-25 February 1986 were recorded in an official DVD “FOR GOD AND COUNTRY: FOUR DAYS OF HEROISM AT EDSA” by “Infinit-1” under the management of Sony Jalandoni.

With Ninoy Aquino’s assassination in August, 1983, as a backdrop, the documentary begins with then Lt. Col. Gregorio Honasan (now senator) explaining that the Reform the Armed Forces Movement started later that year out of the need for regime change.

Then Defence Minister Enrile narrated that there was a RAM plan to attack Malacañang on 23 February 1986 (Sunday) but was aborted. The day before, Malacañang discovered the plot and arrested three RAM officers. JPE immediately shifted to alternative plans together with Honasan and Gringo’s deputy (now retired Colonel) Red Kapunan. Among other scenarios, they agreed that it was time for JPE to bring in FVR and his PC/Police contingent, beginning at 2:00 PM, 22 February 1986 (Saturday).

FVR, at that time, was in a lunch meeting with Max Soliven, Betty Go Belmonte, and Sonny Belmonte (now House Speaker) in the latter’s home. The critical issue clarified to them by FVR was why he had not yet withdrawn from Marcos.

FVR explained: “I have 110,000 personnel under my command. If I go, I must be sure they’ll follow. Otherwise, we won’t make any difference!”

Many life-changing decisions and calls to action were made that momentous evening of 22 February 1986 -- not only by JPE and FVR, but also Butz Aquino, Jaime Cardinal Sin, and later Cory Aquino.

Is Chinese New Year more important?

The practice of paying such tributes at the LNMB was continued by succeeding defence secretaries, AFP chiefs, and Presidents for several years thereafter. Also, local dignitaries plus the youth and common folk nation-wide gathered in provincial capitals, cities, towns, schools, military camps, and other venues to rededicate themselves to the virtues of that turning point in our national life.

But not anymore. Not in 2008, 2009, 2010.

Non-working holidays
And not in 2011, when Benigno Aquino III was already President. What seemed more important to our elected leaders were Eld-ur-Fitr/Hariraya (18 August 2011) and Chinese New Year (23 January 2012) – because those dates were proclaimed by Presidential Order as official non-working holidays.

To his credit, now Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, principal political mover at EDSA in February 1986, gave this message to our people in February 1994 at our EDSA 8th anniversary -- which underscored that our People Revolution remains unfinished:

"I urge our people to remember EDSA not for the things that had already been done to attain its purpose, but rather for the things that have been left undone in order to elevate our nation to a higher level.

"Let us, therefore, unite once again as we did under the same Spirit of EDSA, and pursue its vision so that we can finally construct a better future for our people and country."

It appears, unfortunately, that many incumbent leaders, including younger politicians, may have already forgotten the historic meaning of the EDSA spirit of sacrifice and defiance against overwhelming forces in defending people’s fundamental rights.

EDSA tokenism
This forlorn conclusion may be gleaned from the lacklustre and token EDSA commemorations during the last few years when emphasis seemed to be more on showbiz and entertainment modes spearheaded by local media.

Why don’t we reinforce the Filipino spirit of patriotism, valor, and unity especially, among those not yet old enough to be active participants in those pulsating days of regime change? Would not reflecting, educating, and internalizing on values have been better cultural drivers for renewing our EDSA Spirit?

On the 25th EDSA anniversary last year, we wrote about the worldwide significance of Philippine People Power, thus (Manila Bulletin, 20 February 2011):

“Would Filipinos have succeeded in ejecting the dictatorship in 1986 with similar people’s dynamics and regime interventions prevalent in Egypt and elsewhere in 2011?

“Certainly NOT – because no military rebellion has happened in Egypt, unlike here. ‘Philippine-style People Power,’ peacefully done as an instrument of democracy, must be seen as an extraordinary achievement – as a shining model of principled civilian-military unity, sacrifice and courage.”

Out of that shared EDSA experience came a sense of unity that we, the elders, hope Filipinos could permanently recapture in facing the challenges of daily living.

The 'Arab Spring'

We need to continually remind ourselves of the Spirit of EDSA that liberated our people from the shackles of dictatorship, to renew our pledge of service to the nation and, thereby, contribute to the common good.

“The Spirit of EDSA in 1986 showed that Filipinos want to live in freedom, peace, and justice -- to bring up our families with decency, to be secure in our homes, workplaces, and in the streets.

“These are not only natural, but unifying aspirations. When we neglect them, we degrade what is best in ourselves, betray the EDSA Spirit, and fail to faithfully serve God, country, and people.”

From our daily exposure to local/international networks, we know that – true enough – the despots, dictators, and dynasties were expelled by People Power in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen. However, general strikes, riotous protests, and even state violence continue in some countries.

After the lapse of one year of the “Arab Spring,” we still see today Syria’s people being bombarded by forces of the 50-year-long Baath dictatorship, despite worldwide condemnation and UN sanctions.

To return our focus on today’s grave problems, particularly of Filipino unity (or lack of it) during periods of hardship, challenge, and crisis, it is again time to remind the citizenry of the Spirit of EDSA, even if only for the current 22-25 February 2012 week.

Filipinos did it peacefully
Any wrong actions on that fateful first day could have resulted in bloody and deadly confrontations between two opposing military forces, with possible thousands of innocent civilians killed in the crossfire.

This is what happened and continues to happen in MENA countries experiencing the “Arab Spring.”

Twenty six years ago, Filipinos did it differently and the world was awed. Philippine People empowerment became the model thereafter in many other revolts against strongman rule.

We now humbly suggest to our present leaders to devote 22 February every year (it doesn’t have to be an official holiday) to educating young Filipinos on the liberating Spirit of EDSA, our struggle for Philippine Independence during the 1896-1898 period, and heroic stand at Bataan and Corregidor in 1942.

This way, we reaffirm for our younger generations how we fought for a free Philippines and how we arrived as the sovereign Filipino nation today.

The Philippines at the crossroads
Are we now economically free? Are Filipinos united in one national purpose to achieve their vision for a better future? Are we at peace with ourselves, in our Asia-Pacific region, and with the world? Do we now occupy a position of respect, even admiration, in the family of nations? We don’t think so.

Will the Impeachment Trial solve our problems of poverty, Mindanao, Maguindanao, economic decline and inequality? We don’t think so, either.

However, our leaders can still take concurrent transforming actions. With the spirt of 1896, 1942 and 1986 inspiring our people, we can advance competitively.

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Pacific Media Watch

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