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Stark contrast

/ 08:21 PM February 06, 2012

In the runup to the 26th anniversary of People Power this month, the contrast couldn’t be starker.

Not a life was lost when Filipinos toppled the Marcos dictatorship in peaceful demonstrations. Cell phones were the “weapons of choice” in People Power 2 which showed a dazed Joseph Estrada to the exit.

In Syria, over 5,000 have been killed while demonstrating for freedom over the last eight months. And more will die.


Russia and China, in the Security Council, vetoed Friday an Arab League and Western powers resolution calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down and end repression of his own people.

“The disappointment was all the deeper because this was the second double veto on Syria,” already suspended from the Arab League, BBC reported. “This time, agreement had seemed possible.”

This backdrop is why we’d like to hoe yet another row with columnist Bobit Avila who asserts “People Power never allowed us to move forward.” Is that so?

Avila and Company today enjoy a constitutional right to scoff at People Power. But who footed the bill for today’s press freedom? Among other people, journalists imprisoned for battling martial law.

These included Manila Times’ Joaquin “Chino” Roces, Philippines Free Press’ Teodoro Locsin Sr., We Forum’s Jose Burgos, Daily Mirror’s Amando Doronila. Add a former newspaper reporter whose bullet-riddled body sprawled on Manila airport’s tarmac: Benigno Aquino Jr.

“People Power here is viewed through different prisms,” Viewpoint noted at People Power’s 24th anniversary. “Imelda Marcos and Ferdinand Jr. scoff at the Five Per Cent Revolution. Being chased into exile for unbridled greed sears an indelible stigma…”

Journalists must remind people of what they prefer to forget, columnist and Judge Simeon Dumdum wrote in “Speak Memory.” Battling amnesia, in the end, is “the struggle of man against tyranny.”

People Power is the “post-modern coup d’état,” scholars tell us. But Filipinos were not the first to craft flower-in-the-gun barrel tactics. In 1930, Mohandas Gandhi led a 240-mile march to protest the British salt tax.


The first non-violence tutorial, some historians insist, happened on a bald hill dubbed “The Skull.” Soldiers there cast lots for the robe of an executed man who taught “When slapped, offer your other cheek.”

From Edsa, peaceful “revolt from below” spilled across borders. Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution” expelled Syrian occupiers. Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Uprising,” Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” and Georgia’s “Rose Rebellion” ejected commissars. Blessed John Paul II, in 1980, backed Solidarity workers against Polish martial law enforcers and Soviet overseers.

The Arab Spring (a.k.a. People Power) erupted decades behind Asia and Europe. A vendor, who set himself ablaze, sparked Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” in December 2010. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali hop-scotched, a la Uganda’s Idi Amin, into Saudi Arabian exile.

But Arab people power spread with a speed most regimes didn’t anticipate. Internet, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, etc. “for the first time provided activists with an opportunity to quickly disseminate information while bypassing government restrictions,” Hussein Amin of American University in Cairo, told AFP.

“The region’s iron-fisted regimes quickly understood the threat posed by social networking sites. They shut down Internet in Egypt, Libya and Syria.”

Within two months, Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year iron-fisted rule crumbled. For over four decades, Moammar Gadhafi hobnobbed with diplomats under a well-traveled tent. “Strike down that tent,” the Economist noted after Gadhafi was killed in a Sirte gutter.

As a swap for immunity from prosecution, Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down after three decades of corrupt rule. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir announced he would not seek re-election in 2015. Me too says, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose term ends in 2014. Increasingly violent demonstrations demand he quit now.

Jordan’s  King Abdullah sacked two successive governments to heed off unrest. The largest, most organized demonstrations often erupt on a “day of rage,” usually Friday after noon prayers at the mosque.

“The Arab Spring is coming,” Republican Sen. John McCain told Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun at a Munich conference. “There is no way that you will be able to stifle it completely because of these devices,” pointing to a mobile phone.

McCain used the recent self-immolation by three monks to protest Chinese rule in Tibet. Over 16 other Tibetans, mostly Buddhist monks and nuns, set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule.

Burmese military tatmadaws smashed the “Saffron Revolution,” a la Uzbekistan. “However, Burma’s political change in recent months has been breathtaking,” writes Prof. Joshua Goldstein.

“Today, Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is seeking election to parliament. The regime released 651 more political prisoners. Asean agreed to have Burma chair the regional group. The European Union has lifted some sanctions. Burma signed a ceasefire with the Kachin ethnic group.

Rangoon’s rigged constitution needs to be overhauled. There is still a long road ahead. But there is no turning back on reforms, says President Thein Sein.

“People spurn a politics reduced to a mere contest for power between one set of crooks and another,” Perla Melba Maggay of the Institute for Studies in Church and Culture wrote. Nelson Mandela offered change in South Africa. Corazon Aquino presented a stark contrast: she stood for everything Ferdinand Marcos did not.


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