Depoliticizing People Power
Though similar in their methods (massive peaceful assemblies to redress grievances supported by the military and the Church) and outcomes (ousting of presidents and ushering of women leaders), Edsa 1 and Edsa 2 were justified by the Supreme Court with contrasting reasons.
Let us begin with the 1986 “snap elections” when Ferdinand Marcos was proclaimed winner by the Batasang Pambansa pursuant to the then existing 1973 Constitution.
However, candidate Cory Aquino, invoking the peaceful People Power Revolution on Feb. 22-25, 1986, commonly referred to as Edsa 1, ascended the presidency in contravention of the said Charter.
In Lawyers League vs Aquino (May 22, 1986), the Court dismissed the suit challenging the legitimacy of Cory’s elevation because it was not “justiciable.” In Proclamation 3, Cory declared that the “new government was installed through a direct exercise of the power of the Filipino people assisted by units of the New Armed Forces of the Philippines.”
In contrast, the Court squarely faced the issue of legitimacy in the equally peaceful Edsa 2 People Power Revolution on Jan. 16-20, 2001. It ruled that then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo rose to the presidency in accordance with the existing 1987 Constitution.
In Estrada vs Desierto (March 2, 2001), the Court explained this distinction. Voting 13-0 (then CJ Hilario G. Davide Jr. and I inhibited), it said, “EDSA I involves the exercise of the people power of revolution which overthrew the whole government. EDSA II is an exercise of people power of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly to petition the government for redress of grievances which only affected the office of the President. EDSA I is extra constitutional and the legitimacy of the new government that resulted from it cannot be the subject of judicial review, but EDSA II is intra constitutional and the resignation of the sitting President that it caused and the succession of the Vice President as President are subject to judicial review. EDSA I presented a political question; EDSA II involves legal questions.” (Copied verbatim from 406 Phil 1, 44)
In other words, Edsa 1 obliterated the then extant 1973 Constitution and all the state agencies under it, including the Court. Hence, there was no constitution upon which the legitimacy of Cory’s ascension could be assessed. Only after our people ratified the 1987 Constitution was its legality finally put to rest. On the other hand, Edsa 2 did not abolish the 1987 Charter. Quite the contrary, it preserved it, thereby providing a standard to judge the legitimacy of Arroyo’s rise.
Despite the legal justifications for Edsa 1 and Edsa 2 and the many peaceful revolutions they inspired around the world, our people seem to have developed fatigue in pursuing the same method of massive peaceful assemblies to reform society.
While Feb. 25 had been declared a nonworking holiday and celebrated with aplomb in the past, this year, as in the previous two, it passed without much fervor. In turn, Edsa 2 has been mostly ignored. Even its ascendant beneficiary has chosen to ignore it sub silentio during her presidency.
Why? I think because these two peaceful upheavals have been too closely identified with political partisanship, instead of being treated as historic events that shaped our democratic evolution. Edsa 1 had been associated so deeply with the Liberal Party and the Aquino family that it is reveled when they are victorious but reviled when they are defeated. Sadly, Edsa 2 had been disparagingly linked to Arroyo and her regime.
In time, I hope Edsa will be shorn of partisan political color and accepted as our people’s supreme contribution to democracy’s intrepid journey, as momentous as the British Magna Carta and the American Declaration of Independence.
That President Duterte, while skipping personal appearance, nonetheless hailed it as an enduring proof that “history can be rewritten without the need to resort to violent means” is a vital milestone in depoliticizing this iconic Filipino legacy.
Though direct beneficiaries, Cory, Gloria and their partisans do not own Edsa. Indeed, People Power belongs to the Filipino nation, not to any partisan political group or clan or leader.
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