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Analysis

Edsa rhetoric not resonant to MILF

MANILA, Philippines–The 29th anniversary of the Edsa People Power Revolution was commemorated on Wednesday with the lowest crowd turnout in three decades.

The few hundred VIPs invited to the Mass and wreath-laying at the People Power Monument near Camp Aguinaldo, the center of the official celebration, led by President Aquino, were a forlorn sight in contrast to thousands who celebrated the event in previous anniversaries, tarnishing the relevance of the people power movement as an agent of bloodless social and political change in struggling restored democracies, such as the Philippines.

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The sparse attendance at the rites resembled a funeral wake and reduced the commemoration into a pathetic shell of previous celebrations as it was overshadowed by the national mourning over the Jan. 25 slaughter of 44 police commandos at the hands of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its breakaway Moro guerrillas in Maguindanao province.

It was the misfortune of the Edsa anniversary that it occurred in the wake of the Mamasapano bloodbath.

The commemoration delivered a blow to Mr. Aquino’s attempt to present himself as the heir of people power tradition, inherited from his mother, Cory Aquino, popularly acclaimed as the heroine of Edsa and the rallying point of the military-civilian coalition that toppled the Marcos dictatorship.

The turnout on Wednesday exposed Mr. Aquino’s hollow support in the armed services—the national police and the military—as about 3,000 protesters from civil society sectors took to the streets demanding his resignation amid widespread rumors of coup plots in military circles reported to be waiting for signs of mass unrest on the scale approaching that of Edsa I. The protesters outnumbered those who attended the official celebration.

No place to hide

This time, Mr. Aquino can no longer hide under the skirts of his mother and people power to bail him out of trouble posed by the violent secessionist challenge of the MILF and its allies in Maguindanao, who murdered in cold blood the 44 police commandos, as well as the breakup in the solidarity of the police and the military, which are at the same time battling the Moro guerrillas based on territory ceded by a supine government panel negotiating a peaceful settlement of the Bangsamoro conflict with an aggressive MILF panel that has held the government hostage with threats of all-out civil war in Mindanao if the government waters down the concessions it has conceded in the “peace process” on the establishment of the Bangsamoro autonomous substate being reviewed by Congress, whose autonomy as a key institution of Philippine democracy the MILF does not respect.

In this legislative review, the MILF pokes a pistol on the government and appears to be dictating the terms of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, the enabling legislation of the establishment the Bangsamoro entity.

The anniversary was also marred by one of the most nightmarish traffic gridlocks in Metro Manila in recent years, as the nervous authorities, fearing a repeat of the 1986 uprising that toppled the Marcos dictatorship, closed off with police barricades from public protests, the entire length of Edsa, from north to south, and all streets feeding into it and those surrounding Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame—the military camps where rebellious officials of the Ferdinand Marcos regime, led by then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, the Armed Forces vice chief of staff and chief of the Integrated National Police, staged their revolt, withdrawing their support from the Marcos dictatorship, triggering a civilian movement in the streets backing the military rebellion.

President Aquino has come under heavy criticism for evading responsibility for the decision to send the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) to arrest a Malaysian terrorist, a bomb expert named “Marwan,” who had been given sanctuary in an area claimed by the MILF as its territory ceded by the Philippine government carved out of the constitutionally defined Philippine national territory.

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Malacañang has emphasized that this year’s celebration “was made simple in view of the mourning period for those who died in Mamasapano,” and claimed that the low turnout this year was “in line with the administration’s low-key celebration” of the event.

Rattled

In reality, it was apparent that the Aquino administration had been rattled by the prospect that a large turnout at Edsa would trigger a snowball of calls for the President to resign for his alleged mishandling of the operations to arrest terrorists in MILF-controlled areas, leading to the fire fight between SAF commandos and Moro guerrillas, and the massacre of the police commandos.

The barricading of Edsa by the police appeared to have been set up to prevent the protests from swelling out of control.

Mr. Aquino also used the Edsa I anniversary as a platform to denounce critics of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which he is pushing in Congress.

In a speech on the anniversary of the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, the President said he would not yield to “enemies of peace” in Mindanao despite the massacre of the 44 commandos in Maguindanao.

The President said he continued to trust the MILF despite the massacre. He said MILF leaders “made us feel their trust and confidence [and] that they would also be our partners, along with the rest of Bangsamoro, in the search for peace.”

He added: “If we give in to the enemies, it’s as if we’re also allowing the conflict in Mindanao to worsen. If we surrender the establishment of the Bangsamoro, it’s like we’re allowing them to bequeath arms to the next generation of our fellow Filipinos.”

Out of the loop

“We would never allow this to happen,” he said. “It’s only by attaining lasting peace that all the sacrifices will be worth it for those who fought in Edsa, including those who lost their lives to end fear and violence in society.” These are brave rhetorical declarations of standing up to the blandishments and blackmail of the MILF, reeking with wishful thinking on the part of government.

But we are afraid that after 30 years, Edsa has lost much of its power to rally the people behind a call for a snap and bloodless solution to a national crisis involving partition of the nation. Besides, Edsa rhetoric has no resonance to the MILF and its cohorts. It is foreign language to them.

Besides, the MILF was never part of Edsa. It was out of the loop.

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TAGS: Anniversaries, commemoration, Edsa People Power Revolution, MILF
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