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Edsa 1 and 2 revisited: end of an era

/ 12:45 AM February 10, 2016

CANBERRA—On Feb. 22, the Philippines will observe the 30th anniversary of Edsa 1, the 1986 People Power Revolution that marked the end of the era of coup attempts. There has since been another people power uprising—Edsa 2 on Jan. 16-20, 2001, the 15th anniversary of which was not officially celebrated. But the euphoria over Edsa 1 as a landmark bloodless revolution that toppled the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos has dissipated, eroded by the widespread disenchantment of the Filipino people over its unfulfilled promise. Today there is little to celebrate in the Edsa 1 anniversary as the country faces a presidential election in May.

Edsa 1 and Edsa 2 are two entirely different political phenomena, although these events took place on the same highway, 15 years apart. Edsa 2 is not a continuity of Edsa 1. The government has ignored Edsa 2 as a nonevent, not worthy of a single line of recognition in the Official Gazette.

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The presidential election in May comes as a stark contrast to the turmoil that surrounded the transfer of power driven by unrest in the streets, as the country goes back to the mechanism offered by regular and free elections: orderly transfer of power. After the disruptive process of leadership change dominated by street demonstrations during Edsa 1 and Edsa 2, it is fair to say that the Filipino electorate has found people power an irrelevant exercise to introduce political and social change. This pendulum swing of the public mood away from people power toward the electoral system is underlined by a number of changes in the power structure, in the power bases of the social institutions that generate the initiatives for leadership change through people power movements, namely the military and the Catholic Church. These were the principal catalysts that sent millions of Filipinos to Edsa to topple the Marcos and Estrada regimes in 1986 and 2001, respectively.

A close examination of the dynamics of Edsa 1 and 2 will reveal the key roles of these social institutions as agents of political change. And as we move toward the May elections, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Philippine democracy is ending an era of political change dominated by the coup d’etat as the arbiter of leadership change.

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In that era, the military and the Catholic bishops acted as the critical kingmakers in two People Power Revolutions. Their interventions in the political arena shaped the direction of the restoration of democracy after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship.

It should come as a relief to note the reduced level of military and Church interventions at this stage of bringing back civil society to the center of political action. We are moving away from the period of political instability fostered by People Power Revolutions toward the normalization of electoral democracy.

The People Power Revolution was a dubious mimicry of social revolution in that it did not lead to the redistribution of social and political power from the ruling elites to the underclass of Philippine society. Thus, in the aftermath of Edsa 1 and 2, there is nothing to show that the succeeding administrations have reduced the abominable poverty in the Philippines.

This explains why the Filipino masses failed to find resonance with the ruling elites in their euphoria over the overthrow of the dictatorship during Edsa 1. The Edsa revolution was a Manila-centered movement in which the people in the provinces had scant participation. With this framework, it will be illuminating to examine the dynamics of the interventions of the generals and the clergy in the People Power Revolution.

As a flashback, let us recall the chain of events. In February 1986, the revolt of then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and the then Constabulary chief, Gen. Fidel Ramos, sparked the first Edsa revolution. At that point, the politicized archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Jaime Sin, intervened with a call to the people to go to Edsa to protect the rebel leaders from Marcos’ retaliation as they holed up in Camp Crame to make a last stand. Sin’s mobilization of civilian mass support for the embattled military rebels opened the way for the entry of Cory Aquino, widow of the assassinated ex-senator and opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr., as successor to Marcos after he fled the country to escape the wrath of a lynch mob in Malacañang.

The succession issue also opened a rift between the civilians and the rebel soldiers, after Cory rejected military demands that she take her oath of office as president at Camp Crame instead of at Club Filipino, sending the message of civilian supremacy over the military in the post-Marcos power arrangements.

In Edsa 2, it was the withdrawal of military support for Estrada that played a pivotal role in the collapse of his presidency. Estrada was then the subject of an impeachment trial at the Senate on charges of corruption for allegedly taking bribes from operators of the illegal numbers game jueteng, among others.

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The withdrawal of support of the Armed Forces chain of command led by the then chief of staff, Gen. Angelo Reyes, from the Estrada presidency was in reality a military coup backed by a people power demonstration. That was the last time that the coup d’etat was used as a function in the turnover of state power.

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TAGS: EDSA, Edsa 1, Edsa 2, People Power, People Power Revolution
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