Edsa I was not a revolution

On Feb. 22-25, we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Edsa I. It is popularly termed a “people power revolution” because a dictatorial government was overthrown peacefully by a popular mass action.

We love to cite the popular uprisings that occurred in the world after 1986 as copycats of the Edsa I “people power revolution.” By definition, a revolution is a social upheaval usually accompanied by violence, or threats of violence, which results in the restructuring of society. Was Edsa I such?


In August 1991, Boris Yeltsin spoke atop a tank in Moscow and called on the Russians to thwart a coup by communist hardliners against then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. He succeeded in doing this. Our pundits labeled Yeltsin’s action as a copycat of Edsa I.

Actually, Yeltsin had staged a countercoup against the communist hardliners. But even more important, he transformed the reforms earlier started by Gorbachev into a revolution. The ruling elites, the Communist Party Nomenklatura, were booted out of power and replaced by a new elite of nouveau capitalists (sometimes called Mafia capitalists because of their shadowy deals).  The monolithic rule by the Communist Party was replaced by a multiparty democracy. The centrally planned economy was replaced by a market economy. Rule of law was established in Russia, an alien concept in a land that had been under autocratic rule for centuries, under the tsars and the Nomenklatura.


The events in Moscow in August 1991 thus meet the generally accepted definition of a revolution. Russian society was transformed overnight.

None of those events happened in our country following Edsa I save for the restoration of the rule of law.   What happened in our country in 1986 was merely a “circulation of elites,” from one ruling elite to another, to use the term of the philosopher Vilfredo Pareto. It is not a circulation from a ruling elite to a nonruling elite, which meets Pareto’s definition of a revolution.

One can even state that it was a very restricted circulation among the elites and could be explained in terms of the intramurals of the Cojuangco family. The influence of one branch of the family, the

Eduardo (Danding) Cojuangco branch, which was powerful during the martial law regime, was replaced by the Cory Aquino-Jose Cojuangco branch, which remains in ascendancy to this day, represented by the presidency of Benigno Aquino III. The possibility remains that the 2016 presidential election may result in a shift back to power of the Danding Cojuangco branch, if it backs the correct horse. Thus, the history of our country in the past half-century can be explained in terms of the intramurals of just one family alone.

The sad part of Edsa I is this: It could have been transformed into a genuine revolution if a few things were done. During the one-year revolutionary government following Edsa I, President Cory Aquino could have, for example, issued a decree to implement comprehensive land reform. This was not done, and to this day our Department of Agrarian Reform is still in the process of implementing land reform at great cost and long delays. Likewise, a decree could have been issued prohibiting political dynasties. Right after Edsa I, there was already widespread discussion on the problem posed by dynasties. The country had just seen Marcos’ crony capitalists form new dynasties. Leaving this issue for the decision of a constitutional convention and, later, a Congress dominated by dynasts, was a guarantee that no such meaningful law would ever be passed. Redistribution of political and economic power in our country may not be possible through peaceful means.

Let us accept that the restoration of democracy was a major accomplishment of Edsa I and Cory Aquino.  Nonetheless, there is no question that because certain things were not done, Edsa I did not become a genuine revolution.  The socioeconomic  structure of our country, before and after Edsa I, remains the same. Thus, the Filipino masses still await their revolution.

Using this approach, we should not deceive ourselves and be so complacent as to overlook reality; we should accept that we are all sitting on top of a seething volcano of social unrest.


This situation is aggravated by the fact that while the Philippines has progressed and enjoyed satisfactory economic growth under President Benigno Aquino III, the benefits of development have not trickled down to the lowest classes. In this respect, we are undergoing the same growing pains that most first-world countries experienced early on.

At the initial stage of development, labor is the most abundant factor of production. Thus, labor is always exploited, and this has been the case in all countries that became first-world societies. However, in this age of the Internet and social media, our toiling masses will not accept that they must undergo the same pains that their counterparts, the laboring classes in England, Germany, the United States, Japan, etc., experienced in their early stages of progress.

Hopefully, our ruling elites will address this issue correctly and promptly. By doing so, they may prevent through timely reforms what could become the revolution that our masses await.

Hermenegildo C. Cruz was Philippine ambassador to the United Nations in 1984-86.

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TAGS: Cory Aquino, democracy, Edsa I, People Power Revolution
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