MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III on Friday said the fight to end poverty and corruption in the country is not yet over, 25 years after the first EDSA People Power Revolution ended the corrupt dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos.
Speaking at the reenactment of the historic "salubungan" of People Power forces on EDSA, Aquino called on all those who fought against the dictator to rally their forces and help the government in trying to alleviate the plight of fellow Filipinos.
"Our country is starting to recover from corruption and poverty. The fight that we started in EDSA is not yet over and it cannot be continued by just 1 person... In the same way that we faced off tanks and put an end to the dictatorship, we must also end the problems that we have inherited," he told hundreds of supporters at the People Power Monument.
Aquino paid tribute to the millions of Filipinos who trooped to the streets in 1986 to stop soldiers loyal to the dictator from arresting top military officers who had called for an end to Marcos's rule.
He said Filipinos formed a barricade of bodies, doused fear with prayer and stopped tanks with rosaries to end the 14-year dictatorial rule of Marcos without resorting to a bloody revolution.
The President, meanwhile, praised military and police forces despite the recent corruption scandals affecting its former officials.
"Now that our soldiers are facing controversy, this reenactment should serve as a reminder to our countrymen that we cannot belittle the bravery of our soldiers and police officers then and now," he said.
He added that soldiers and policemen chose to protect their fellow Filipinos first instead of following the orders of a corrupt ruler.
The President said his government would take care of its security forces, starting with the construction of 20,000 rent-to-own housing units for the military. At least 2,000 housing units will be completed by the National Housing Authority in 6-8 months, he said.
In an earlier speech, Aquino said the restoration of democracy in the Philippines had been betrayed by corrupt officials who amassed massive wealth at the expense of the nation.
Successive governments after the 1986 revolt have vowed to crack down on corruption, but the problem is perceived to be still rampant in key national agencies and local government units.
While Aquino did not offer any specifics, he has in the last 8 months reviewed government deals and cancelled dubious contracts.
"If government's coffers were not raided, the Filipinos could have enjoyed growth and prosperity. Democracy will be strengthened if people start believing in their government, especially if they will join to denounce the corrupt system," said Aquino, whose father, an opposition leader in the Marcos era, was assassinated in 1983.
The Philippines has fallen behind its neighbors on measures such as governance and control of corruption, and investors have largely bypassed the country, hindering growth and development.
The Philippines ranks 134th out of 178 countries on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, and Asian Development Bank figures show it is the only Southeast Asian country to record an increase in the absolute number of poor people since 1990.
"It's only through good governance and stopping corruption that we can liberate our nation from poverty," Aquino said, echoing the main theme of his election campaign last year, calling on the people to preserve the gains of a people power revolt.
Aquino unveiled a monument to the late Cardinal Jaime Sin, who called Filipinos onto the streets to support a small group of soldiers who mutinied in 1986, setting up the four-day uprising that forced Marcos, his family and cronies to flee aboard US military helicopters.
Analysts say the revolt inspired similar mass protests across the globe, resulting in regime changes, including Eastern Europe, Indonesia and even the Arab world this year.
But while Marcos may have left in disgrace after 20 years in power, dying in exile in 1989, his family has since returned to the Philippines where they remain wealthy and influential.
His widow, Imelda, infamous for her extensive collection of shoes, unsuccessfully ran in the 1992 presidential elections. She won a seat in the lower house of Congress last year.
Son and namesake Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr is a national senator, and eldest daughter Imee is governor of northern Ilocos Norte, a Marcos bailiwick.
While in power, the Marcoses amassed an estimated $10 billion in cash, property, stocks, art works and jewellery, but efforts to recover them have not succeeded. With Reuters