MANILA (UPDATE) – Commemorating the 1986 People Power Revolution is all the more important these days to keep its spirit alive among the present and future generations, in light of the political changes in the country and some lingering social challenges, historians and some advocates said.
While some associate the bloodless revolt against the dictatorial rule of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. with the involved political clans, Prof. Francisco Jayme Paolo Guiang of the University of the Philippines Department of History said it is the Filipino people's participation in the historic event on EDSA in the country's capital that should be highlighted.
“The 1986 EDSA Revolution was an organic movement of Filipinos who wanted drastic and genuine changes in society. The dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos, along with the cronyism that the regime helped institutionalize, engendered a Philippine society that was entrenched in poverty and had little regard for human rights,” he said.
The Feb. 25, 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution was the culmination of protests against the two decade-long presidency of Marcos that was marred by corruption and human rights violation during the Martial Law imposition from 1972. "It showcased to the world the remarkable resolve of the Filipino people" and "heralded an era of peace," according to the Official Gazette, the country's official journal.
The peaceful revolt installed Corazon "Cory" Aquino, widow of the assassinated Marcos political nemesis Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr., into the presidency. She would later be hailed as an icon of democracy.
But Ninoy and Cory would have wanted the public to remember the EDSA Revolution not for the people or personalities commonly associated with it but for what it stands for, which is democracy, their grandson Francis Dee said.
"SPIRIT OF EDSA"
“I think that’s the hope. That’s what my grandparents, my Tito Noy would have wanted. Parang, people would have strong feelings not for one family or another, but for democracy; the idea that every six years, or however it’s written in the constitution if that changed, but regularly, we get to have a say on who will lead us,” Dee, who also represents the Ninoy and Cory Aquino Foundation, said in a recent interview with ABS-CBN News.
Dee was partly referring to the late President Benigno Simeon "Noynoy" Aquino III, brother of his mom Viel.
For historians like Guiang and Prof. Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua of the De La Salle University, it is important for educators to go beyond the politicians and political rivalries when they discuss the EDSA Revolution in class.
“The education sector has an immense responsibility in order to underpin the spirit of the People Power that does not necessarily gravitate towards key politicians and their political rivalries,” Guiang said.
“People Power has always been connected not just as a power struggle between two families, but as the power of the people to change their destiny for the good. This should lead us to learning about engaged citizenship,” Chua added.
Changing the way the EDSA Revolution is taught in school and focusing on the role of the people are among the ways to ensure that the historic event stays relevant.
“What we want the spirit of EDSA to be is this democracy na pinapahalagahan natin, sort of regardless of whoever is our leader. But I don’t know if we are able to meet that. Not that fail na ‘yun, period. Democracy is a continuing process, ‘di ba? Not to say that we can’t reach that point, but I think it’s fair to say na wala pa tayo doon,” Dee said.
“The spirit of the People Power lies beyond the key personalities behind this very important historical event. This is not to downplay the role of key opposition figures, but the spirit of the People Power is about the desire of the Filipinos for genuine social change,” said UP's Guiang.
“They want the rule of law to return and for dictatorship to end. They want a return of good governance from a government that responds to the needs of its constituency, and not a dictatorship that protects the interests of crony capitalists. They also want a government that upholds the Filipinos basic rights – the right to free speech, assembly, and the right to a decent livelihood,” added Dee.
Unfortunately, according to Guiang, disinformation and propaganda have diminished the EDSA Revolution into rivalry between families, something that has also been passed on to the younger generation through education.
Latrell Felix, chair of the UP University Student Council, acknowledged that giving focus on the people's role in the EDSA Revolution is important for the younger generation as he notes that the topic is something that is often just mentioned in passing in elementary and high school History classes.
“Nakikita ko ‘yung relevance kasi ng People Power as something that (we) should always look back, since it has been one of the, parang, highlights of our history: the people, being able to topple down or overthrow a dictator. That’s really something that shows how powerful the masses are, how powerful the people are,” Felix said.
“Higit dapat na palitawin ang bernakular na salaysay ng EDSA mula sa karanasan ng mga karaniwang Pilipino na lumahok dito. Higit na mauunawaan ng mga kabataan ang diwa at aral ng EDSA kung mula sa kuwento ng kabayanihan at pagtindig ng mga ordinaryong mamamayan ang patitingkarin,” added UP Lipunang Pangkasaysayan (UP LIKAS) in a statement sent to ABS-CBN News.
(It is more important to tell the narrative of EDSA from the experiences of the ordinary people who took part in it. The youth will have a better understanding of the meaning and lessons of EDSA if the heroism of ordinary people is highlighted.)
"DIFFICULT" TO ACHIEVE
It is also important to emphasize that the People Power Revolution was difficult to achieve, said Chua.
“We were wrong to teach that the People Power Revolution were the four peaceful days of EDSA Revolt, because the young people thought they can easily surrender their freedoms and get it back by partying and doing fiesta at EDSA. What I teach is that the revolution was a fourteen-year event which was bloody and difficult. This is for my students to cherish their human rights,” the historian said.
Guiang said using such primary sources as photos, videos, and testimonies of those present during the revolution help his students have a deeper understanding of the event.
“By exposing students to primary sources, they get to experience, through these documents and materials, what the people actually experienced while the events unfolded," he said.
Not only do they have "profound appreciation for the relevance of the People Power Revolution", they also get to see some historical parallelisms.
Chua, Guiang and Dee have observed that the official commemoration of the EDSA Revolution anniversary has been muted since the start of the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte.
“During the time of President Duterte, I have called these holidays as "Awkward EDSA" because supposedly the government was aligned with the Marcoses,” Chua said.
“Despite supposed coldness (Duterte detests such ceremonies in general), he will release a statement extolling the social changes the People Power Movement brought by which his mother was part of," he added.
Duterte allowed the burial of Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani a few months since he assumed power in 2016, despite objections from Martial Law victims and other groups. But during the 31st anniversary of the People Power Revolution three months later, he said in a message that "EDSA lives on and its spirit should be continued to inspire heroism in all of us for the greater glory of God and country."
Before he ended his term last year, Duterte also said in message for the 36th anniversary of the People Power revolt: "As we honor the courage and solidarity of those who have come before us and fought to uphold our democracy, let us also honor and thank those who continue to keep alive the legacy of this largely peaceful and non-violent revolution."
THE RETURN OF THE MARCOSES
With Marcos' son and namesake now in power, the historians see a continuation of the low-key commemoration of the EDSA Revolution.
"We expect no such statement from the present dispensation although we expect no antagonism coming from the Palace either," said Chua.
“I would anticipate that Malacañang would probably downplay the annual commemoration, or they would have a very different take or interpretation about the EDSA Revolution,” added Guiang.
Dee said "the vibe will definitely be very different" as what he had also observed in the immediate past.
“The vibe of EDSA, I think, has been different, and now it’s more blatant because, you know, one of the main characters in the original EDSA Revolution is back in a way that I think my parents, my grandparents never imagined,” he said.
President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. won last year’s elections with 31 million votes, making him the first majority leader since 1986.
He did not attend the commemoration event Saturday morning at the People Power Monument in Quezon City that was spearheaded by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, but issued a statement wherein he offered his "hand of reconciliation" to those with different political persuasions."
"As we look back to a time in our history that divided the Filipino people, I am one with the nation in remembering those times of tribulation and how we came out of them united and stronger as a nation," Marcos Jr. said.
"I once again offer my hand of reconciliation to those with different political persuasions to come together as one in forging a better society - one that will pursue progress and peace and a better life for all Filipinos," he added.
A tweet by the Office of the President describes Marcos Jr.'s move as "a step towards healing wounds."
In 2015, when he was still a senator, he said in an ANC Headstart interview, "Kung meron akong sinaktan, I will always say sorry, but what I've been guilty of to apologize about?"
Nonetheless, he said he and his family feel sorry for people who felt injustice during his father's time.
"We have constantly said that if during that time of my father, mayroong mga nasagasaan or mayroong sinasabing hindi natulungan or they were victimized in some way or another, of course, we're sorry that that happened. Nobody wants that to have happened. These are instances that have fallen through the cracks,'' he said then.
Marcos, Jr. has declared Friday, Feb. 24, as special non-working day across the country, and said in a proclamation that “The celebration of EDSA People Power Revolution Anniversary may be moved from February 25 to 24 provided the historical significance of the EDSA People Power Revolution is maintained.”
When he was still a senator, the incumbent leader defended his father's imposition of Martial Law in the country, saying “objective indicators” such as the poverty rate, the Philippines’ international status, and the government’s financial situation while Marcos Sr. was in power show that the country was in better days then.
Last year, he said he had told his children that Martial Law was something their grandfather "had to do."
"The situation at the time was dire. We were fighting a war on two fronts. We had a secessionist movement in the south, we had the dissident NPAs, CPP-NPA in the countryside. And these were people who wanted to bring down the government, and the government had to defend itself," he said when asked in a CNN Philippines interview how he would explain the Martial Law era to millennials and the "Gen Z" generation.
"That's how I explain it. That was what your lolo had to do. He felt that he had to do that."
Amid the issues thrown at their family by Martial Law victims, Marcos Jr. had asked the public to "move on and move forward," saying the past cannot be changed and that "blaming others and finding scapegoats are not solutions" to the many problems the country is facing.
He had also denied allegations that his family has been trying to revise history to clean their image.
Even with the Marcoses’ return to power and other developments in the country’s politics, as well as the passing on of several key People Power Revolution personalities, Dee, the grandson of the Aquinos, believes the spirit of EDSA will continue to be relevant.
“It’s not just one family who cares about EDSA, but there are many people, I think, who still are willing to take time out, kumbaga, forego a rest day and actually go out under the sun and make it, tell the world, at least tell the country, 'Hindi. Mahalaga ‘yung araw na ‘to'. ‘Yung spirit of EDSA, ‘yung values of democracy, respect for human rights, human dignity, mahalaga ‘yun sa mga tao. So will it continue to be relevant, yes,” he said.
For both Chua and Guiang, now, more than ever, there is a need to commemorate the EDSA Revolution.
“Commemorations such as People Power Day are made for times like these, not when it is convenient to remember, but when it is so easy to forget,” Chua said.
“It is very relevant more than ever," added Guiang, noting also the situation under the last administration.
“The spirit of the People Power, especially the people’s dedication to stand by democracy and the truth, is needed more than ever in order to safeguard against any attempt to reestablish an autocratic government that would trample upon the democratic rights of the people,” he said.
The Aquino family, in a statement posted on the Ninoy & Cory Aquino Foundation Facebook page, said "The EDSA People Power Revolution showed the world that it was possible for a courageous and truly unified people to reclaim the freedom that a dictatorship had denied them. We believe that the indomitable spirit exemplified by one Filipino nation 37 years ago remains alive to this very day."
A recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) showed that 6 out of 10 Filipinos believe the spirit of the EDSA Revolution is alive.