(Excerpts from the speech delivered during the 25th EDSA Commemoration Day of Kidapawan City last February 25, 2011)
The dramatic and historic events of EDSA 25 years ago did not happen overnight. They were products of increasing discontent, frustration and anger against abuse of power, brutal suppresion of civil liberties, gross disrespect of democratic processes and unconscionable greed for power. The “people-power” revolution at EDSA was the natural culmination of the filipinos’ assertion of the universal democratic principle that sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them. It was a shining moment of triumph of democracy in its purest sense.
As we celebrate today the 25th anniversary of the EDSA revolution, allow me to revisit some critical timelines that produced the historic and globally recognized EDSA revolution on February 25, 1986 with the hope that it can rekindle its significance and enrich its relevance in our daily lives today as government workers and ordinary citizens.
Ferdinand E. Marcos was first elected as our President on December 30, 1965. He was re-elected again as President in 1969. His term should have ended in 1974 based on the 1935 Philippine consitution. But Marcos stayed in power by declaring martial law in 1972 and brillantly consolidated his powers and control thru constitutional change that gave way to the 1973 constitution which shifted the form of our government from presidential type to parliamentary.
Marcos was elected again as President in June 16, 1981 under the 1973 constitution against an unknown candidate Alejo Santos. The seed of political unrest in the Philippines continued to grow as Marcos clung obstinately to his absolute power. The assassination of Ninoy Aquino August 21, 1983, upon his arrival at Manila International Airport, fueled a massive protest rallies and heightened further the clamor for Marcos to step down for the much-needed socio-political, economic and government reforms.
On October 24, 1984, the Agrava Board which investigated the assasination of Ninoy Aquino concluded a military conspiracy behind the killing of Ninoy. In August of 1985, opposition members of the Batasang Pambansa filed a motion for impeachment against Marcos for culpable violation of the constitution and hidden wealth issues. To neutralize his increasing unpopularity, Marcos scheduled a snap presidential election on February 7, 1986. The opposition declared Cory Aquino and Doy Laurel as candidates for president and vice president.
The presidential elections in February 7 1986 between Cory Aquino and Ferdinand Marcos was a classic example of massive vote-buying, intimidation and violence thru guns, goons and gold. But it also showed the determination and courage of the filipino people for change amidst the powerful political machineries unleashed by the incumbent Ferdinand Marcos. The counting of votes was very dramatic. COMELEC showed Marcos leading but in the NAMFREL count Cory Aquino was leading in votes. Other election-related events such as the walk-out of 30 computer workers at the Batasang Pambansa canvassing on February 9, 1986 as a sign of protest to the tampering of election results, the murder of Evelio Javier of Antique on Februaly 11, 1986 in front of the provincial capitol where the canvassing is being held, and the CBCP statement on February 13, 1986 condemning the elections as fraudulent, gave way to the unstoppable momentun of dissatisfaction that resulted to the 3 day EDSA people-power revolution from February 22 to 25.
On February 22, 1985 at 6:45 PM, then Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile and AFP Vice Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos made an official announcement of their withdrawal of support of the Marcos Administration. At 9:00 PM, Cardinal Sin announced on air his appeal to the people to support Enrile and Ramos. The next two days following the defection of Enrile and Ramos showed millions of filipinos from all walks of life giving support to the developing revolution to topple down Marcos’ 20-year reign in power. The events on February 25, 25 years ago was for the books. On the same day, we had 2 presidents who inaugurated themselves formally as winners of the February 7 snap elections. Corazon Aquino was inaugurated as President of the Philippines at Club Filipino. An hour later, Marcos also conducted his inauguration as elected president at Malacanang. Anyway, the rest is history. We know that by 9:00 p.m., the Marcos family was transported by four US Navy helicopters to Clark Air Base in Angeles City and boarded a US Air Force C-130 planes bound for Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and finally to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaai.
Continuing Quest for Democracy
The EDSA people powered revolution is now part of Philippine history. But it is worth noting that even after 25 years of our EDSA revolution, the quest and struggle for democracy is once again being rewritten with more passion and intensity in other countries today.
Last January 14, 2011, Zine El Abedine Ben Ali , the dictator of a north African nation Tunisia, fled his country like after a revolt of the people that ended his 23 years one-man rule. Inspired by the revolt in Tunisia, Yemen, a country between Saudi Arabia and Oman is now undergoing civil unrest. Yemini protesters last January 23, 2011 took to the streets of Sana'a to call for an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 32-year rule. Last February 11, 2011, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak step down, ending his 30-year-reign of Egypt after massive revolt and uprising of Egyptian citizens on issues of social problems, unemployment, inflation, corruption and oppression. In Algeria last February 15, 2011, thousands of people took part in protests in the capital city of Algiers, demanding the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and pressing for political reforms to push Algeria toward democracy. The 40-year rule of of another dictator Muammar Gaddafi of Libya is now in jeopardy. Last February 21, 2011 anti-government protests reached the capital city of Tripoli for the first time demanding the ouster of Gaddafi. In Bahrain last February 22, 2011, tens of thousands of Bahrainis have joined an anti-government rally in the capital city of Manama to demand political reforms.
Lessons of EDSA
What are the lessons we can draw from our own historic people power EDSA revolution 25 years ago and from the present developing democratic movements engulfing the nations of Middle East and Northern Africa? Change is always possible when people, communities and stakeholders come together for a common noble purpose. EDSA brought us a wider democratic space. It gave us a sense of freedom and security from the dark years of living dangerously during the martial law period. This democratic atmosphere was achieved because the filipinos 25 years ago came together for a noble purpose with the pureness of intention for the common good.
Some people are still frustrated on the level and quality of our governance today. Many of my friends who are remnants of the EDSA struggle are now cynical of the present situation. Corruption is still prevalent. Abuse and greed for power persists. And even the prohibition of political dynasties enshired in our 1986 constitution which is one of the unifying threads of EDSA revolution has not been given its legal implementing flesh and substance up to now. Yes, I agree. We have not achieved all that we wish for our country. I also see dark signs today of practices, systems and values that are contrary to the cause we fought for 25 years ago.
This makes the spirit of EDSA people power revolution so timeless because the work of democracy is never ending. The quest for democracy and responsible governance for public welfare will always be a journey requiring continuing commitment and heroic persistence. After 25 years, the spirit of EDSA people power revolution still beckons us to love our country more deeply, to respect the rule of law above our personal comfort, serve faithfully the interest of those who need more in life and be true servants for the general welfare of our community, our city and our country.
In times like this, I always remember the toothless, loin-clothed architect of India’s democracy, Mahatma Gandhi, who became the iconic symbol of democratic movements by leading a civil disobedience through non-violence that ended the British rule in India. As we move on today to perform our respective roles as public servants, private workers and members of our community, city and country, let us always remember the wisdom that Mahatma Gandi once said. “ We must be the change we want to see in the world”.
Thank you ug maayong buntag kaninyong tanan.