The Story of the EDSA Movement
credits to Gloc-9 for the song
This is a summary of what I remember of the EDSA Movement through the years, as well as my analysis of how and why it evolved through the decades.
“Nalimutan mo na ba/ Ang lahat ng nangyari/ Nalimutan mo na ba / Ang kwento ng kalye…” -Gloc 9, Kalye
The following statement seems a fitting caption in this period I would call “The Twilight of the Revolution”. It is rife with a historical revisionism, the resurgence of the very strongmanism that the Revolution rose to fight in the first place, and a resounding question among the members of this generation: is the lesson of EDSA still relevant? Indeed, social media is filled with trending discussions of a fatigue and bitter frustration at the adherents of the “Yellow Movement”.
I believe that we are moving towards the end of the EDSA period, after a succession of different Presidents and regimes, because of the prevalent reversal of sentiment favoring the heirs, the idea, and a Presidential candidate favoring populist despotism. And there is an open intention to change the Constitution which served as the backbone of the EDSA Movement as well as the vindicating heroes’ burial for the strongman that EDSA was the nemesis of. So although we might say that this generation and their successors would still remember EDSA and everything it represented, it would only be as an afterthought for the history books.
So before the curtain closes for the Revolution, I hope to pen in this post a definitive narrative of the EDSA Movement, which although celebrated its glory in 1986, carried on to the Millenium, was used as cudgels for succeeding regimes, and became the Establishment for two generations. This is a summary of what I remember of the Movement through the years, as well as my analysis of how and why it evolved through the decades.
Curtain Rises: A Troubled Nation
When in September 21, 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos signed the Proclamation putting the Philippines under Martial Law, it may have been a justified act in the midst of a spiraling disorder in the country. The protests that rocked the country at that time mostly was part of a global phenomenon of the rising of the Left which also rocked the cities of Europe and America. In the United States, the protests of the 60s and 70s were part of the rising racial awakening of America, as well as its war fatigue exacerbated by the media storm that favored Vietnamese “freedom fighters”.
In the Philippines, it was largely part of the growing Communist movement’s actions, protesting the capitalist regime oppressing the masses and seemingly under the tutelage of the United States. The Communists had an armed insurgency in the countryside, and engineered the notorious Plaza Miranda bombing, which at the time was blamed squarely on Marcos, who people thought wanted to have an excuse to institute a Martial Law dictatorship. So, yes, the Martial Law promulgation was justified in that the Communist threat loomed large. In fact, for the entirety of the Martial Law period, Marcos fought a near-losing war against the Communists.
People nowadays view the Martial Law period as a “Golden Age” of the country. Indeed, Marcos was a genius, originating many of the projects that have since built roads and railways we nowadays take for granted. In fact, his vision for the metropolis was more ambitious than could be implemented by successive Presidencies. And the First Lady, known for her decadent and opulent nature, patroned the Philippine culture and arts, designing a Center specifically for the promotion of the national arts and culture.
Of course, that is only one side of the coin. In any despotic regime, the usual problems and chronic issues spring up. Corruption. Repression. Abuse by the militarized police as well as the powered military. The Red Scare agitated the environment event further, and dissent and criticisms were painted Communist and persecuted and usually terminated with brute force. There was also the usual leeches who stayed close to the powers that be, and amassed stolen wealth and confiscated property from those who dared raise their heads (and social state) above the usual low profile that was the norm in a growing environment of fear.
Fear and Resentment brewed from a continuing rigid enforcement of the law that failed to resist the Communist insurgents anyway. In fact, the bitterness of the Martial Law made it counterproductive, enticing the people to the arms of the very Leftist rebels it was promulgated to resist in the first place. So, while Marcos did establish infrastructure and institutions that would make the country prosperous in economic and cultural terms, the continued repressive enforcement of the law made it hard for the ordinary citizens to enjoy.
It was, however, unremarkable in a global sense. The excesses of the Marcos regime, numbering in the billions, would have paled in comparison to the insanity of African strongmen who promulgated impossible and sometimes absurd decrees, and was probably more closely related to the Rightist “caudillo” dictatorships that sprang in Latin America. This may be the scale of the country’s hardship in the global sense, yet still it loomed large and tortuous for the ordinary citizens and especially the victims of opportunity or the government’s “Red Scare”.
Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., as I explained in a previous post, was not the leader of the revolution. Indeed, the opposition in Congress continued to antagonize Marcos, provoking the strongman from instituting a series of arrests that may have weakened them but not completely stamped them out. Ninoy, however, was the more apparent, globalized, and public member of the opposition. He was insulated from the immediate persecution of the government, and used it to launch continuing media attacks against the dictator.
The resistance did not immediately crystallize under him, but it saw an unfettered voice and public sentiment, while keeping low or actually prospering under the security and infrastructure of the President, began to listen to Ninoy’s speeches. He became a dangerous figure. So when the exiled senator decided to return to the country, the elements of the government struck at him.
There is a theory, however, that Ninoy was not felled at Marcos’ behest. It was, in fact, revealed later that Marcos was planning for Ninoy to succeed him. There was also the loyalty between these two members of a fraternity. More to the point, to kill Ninoy would make him a martyr. Numerous candidates for masterminding the assassination have since emerged, but in any case the public at that time blamed the dictator for his hand at their hero’s death.
It was an inopportune time to antagonize a discontented, simmering populace. The heavy accumulation by Third World countries—particularly of the Philippines—of developed countries’ “petrodollars” led to economic collapse resulting in massive debt and deficit in the country. The prosperity that would have placated the people was gone. Many adherent of Martial Law point to this period as the critical point that the opposition actually emerged. In fact, the opposition was merely galvanized by this event, although admittedly it would have won over more public support that had not already been electrified by the media attacks by Ninoy.
After 3 years of rolling protests, Marcos agreed to hold “snap” elections as a referendum to his Martial Law. He “won” by a landslide, though it was characterized by a walkout of those involved in the elections. Mass protests rocked the country.
However, this was not enough to topple the dictator, who had the support of the military. It was a combination of numerous factions and intentions that led to the “Miracle” of EDSA.
First, elements of the military. Fidel Ramos had less than noble intentions when he allied with the Far Right faction of the Military and Juan Ponce Enrile. He was in the military inner circle, in fact, most possibly at Marcos’ right hand. However, a falling out caused by him being passed-on for succession led him to take action. Therefore, presenting himself as a figure joining the opposition, he and his compatriots holed up in Camp Crame and prepared for the worst. Everyone expected a bloodbath.
Second, the mobilization of the Center. Radyo Veritas, the voice of the Catholic leadership, recorded Cardinal Jaime Sin calling on the populace to mobilize and serve as a “wall” between the incoming Marcos army and the Rightist rebels. They took up the general call to defend Ramos and Enrile who opposed Marcos, although for reasons different from the rebels in Crame. In fact, we might say that the Center took the leadership of the rebellion and injected its own ideology to it. This was no longer the rebellion of the Far Right, but the electrified “Ninoyists” opposing Marcos.
Third, the United States. Ferdinand Marcos must have felt the pressure when the soldiers approached the millions-strong wall of protesters blocking their route to Crame. He could easily have dispatched the protesters with live fire, dispersing them forcefully with the tanks, or bomb them as Gen. Fabian Ver offered. But he was still fighting to retain a public image. He was under pressure from the United States that, under its president Ronald Reagan represented itself as the champion of freedom and democracy.
Marcos knew if he dispersed the protesters forcefully there would be a bloodbath. Maybe not full-fledged civil war, but a rebellion. In fact, not even elements loyal to the government were able to dampen the mood of the restive Center. Faced with a military paralysis, he planned a tactical retreat, transferring to the loyal Northern provinces and continuing the resistance there. It was the United States that finally decided for him, when he was airlifted instead to exile in Hawaii.
The movement was forever identified with the highway on which it happened. The Epifanio delos Santos Avenue, or EDSA, named after a famous intellectual scholar in the early days of pre-Commonwealth Philippines, now represented a movement that defined itself as the opposition to the stigma of Martial Law and future dictatorial regimes. Corazon Aquino was sworn in that same year, becoming the first President of the post-Marcos Republic.
The Victorious Revolution: Part One
Corazon Aquino was the widow of the firebrand Ninoy which the people rallied to during the “snap” elections of 1986. She was in familial proximity to the fallen hero, and so became the emotional center of the movement. The opposition leader then, Salvador Laurel, gave way when he noted the popular shift.
Becoming the titular leader of the Movement was one thing. But being the President and administrator of the Republic was quite another. Her experience with leadership would have to be hands-on. Especially when the military rebellions began.
Remember that the Center “took hostage” the uprising by the Far Right. The EDSA Movement had at best a shaky alliance with the Far Right, and it was short-lived. While Fidel Ramos gave way, the Reform Armed Forces Movement (RAM) which led the Crame revolt and Juan Ponce Enrile, tried to retake the leadership in a series of bloody coups.
Add to this upheaval were the rising of Marcos Loyalist factions and the continuing Communist insurgency, which felt that one capitalist regime was merely replaced with another. The urban legend of Aquino hiding under her desk may have been an act of slander, but reflected the public view of the helpless inexperience of the president in the face of these risings. Much will be owed to the military leadership of Ramos, who commanded the government armed forces and thwarted the repeated attempts of the Far Right. Also to be owed the victories was the United States, which engaged in several “shows of force” to intimidate the coup plotters.
Against this backdrop, Aquino simply did not have the time to carefully manage the affairs of the state. Meaningful milestones, however, did make its way during her Presidency. The old Martial Law constitution was abrogated and replaced with one penned from 1986 to 1987 by a combination of well-known statesmen, members of the clergy, and activists. In this Constitution, there was obvious effort to prevent the reinstitution of long-term one-man rule, as departments and agencies were created to safeguard the country from excesses, Presidential terms were limited to one, and institutions put in place to prevent Martial Law from being passed easily.
The flaws to the Constitution, though carefully deliberated, were not immediately apparent, but it began to emerge soon thereafter. Power through the purse strings still remained in the Presidency, making Congresses apparent “rubber-stamp” institutions that are pressured by budgetary considerations by the Executive branch. Power was still centralized in Manila, and all budgetary decisions were made within the capital. There was therefore several attempts by different Presidents to revise it, or pen a better one.
It was during the accession of Fidel Ramos to the Presidency that the EDSA Movement became prosperous. The economy prospered, the country was hailed as a rising “Philippine Tiger”, and the government set out an ambitious “Philippines 2000” project of infrastructure and economic policies that would put the country among the developed nations. It was under his administration that the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao was first formed, after the almost secession of parts of Mindanao (notably Basilan), and the consequent SPCPD peace agreement which led to the autonomy of the Moros.
There were allegations of corruption, but that is a given in any government, even before the establishment of the 1947 Republic. There was, in a general sense, a feeling of sheer optimism among the EDSA Generation. This was the period the generation of the early Millenium would be born.
The positive sentiment began to sour towards the end, and a proposal to change the Constitution was violently opposed by those who thought that Ramos wanted to perpetuate or at least prolong his stay in power. So the first of the attempts at Charter Change would be defeated on what would later be familiar grounds.
EDSA as a Blunt Force Weapon: EDSA II and III
The Ramos Presidency could not remain for long, and it gave way to a general election in 1998, which put to power a populist leader, Joseph Estrada. Nowadays, Erap is mostly known for the circumstances of his impeachment and overthrow. He would also be known for the war against Moro separatists and the bandit group Abu Sayyaff, which rose to notoriety with the much-publicized kidnapping of foreigners in Palawan.
The Presidency of Estrada witnessed the dawning of the Millenium, and the continuing of Ramos policies. Notably this was the period when the railway across the EDSA highway was finished, but most of the Estrada accomplishments are glossed over for the generally unfavourable sentiment of the middle class that never accepted him and prayed for his early departure since Day 1.
Estrada was a populist President who was put in power by the vote of the masses. Throughout his term he bore the image of representing the lower classes, and he was well loved and remembered by them even in his darkest days. To the middle class, however, he was an uneducated boor who was surrounded by political leeches (cronies), was steep in corruption and (probably the most unforgivable for them) his sheer inexperience in handling administration. The latter was mostly an image the middle class held despite pragmatic policies made under his Presidency. It didn’t help that this was also the time when Asia plummeted in a financial crisis (1997) which a lot of people thought Estrada was ill-equipped to face. He was largely blamed for the effects of the economic recession, which dropped the value of the Philippine peso.
But Estrada is, tragically, remembered best for the uprising that toppled him. Remember that during Ramos’ time, the early Millenial generation were born or grew up. They were still dreaming of the miraculous upheaval witnessed by their parents, and EDSA was a by-word for freedom against tyranny. There was no dictator in sight in the year 2000, but there was a corrupt, incompetent leader who did not deserve to remain in power. At least, that was what they constantly read and watched in mass media. The image of Estrada as a corrupt “trapo” (traditional politician) was carefully formed in this period partly also to the President’s actions, though not as unique to him as would be believed.
There was an “EDSA-ish” restlessness among the populace in the 0-year of the Millenium. A corruption allegation by a former compatriot ballooned into a full fledged scandal which rocked the Presidency and led to a widely publicized impeachment. Millions tuned to their television sets and radios to follow the impeachment proceedings that would certainly overthrow the President.
The spark that ignited the second EDSA movement was a trifle affair. The prosecution had evidence in a “second envelope” of the extent of the corruption of the President. The Senate voted against opening it, and the lawmakers who were involved were immediately accused of being stooges of Estrada. Wildly assuming the impeachment would eventually end in Estrada’s acquittal, the opposition walked out, effectively stopping the impeachment.
A million heartbeats must have stopped. The impeachment was done. The Millenial generation (before they were called that), faced with the triumph of their caricatured villain, decided to converge on the site where their parents once demonstrated (actually it was the Shrine that was built to commemorate the event). It was an impulsive, spur-of-the-moment decision by millions of people, notably populated with factions of the Left. In that moment, January 2001, people were inspired with a second EDSA which overthrew another unpopular ruler.
This uprising is no longer commemorated, partly due to hindsight. One, that Estrada, though corrupt, was unfairly persecuted, and two, that it gave birth to an even more unpopular leader, Gloria Arroyo. Third, and most importantly, the second EDSA, or EDSA Dos, represented only the anger and resentment of the middle class. The lower class, and especially the masa still supported Estrada. The full extent of what the EDSA name had become was made apparent when these masa gathered in the same Shrine and demonstrated against the arrest of their champion Estrada, dubbing their protest as “EDSA Tres”.
In the short period between January to May 2001, two EDSA uprisings emerged representing two opposing sides of the Estrada cause. It also became apparent that the two civil rebellions were a “class war”. The magic of the EDSA name had faded. The Movement, however, remained strong.
The Revolution finds a New Nemesis
Hindsight leads to regret over the EDSA Dos rising. While the overthrow of Estrada remained justified in the eyes of many, it is now generally believed that the event actually precipitated in the rise and subsequent long-term rule of the “second Marcos” (though not quite), Gloria Arroyo.
The initial disgust by the populace of Gloria shortly following her accession was unreasonable, and dominated by the narrative that “everyone in the establishment was corrupt, and they should all resign”. When in May 2001, the masa revolted, not a few cheered the early toppling of “another” corrupt leader. Inevitably, the unpopularity of the corrupt Estrada carried over to the unpopularity of the corrupt Arroyo. Riding on the frenzy of the idea of “rampant corruption” in the Arroyo government was the emergence of the scandal involving Gloria’s spouse posing as “Jose Pidal” and siphoning public funds for personal interests.
The EDSA Movement now had a new target, the one that should be toppled. The army, which once fought on the side of Martial Law, now heavily politicized and belonging to the generation of EDSA, attempted the first of many coups in 2003. They carried with them news that Arroyo wanted to subvert the elections of the next year, with false flag operations. The lines were drawn.
The now widely unpopular Gloria Arroyo decided to run for reelection in the 2004 elections. She banked on her popularity among the lower classes, and won by a slight margin another term of office. Notably, the opposition rallied under a populist leader who was the close partner of Estrada. And not before electing to the Congress family members of the fallen Estrada. The popular sentiment, now regretting the EDSA Dos overthrow, suddenly swung back in favor of Estrada. It was only because the opposition vote split between two candidates that no united vote could defeat Arroyo (though a rallying cry of the opposition from that point forward was of massive electoral fraud, giving Arroyo victory by a slim margin).
The two factions—the Center and the military—representing EDSA now waited on each other to act. It was easy to find the spark to reignite the resistance. Allegations of voter fraud emerged in 2005, then more allegations of corruption in 2007. And during that time elements of the military again attempted coups against Arroyo. The EDSA movement erupted in a series of protests, rallies and impeachment attempts.
Gloria Arroyo had her eyes set on defeating the “EDSA threat”, and it was to her advantage that she was also a calculating genius. She used the very weapon of the ambiguity of the Constitution to shield herself from the attacks against her by Congress, and to further strengthen her position with not-quite Martial Law decrees (State of Emergency/Rebellion) and the antiquated sedition laws. For its part, the institutions first established by the EDSA Constitution worked effectively to thwart attempts—real or imagined—by Gloria Arroyo to stay in power. And these institutions, from Congressional investigations to impeachment complaints, were used as weapons against Arroyo. She was dogged out of power.
Noteworthy in this period is that while the early Millenials grew to maturity under Gloria, both the later generation of Millenials and those which would later comprise “Generation Z” were born in this period. This generation had only the faintest idea of the EDSA of 1986, were probably kids when EDSA Dos and Tres erupted in 2001, and were too young to fully comprehend the antagonism against Gloria Arroyo throughout the 2000s. In short, this was the “Blank Generation” or the Post-EDSA Generation who had no memory of the milestones that made EDSA and only remember Martial Law and the opposition from the history books. They would grow to maturity and know only the Presidency of the second Aquino to accede into office.
The Victorious Revolution: Part Two
In 2007, following another allegation of corruption—by now a tiring event—the titular leader of the original EDSA movement, Corazon Aquino, joined the clamor for Gloria Arroyo to resign. This would set the stage for the rivalry between the Aquinos and Arroyo.
There was still no leader that the EDSA movement could rally to in 2008, when former officer and coup leader Trillanes took to Manila Peninsula and called a mass mobilization which never materialized. In 2009, however, the tragic death of Cory Aquino to terminal disease unwittingly catapulted neophyte senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III to the leadership of the EDSA Movement. Seething with rage at having not “punished” and toppled Arroyo, they rallied under the promise that the nemesis would undoubtedly be held to account.
His landslide victory in the elections of the following year was the last act of the EDSA Movement. It had the hallmarks of the “Spirit of the Revolution”: he was an Aquino, it followed an unpopular leader, and it promised to correct the crooked path of the previous regime. Thus began the “Tuwid na Daan” program, an anti-corruption drive which would define the Presidency of the second—and almost assuredly the last—part of the EDSA Revolution.
There was no coup plot anywhere in sight, no vestige of resistance from the former government—except for the “insurance policy” appointment by Arroyo of Chief Justice Renato Corona—so the new EDSA leadership was free to shape the country as it sees fit.
The full membership of the EDSA circle was in control: the Liberal Party of Benigno Aquino, Jr. was in Congress, and old hands that were once part of the last Aquino administration were brought back. The champion of human rights was appointed justice secretary, and consequently the administration’s “blunt weapon of choice”.
The new Aquino presidency had honest intentions; but left to its devices it soon became apparent to the populace that the current administration merely perpetuated the old structure of monarch-aristocracy. Mainly, that Party allies were favored, despite their growing unpopularity, while non-Party members were persecuted or became victims to the “selective justice” that was part of the anti-corruption program of the government.
The problem with the victorious revolution was that there were too many expectations by the older generation, and the skepticism of the younger batch. Chronic institutional problems, like the overcapacity of metro trains and the impossible traffic conditions in the main highway thoroughfare, while existing as far back as the early years of Arroyo presidency, were more acutely scrutinized and resented by the populace who expected better lives under an EDSA regime.
And while the public decried the pork barrel of the lawmakers and the budgetary “carrot” by the Executive branch to “encourage” lawmakers to their policy, the pork barrel was an issue that was raised way back during Ramos’ time. The fact that it was brought up and “abolished” speaks of the intentions of the administration.
In the end, the EDSA Establishment was denounced of its two fatal flaws: inefficiency and weakness. Historical revisionism of the glory days of Marcos when he made the roads and infrastructure efficient and Arroyo’s policies boosting economic growth emerged from the apparent inability of the present government to answer effectively pressing popular needs. The first few years of the Aquino presidency actually precipitated a term: “Noynoying” which protesters would mimic by “absolutely doing nothing”.
Weakness also came up following the Scarborough crisis in 2012, China’s aggression in the rest of the South China Sea with only a helpless string of protests from the Philippines, the handling (people mostly think mishandling) of the Sabah incident in 2013, and the Bangsamoro agreement which stoked fears that Mindanao would be surrendered to the Moro rebels, aggravated by the incident in Mindanao where the same rebels opened fire and “massacred” 44 police special forces.
For all the good will that the Revolution amassed from its reaccessions in 2010, it could not avoid the eventual reversal of fortunes and turning of public sentiment away from support. I have discussed before that a government is weakest during its reforming period when its leaders open themselves up to forces of change, and with it the elements of criticism and protest. More than a corrupt and inefficient administration (which in fact was less corrupt than would be assumed), it was a regime of too much promise, and that was a grave mistake by the established Revolution; it would inevitably fall short of its heady promises. And even if they were not as grave as their predecessors’ faults, it was still acutely painful because it was the most engraved in recent memory.
End of a Revolution?
In 2010, during the gathering of the Movement to elect an Aquino—an obvious act of reinstituting the image of EDSA—back into the halls of power, a senator representing the opposition bowed out of the presidential race to give way to the newly-anointed leader of the Movement. He was no Salvador Laurel, but the act was just as significant. It was Manuel “Mar” Roxas, who carefully brought up an image of being for the masses, and joined the ranks of the opposition against the then-opponent of the EDSA Movement, Arroyo. He was there in the formative years of the new generation of the EDSA coalition, and was a comrade of Aquino. He was therefore picked as the running mate of the would-be leader of the EDSA Movement as a gracious act of appreciation for his own giving way.
Populist sentiment, however, favored experience over ideology, and a successful propaganda machine by Makati mayor Jejomar Binay ended in the latter defeating Roxas for the Vice Presidency. The established Revolution, upon retaking the reins of power, quietly ignored this victory, sidelining the new Vice President and soon thereafter appointing the defeated Roxas to a more comfortable and significant position than his rival.
Thus was the stage set for the final and ultimately tragic episode of the EDSA Movement. The people simply could not, and in the end did not, accept Roxas despite him having all the opportunity to win over their sentiment in the varied important positions given to him. To the public, it was to be part of the Establishment’s “signature partisanship”, a practice the President and his Party would have where allies would be favored and political opponents persecuted.
Throughout the life of the established Revolution, the pattern emerged: Roxas was continually groomed to be Aquino’s successor and significant PR blitz promoted him to the public eye, while political opponents faced the force of judicial investigation or Congressional scrutiny. Of note was the pork barrel scandal, which exploded and implicated figures in both the Party of the establishment and those of the opposition. Significantly, the only three lawmakers to actually be indicted belonged to the opposition, while Party allies were insulated and one even made it to the top roll of the elected senators in the 2016 elections.
In the latter half of this period, the EDSA establishment moved: it began its attack on Roxas’ openly declared rival for the Presidency of the next term, Jejomar Binay. It was not hard to find something to attack him with; they had gathered enough research and testimony to crucify him as a corrupt and hypocritical leader who did more harm than good during his tenure in Makati City. And though it was an obvious act to neutralize a Roxas rival, it was an effective weapon to shape public perception: Binay retained the lead, then slowly slid in the electoral polls.
All these actions backfired on the establishment: the more Roxas became public, the more he committed mistakes to “prove” to the populace that he was insincere and incompetent. He was accused of mishandling the disaster brought by typhoon Yolanda, though the disaster fell to the similar pattern of destruction as Ondoy during Arroyo’s time, and genuinely neutralized the failsafes the government had in place for meeting the calamity. He was accused of mishandling an old institutional problem that preceded him: the metropolitan traffic and congestion in the railway. And the most fatal: the sensationalized tanim-bala scandal that rocked the nation’s airport and scared local and foreign passengers of bullets being planted in their luggage to extort them of hard-earned money. He was correct that it was politicized; he was wrong in pointing it out and failing to sympathize with the victims. All this despite the establishment’s effort to win the populace over to accepting him soured public support even more.
Roxas was becoming the mistake the established Revolution stuck to. An even graver mistake they were to inevitably commit was the cardinal sin that the generations since EDSA just could not accept: the idea of perpetuating or even just prolonging any political faction into power. Even if it was the Revolution. Everyone was wary of another Gloria having a decade of rule, or for older generations the twenty years of Marcos. This was why any attempt at Charter Change was met with suspicion and accusations of a backdoor way to prolong political terms in office.
The EDSA Revolution had good, though not perfect intentions. The establishment had a plan of continuation of programs and policies began during the Aquino presidency. Roxas was key to that. Unfortunately, the ill will that the administration accumulated (as do all regimes) throughout its period in power and the ill will generally espoused in any attempt to prolong power coalesced in a general disgust and resentment of the public to the idea of “continuing the straight road” of the establishment. It also had the unintended effect of souring the public sentiment towards the EDSA Movement in general.
Enter Davao City mayor Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte. He was to be the final ingredient in the dangerous cocktail tragically concocted by the EDSA establishment against itself. He had a notorious reputation in his city for utilizing “death squads” that terminated “criminal elements” and even critics of his rule. He had an open relationship with the Communist rebels, was mentored by the Communist founder, Joma Sison, and openly advocated despotic rule. It was clear that he was the last person anyone would consider succeeding the EDSA Establishment whose ideals he diametrically opposed. He was even reluctant to run for the highest office in the land, and almost to the end rejected the public clamor for him to run.
He openly advocated a “Revolutionary Government”, a “power-sharing” with the Communist insurgents, a “realignment” with Communist China, and a “decimation” of criminals through an atmosphere of fear which he explained as promoting stability. Here was a dictator in the making, the “real Marcos”, and he initially horrified the public. But his tactics in Davao and its effect as one of the “safest” cities in the world won him over to public sympathy.
And the EDSA Establishment was unwittingly setting the stage for his rise. Sticking to its guns with the unpalatable Roxas, as well as to their plan of prolonging a heavily criticized rule, they first tried to co-opt then subvert the other candidate that emerged to rival Roxas: Grace Llamanzares Poe. She would actually have been an acceptable compromise candidate that was distant enough from the Establishment to be accepted while at the same time espousing the same ideology and policies of the EDSA regime. And she was at the top of the polls for a long time while Duterte was at the lower tier (Roxas was near-bottom). But the Establishment proceeded with their campaign to neutralize any and all opponents of the standard-bearer Roxas by “legitimate means”—corruption investigations for Binay and disqualification cases for Poe and Duterte—and when that failed, black propaganda. The EDSA Establishment partly succeeded: Poe was eventually associated as a “foreigner with questionable patriotic integrity” and Binay as a “corrupt and unrepentant traditional politician (trapo)”. But faced with the prospect of electing unlikable and unacceptable Roxas, the majority instead turned to the more unlikely Duterte.
Historical revisionism also played a part in his victory. Like a girlfriend bitterly comparing the bad qualities of her current partner to her abusive ex’s good qualities, the public unfairly compared the inefficiency and weakness of the EDSA establishment to the firm and competent hand of Gloria Arroyo and—more significantly—of Marcos, whose period of rule was now considered a “golden age”.
This matter of thinking was unthinkable to those who lived in the Marcos years, and those who lived during Arroyo’s term were more ambivalent, but to the “Blank Generation”? The generation whose memory of Martial Law was in the history books? Who sympathized with Arroyo during the EDSA establishment’s “persecution” of her, having spent a too-young age to understand her excesses? And the generation who infamously asked one actor why Apolinario Mabini was portrayed in the movie Heneral Luna as always seated? This generation only grew up to resent the regime they matured to—the EDSA Establishment—without fully comprehending, much less appreciating, the symbolic role of the EDSA regime.
The result was a fantastic and tragic disaster for the EDSA Establishment, and the Movement in general. By a landslide larger than that which propelled Aquino to helm the country for the Revolution, Duterte was elected by a frustrated, disappointed and tired electorate which after forty years since opposing a dictator and six years since opposing an unpopular, corrupt would-be strongman, was suddenly again open to strongman rule.
It must have painted a tragic scene when the EDSA Establishment grasped at straws and threw virtually the “kitchen sink” at the man so dangerously at knife-point not only to the Party, but to the Movement and its ideals. At the penultimate minute, Roxas offered a unity ticket with the now-acceptable opposition candidate Grace Poe–but he and the Establishment doggedly stuck to his unpopular candidacy, and no unity ticket was forged.
Rodrigo Duterte remains unrepentant, vowing to do all the things he promised he would do, despite opposition from all the institutions created and were created by EDSA. It’s important to note that he did not win by a nationwide referendum: he strategically won Mindanao and vote-rich Cebu and Manila, while the rest of the country voted for everyone else (Visayas, in fact, largely voted for Roxas). The nation was divided; for all intents and purposes it was an electoral civil war.
So it would seem that the Revolution has finally ended. Like the French Revolution gave way to Absolutist Napoleon, the EDSA Movement has given way to Rodrigo Duterte. All of his intentions, from granting a hero’s burial to Ferdinand Marcos to changing the framework of the 1987 Constitution, indicate that he holds no ideological loyalty to the Movement, and it is almost a certainty that the EDSA Movement, after having struggled from the late 80s to the early 2010s, would finally retire politically and fade into distant memory, carried close to heart by the generations who experienced it.
The Curtain Closes: A Post-Mortem
Thus ends my exhaustive narrative of the EDSA Movement, which I told to the best of my knowledge and through first-hand experience. I did gloss over some period which were fuzzy to me (I was still in Elementary during Ramos’ time), and the details of the 86’ EDSA Movement I supplied seemed circumstantial at best. But I write this as a final postscript to an ideology that began life as a street, to a symbol of opposition to tyranny, to a victorious political establishment. There were good episodes and there were bad ones. But EDSA remains close to heart, as it must also have to my generation.
Revisionists would say that the lessons of EDSA are no longer relevant to the country—decades of corruption and systemic failures vindicate the dictatorship it toppled. But throughout its life, EDSA remained what it had always been: a symbol of opposition against a rule of repression and fear. The best dictatorships have efficient infrastructure and most likely usher in a cultural Renaissance, but it always exacts a heavy price of suffering for the victims of its repressive environment and its opportunist elements. Revisionists should never discount the fact that at any time, the freedoms they cherish and use to heap praises at tyrannies they do not understand, would be snatched away from them by these very strongmen in the name of “security” and “stability”. Communist China is a striking example.
But EDSA purists are wrong as well. They relegate the spirit of EDSA to the classic memory of 1986 and the heroic figures that toppled a dictator and inspired the world. EDSA was a Movement, carried over by the people, and its ideals moved forward through the shaky Aquino presidency, the prosperous Ramos time, the misguided adventures and intentions of EDSA Dos and Tres, the enflaming of resistance during the Arroyo period, and yes, also during the second Aquino Presidency and the final victory of the EDSA coalition. We cannot have selective amnesia; we have to accept EDSA’s fullest history, good and bad. Because for all of its triumphs and misadventures, EDSA stayed true to its core values: freedom and democracy for all.
I am writing this from the closing of the Revolution. May it be remembered again.
“Nalimutan mo na ba/ Ang tunay na mensahe / Nalimutan mo na ba / Ang kwento ng kalye…”
End of a Chapter (Update 11-25-2016)
I wrote the following piece on the celebration of Independence Day, June 12 to explain that the modern period of the country (after World War 2) also experienced its own version of independence, from a repressive dictatorship. Doubtless it was an internal affair, but the nation learned to consider the dictatorial establishment as an external force, inorganic from the body that was the country.
However, sentiments have since changed, and revisionists have seemingly triumphed: not only has the antithesis of the Movement been elected to the highest office, the period of the Marcos dictatorship, which defined a generation and crystallized the Movement, has been deemed justified. The final act of its redemption was the consequent burial of the former strongman to the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Graveyard of Fallen Heroes).
The magnanimous, official explanation is that it is an act of healing, of bridging the divide between the half of the country that suffered under a monstrous period, and the other half that believed that here was a nationalist who believed in the nation more than anyone could. However, it cannot be denied that the act implies and in fact, signifies the declaration that Marcos, the strongman that defined the EDSA Movement by its opposition, was a nationalist and a hero, and that the patriotic essence that opposing him meant was unjustified. Not everyone may see it that way, but enough people will know to make the complete shift of sentiment significant.
I am not saying that the act repudiates everything the Movement fought for; it merely signified that the chapter that defined a period from the late 80s to the mid 2010s has ended. Many say that the EDSA Movement is no longer significant, that the cry for patriotism has ended, and judging from the rise of militant, patriotic Rightist movements not only in the country but all over the world, no longer needed. It simply means that the Movement paved the way for this generation, but must now give way. I am not here to criticize the actions of the new generation, government or civilian; it is still too early to condemn an era that has only begun to lead. And this is not the place for such words.
I am not speaking from the tombstone of EDSA. I am not speaking at its grave. I am speaking at its monument, maybe forgotten by many, but still revered, honored and remembered, even by a loyal few.
The Movement is over. We must move on. The chapter has closed, and we must begin again.
I would recommend three additional readings that are written in the same thought as my piece:
1. Impossible Dream: The Marcoses, the Aquinos, and the Unfinished Revolution: The EDSA Movement, for better or worse, revolved around these figures. And for the most part, it really remained an unfinished revolution.
2. Corazon Aquino: The Story of a Revolution: Possibly an optimistic account of the events that started it all, and the figure that became the reluctant political center.
3. Taming People’s Power: The EDSA Revolutions and their Contradictions: I recommended this in another post, and it basically approaches the EDSA Movement from a pragmatic and grounded perspective.
4. Corazon Aquino and the Brushfire Revolution – A good insight into the first EDSA Revolution