Archive for the ‘People power’ Category

Constitutions and democracy


I may have written many times earlier about people power, specially people power in the Philippines.  Nevertheless, it lends to continuous reflection.  All historical events attract attention and are vulnerable to various interpretations and revisions (if you will).

For the first time, the anniversary of People Power 1986 will be commemorated in Cebu City instead of Malacañang (as announced earlier) or even EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue) where hundreds of thousands of Filipinos cocooned soldiers rebelling against President Ferdinand Marcos.  To my mind, it was just right to celebrate in Malacañang–the seat of state power.  I can still recall the final night when ordinary people stormed what they thought was the Palace (it was the office of the National Media Production Center in the Palace grounds) and vented their rage on portraits of the dictator and his wife. I was a journalist with the Business Day then and together with colleagues, we were able to enter the inner sanctum with soon-to-be Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo.  I remember lusting after cartons upon cartons of new books in Marcos’ study and the smell of urine in his sleeping quarters.

Now that it will be celebrated in Cebu City, it may be seen as a corrective to the imperial Manila-centricity of EDSA (of all three EDSA people power episodes, for that matter).  It seems a stretch to say that Cebu City earned the “right” because Tita Cory was there with the nuns when Enrile and Ramos announced their defection in her favor.

Filipinos stood tall after the dictator and his entourage hitched a ride first to Clark Air Base (in Pampanga province) and thence to Hickam Air Base in Hawaii.

Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda Marcos, and BongBong Marcos (now Senator) at the presidential balcony, morning of February 25, 1986

Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda Marcos, and BongBong Marcos (now Senator) at the presidential balcony, morning of February 25, 1986

Yet, 28 years after Marcos fled, the event has apparently lost its resonance and many Filipinos consider it as any other day of the year.

EDSA I, 1986

EDSA I, 1986

The disappointment is most likely the result of extremely high expectations of EDSA I.  February 1986 should be seen as the beginning rather the omega of our quest for a better society.  The limitations of EDSA I must be laid bare for all to acknowledge.  The economic and political crises that crippled the Philippines after the assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983 convinced politically active Filipinos that the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos was the only solution.  For most, there was agreement that it must be accomplished in a non-violent manner, an accord not shared by communist insurgents and the military putschists.

No other consensus was possible within the anti-Marcos ranks. It was not feasible to agree on asset reform, tenure of the US military bases, prosecution of human rights violations, form of government, and other issues.  To force a consensus is to surely invite dissension and division and will surely surely weaken the anti-Marcos forces.

In this sense, EDSA I should be seen as necessary but insufficient to effect much needed reforms in our society.  It was necessary to break the stranglehold of the Marcoses and their cohort on political and economic power so the basic rules of the ‘game’–the Constitution could be written and adopted freely.  Ideally, the Constitution will govern the processes through we resolve our differences and our debates of national issues.

To be sure, EDSA I is a rupture from the political rules.  At certain historical junctures, rules get in the way of resolution of political conflict and politics take on an irregular route.  In this case, people power.  People power episodes, however, are short-lived and unstable.  For reason, the default behavior is to redraw rules and return to regular politics.

President Joseph "Erap" Estrada, 1998-2001

President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, 1998-2001

EDSA II offered a dilemma in that it was so different from EDSA I.  President Erap Estrada may be a corrupt president (who must be given his day in court) but he had an unquestionable electoral mandate.  He was no over-staying dictator like Marcos.  Nevertheless, rules were bent and he was (constructively) deposed by the perfumed set.

EDSA II, January 2001

EDSA II, January 2001

What probably broke the proverbial camel’s back was Erap’s humiliating arrest and mug shot aired on national TV.  Before the actual arrest and broadcast, I approved of it at the time as an instance of the rule of law.  Given the circumstances, however, I was not surprised by EDSA III, “poor people” power of April-May 2001, just a few months from EDSA II. EDSA III was also different in that tens of thousands stormed the Presidential Palace to oust the new President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. That the rebellion was crushed at the palace gates is another story.

Mugshot of President Joseph Estrada

Mugshot of President Joseph Estrada

Storming the Presidential Palace, EDSA III, May 1, 2001

Storming the Presidential Palace, EDSA III, May 1, 2001

As things stood, people power was used to change (or restore) leaders in the Philippines.  Two episodes succeeded while another failed.  Could it be because EDSA III’s agenda was more than a mere change in leadership?  In other instances, people power had been associated with sordid grabs for power by unelectable political actors.  All episodes inflated the role of the uniformed services in national life.

What next for people power? As we know it?

people power

what an awkward phrase!

why not people’s power?

people power though is

what we have.

Gnadhi leading the salt march

Gandhi leading the salt march

the power of the people
comes in different
shapes and smells
some are perfumed
others are sweaty
some are veiled
others are turbaned
some are bare-headed
others are masked
some are armed
most are not
save for their ardor
and resolve.

Rebel soldier fighting against the Caetano Salazar dictatorship during the 1975 Carnation Revolution in Portugal

Rebel soldier fighting against the Caetano Salazar dictatorship during the 1975 Carnation Revolution in Portugal

Soldiers, priests, and ordinary people unite against the Shah during the 1979 Iranian revolution

Soldiers, priests, and ordinary people unite against the Shah during the 1979 Iranian revolution

Egyptian women calling for the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in Tahrir square, Cairo, February 2011

Egyptian women calling for the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in Tahrir square, Cairo, February 2011

people power
the power of the people
from Lisboa to Beograd and Kyiv
Tunis to Cairo
Manila to Tbilisi
Seoul to Taipei
Tehran to Santiago de Chile
can only oust leaders
t’is impossible to unite millions
on more than that
the outstanding exception
Martin Luther King’s quest
for equal rights and emancipation.

Protests in Bangkok against government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra

Protests in Bangkok against government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra

Farewell sign for Tunisian prime minister Ben Ali, January 2011

Farewell sign for Tunisian prime minister Ben Ali, January 2011

The universal way to win over battle-hardened soldiers

The universal way to win over battle-hardened soldiers

Martin Luther King delivering his "I have a dream" speech during the 1963 march on Washington, DC

Martin Luther King delivering his “I have a dream” speech during the 1963 march on Washington, DC

Note:  all photos were taken from the public domain.

August 21 is a most significant day in Philippine political history.

Exactly forty one years ago, the proclamation rally (otherwise called miting de abanse) of the opposition Liberal Party in Plaza Miranda in the center of Manila was bombed with two grenades.  Fortunately, one of the grenades was a dud and nine people including a girl and Manila Times photographer Ben Roxas died and 95 were injured.  I remember a photo of the dying Roxas published the day after staring right into the camera–dazed but seemingly not in pain.  Almost all the Liberal Party’s candidates for senator and local posts in Manila were severely wounded.

Photo-montage of Plaza Miranda bombing

President Ferdinand Marcos responded to the bombing by suspending the writ of habeas corpus through Proclamation No. 889, later amended by Proclamation No. 889-A  supposedly to align the suspension with the bill of rights provision of the Constitution.  He promptly blamed the communists for the bombing and justified the writ suspension as necessary to restore peace and order.

While Marcos was the usual suspect for the Plaza Miranda bombing, several personalities including former Senator Jovito Salonga (who was seriously injured during the rally) began to believe that the communists were responsible.  Victor Corpus, the army lieutenant who carted arms from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and joined the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) in 1970, wrote in his book Silent War he was present when top communist leaders including Jose Ma. Sison, plotted the bombing.  Sison argued the bombing will be a win-win for the communists: Marcos will be put on the defensive, the ruling class will be split, and the revolutionary cause could thus advance.   Corpus will repeat this same allegation in an interview with veteran Filipino journalist Max Soliven. Sison and his followers have repeatedly denied these allegations.

Aquino in white being carried by soldiers on the airport tarmac; the other body is that of alleged gunman Rolando Galman (from Times Journal)

Ninoy Aquino in his prime

Exactly twenty nine years ago–Benigno Aquino Jr–the man believed by many to most likely have been the President of the Philippines if Marcos did not declare martial law in September 1972 was assassinated in the Manila International Airport minutes after his plane landed.  The alleged gunman, Rolando Galman, was killed by government troops supposedly after he killed Ninoy Aquino.  Marcos again blamed the communists for Aquino’s murder and alleged that Galman was acting under their orders.

In both occasions, Marcos’ accusations against the communists were not believed.  Most thought that he ordered both the bombing of the Liberal Party proclamation rally and the assassination of Ninoy Aquino.  The logic behind the belief?  The physical elimination of the Liberal Party leadership would redound to his ruling party’s benefit.  The writ’s suspension was seen as a cover-up for the Plaza Miranda bombing.  The death of Ninoy removes the strongest opposition figure that could threaten Marcos’ lifetime rule.

Marcos and Ninoy, fraternity brothers, in happier times (from MLQ3)

The ebullient Ninoy chatting with fellow passengers in that fateful China Airlines flight

Everybody from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the communists were being blamed for Ninoy’s death.  His death likewise spawned a fever of jokes.  One of the most popular run like this:

Ninoy: Hindi ka nag-iisa (Ninoy, you’re not alone!)

Marcos: Naka-isa ka! (Marcos, you put one over all of us!)

Galman:  Naisahan ka! (Galman, you’ve been had!)

Still another:  Use Galman briefs! It will bring out the killer in you.

Ninoy’s body loaded into a military van

Ninoy led by soldier out of plane (from Facebook account of Boom Enriquez)

Kidding aside, Ninoy’s assassination was the game-changer in the political struggle against the Marcos dictatorship.  Prior to August 21, 1983, the opposition to the regime was born  by armed rebels–communists and Muslim secessionists.  The legal opposition got scattered when Marcos closed the legislature, arrested and imprisoned many, and sent scores to exile.  Some of them dabbled in violence through the Light-a-Fire and April 6 Liberation movements.

However, Ninoy’s death emboldened hitherto inert social forces such as the middle class, businessmen, professionals, clergy and like  to express their strong opposition to the authoritarian regime.   On a sustained basis.  Until February 1986 when Marcos and his immediate coterie left for Hawaii.

The armed opposition did not figure well in this end game against Marcos.  They lost what business theorists and military strategists call the ‘first mover advantage’.  The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) absorbed the brunt of Marcos’ military offensives as it fought conventional warfare in the early going.  In 1977, it signed a peace agreement with Marcos only to be outwitted by the latter in the agreement’s (non)implementation.  The MNLF resumed its military struggle but was soon weakened by a split that produced the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).  The communists were sidelined when they decided to boycott the ‘snap elections’ that pitted Marcos against Ninoy’s widow, Cory Cojuangco Aquino.  EDSA 1986 was a sea of yellow–the color associated with Cory and the moderate political forces.  A lot of communists and radicals were also there; however, they could not unfurl their red banners.

Of course, the picture was not a black-and-white one.  The radicals joined the newly enervated political forces from the middle class in regular protests against Marcos.  The rallying cry was: Justice for (Ninoy) Aquino, Justice for All!  They parted ways in the 1984 parliamentary elections: Cory and her allies decided to participate and won a significant number of seats while the radicals predictably boycotted.

By 1985, the trajectory was quite clear.  The strength of the moderates had grown so much.  As a result, they spurned a coalition, BAYAN, with the radicals.  They formed their own group, BANDILA.

EDSA 1986 actually started with a failed military coup led by the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) led by Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and his protege, Colonel Gregorio Honasan.  It soon morphed into a peaceful uprising as Jaime Cardinal Sin called on the faithful to gather en masse to protect the rebel soldiers from the loyalists.  The failure of the military coup contemplated for early 1986 and the communist boycott of the snap elections allowed non-violent forces to claim victory against Marcos in February 1986. The key figure here was the martyred Aquino – likened to the national hero, José Rizal (1861-96), or even to Jesus Christ. Neither the dictatorship nor the insurgents and the military rebels had any equivalent.

Unmadeup Ninoy in his coffin

Ninoy’s bloodied and bruised remains in an open coffin were visited by hundreds of thousands at the Santo Domingo Church.  When he was finally laid to rest in Paranaque City, the funeral march took some 11 hours to reach its final destination.  The historic event was practically ignored by the regime-controlled mass media.  I remember that the Philippine Daily Express (derisively called the Daily Suppress) chose to report the death by lightning of a person who was watching the funeral procession.

Elsewhere in Luzon, the other victim–Rolando Galman–was mourned and buried without much ado by his relatives and friends.

C’est la vie?

C’est la guerre?

Secretary Jesse Robredo

Meanwhile, this morning today, the death of Interior Secretary and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Good Governance Jesse Robredo was announced after his body was recovered in the waters off Masbate island.  The reader is enjoined to a say a prayer for this quiet and good man and public servant.

The big question

Twenty six years ago today, a failed military coup that morphed into a popular uprising finally ousted and forced the flight of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his close family members and associates to Hawaii after four days.

Ferdinand Marcos

Notwithstanding the presence of armed soldiers on both sides, the uprising was largely non-violent and introduced ‘people power’ into popular and academic discourse.  While it is understandable that some Filipinos claim we invented ‘non-violent revolution,’ perhaps we should be modest enough to acknowledge the pioneering efforts of Mahatma Gandhi and his followers.  The Indians were unable though to expel the British colonists from the sub-continent.  

Gandhi leading the Salt March in defiance of British law

Gandhi leading the Salt March in defiance of British authorities

However, a military-civilian uprising peacefully ousted the 50-year old regime of President Antonio de Oliveira Salazar of Portugal–an event now known in history as the Carnation Revolution–in 1975, some 11 years before EDSA I.

A military rebel during Portugal’s Carnation Revolution

Perhaps, Filipino pride in EDSA People Power is justified because it was the first of its kind in Asia and is said to have inspired the fall of the Soviet Union and its allies through similar peaceful popular uprisings–events which completed the end of the Cold War.

Not a few Filipinos may consider today’s celebrations as ‘just one of those things.’  I suspect that this attitude is true among many of our youth.  An appreciation of EDSA 1986 requires some historical knowledge of martial law and the upsurge of the anti-dictatorship movement after the assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. as well as the four days of EDSA 1986.  History textbooks at the secondary level are relatively blank on these periods.  It is almost as if martial law is still in place.

It is this blind spot that invites historical revisionism.  It is expected that the Marcos family, led by its current spokesperson, Senator Bongbong Marcos, will deny any wrong-doing on the part of the family patriarch during martial law.  In today’s papers, Senator Marcos is reported to have demanded a stop to blaming his father for the country’s problems.

Senator Bongbong Marcos at the firing range

Senator Bongbong Marcos at the firing range

To be fair to Senator Marcos, he has a point.  It is indeed not right to censure his father for all of the nation’s woes.  Post-Marcos presidents share part of the failures.

However, none of the nation’s chief executives, save Ferdinand Marcos, concentrated political power in himself and a narrow coterie of family members and associates.  Such concentration of political power gave rise  to imprisonment of political opponents, human rights violations (including disappearances and torture), and conspicuous consumption.

I recently learned of a story written by Ed Lingao ( at the website of the Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) that reported a rather intriguing take on EDSA 1986.  It  is about a video-ala-Powerpoint presentation authored by somebody who calls himself Baron Buchocoy.   I actually saw this production before but ignored it until Lingao’s story.  

Among other things, Buchocoy alleges that the only reason why EDSA 1986 was peaceful and non-violent was because Marcos himself ordered his men not to fire upon the rebel  soldiers and assembled crowds of civilians.  Perhaps, he will offer as proof the TV footage of Marcos admonishing a trigger-happy AFP chief of staff Fabian Ver before Malacanang was cut off the air.

Marcos ordering Ver not to fire on EDSA crowds

Let’s examine Buchocoy’s allegations.  If indeed there was no order to attack, why was a column of Philippine Marines tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs) sent to EDSA?  According to Buchocoy, the Marines were sent to arrest the rebel officers and soldiers holed out in Camp Aguinaldo.  The idea apparently is to convince the rebels not to resist arrest given the overwhelming superiority of the Marines force.

What happens if the military rebels resist arrest?

What if they make a last stand?

These are hanging questions but I guess the Marine commander will have to consult with higher authority.

As  things happened, hundreds of thousands of non-threatening civilians inserted themselves between the Marines and the military rebels.  As a result, the Marines never got near Camp Aguinaldo to accomplish their mission, whatever that was.

Marine with civilian women in front of armored personnel carriers

To accomplish their mission, the Marines will have to plow through the crowd with their armored vehicles. But every time they move, they were stymied by the crowd.  The most effective ‘anti-tank weapons’ were kneeling nuns praying the rosary.

Tank-stopping nuns

In many non-violent people power revolutions, we hear of orders for soldiers to fire upon or bomb the crowds of peaceful protesters.  These revolutions remained non-violent because officers and soldiers refuse to obey such orders.  Those who offered testimony after the fact answered that a key reason for hesitation and defiance is the probability that family members, friends, and neighbors might be in the crowd.

A professional military unit may hesitate, may be puzzled or flummoxed, when confronted by non-aggressive and unarmed civilians that stand in its way to accomplish a mission.

Also, in a situation where the military is divided and the fate of the country’s leader is on the balance, military units may hedge and decide to wait and see or dissemble as if following orders.

In a March 2007 international conference on people power held in Oxford where I presented a paper on EDSA 1986, one of my discussants, former US ambassador to the Philippines (1984-87) Stephen Bosworth revealed that Marcos was warned by his government not to attack the military rebels and unarmed civilians.

US ambassador Stephen Bosworth

Thus, the nonviolent character of EDSA 1986 does not lie on an alleged Marcos decision not to attack.  

What intrigues me to this day is Marcos’ failure to attack when he still had the upper hand.  He got an early warning of the attempted coup the failure of which sent the rebels scurrying to Camp Aguinaldo at the first day of EDSA 1986.   This was when the rebels were most vulnerable.  Their estimated strength was 400-600 and they were yet to be cocooned by a crowd.  

Was Marcos still gathering information?  Was he conducting a loyalty check within the military and consolidating his loyalists first? Or was he caught between a rock and a hard place because of the US pressure?    

Now to my last point.  I mentioned earlier that many Filipinos think February 25 is just one of those commemorations.  While some would invoke a so-called ‘spirit of EDSA’ to carry out deep reforms, others (Senator Bongbong Marcos included) complain that EDSA has not meant a better life for Filipinos.

At the risk of demeaning EDSA 1986, I submit that it is not a revolution in the full sense of the word.  It was participated in by millions of Filipinos who were united on a single issue: Marcos and his cohorts must go so political power can be freely contested.  No unity exists among the many Filipinos massed in EDSA beyond this issue: workers want wage hikes while capitalists would not be in favor of that; some wanted the ouster of the US military bases while others do not. And so on.

The legacy of EDSA 1986 is concretized in the 1987 Constitution.  Through the Constitution, we can carry on and frame our struggles for needed change.  If we deem it necessary, we can amend the charter.  To the extent that we can do all these things, we owe them to EDSA 1986.

(Footnote on Buchocoy: He sees EDSA 1986 in a negative way that one cannot be faulted from thinking that he would have wanted Marcos to issue orders to fire upon the military rebels and civilian crowds to prevent his ouster and the ascent to power of Cory Aquino.)

Ed Maranan

to bcc

date Fri, Apr 22, 2011 at 12:03 PM

subject: Lest we forget: Kleptocracy 101

mailed-by signed-by hide details 12:03 PM (1 hour ago)


Dear folks,

More than 200 congressmen recently signed a petition passed around by Marcos loyalist Rep. Salvador Escudero for the remains of the late dictator to be interred at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Nothing unusual about that. These so-called representatives of the people are elected mainly on the basis of political patronage and the crumbs that they allow to trickle down to the masses, on the false hopes that they feed to people whose poverty in material life often leads to acceptance of the status quo. Some of these representatives are also known to have won through chicanery and occasional terrorism. But the bottom line is that these privileged creatures who fatten up at the feeding trough of Congress are very likely Marcosian wannabes at heart.

They may already have their Imeldas and mistresses, but not the Marcos billions. So no conscience at all to be bothered in blithely signing the petition. (As the late former Speaker Monching Mitra was supposed to have quipped, pass around a roll of toilet paper and ask the honorables to put their signatures on it, and sign they will…)

However, it is disturbing to note that in a recent SWS survey of 1,200 respondents on the issue of whether to allow burying Marcos at the Libingan, the result was 51% yes and 49% no, which flies in the face of standard wisdom that the excesses of martial law, the assassination of Aquino, and the triumph of EDSA I would have buried forever whatever mystique the Strongman possessed.

Any of several conclusions, serious or otherwise, could be arrived at: a) the survey by the otherwise competent SWS was flawed or skewed (did they perhaps interview mostly young respondents with no memories of martial law? or, did many of the respondents happen to be unrepentants who had benefited from the reign of Marcos?); b) Filipinos do have very short memories, c) Filipinos are flawed Christians who have a complete misunderstanding of what forgiveness really is all about; d) Filipinos, contrary to what Ninoy believed, are not worth dying for; in fact they’re worth abandoning and immigrating from, or e) the twin problem of having a divided country which is also overpopulated could probably be solved by an asteroid wiping out the loyalist half, but truly I jest with this last one.

These are unhappy and even unkind conclusions.

But the issue of burying Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani is very real to many of us.

So let’s go back to basics, and no better illustration of what kind of ‘leader’ the loyalists want to be remembered as a hero can be made than this comparative chart of the five worst kleptocrats in recent history:

As far as I am concerned, it is rather moot or contestable whether the Libingan ng mga Bayani is really hallowed ground.

Recently, an Arroyo official who literally self-destructed was interred there despite revelations about the role he played in the financial shenanigans of the past administration (costing the Filipino people possibly billions in more stolen wealth, a legacy of what I call our Marcorroyo political culture, an elaboration perhaps of the term kleptocracy).

Some genuine heroes and noble citizens may be buried there. If Marcos’ remains finally get to be accommodated, the place gets downgraded to being simply a Libingan ng mga Patay. Jokes like this abound. We could indeed change the name of the cemetery. Libingan ng mga Bayani at Bantay-Salakay. Libingan ng mga Bayani at Diktador. Libingan ng mga Bayani at Tiwali.

The world does not end if he (Ferdinand Edralin Marcos) eventually gets buried there. Other–perhaps more painful–anomalies and injustices abound in this country, such as the unknown whereabouts, the secret graves, of the genuine heroes of the people like Jonas Burgos, James Balao, UP students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, and so many ‘disappeared’ Filipino patriots and idealistic youth.

Wherever their state-appointed murderers have buried them is a libingan ng mga bayani. We may never know the exact location of their remains or their bones, but forevermore shall they lie at rest, if not yet in peace, in that most hallowed ground of all–in the hearts of their loved ones, and in the hearts of the Filipino people whom they loved more than life itself.

Ed Maranan

Reconsidering people power

Posted: February 25, 2011 in EDSA I, People power

People power, prayer power

I wrote the piece (with its URL below)  a year ago.  I am sharing it again believing it is still apropos given the upsurge of Arab people power and the 25th anniversary of Philippine people power aka EDSA I.

Filipino people power on EDSA

In my lecture at Stanford two days ago on the state of democracy in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand, I described the Philippines as a “muddling” democracy.  I will blog on that particular lecture in later entries.

Meanwhile, click on the link below.

One of the best ways to win over soldiers