Philippines: Thirty years on from the 'EDSA Revolution' — celebrate with more struggle

February 28, 2016

A secene from the peoples' power' uprising that ousted the US-backed Marcos dictatorship 30 years ago.

The EDSA Uprising of February 25, 1986, overthrew the Philippine's brutal US-backed dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. The uprising was named after the Manila thoroughfare where events unfolded. It is often known as “EDSA 1” to distinguish it from later uprisings that occurred in EDSA.

Sonny Melencio, who wrote the article below, was already a leading activist in the left-wing underground when he took part in the uprising. Today he is chairperson of the Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM) and will be a keynote speaker at the Socialism for the 21st Century conference in Sydney, May 13 to 15.

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I once had a chance to be a guest at the Rembrandt Kapihan together with a senatorial candidate for the May 2016 election from the Marcos dynasty's New Society Movement (KBL).

The foul-mouthed KBL candidate went on a cursing spree to lambast an imaginary audience that had made Ninoy Aquino (current President Benigno “PNoy” Aquino's murdered father) a hero of the first EDSA Revolution. This seemed to be a response to my statement that we were going to celebrate EDSA 1 on February 25 with the usual protest rallies.

The KBL candidate spewed a barrage of crisp curses against the people's uprising that brought down the dictator Ferdinand Marcos (current vice-presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos's father, who ruled as a dictator from 1972). After Marcos fled the country in 1986, everything went downhill for the country and the people, according to the KBL candidate.

I was with PLM senatorial candidate General Diosdado Valeroso and our reaction to the diatribe was to explain that we would be celebrating EDSA 1, but not for Ninoy Aquino or for the so-called heroes of EDSA 1, such as army commanders Fidel Ramos and Juan Ponce Enrile. We are celebrating EDSA 1 because for a short period, we became witness to the first victorious people's power uprising in Asia.

EDSA 1 represented two strong poles and forces of a great movement that converged and merged in February 1986: a massive people's uprising, participated in by millions of civilians and a military rebellion, participated mostly by young officers and soldiers of the country.

General Valeroso and I represented the two poles that converged at EDSA. I was with the activist group that went underground and fought the Marcos dictatorship when it was imposed in 1972. General Valeroso was with the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM); he later founded the Young Officers Union (YOU) that continued the resistance against the elitist neoliberal regime of Cory Aquino.

I was arrested and tortured by the Marcos minions in the military in 1977. General Valeroso was arrested in the 1990s and jailed for a long time. Today, we are joining forces to intervene in the May 2016 elections — General Valeroso as our senatorial candidate, and I as the chairperson of PLM which has fielded him in this election.

What is there to celebrate during the EDSA 1 anniversary?

The “EDSA Revolution” started as a confluence of activist and military groups that raised the resistance against the dictatorship. But, like the Philippine Revolution against Spain, became an unfinished undertaking. If the first Philippine Revolution was hijacked by the elite represented by the Aguinaldos, the Buencaminos and the Paternos, the “EDSA 1 Revolution” was hijacked by the elite faction that installed Cory Aquino as its leader.

Take note that I put Revolution in quotes to denote that it was not a fully fledged revolution. It was just a regime change; it was not a revolution in terms of social change, where the dominated classes have overthrown the dominant classes in the contest for power.

It's true that after EDSA 1, everything went downhill — which is different from saying though that “after Marcos, everything went downhill”, as claimed by the KBL candidate. Cory Aquino turned traitor to the masses and the soldiers who brought her to power. She even reversed her own campaign promises during the snap elections that kick-started the uprising.

Cory decided to favour US interests rather than the interests of the Filipino people. It was very clear during the last few months of Cory's six-year term: she campaigned vigorously for the retention of the US military bases, but lost overwhelmingly to the Senate who voted against retention, with people's mobilisations and support.

Cory turned her back to the farmers, 13 of whom were summarily executed by the police on the bridge leading to her palace. Cory started the privatisation of Marcos-controlled corporations and gave it back to the old oligarchic elite, instead of using it for the interests of the people.

These reversals marked the real colour and character of the Aquino government. It was yellow in its cowardice to stand up to foreign intervention and control.

It was a mere continuation of elite rule as it maintained most of the Marcos policies that favour foreign interests while ensuring the return to economic and political power of the old oligarchy where her clan belongs. Added to the old oligarchy were the new elite of Marcos cronies who now remain in top places even after the downfall of Marcos.

We know that a big number of young people today view Ferdinand Marcos as a model president, or even a hero, that befits our accolades. But this is because the youth are reacting to the legacy that has befallen them right after the EDSA 1 uprising.

This is the generation that has not experienced martial rule, but has experienced a series of failed and failing regimes (from Cory, the mother, now to PNoy, the son). The youth of this generation does not even experience what regular jobs are.

This is a generation that has been immersed to widespread corruption in government, the LRT/MRT [urban transit] mess, the traffic congestion, the criminalities and violence in the streets, and the uncaring attitude of the bureaucracy to their woes and privations. Where can we find EDSA 1 in all these?

We cannot blame the youth for losing faith in the post-EDSA regimes that have brought them nothing. On the other hand, we need to confront them for thinking that what is needed is just another Marcos (this time Bongbong) to uplift their situation.

The lesson is clear: The EDSA spirit is not founded on individual heroes, especially if they come from the powerful clans and interests. EDSA is founded on the masses taking action, and taking power.

This is the only way to celebrate EDSA — to continue its fighting spirit, and raising it to another level of struggle — the fight against the entire elite forces, the trapos [the caste of traditional politicians] and the oligarchy who have made a mockery of what we fought for in 1986 and who now block us in our every effort to change society for the better.

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