Protests mark EDSA revolt anniversary

Issue 

By Reihana Mohideen MANILA — The 10th anniversary of the EDSA rebellion, which brought down the US-backed dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986, was marked by protests in Metro Manila on February 23. The protests were spearheaded by the socialist labour centre BMP and the broad multi-sectoral alliance Sanlakas. Around 10,000 people gathered in the business district of Makati. As the protesters marched down Ayala Avenue, they were greeted by office workers throwing confetti from tall buildings which line the street. The confetti parade became a symbol for the people's protests during the EDSA rebellion, when middle-class forces decided to throw their support behind the mass movement against the dictatorship. The protesters rallied at the statue of Ninoy Aquino, the assassinated husband of former President Cory Aquino. The statue was draped in banners of the BMP and Sanlakas demanding an end to oil price increases, the consumption tax and the "anti-terrorism" bill. The "anti-terrorism" bill has been filed by Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, former secretary of defence under the Marcos dictatorship. Enrile is known to have a close association with Gregorio ("Gringo") Honasan, who is well known for having led successive coup attempts against Cory Aquino. Honasan, now a senator, is one of the few supporters of Enrile's bill. Under the bill, which defines terrorist acts in extremely general terms, public protests like rallies and democratic rights groups can be interpreted as either terrorism or conspiracy to commit terrorism. The bill also allows wire tapping and arrest without warrant. A worker at the rally explained to Green Left Weekly, "Although it is not the formal declaration of martial law, the essence of it is anti-worker". The bill's alarming similarities to the proclamation of martial law in 1991-92 have catapulted broad sections of society into action. Churches, NGOs, political organisations, schools and campuses are all involved. Hardly a day goes by without some form of protest against the bill, despite President Fidel Ramos' repeated comments that there will be no reintroduction of martial law. The generation of activists who struggled against martial law in the '70s and '80s are once again on the streets leading the actions. However, the right wing is also pushing its agenda. There have been several bombings in Metro Manila in the last month. The most recent target was the City Bank building in Makati, where a grenade was thrown at the building in broad daylight. The general consensus among progressives is that it was another attempt to create an atmosphere of fear and terror — very conducive to the passage of the "anti-terrorism" bill. While Ramos has not formally supported Enrile's bill, there is a cabinet "anti-terrorism" proposal waiting in the wings. According to political commentators, this is even more severe than Enrile's bill. It apparently deems strikes that harm "national interests" terrorist acts. There has been a concerted attempt by the Ramos administration to undermine the democratic gains achieved by the EDSA rebellion, such as some of the provisions in the constitution. This goes hand in hand with the government's "Philippines 2000" economic agenda, which aims to implement the IMF and World Bank-driven structural adjustment plans in the Philippines. The refrain from neo-liberal proponents (such as Singaporean former president Lee Kuan Yew, who has been giving advice to Ramos) is that excessive democracy is harming the country. The heart of the protest on February 23 was factory workers. Half-day stoppages followed by rallies took place in all the main working-class centres in Metro Manila. In the industrial centre of Bikutan, 5000 factory workers downed tools and joined the protests. In Monumento, around 1000 workers protested. The workers' protests also demanded a 100 peso across-the-board daily wage rise. A perceptive political commentator writing for one of the major daily newspapers remarked that the red flags are once again out in a show of strength. Where are the yellow flags (the Cory Aquino colours), he asked? There are clear signs of the revival of the mass workers' movement in the Philippines.