1986 people power: Philippines’s gift to the world

Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Thirty years ago today, Filipinos achieved the impossible and brought down a dictatorship.

The 1986 people power revolution inspired pro-democracy uprisings in other parts of the world and must not be forgotten by Filipinos, Malacañang said yesterday.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said Filipinos should “celebrate and rekindle the spirit of EDSA as it represents a high water mark in our history” with the triumph of democracy.

The peaceful revolt ended the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and propelled Corazon Aquino to power.

“Demonstrating the primacy of people power is the Filipinos’ gift to the world: we paved the way for the peaceful dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the return of democracy in South Korea and Romania,” Coloma said at the launch of the People Power Experiential Museum at Camp Aguinaldo.

The Berlin Wall divided Germany from 1961 to 1989. A reunified Germany is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The German government has given the Philippines a section of the wall.

Based on reports, huge rallies challenged South Korea’s strongman Chun Doo-hwa a year after EDSA, which eventually led to democratic reforms, among them the direct election of president.

The overthrow of the communist regime in Romania and other parts of the world also occurred a few years after EDSA.

Coloma said the executive branch would continue to work closely with the judiciary to ensure that all those who suffered during the Marcos regime get justice.

“The Human Rights Claims Board is processing more than 76,000 claims from individuals and surviving families of those who were killed, tortured or who disappeared during martial law,” he said.

Funding for claims would be drawn from ill-gotten wealth recovered from the Marcoses and their cronies by the Presidential Commission on Good Government.

“The Philippines is probably the only country that has set up this institutionalized recovery and compensation processes through official government bodies,” Coloma said.

Human rights victims during martial law assail the slow justice, the reemergence of oligarchs and traditional politicians, as well as the return of the Marcoses to power 30 years after the relatively peaceful military-backed people’s uprising.

Reflect on EDSA

 As the country prepares to elect its new leaders, voters should ponder the lessons of EDSA so they can be more discerning in their choice, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said.

He recalled that during the EDSA revolution, Filipinos were ready to lay down their lives to “end over two decades of a dictatorship where freedoms of expression and of the press were controlled, and the justice system was barely allowed to function.”

“Significantly, this celebration comes during an election year – a genuine exercise under a democracy that was made possible because of EDSA,” Belmonte said in a statement.

“In May, we choose new leaders. It should also be an occasion where voters should carefully assess choices based on history and our world-recognized achievement that was EDSA,” he said.

“We are each called upon to do our role in choosing government leaders whom we can trust to continue to uphold the gains of EDSA and not set aside the very reason why we live in a democracy today,” he added.

The Speaker said the country has taken great strides since February 1986 when Filipinos overcame fear and fought peacefully for genuine freedom.

He said a legacy of the revolution is the continued quest for good governance as well as for a just and lasting peace.

“Let us enjoy the fruits of our democracy and by all means, speak our minds in all fora where freedom of expression reigns,” he said.

“This is our government and it is our responsibility to sustain what EDSA has won back for us,” Belmonte said.

Noy’s tales

In Talavera, Nueva Ecija, President Aquino recalled how martial law had turned his family’s world upside down – especially with the arrest and detention of his father and namesake, then a senator – at Fort Magsaysay here along with fellow senator Jose “Pepe” Diokno.

He said his father and Diokno were blindfolded and handcuffed when flown by helicopter from Fort Bonifacio to Fort Magsaysay after martial law was declared.

“Whatever I am today, I was molded by everything that we have been through in our lives. And one of the most significant stories or chapters of our lives, of my life, is the declaration of martial law in our motherland, which happened in 1972,” Aquino said.

He noted that though that there had been squandered opportunities after EDSA, including what he called the lost decade under the Arroyo administration, there were still a lot of reasons to honor the first EDSA revolution.

“My father wrote an article published in the Bangkok Post that was critical of martial law imposed during the time of Mr. Marcos. Because of this article, the forces of the dictatorship were enraged,” he said.

“He was secretly arrested in Fort Bonifacio, along with the late senator Jose ‘Pepe’ Diokno,” he added.

“We did not know if our father was dead or alive. There are those even taking advantage and providing false information as to my father’s whereabouts at the time,” the President recalled.

He said a military officer on an Army truck arrived one day at their family’s home on Times street in Quezon City  to return the senator’s personal belongings, including a toothbrush.

“My mother asked, ‘Why were all his stuff being brought back, including the toothbrush?’ And the simple answer from those who returned the things was that there was no need for them. Think about it, put yourself in my situation, you’re 13 years old, the toothbrush was being returned. When do you not need a toothbrush? That gave us much anxiety,” the President said.

He said they sought help from the Supreme Court which allowed him, his mother and his siblings to visit the senator.

“From the headquarters of the Philippine Army in Fort Bonifacio, we were brought to a faraway place, we do not know for sure where, and in this place, it was dark, there was a camp, surrounded by barb wire and bamboo splits. At the time I felt we were brought to a concentration camp,” the President said.

He said he was relieved to see his father but was shocked to realize he had lost so much weight.

“What was left to him before he faced us was his underwear, two pieces of T-shirt, two pieces of briefs. It was very important for my father to wear eyeglasses because he was nearsighted. Whenever he removed that, he would easily get dizzy. If you take the watch, you remove the so-called sense of time,” he said.

“My father told us that he had been praying for so long to see us his family even just once. He prayed to the Virgin Mary and that was his request,” Aquino said.

The President said his story and that of his family were just part of the millions of stories told by  Filipinos who experienced injustice at the time.

Aquino said he was doing his best to make sure people are always empowered.

“Here in Talavera, if I’m not mistaken in 2010, we were campaigning, it was here when an elderly woman told me, ‘You will be clashing with the heavyweights, you be careful.’ I lived with that. I knew that what I got into was dangerous,” the President said.

“We stopped their grisly wrongdoings, they would find a way to get even. That is okay with me for as long as in the end I could say that I would leave you in a much better place than what I found. With your help, we can continue the changes,” Aquino said.

About 10,000 people are expected to take part in the 30th celebration of the EDSA People Power today on EDSA in Ortigas in Quezon City.

President Aquino is expected to lead the celebration with other ranking government officials, diplomats, dignitaries and civil society groups at the People Power Monument. The event is expected to last until 1 p.m. tomorrow.

National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Director Joel Pagdilao created a task force composed of the five police districts in Metro Manila to ensure peaceful and orderly celebration of the EDSA people power, said NCRPO spokesperson Chief Insp. Kimberly Molitas.?She reminded the public of the closure of some portions of EDSA’s northbound lane, especially at the corner of Shaw Boulevard and White Plains, until 1 p.m. today.

“We have our troops on the ground ready for any eventuality,” she said, adding Metro Manila is on full alert.

“We are all on duty on Feb. 25. All leaves of NCRPO personnel are cancelled, meaning we are all on duty.” – With Paolo Romero, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Romina Cabrera

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