The other side of EDSA

CITIZEN Y - Yoly Villanueva-Ong -

Every February 25, on the anniversary of EDSA1, yellow fervor never fails to get Filipinos misty-eyed. We relive that one magical moment when we proved to a world-in-awe, that a phalanx of tanks and guns is powerless against a united and resolute citizenry. Wherever People Power ignites, whether in Thailand, Egypt or Tunisia, we beam with pride, recognizing that this was our legacy.

Twenty-five anniversaries later, there’s a lump in our throat. After momentous triumph, creeps a twinge of regret like love lost. Did we squander the promise of People Power? Are we better off after staking life-and-limb to fight corruption and oppression? Will the Filipinos ever stand-tall; arms linked together, dreaming one dream?

After ending 20 years of the Marcos dictatorship, why are they back in power? If you tour the historical sites in the North, the guide gushes about the Ilocano son as the “greatest President that ever lived”. Anyone who challenges the adoration, receives a sweet smile as if saying, “Sorry but we have to say this BS!” Filipinos should be quick to forgive but long to forget. We must never allow history to be rewritten the way it is in Marcos country.

The junior Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos is now a Senator, flirting with brazen ambition, salivating for the 2016 Presidency. With alacrity he proclaimed, “If there was no EDSA1, if my father was allowed to pursue his plans, I believe that we would be like Singapore now”.

Let Lee Kuan Yew’s statements about Marcos from his autobiography “From Third World to First” disabuse Bongbong’s delusions.

“ It was not until January 1974 that I visited President Marcos in Manila… Marcos received me in great style... I was put up at the guest wing of Malacañang Palace in lavishly furnished rooms, valuable objects of art bought in Europe strewn all over. Our hosts were gracious, extravagant in hospitality, flamboyant.

In Bali in 1976, at the first ASEAN summit held after the fall of Saigon, I found Marcos keen to push for greater economic cooperation in ASEAN. To set the pace, Marcos and I agreed to implement a bilateral Philippines-Singapore… to promote intra-ASEAN trade…I was to discover that for him, the communiqué was the accomplishment itself; its implementation was secondary, an extra to be discussed at another conference.

He once took me on a tour of his library at Malacañang, its shelves filled with bound volumes of newspapers reporting his activities over the years since he first stood for elections. There were encyclopedia-size volumes on the history and culture of the Philippines with his name as the author. His campaign medals as an anti-Japanese guerrilla leader were displayed in glass cupboards. He was the undisputed boss of all Filipinos. Imelda had a penchant for luxury and opulence. When they visited Singapore…they came in style in two DC8’s, his and hers.

Marcos, ruling under martial law, had detained opposition leader Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino, reputed to be as charismatic and powerful a campaigner as he was. He freed Aquino and allowed him to go to the USA. As the economic situation in the Philippines deteriorated, Aquino announced his decision to return. Mrs. Marcos issued several veiled warnings. When the plane arrived at Manila Airport from Taipei in August 1983, he was shot as he descended from the aircraft...

International outrage over the killing resulted in foreign banks stopping all loans to the Philippines, which owed over US$25 billion and could not pay the interest due. This brought Marcos to the crunch. He sent his minister for trade and industry, Bobby Ongpin, to ask me for a loan of US$300-500 million to meet the interest payments. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “We will never see that money back.” Moreover, I added, everyone knew that Marcos was seriously ill and under constant medication for a wasting disease. What was needed was a strong, healthy leader, not more loans.

… In February 1984, Marcos met me in Brunei at the sultanate’s independence celebrations. He had undergone a dramatic physical change. Although less puffy than he had appeared on television, his complexion was dark as if he had been out in the sun. He was breathing hard as he spoke, his voice was soft, eyes bleary, and hair thinning… An ambulance with all the necessary equipment and a team of Filipino doctors were on standby outside his guest bungalow. Marcos spent much of the time giving me a most improbable story of how Aquino had been shot.

With medical care, Marcos dragged on. Cesar Virata met me in Singapore in January the following year… He said that Mrs. Imelda Marcos was likely to be nominated as the presidential candidate. I asked how that could be when there were other weighty candidates. Virata replied it had to do with “flow of money; she would have more money than other candidates to pay for the votes needed for nomination by the party and to win the election. He added that if she were the candidate, the opposition would put up Mrs. Cory Aquino...

The denouement came when Marcos held presidential elections which he claimed he won. Cory Aquino disputed this and launched a civil disobedience campaign...A massive show of “people power” led to a spectacular overthrow of a dictatorship. The final indignity was on 25 February 1986, when Marcos and his wife fled in USAF helicopters from Malacañang Palace and were flown to Hawaii.

…There was no reason why the Philippines should not have been one of the more successful of the ASEAN countries. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the most developed, because America had been generous in rehabilitating the country after the war. Something was missing, a gel to hold society together. The people at the top, the elite mestizos, had the same detached attitude to the native peasants as the mestizos in their haciendas in Latin America had toward their peons. They were two different societies: Those at the top lived a life of extreme luxury and comfort while the peasants scraped a living, and in the Philippines it was a hard living… They had many children because the church discouraged birth control. The result was increasing poverty.

Something had gone seriously wrong. Millions of Filipino men and women had to leave their country for jobs abroad beneath their level of education. Filipino professionals… are as good as our own. Indeed, their architects, artists, and musicians are more artistic and creative than ours… The difference lies in the culture of the Filipino people. It is a soft, forgiving culture. Only in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over 20 years, still be considered for a national burial. Insignificant amounts of the loot have been recovered, yet his wife and children were allowed to return and engage in politics.”

The difference between Strongman Lee Kuan Yew and Dictator Ferdinand Marcos is as obvious as where Singapore and Philippines stand today. But it is a mistake to blame broken promises on the leader alone, for the followers are equally culpable. Apathy that allows abuse and corruption to go on is tantamount to abetting the crime. One good man installed into power cannot save a dysfunctional country.

It can only happen if every Filipino rolls up his sleeves and works to realize a vision. That means doing a bit more than wearing yellow and waving the flag or criticizing and calling out every weakness of government. Let us harness our energy into constructive action and be relentless advocates. Help save the environment. Demand swift justice. Do not tolerate the smallest act of corruption. Best Pinas only happens with Best Pinoys! That is People Power.

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