Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Recovering from EDSA Revolution’s Hangover

Posted by butalidnl on 24 February 2011

The EDSA revolution was won by a combination of (among other things): the military (rebels and generals), the Catholic church, and Peoples Power. And as we all know, it was successful beyond our expectations, and it was relatively bloodless. While people 25 years later wonder what went wrong with the EDSA legacy; I would say that in a sense, things didn’t “go wrong”, but that what happened in the last 25 years was a natural result of the very nature of EDSA. And that it is only now that we are really in a position to work at realizing the dreams of EDSA.

Let us take a look at the various forces behind EDSA:

The presidency of Cory Aquino was plagued by numerous coup attempts. Then came the presidency of Ramos (a former general), and then the role of General Reyes in deposing Estrada and installing Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as president.  The role of the military in Philippine politics was big under Marcos; but ironically, it probably became bigger AFTER Marcos’ fall. They were literally the kingmakers of Philippine politics, and even provided the “king” for a time – in the person of Ramos.

This political role of the military encouraged the idea especially among the lower ranks of launching coup attempts periodically. And these coup attempts, and other threats to the presidency (esp. that of Arroyo) made the support of the generals indispensable.  The military brass was so important to Pres. Arroyo, that they were given a free reign in terms of finances, they also got choice posts in government.

There was certainly corruption within the military during the rule of Marcos.  The “Reform the Armed Forces Movement” of Honasan was precisely the response of the AFP lower officers to military corruption.  But after EDSA, military corruption was more hidden, but did not diminish at all. The military also played a political role beyond national security.

It is only now, with the exposure of the Garcia case, and the implication of the entire AFP hierarchy of corruption, that we are starting to take a close look at the AFP. And this time, there is also the political will to do so. Because, for the first time since EDSA (strictly, it is the second time, Erap being the first, but Erap was overthrown), we have a president who is not beholden to the military (and PNoy is actually supported by military reformers).   And who is not averse to investigating corruption in the military.

So, now there is a chance that the military will be “returned to barracks”, and go back to their role of simply supporting the civilian authorities.

Cardinal Sin famously called upon the people to gather at EDSA on those fateful days of 1986, in order to protect Honasan and the other military rebels. This increased the political clout of the Catholic Church, which had already grown quite significantly  under Marcos.  After EDSA, the church would, from time to time, threaten to call another people power revolt. And as politics would have it, threats are very powerful things.

The Catholic Church’s opposition to mining is a illustration of how powerful it has become. In the face of the government’s drive to promote mining investments, the church has successfully undermined this drive. Local priests have proven quite creative in opposing local mining companies;  and since they have the support of the hierarchy, they are doubly effective.

Now, we see that the church is plagued by various sex scandals. And we will see that the CBCP stance against the RH bill, though formidable at first glance, will end with the church’s moral authority severely eroded.

Ironically, this could turn out to be a good thing. The church has been a tremendous influence in the Philippine value system. And this has some very negative aspects (see Catholicism Impedes Philippine Development ) Thus, it will be a good idea to review the role of the Church in Philippine society, AFTER it loses the RH debate.

People Power
Business groups and the church, in the light of EDSA’s  easy victory, had been quite “trigger happy” in calling for People Power revolts. They called for “EDSA 2” which succeeded in deposing Estrada (with General Reyes’ help, of course). And then “EDSA 3” came, in an attempt by pro-Estrada forces to depose Arroyo, and reinstall Estrada. “EDSA 3” was a flop. And this was the end of the People Power revolts. People have grown tired of People Power mobilizations after this.

I think that “People Power” should have been used only once – against Marcos. And that both “EDSA 2” and “EDSA 3” were wrong. This is because these revolts are, in effect, (improper) shortcuts in democracy. They aimed to overthrow, with a few thousand people in Metro Manila, presidents who have been democratically chosen by the whole nation.  Notwithstanding all the shortcomings of the Estrada presidency, it didn’t really deserve to be overthrown – at least, not at that point, nor in that way. Another problem with People Power revolts is that they erode the stability of the country’s political institutions. Why should people bother with them, if there is a short cut with People Power.

So, now, the institution of People Power is thoroughly spent. We can concentrate on working within the established political institutions.

Today,  we find ourselves in a better position to pursue our “EDSA dreams” – end corruption, economic progress, etc.  The forces that helped win EDSA have turned out to have their “dark side”, and they have hindered our efforts these last 25 years, to build a truly prosperous nation. With their strength dissipated, we could now work on building a working democracy, and a prosperous country.

After 25 years, we are now recovering from the EDSA Revolution’s hangover.


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