Never forget EDSA & People Power

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

Three days from now, we will be commemorating the 38th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution. There are again attempts to downgrade the significance of this extremely significant event in the history of the Filipino people.

I think it is important that we recall the role that the EDSA movement played in our struggle for democracy.

The classic definition of People Power is “political pressure exercised through the demonstration of popular opinion” which ultimately forces government into complete surrender. People power has also traditionally been used to force those who sit in power to accept political social change through nonviolent means. In the United States, for example, the civil rights movement was based on civil disobedience and mass action. It led to the granting of equal rights to the African American population.

In India, this movement was led by Mahatma Gandhi and led to the independence of India and Pakistan from the imperial rule of the British Empire. The Philippine People Power movement was a surprise to the rest of the world because it was extremely rare for a dictatorship to be toppled by nonviolent means.

While the culmination of the EDSA revolution was the massing of millions of Filipinos for four days in EDSA, this movement’s beginnings can actually be traced many years back. The journey to EDSA went through many different debates and disagreements on tactics and goals. There were also many persons who suffered imprisonment, torture and even sacrificed their lives until the final victory was achieved.

There were two debates in particular where the leadership of Ninoy and Cory Aquino played pivotal roles in charting the course that the Filipino people ultimately followed. The first debate was on whether the Marcos martial law rule could be toppled by nonviolent means. The communists had always advocated armed revolution as the only means.

At the beginning of the martial law dictatorship, the non-communist opposition groups and the middle forces resisted any calls for an alliance with the communists. But as the years of martial law rule went on, there grew a belief that perhaps Marcos could be overthrown only through force.

It was Ninoy Aquino in particular who insisted that non-violence was the right path.

While in exile, Ninoy said that in the history of the Filipino people, never have they suffered from greater political and economic wants. However, in a statement to a subcommittee on Asian and Pacific affairs of the US House of Representatives, he gave the following statement:

“I have concluded that revolution and violence exact the highest price in terms of human value and human lives in the struggle for freedom. In the end, there are really no victors, only victims. I have decided to pursue my freedom struggle through the path of non-violence, fully cognizant that this may be the longer and more arduous road. We are already the worst economic performer in Southeast Asia. Revolution would take us back 30 or even 40 years and may well end up the basket case in the region.”

The other major debate was on whether the opposition groups should participate or boycott the elections that Marcos allowed to be held during his rule. Again, the communists never agreed to participate in any election during the entire tenure of the Marcos dictatorship.

Even within the pro-democracy forces that sought to restore democracy through non-violent means, there were respected voices arguing on both sides of the issue of boycott versus participation. It was the call of Ninoy Aquino that convinced opposition groups to participate in the 1978 Batasang Pambansa elections. Although they suffered major defeat, this participation led to the noise barrage and served as a training ground for those activists who would later continue to wage against tremendous odds in the electoral struggle.

After Ninoy’s martyrdom, it was Cory Aquino that swayed the majority of the Filipino people to participate in the snap elections of 1986 despite the seemingly impossible odds. Those who participated in both those elections had to suffer being victims of the use of force by the government.

In addition, there were massive frauds and the blatant use of government funds and resources.

The EDSA People Power Movement was not just civil disobedience. It was a revolution – a movement for radical change. It achieved its primary goal, which was the restoration of the democratic system to this country.

Now we even hear some people questioning whether democracy really works. There are those who say they prefer the country to be run by professionals rather than by elected officials. I ask these people: who will choose the professionals who will run this country? How will they ensure that these professionals will not run the country with the goal of protecting and enhancing their vested interests?

Democracy will work. It just requires collective will and leaders who believe in democratic ideals and the support of the very same groups that toppled the Marcos dictatorship and made the EDSA People Power Revolution a reality.

Time always has a tendency to make us forget horrible moments in history. This is why we must never forget and constantly reinforce the legacy of EDSA. We must keep reminding ourselves that we are a people who have shown that we have the will to fight for freedom and democracy at all costs.

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