Never “Move On” From the Lessons of EDSA

No greater episode exists in the narrative of Philippine history than the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution.

It was the greatest testament of the power of ordinary people in a state’s affairs, a demonstration that the will of the ruled is far more powerful than the authority of their rulers. After 25 years of living under an oppressive dictatorship, millions of Filipinos stormed the country’s main thoroughfare (EDSA highway) and ordered the authoritarian rule of President Ferdinand Marcos to come to its’ end. The powerful message inflicted by the EDSA Revolution merits it to be commemorated every year, with last year marking three decades since that historic day on the 25th of February 1986.

Photo from the EDSA Revolution.

How ironic is it then, that in that same year the late dictator Marcos had his remains buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) thereby conferring him with honors reserved for national heroes? To elevate him to such prestige during an important landmark celebrating his deposition is a travesty to all those who worked to restore freedom in the country. The move was pushed by the new administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, who confessed himself to hold ties with the family of the deceased tyrant.

Protests against the burial of Ferdinand Marcos in the Heroes’ Cemetery.

In the first People Power commemoration of his administration, President Duterte is moving away from a traditional remembrance of the victims of the dictatorship and the lessons learned from the Revolution. Instead, according to his official apologist in Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella the President has expressed his desire to “move on”. Abella revealed that Duterte prefers to “reflect on the future” and told the country to expect a “very simple and very quiet” 31st People Power Anniversary.

The arrogance in telling people to “move on” is that it is not the Duterte administration’s call to make. The Martial Law period, spanning from 1972-1981, was an era of barbarity. It was a time when the writ of habeas corpus was suspended and saw a crackdown on government dissidents who were either arrested, tortured or summarily executed – many endured all three. During this dark period of our nation’s history, thousands went missing and have not been heard of from their families even until this day.

The Martial Law Experiential Museum features shrines devoted to the people who disappeared during the dictatorship.

It was also a time of widespread plunder. Cccording to official estimates Ferdinand Marcos is said to have amassed US$5-10 billion in ill-gotten wealth during his tenure as president. Huge sums of public funds that could have been used to spur development was unaccounted for, while at the same time the national debt soared from US$2.3 billion in 1970 to US$26.2 billion in 1985. In fact, the Filipino dictator came second – only next to the late Indonesian leader Suharto – on Amnesty International’s 2004 list of the world’s most corrupt leaders in history.

If anyone had the right to decide to “move on”, it would be the families of the more than 1,000 desaparecidos – activists who disappeared during the Martial Law period – still missing. It should be the call of  the more than 75,000 Martial Law victims still awaiting compensation for the crimes they endured under the Marcos dictatorship. The collective voice of the entire country still suffering from the economic devastation brought by Marcos’ pillaging should also be sought.

President Duterte with Governor Imee Marcos of Ilocos Norte, the daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand.

Yet the biggest reason not to “move on” from the experience of Martial Law and the lessons of the People Power Revolution is that current times bear an eerie resemblance to the Dictatorship. President Duterte’s reign has given rise to a bloody crackdown on the illegal drugs trade which has seen thousands perish from police operations, without any trial disproving their innocence. Not only were the victims denied due process, the government has remained unapologetic about their deaths as well.

We have also witnessed the current administration’s penchant for heightened militarization, first in using brute force for their “war on drugs” and again to declare an all-out war against communist insurgents. These are the same communists President Duterte vowed to enact a peace agreement with, if elected. This aggression is reminiscent of Marcos’ harsh repression of the communist rebellion that broke out during his presidency.

One of the many victims of the war on drugs. Photo courtesy of the owner.

Similar to the Marcos regime, cronyism is rife in the Duterte government. Many of his appointees comprise of individuals who donated to his campaign, long-time political allies and former law school classmates.

There is also the aggressive methods the current administration employs to target the political opposition: Senator Leila de Lima, an outspoken critic of the administration, has recently been served an arrest warrant for a charge that has not been substantiated by much credible testimony.

These are all reminiscent of the Marcos era.

While the rule of President Duterte has not reached the level of a full-blown dictatorship, there certainly is ample reason to fear that it might be headed in that direction. In case we do return to a state of tyranny, the Filipino people must recall the lessons of the 1986 People Power Revolution and be prepared to bring it down.

It is often said that the people are the greatest bulwark against a despotic government, on the 25th of February 1986 this was exemplified by the Filipino people. On that day we reminded a dictator who the real bosses were in this country, and the world took notice. It was a Revolution that should make all of us proud as Filipinos.

For this, we should never forget the lessons the Revolution taught us. We should never “move on” from them.

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