Twenty years after the people’s uprising that booted out the fascist dictator Marcos, there is still a state of confusion on what People Power 1 was all about. How did it happen? In hindsight, can it be judged a failure or success?
A little more than five years ago, a second people power event ousted President Joseph “Erap” Estrada and led to the installation of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) as President. Would it still be possible or even desirable that people power happen once more as a means of forcing the unpopular Mrs. Arroyo to step down from office?
Reactionaries of all stripes, including Mrs. Arroyo herself, have pooh-poohed people power as passé, a recipe for conflict and anarchy that people are purportedly tired of.
They aver that it should be transformed and confined to a “spirit” animating government undertakings with the private sector e.g. low-cost housing for the poor such as Gawad Kalinga or massive disaster relief and rescue efforts like the one in the landslide-stricken area of Guinsaugon, Southern Leyte.
We can easily dismiss the most recent GMA line that people power must “mature” into one that works to improve the system rather than destroy it, as nothing but the self-serving rant of a discredited leader who is deathly afraid of suffering the same fate as Messrs. Marcos and Estrada or worse.
Yet there are sincere and honest views that People Power 1 was a failure for not bringing about the kind of economic progress and social transformation that many people had expected it would.
In the aftermath of People Power 2, the Arroyo presidency turned out to be a greater scourge on the Filipino nation, being even more blatantly corrupt, unabashedly subservient to foreign interests, and ruthlessly repressive than any of its predecessors.
This, and its widely perceived illegitimacy as a result of fraudulent elections, has further eroded whatever remaining belief or hope that this extra-constitutional mode of changing governments would amount to something worth the effort.
Cynicism is thus widespread and mirrored in the fact that a massive, spontaneous outpouring of protest against the Arroyo regime has yet to materialize despite a highly volatile political atmosphere triggered by the “Hello Garci” wiretap controversy.
At the same time, many sectors of society, including the more wary middle forces, are excited with the possibility that a coup d’etat by anti-GMA military groups may do the trick and save us all the trouble of mounting another “people power” exercise.
Thus there is an urgent need to debunk some of the main views and misconceptions about People Power 1 if we are to learn the lessons of history that will be useful to the critical situation we find ourselves in once more.
One is the view that People Power 1 is a failure because it was not followed through with a “revolution of the heart”, said to be the linchpin for carrying out the needed reforms in government and in society at large.
In truth, what People Power 1 achieved is the overthrow of a most brutal, thieving and treasonous dictatorship propped up for thirteen long years by its US patrons.
That was no mean feat by any measure. Yet it was not the social revolution that could uproot the basic problems of neocolonial domination, land monopoly by a feudal elite, a corrupt-ridden system of bureaucrat capitalism and the legacy of fascism and militarism.
In no time, the momentum of the anti-dictatorship struggle with its emphasis on removing the vestiges of authoritarianism and upholding civil liberties and human rights sputtered. The signs of continuing and aggravated socio-economic and political crises became unmistakable.
For indeed, what had happened was a mere changing of the guards. Consequently, the Aquino government, representing the same entrenched elite interests, could not be expected and did not launch any wide-ranging socio-economic reform program that would go against those very same vested interests in favor of the greater majority of the people.
Having said that, it would be a mistake to expect of any People Power exercise much more than the actual situation allows considering most of all the balance of strength among the various forces in the political arena: conservative to reactionary, progressive to revolutionary and the forces in between.
It would be wrong and pointless to judge People Power 1 by inappropriate parameters and unrealistic expectations.
Another persistent misconception is that People Power 1 was a non-violent “revolution from the center” and that the Left was marginalized with no significant participation in the four-day uprising.
Progressive historians have still to write a definitive account of People Power 1 from the point of view of the nationalist and democratic people’s organizations that were in the forefront and thick of the fight against the Marcos dictatorship.
Nevertheless, while true that the Left was handicapped by its erroneous boycott of the snap elections (Bayan held the view that the Marcos-controlled elections would only be legitimized by the participation of anti-Marcos forces), in no time the progressive forces were again part of the mainstream of the people’s struggles. As a matter of fact, they constituted a significant number of the organized forces mobilized for the post-snap election protests up to and including the People Power uprising.
We wager that the most hard-line anti-Left reactionaries, including meddling US officials, worried about the growing role of the Left in the countdown to Marcos’s overthrow and moved to counter it.
It is important to recognize that People Power 1 was the culmination of a long and arduous struggle to which hundreds of nameless Filipinos lay down their lives and tens of thousands more sacrificed their youth, fortunes and future. Here is where the Left had played an incontrovertible and outstanding part.
Attempts to airbrush the Left from People Power 1 and eventually from the entirety of the anti-dictatorship fight was deliberately done by the new Mandarins to deny the Left’s major contributions and to undermine its potential influence in the post-Marcos era.
Among the current array of forces of the broad front against the US backed-Arroyo regime, some of the counter-productive sectarianism of old persists: the Left is again stigmatized and attempts are made to exclude it from major decision-making processes and further, from a post-Arroyo transitional arrangement.
History has proven that the most determined, courageous and principled fighters for nationalism, democracy, human rights and social justice have come from the ranks of the progressive movement, traditionally called the Left.
Those who would bring about genuine change in our society and again make history must first learn its key lessons.
24-25 February 2006