Philippines’ long road to democracy
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile was guest of honor at the wreath-laying by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the Libingan ng mga Bayani [Heroes’ Cemetery], the traditional ritual that opened this year’s observance of the 23rd anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution.
If I am not mistaken, Monday was the first time that the official who led the breakaway from the Ferdinand Marcos regime showed up at such an occasion. One reason may be that he has been at odds with former President Cory Aquino since November 1986, when his resignation as defense minister was accepted by the latter, and over the years, while Ms Aquino was prominent in these celebrations even when she was no longer in office, Enrile wouldn’t come to the EDSA People Power celebrations. He and the leaders of the Reform the Armed Forces of the Philippines Movement (RAM), with whom he has nurtured close ties over the years, marked their own observance at Libingan at the gravesite of the late RAM leader Col. Tirso Gador.
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Thus his candid remarks at last Sunday’s opening celebrations aroused curiosity for a number of reasons. It established, for one, his current ties with the President, who happens to have been at odds with Aquino since July 8, 2005 when she led calls for Ms Arroyo to step down. When Senate President Manuel Villar was ousted by a new majority and Enrile was installed in his place, rumors swept the chamber that that was with the full blessing of Ms Arroyo. Then came the appointment of Enrile’s wife, Cristina, as ambassador to the Holy See, and now last Sunday’s Libingan event and speech.
This is, I suppose, yet another illustration of how politics works in this country. As the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But I can’t help but wonder if we will ever, at another EDSA People Power anniversary celebration, see our top leaders gather together, regardless of political differences. Something like the recent picture we saw in the US after the victory of Barack Obama that showed him smiling together with the four ex-presidents, regardless of how the three Democrats attacked George W. Bush over the past years and during the campaign. After all, unity is being generously bandied around during these four days.
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Enrile confessed to being miffed at the way some of the soldiers who were with him at the EDSA People Power uprising were treated shabbily over the years, despite their sacrifices, heroism and ideals. I think it’s a matter of communication. There is no doubt that while most people appreciate the RAM’s role, they also clearly see it as a catalyst of events.
A lot of us believe that the foundation for the 1986 events was laid as far back as the 1972 First Quarter Storm, in the struggle by the Left, the fight of prominent human rights lawyers such as Joker Arroyo and Rene Saguisag against the regime through the martial law years, the assassination of Ninoy Aquino and Evelio Javier, the walkout of the computer workers, the stand of the bishops against Marcos, the boycott of crony products and many other events. In our long journey to democracy, it was Ninoy’s brutal death that broke the dam of the people’s outrage that had been building up against the Marcos regime, priming them for the ultimate sacrifice when they came out at the EDSA highway to protect Enrile and Fidel Ramos. The military mutiny merely hastened Marcos’ downfall.
It should also be pointed out that the disenchantment people felt later toward the RAM was also due to the fact that it rocked the Aquino administration with seven or eight coup attempts that seriously set back the country’s economic recovery.
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After the Libingan ceremony, Cecile Alvarez and I interviewed for our dzRH radio program the following members of the Edsa People Power Commission: Sr. Luz Emanuel Soriano, Anggie Barrera, Lito Lorenzana, Pastor Saycon and Tess Baltazar, as well as Presidential Adviser on global warming and climate change Heherson Alvarez, on their respective recollections of the four days at EDSA. We were able to establish several things. One is that this four-day phenomenon in February 1986 was not an overnight development, but it grew out of years of confronting the Marcos forces and defying safety. The second is that it was the combined efforts of so many groups not just here in the Philippines but around the world, such as those of the Alvarezes, Raul Manglapus, Raul Daza, Boni Gillego and young Jesuit student Fernando Peña in the US; Chit and Bert Pedrosa’s group in the UK, Tomas Concepcion and others in Italy, etc.
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I arrived at the Libingan last Sunday a bit early, so I sat for a while beside the Senate president who was having a chat with Heherson Alvarez. He revealed that the efforts of the RAM group that he encouraged were also not an overnight development and that they had been mulling the idea of going against Marcos for sometime. In fact, said Enrile, he would send senior military officers like Col. Brigido Figueroa and my husband from time to time to get a pulse of the people’s sentiment on Marcos at the grassroots, even though these officers were never part of the exclusivity-transfixed RAM. I can believe this revelation about mutiny plans afoot, as it was no secret that Enrile and Gen. Fabian Ver, Marcos’ military chief of staff, had been at odds for some time already.
Enrile also revealed that when the canvassing of snap election votes was being conducted at the Batasang Pambansa [National Legislature] and it was becoming clear that Cory Aquino was going to be cheated of victory, a politician approached him and asked what the military would do if this transpired. Meaning, would the military take over if the will of the electorate was to be thwarted? He said his reply was that in such eventuality “the military would know what to do.” No one foresaw that the sudden arrest of Trade and Industry Minister Roberto Ongpin’s security people provided by Enrile would come up at the time.