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People Power 1986—News from the Heroic Age

In Christian Democracy, Church, Democracy, History, Law, News, Opinion, Philippine politics, Philippines, Pinoy, Politics, Society, Values on February 17, 2008 at 17:33

Today in 1986, the Inquirer reported Cory Aquino’s 7-step strategy to bring down President Marcos. Could we use the same tactics against a leader who has proven herself to be, in every way, Marcos’ equal, or perhaps even his master?

We were cleaning the old house when we found a collection of yellowed newspapers from the Heroic Age of the Philippine reformist movement (that strange alliance of old gentry, big business, urban middle classes, and the Church that sought, and seeks again, to bring Christian and Liberal Democracy into Philippine politics). Still thin, as they were before the advent of multi-section dailies in the 1990’s, the newspapers’ dates ranged from late 1983, around the time of the assassination of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., to late 1987, by which time Joker Arroyo and Teodoro Locsin, Jr. had left the cabinet of President Corazon “Cory” Aquino, and the reformist coalition had shown very big cracks. Leafing through them, I couldn’t help but feel a deep loss at how much of the idealistic, even revolutionary spirit of 1986 had been replaced by the pragmatic, egocentric policies of the present day.

The issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer for exactly 22 years ago, February 17, 1986, was especially interesting, since it came right between the scandalous Snap Election and the People Power uprising, and shows both the parallelism and the differences between the Heroic Age and our own. Let me give you the headlines on the front page, with some snippets of the articles and comparison with our darker time:

  • “Marcos retreats; retires Ver, sets Cabinet reshuffle” and at the upper-left of the front page, “Ramos assumes top AFP post”, though President Marcos …only said Ramos is acting chief of staff”.

Then as now, the government sends heads rolling to make protests stumble. However, and quite distressingly, the present dictatorship has come to care so little for public opinion that it has no compunction about maintaining the likes of Raul Gonzales in the DOJ.

  • In reaction to a PR ploy of the dictatorship, “Del Rosario on Castro: bare-faced lies!” Ambassador Del Rosario had resigned over the Marcos government’s “wanton subversion of the people’s will”, and Foreign Affairs Secretary Pacifico Castro had sour-graped that Del Rosario’s performance had been “dismal” anyway.

The “demolition jobs” against critics of dictatorship are nothing new. We see, however, how administration tactics have improved over the past 22 years from tit-for-tat attacks to the use of technically legal methods to silence opponents.

  • US policy and opinion shifts: “Credibility of polls questionable—Reagan”, and “US Congress will buck aid to RP” “unless the situation changes”, announced US Senator Richard Lugar, who led the US observers of the Snap Election. He declared that the election was “fatally flawed” and that he did not accept the legitimacy of the vote count. The Washington Post called the “FM proclamation: A shameless act”; and “IMF postpones visit to RP” while awaiting clarification of the post election situation. “Cory win feted in NY” by hundreds of Filipino expatriates. A cartoon on the front page mocked the US’ seesaws by depicting President Ronald Reagan plucking petals from a flower topped with Marcos’ face, saying “I love him… I love him not…”
  • According to Communist leader “Zumal: RP to become grave of Americans if…” the US sends military advisers.

The Left, as always, was torn between its long-term advocacy of radical social change and the tactical need to support Liberal reformists against a common enemy. Today, at least, the Left is more willing to align with the forces of the Center—some of them the same forces that the Maoist segments of the NDF would consider their ideological enemies.

  • Vatican behind bishops’ stand”, coming days after the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines condemned the Snap Elections as being riddled with fraud. However, in a bid to distinguish its spiritual and temporal roles, “CBCP corrects Inquirer” and denies that it’s applying strictly ecclesiastical sanctions against the Marcoses.

Then as now, an activist stance on the part of the Church was and is vitally necessary for the reformists to overcome political inertia, since the Church acts as the institutional interpreter of Liberal Democracy of the urban middle class. However, the noisome Cardinal Sin was alive and kicking back in 1986, and in charge of the vast mega-archdiocese of Manila; and the Church and the urban middle class were both stronger politically than today, as we explained in an earlier post. It is still possible for the Church-Liberal alliance to work wonders today, but it will require deeper and broader social mobilization of classes swimming in today’s consumer-driven economy.

  • Hardest-fought battle in my life—Marcos”, who praised the Members of the Batasang Pambansa for their “almost desperate allegiance and loyalty to the Constitution in the performance of their duties under the law as the final arbiter and the proclaimer of the leadership of the country.”

Then as now, the Lower House is happy to act as the chief rubber stamp of the Dictator/Dictatrix, as witness the recent overthrow of Jose de Venecia Jr. as Speaker and the consistent defeat of all impeachment complaints against the President, a pattern also followed in the Marcos-era National Assembly. As we explained in an older post, this stems from the legislators’ dependence on patronage and the Executive’s control of government budgets, from which the Members of the Gatasang Pambansa get their patrimonium patroni–and it hasn’t changed, save perhaps that Congressmen are increasingly more expensive.

Note too how leaders often use or threaten to use the letter of the law, which they so deftly manipulate to their advantage, against the advocates of natural justice, prosecuting them as lawbreakers and as “destabilizers” of social and economic efficiency. The fact must be faced: the positive law always favors the status quo, especially when it’s most corrupt and therefore most capable of subverting legal processes; and protest founded on natural justice always runs counter to pragmatic and materialistic policies based on accommodation to the existing system. However, to use the language of Augustine, “an unjust law is not a law”–sometimes we have to choose between law and justice, efficiency and reform, stability and humanity.

  • Despite the CBCP’s temporal-spiritual delineation, then Comelec chairman Victorino Savellano declares, “No mass… in the meantime”, in protest against the bishops’ condemnation of the 1986 Election.

What is it with the Comelec (komisyon on elections) and its leaders, we ask? We should have learned from 1986, I think, that the structural checks to Presidential power like Congressional impeachment and Comelec supervision don’t work unless they’re backed by institutional tradition as with the Senate and the Supreme Court, or by ideological focus in the case of the Church and the Communist Party. Without a tradition or ideology of independence, officials’ conduct lapses into a pure pragmatism founded on financial interest, which makes the Comelec and the Congress pliable to Executive manipulation.

  • Most interestingly of all, “Cory: Seven steps to bring down Marcos”. Corazon Aquino’s seven-step strategy, which the Inquirer unfortunately didn’t report in full, included the boycott of companies owned by Marcos cronies, non-payment of utility bills, work stoppages, and student walkouts to join a “day of prayer”.

Back in the 1920’s Germany, a Socialist-backed general strike had saved Weimar democracy; and in 1980’s Poland, a Catholic-inspired mass movement had paralyzed the Communist government. Mass action on ideological (in the 1986 EDSA’s case, Catholic-Liberal) lines can help initiate change, but it requires the gradual mobilization of the people towards the critical point of a crisis. Sadly, much of the urban middle class today is too apathetic and materialistic to do more than sympathize with such a call, but with a precedent as distinguished as EDSA 1986, hope can never be entirely absent.

  • In tribute to grassroots heroism, “Inquirer launches fund drive: Support the ‘Marvelous 30‘”, referring to the 30 computer programmers who, in a dramatic and awe-inspiring gesture, stood up and walked out of the Comelec quick count through which Marcos manipulated the election results. “The fund will go to support the now-unemployed group and to help in their defense in case they are prosecuted for what is generally applauded as a noble act.”

In 1986, it was the willingness of the Marvelous 30 to risk life and livelihood that decisively turned the widespread allegations of election fraud into established fact. This makes us ask: Where are the heroes today who will oppose “law” with justice, might with right? They are still here, I believe, with different faces and names, the women and men who will defy a dictatorship in the name of truth. Ed Panlilio, beleaguered by cash-armed opponents using the oh-so-honest Comelec to get their hands on Pampanga’s cookie jar; the Hyatt 10, the Kapatiran leaders, and numerous others who left their government posts (in Atty. Harry Roque’s case, an ultra-plum PCSO directorship) to protest the fraud perpetrated the Arroyo Autocracy. Some, like De Venecia and Jun Lozada, are johnnies-come-lately who defected through force of circumstance; but, as the lives of Boethius and St. Alphonsus Liguori demonstrate, even those with initially imperfect motives may become heroes at the time of testing.

Unfortunately, other would-be heroes still need to remember who they are. Today, therefore, Philippine reformists need to stress not new facts but old memories, especially of a time when heroism became, if only for a moment, the heart of Filipino identity, when we proved to the world that “katotohanan, kalayaan, katarungan, ay kayang makamit nang walang dahas”. It is imperative that the awakened return to the cave and help others remember, for as noted on Postcard Headlines :

[B]y helping to overcome the general trend of apathy and the cynicism of the intellectual class in the face of the machinations and blatant disregard of the Arroyo administration for the truth and human dignity, we make not only our history but more importantly, etch a new chapter in the history of the human struggle for freedom, solidarity and social justice.

  1. […] Les sports dans l’ouest-Var wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt Today in 1986, the Inquirer reported Cory Aquino’s 7-step program to bring down President Marcos.  What if we could do the same with a leader who has proven herself to be, in every way, Marcos’ equal, perhaps his master? We were cleaning the old house when we found a collection of yellowed newspapers from the Heroic Age of the Philippine reformist movement (that strange alliance of old gentry, big business, urban middle classes, and the Church that sought, and seeks again, to bring Christian a […]

  2. […] campus concerns, Scriptorium muses on old headlines from the mid ’80s, heroism and the prospects of reform today. Also, […]

  3. […] on, Scriptorium muses on old headlines from the mid ’80s, heroism and the prospects of reform today. Also, from […]

  4. […] on, Scriptorium muses on old headlines from the mid ’80s, heroism and the prospects of reform today. Also, from […]

  5. It’s a sad commentary that we actually need “heroes” from time to time, when ordinary citizens should be heroes in their own right in a “strong republic”.

  6. […] a sampling of different bloggers’ views on what’s going on. Marvelous, indeed, is Scriptorium, who compares 1986 to 2008, and the lessons learned (or ignored) since then: What is it with the […]

  7. Amen, bro!

    We know that there are still many who a bit hesitant to join the rallies for truth and justice. But with the positive energy that we’re sending out to the Filipino nation through mass protest actions and prayer rallies, maybe they will feel the “love” and join us in walking “into the light”

    Mabuhay ang mga bayaning buhay! 🙂


  8. To all: Thanks for the comments and pingbacks; they make me wish I wrote this a bit better, or had more time to try…

    To WillyJ: I agree. A “strong republic” shouldn’t need heroes to save it, unless the “strength” masks a fatal flaw–in this case, a rampage of situation ethics that excuses greed.

    To lestercavestany: Yes, I do hope many more join the protests. We have many heroes in different fields; they only need to know that there’s another battle to fight.

  9. […] “Cory: Seven steps to bring down Marcos”. This newspaper is from 17 February 1986. This blog post details the other articles on the Inquirer from that […]

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