Philippines: The Unfinished EDSA Revolution Revisited


Mike Poole

A powerful self-image of the Filipino has been nurtured through the last century of oppression, corruption, and injustice. From the revolution against Spain and the war against America, to the brutal reign of Ferdinand Marcos and the cynical manipulations of Joseph Estrada, one figure has stood proud – the ordinary Filipino in revolt against circumstance. Now, on Epifanio De Los Santos Avenue (ESDA), the scene of the popular uprising that toppled Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, that figure has been reborn.

Revolutions are never about demolishing the old and inventing the new, they gain more from reinventing the old in new forms. When rogue elements in the Philippine Senate recently blocked crucial evidence in Joseph Estrada’s impeachment trial, old rallying cries found a new voice. An explosion of cell phone text messages ripped through Manila calling for a mass mobilisation on EDSA. Shadows of the past hovered behind every word.

As the crowds on EDSA ebbed and flowed, a group of politicians, former presidents, advisors, and businessmen negotiated with the military. They were asking for a commitment to the 1987 constitution, which insists that the military defend the people and not the president. When General Angelo Reyes announced the defection, he chose to do so on EDSA. The restless crowd held no real authority, but the political moment insisted that they be seen to be heard.

Here was a true theatre of revolution, a parliament of the streets. As the insistent Filipinos held centre stage, frenetic activity in the wings brought about real change. The Supreme Court hastily declared the presidency vacant in accordance with the doctrine that ‘the welfare of the people is the supreme law’. Estrada – the corrupt outsider – had been vanquished, and Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could revive theEDSA dynasty. Backing her were Fidel Ramos and Cory Aquino, veterans of the last uprising and presidents since. Macapagal-Arroyo might have been the daughter of a former president, but her real pedigree lay in the political will born of the first EDSA revolt.

In her inauguration speech, Macapagal-Arroyo grappled with the vital imagery of Filipino life. She spoke of Andres Bonifacio and the ideals tragically diminished by his death in 1897. She evoked Jose Rizal and Ninoy Aquino – martyrs both. She said that all Filipinos were stones in the national edifice. She might have uttered the now popular refrain ‘mabuhay ang Filipino’ – ‘long live the Filipino’ – but she could not. Those words might one day spell the end of the dynasty of EDSA-supported leaders, and Macapagal-Arroyo knows that the revolution is not over yet.

WATCHPOINT: The image of the ordinary Filipino in revolt against circumstance has, for the moment, reached critical mass. Watch for more unrest should Estrada not quickly be found guilty of economic plunder.


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