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Friday, May 14, 2021

EDSA by way of remembering

On the morning of February 25, 1986, I was with the Philippine Star columnist Art Borjal sharing notes over coffee at the Maguindanao Hotel. 

A lawyer and a former congressman, he was the principal author of Republic Act 7277, otherwise known as the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons. He also founded the Philippine Star with Betty Belmonte Go, Max Soliven and Tony Roces.

Borjal came from a family that fled the province of Abra for Manila in the post-war years to escape widespread violence attributed to warlordism and to a breakdown in peace and order.

This is the same province that produced the likes of actress Tetchie Agbayani and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin.

We were enjoying our coffee when broadcast media announced the inevitable: Marcos and family fled Malacanang on a helicopter. EDSA and the rest of the country erupted in celebration.

Suddenly C.M. Recto exploded with people dancing and shouting, “Cory”, “Cory,” “Cory.” Outside, I saw several colleagues in media, including several who were decidedly pro-Marcos, joining in the dancing.

It was on everybody’s lips: Marcos finally gave up his hold to power that he held from 1965 to 1986.

Then as if on cue, Borjal (whom I suspected was in Davao to witness the planned forming of a revolutionary government by Cory), said he had to leave for Manila.

And if I remembered right, Corazon “Cory” Aquino was in Davao City when the so-called EDSA power revolution broke out on February 22, 1986.

People close to her then said she was actually on the verge of forming a revolutionary government in Davao City when EDSA intervened.

I think this was because outside of Metro Manila, opposition to Marcos rule was at its strongest in Davao City. The leading opposition lights then in Southern Mindanao included Soledad “Nanay Soling” Duterte, Silvestre Bello III, Laurente Ilagan, Douglas Cagas, Rey Magno Teves, Ismael ‘Mike’ Sueno, Antonio Arellano, Nonoy Librado, Luis T. Santos, Gregorio Andolana, Baltazar Satur, Rogelio ‘BicBic’ Garcia, Marcos Risonar among the many. 

EDSA erupted from February 22 to 25 in 1986 when hundreds of thousands of humanity occupied its length calling on the dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos to step down. In Camp Crame, Gen. Fidel B. Ramos and Juan Ponce Enrile were having a headcount of military and constabulary officers and units who were abandoning Marcos.

The defection of Ramos and Enrile to the opposition triggered a call by then Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin to call on the citizenry to march to EDSA. In the end, even Marcos himself could not bear to order his trusted generals to fire on the protesters. In one of the TV grabs on February 25, 1985, Marcos was shown with his family, his son Bongbong in camouflage and armed, as he declared himself re-elected president.    

Yet hours later on this day 35 years ago, Marcos (who was in Davao City the previous year to campaign for the presidency) chose to take the helicopter out of Malacanang with his family. A plane finally took him to Hawaii where he lived and eventually died in exile.

That was how I remembered February 25 as it happened decades back.

In the end however, while the events of EDSA brought about the end of a dictatorship, it did nothing to end the stranglehold of Imperial Manila over the rest of the archipelago.

Then as now, Mindanao’s share of the national budget stood at an average of 15percent although it produces 45% of total agricultural production.

Poverty incidence stood at 44.2 percent during Cory’s time and while it was during this period that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program was crafted, it never took off the ground substantially.

In the end, like her son PNoy after her, she could not muster the will to hand over Luisita Hacienda to thousands of beneficiaries.

Poverty and rebellion remained constant in the landscape. It would take decades later under the Duterte administration to muster the political will to undo social injustice and to set the stage for this country’s engagement with inclusive change and growth.

So while EDSA was a landmark celebration, it is also remembered best for the failed expectations that followed and for the inability of those in power to bring about change. 

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