24 February 2017
Closing Remarks at the Relevance of the 1986 EDSA People Power Today Forum, School of Economics Auditorium, UP Diliman
It has been 31 years since our people took to the streets in peaceful revolt. I still remember those days. I was a shy and impressionable probinsyana, and my time as a university student here at the School of Economics was of self-discovery and a growing awareness of the problems of our country. After all, one of UP’s many strengths is the way it exposes us to the realities of the world, of the social and political issues that shape those realities.
In those final years of the Marcos dictatorship, all was not well. Resistance against Martial Law was gaining momentum. The people had awakened to the wholesale plunder and human rights abuses of the Marcos family, and they were ready to fight back. Our economic professors here then wrote a white paper on our country’s economic troubles. It was a bold and fearless document, debunking the lies that the Marcoses had peddled on the state of our economy.
You see, for a long time, Marcos claimed that the Philippine economy was in good shape. But the white paper showed us that this was far from the truth. Inflation had spiked to double digits, and the prices of consumer goods were extremely high. Marcos borrowed huge sums domestically and overseas, but we found that the borrowings did not go to public infrastructure. Instead, that white paper showed—factually and without doubt—that the funds were funneled away into the Marcoses’ ambitions of wealth, state control, and total power. Before Martial Law, our economy was second only to Japan. After Marcos’ rule it languished and never really recovered to the level that it was before.
As we know now, the assassination of Ninoy Aquino catalyzed the People Power Revolution. Enough was enough, the Filipino people said. For three days in February 1986, thousands of ordinary citizens peacefully marched to EDSA despite the risks: military tanks stood at attention and soldiers held their ready rifles.
But they could not stop us. We wanted a government that would take care of the people, not destroy them. We wanted our freedoms restored under a democracy that was rightfuly ours. We wanted change, and we rose together to make that change possible. Those days marked the culmination of decades of struggle against the rule of one man.
Exactly 31 years since we got our freedom back, our fragile democracy has yet to get to its feet. We see a reemergence of Marcos heirs who today, still try to convince our young that the sins of the past do not matter. They seek to revise our history, using money stolen from the millions of tax payers wallets. From your parents’ savings meant for you.
Filipinos are too quick to forget, too easy to forgive—how else can a former dictator, whose reign was defined by grave abuses, be given a hero’s burial? How else to explain their family’s stubborn grip on power? How else to make sense of the desire to be ruled by another iron hand? Is it really much better to be ruledby a tyrant only because the Filipinos lack discipline? How easily we have forgotten the scores of lives lost because of the abuse of a dictator in the not so distant past.
Some leaders would like us to forget the atrocities of Martial Law. Some leaders are too happy to glorify the dictatorship of Marcos, to revise history so that he is remembered a hero, and not the thief and murderer that he was. Some leaders want to raise the fist of authoritarianism, to sow fear and discord among ourselves, to divide us with lies, violence, and bloodshed. It has begun.
In a surprise move, a warrant of arrest was issued against Senator Leila de Lima yesterday, even after agreement has already been made for her to surrender to the police on this morning. Was she to be taken under cover of darkness and to what end and why the rush, we do not know. The brave Senator, who dared begin a probe on the President’s drug war, prepared herself and said she will continue to fight.
So on Friday, the nation woke up to a worrying scene: a senator and a staunch critic of the president was escorted into police custody. The message was loud and clear: anyone who dares speak dissent is not safe.
Our history as a nation is marred by instances where government officials use the processes of criminal justice to cow, silence, eliminate critics. We cannot, and we must not, stand by and let this happen again. We must make sure that our government institutions remain uncorrupted and independent of each other, particularly when it comes to checks and balances in pursuit of accountability. We believe that those who are accused of any crime must have their day in court, and has the right to a fair and unbiased trial. We exhort the people to follow and scrutinize this case religously. Let us fight for the right to speak dissent, which is the foundation of our strength as a free and democratic nation.
We hear the grumbling of some Filipinos. Democracy has failed because it hasn’t solved poverty. Is that really true? Or is it us who have failed democracy? Perhaps it is time for us to look at what we have contributed to democracy instead of the other way around. Perhaps it is us who need to remember the lives lost and the sacrifices made so that our society today will be free and enjoy the liberties we take for granted.
The strength of democracy, at its core, is the ability of each one of us to be part of nation-building. Do we keep our faith in our individual goodness, or should we opt to follow larger-than-life, self-proclaimed saviors, who promise to remove our suffering in six months? No, we don’t need false prophets of change who claim that they are the people’s last hope. The change that we so desire begins with us—in the way we live our lives, in the way we protect the rights and liberties that EDSA restored, In the way we continue the unfinished work of the revolution.
Is it time to junk the 1987 Constitution and replace our system of government? We can’t and we must not. EDSA was exactly what we needed. Not just because its impact rang far beyond our shores. Not only because it conquered a greedy and brutal dictator. The real success of EDSA was that it proved the power of the people: that when our citizens come together in courage and in hope, we can be the change that we aspire for our country.
Therein lies the problem. After we reclaimed our democracy in 1986, our contributions ended. We started looking for saviors to save us again. We forgot that the Constitution and our democracy’s real foot soldiers are the people themselves.
For us who are now in positions of leadership—whether as representatives of the Filipino youth, as politicians, or movers in civil society—the challenge of our time is to counter the cynicism that has marked public discourse. These days, what is dominant is the rhetoric of fear and doom. The public is made to believe that the Philippines is in complete dysfunction, and that only the most bloody measures can cure our country of its ills. We are made to believe that those who protest and oppose are traitors to the nation and its people.
As we celebrate the anniversary of the EDSA Revolution, we are called upon to reject these lies. Not all is lost in the Philippines. The People Power Revolution asks us to remember that there is cause for hope. I myself have seen these reasons—everyday—in the work that I do. I see reason for hope in the men and women who continue to fight for justice and equality in this country. I see that there is reason for hope in the faces of even the poorest Filipinos, whose dreams for a better life persist despite the odds.
Our country cannot afford to be derailed by political noise. While we bicker and fight, 95 children die of hunger every day. Our people need jobs to feed their family with nutritious food. Our farmers and fisherfolk need help in protecting their source of livelihood. More than 5 million families lack decent dwellings and are living in danger zones or deplorable conditions. Our business sector deserves a level playing field and lower costs and higher efficiency in doing business. Poverty is the real problem, but we are distracted by political agenda and division.
Mr. President, we call you to task. In behalf of the Filipino people, whose daily struggles are escalating, we ask you to focus on the war that really matters: the war on poverty. Our people are hungry, jobless and poor.
Please use your leadership to direct our nation towards respect for rule of law, instead of blatant disregard for it. We ask you to uphold the basic human rights enshrined in the institution, instead of encouraging its abuse. Be the leader you promised to be, and evoke in us hope and inspiration instead of fear. Do not allow lies to distort the truth.
And to each one of us, the Filipino people, we all must defy these brazen incursions on our rights. We have fought so hard and so long for our freedoms. We have come so far since our country’s darkest days.
Never forget that liberty rightfully belongs to our nation and its people. Never forget that together, we can make a stand for every Filipino who suffers injustice, for those who have been betrayed and neglected, and for those who continue to aspire for progress in our country. Never forget. Thank you very much, at mabuhay ang ating demokrasya!