Last February Manila celebrated 25 years of EDSA People’s Power Revolution – a grand stand, special programs, television stations playing music video clips in honor of this national occasion, and much shabang. Now that the Middle East is in turmoil of people’s revolts, the message of the bloodless revolution is as relevant as ever. From my work place in General Santos, Mindanao, I asked several friends from other provinces and reflect how this historical event is relevant for Mindanao.
“I was so ashamed,” says Cecilia Conaco (dr. Ma.) professor at de University of the Philippines, Diliman. “I was doing my PhD in the US then and I always felt very small when foreign friends would ask why we still had Marcos around.”
“It is absolutely absurd – why should Filipinos kill each other over some ideology or what not?” recalls a former student demonstrator of that time. On the eve of the departure of the president, he and his student buddies transferred from EDSA to Broadcast City where RPN 9 TV station is located. “We watched over a battalion of “loyalist” military faction guarding the telecommunications facilities of RPN 9. The soldiers requested food and information from us. They said they are from the northern Luzon and were ordered to protect the RPN facilities.”
Meanwhile government soldiers in EDSA defected to the demonstrator’s side and Dale Lugue, who works for non-profit organization Gawad Kalinga, recalls how the ‘jet fighters swarmed the skies above EDSA as troops assemble to barricade.”
At the RPN 9 television station a military jeep with RAM/reformist soldiers wanted to pass, and the student group acted as human buffer zone. To allow them to pass meant a skirmish and all the consequences of that. But their group’s negotiators managed to convince them to take another road. “From then on, my belief on ACTIVE NON-VIOLENCE was cemented,” says the former student demonstrator now working as a government official for a municipality in Quezon.
It came so close to civil war and Filipino like Professor Conaco who had family in Manila were, “was glued to the television. And it was a great relief to have a peaceful ending. But beyond the relief, I was so very proud, proud that we showed a different brand of revolution.”
Far away from the capital, in parts of Mindanao, it’s very quiet. During the Marcos regime Mindanao was the most contested area with Marcos giving land away to foreign entities for logging and to family members the concession rights to natural resources. His army committed the most horrible acts. Joan Suaybagio’s family, a 22-year old bookkeeper from Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat, was supporter of the communist opposition group the New People’s Army (NPA). Her father traveled the province preaching revolution, and her mother supported him in whatever way she could. “My mother lost a brother and a brother-in-law to soldiers who executed them on the street. She says that the change of power brought an end to this,” says Joan.
The owner of a fishing company in Palimbang also testifies of the atrocities committed in the 70s. At one time the women of Palimbang were brought offshore to a ship and most of them were raped. The men were brought to a mosque on the suspicion that they were rebels of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). There, they were executed. “My young father somehow managed to escape. To this day, no justice is given to the families here,” says the 34-year old entrepreneur.
Several kilometers away from his fish store, a group of indigenous Manobo people hike down for hours from their mountain dwelling to the valley. They came down to receive the FOR PEACE hand-outs, a small sum of money from the peace scheme of the government. Vilma Bonificio (20) is busy filling in forms of the children at her school so that their families might receive the proper sum. Like hundreds of villages in that area, her village has no running water, no electricity, and until a few years ago, was starving. If it wasn’t hunger it was cholera that took the lives of their children. With the help of NGO PASALI Philippines they now plant gardens. This organization helped her become a teacher, so that for the first time her village of nine sub-villages knows a generation that’s literate. But even when they started their own school, the local government of Palimbang refuses to recognize them entirely and help build their school. When I meet her, she has a toothache and says there’s no dentist around. What the EDSA revolution means for her? She looks at me with her beautiful soft brown eyes and asks: “What’s that?”
In Mindanao, the EDSA revolution has mixed meanings. On the one hand, it ended horrible acts of murder, and brought some stability. On the other hand it brought no change in the violation of other human rights: the right to food, the right to clean water, the right to health facilities, the right to live without discrimination, the right to education, and others. “Unfortunately, we have not been able to translate that message [of the EDSA revolution] into major changes in government policies and the lives of the masses, especially the poor,” says Conaco. Minda Valencia division head at the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) lobbies hard for changes on community levels. “It is unfortunate that much leaves to be desired in terms of the expected change that the Philippines dreams of,” she says. “After the euphoria of the exceptionally resplendent bloodless revolution, Filipinos have lapsed into mediocrity.”
Valencia’s collegue Golda Roma says the revolution showed that the people regardless of their status can stand up to any form of corruption and illegality, and that “freedom is more important that any promise of economic boom.” These are important words especially for a province like Mindanao, where the government leases land to mining companies and agricultural contractors. While the government speaks of these deals as a ‘win-win’ situation, the conditions of the locals are often left unchecked. Mindanao provides food to other countries when its thousands of its inhabitants knows no food security. And the Moro people and especially the Indigenous are continuous victims of land encroachment and the current administration has not yet honored their right to own their own land.
“The biggest contribution of 1986 People’s Power Revolution was a change in national but especially a change in individual perspective: from powerless to powerful,” says Conaco. 25 years later, the battle has shifted. The fight is now for ending injustice through the recognition of basic human rights. But people are not without hope. Valencia is optimistic about the new administration: “I am hopeful that the ideals of the first EDSA will be revived and inspire us to really work double time to get this country out of poverty.” In Conaco’s words “WE CAN!” so long we don’t forget that after the party has ended, the lights and decoration put away, that then the real work begins.