COMMENT: EDSA: Wasted Opportunities. By Patricio P. Diaz

Fifteen years after peacefully driving out the corrupt and tyrannical President Ferdinand E. Marcos, the people assembled at the same EDSA to oust the incompetent and corrupt President Joseph E. Estrada. Yet, 23 years after EDSA I and eight after EDSA II, the Philippines is still mired in the same pre-EDSA political, economic and moral morass.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in opening the 23rd EDSA I celebration, invoked the ideals and spirit of EDSA to fight “the new challenges today”. Seen against the prevailing conditions in the country, the invocation was a confession of betrayal of those ideals and spirit, the fountain of opportunities wasted.

Motive

What motivated the people peaceful uprising in EDSA I and EDSA II?

Against Marcos: politically, a tyrannical one-man rule; economically, systematic crony-controlled corruption that depleted the country’s resources; and, morally, the loss of freedom and democratic and human rights.

Against Estrada: creeping cronyism and corruption that plunged the recovering economy to abysmal depths; chaotic, incompetent government.

The restoration of good government, stable economy, freedom and democratic, civil and human rights are the core of the ideals and spirit of EDSA – the motive of people power.

                                                                         Power

EDSA I conferred on President Corazon C. Aquino the needed revolutionary, restorative power. She promulgated the 1986 Provisional Freedom Constitution (PFC) to supersede the 1973 (Marcos) Constitution specifying what in the latter to adopt as part of the former and what to reject. In the process, she abolished the Batasang Pambansa (National Assembly).

She reorganized the Supreme Court and the government. She ruled by decrees until July 1987 when the new Congress was convened under the 1987 Constitution. 

The reorganization of the local governments was sweeping. Without exception, the local government officials elected under Marcos’ party, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, were replaced with OICs (Officers in Charge). KBL was a badge of political ignominy.

Ironically, new problems started while solving the old. Nepotism and patronage – the curse of the Marcos regime – played prominently in the appointment of the OICs from anti-Marcos activists. New faces alone did not guarantee competence in government for much desired change.

President Aquino was less discriminating and decisive – less than what she should have been – in using her revolutionary powers not only to wipe out the vestiges of the Marcos martial law but, most desirably, to establish a truly new regime. The government changed hands but became tentative after the euphoria had faded.

Early Signs

Signs of impending relapse came quite early. Nepotism, patronage and cronyism popped their ugly heads not so long after Day One of the Aquino presidency. Some of the President’s relatives and close associates played well the political patronage game. Reports of corruption began to leak in the press; the emergence of Kamag-anak, Inc. was disheartening.

With the holding of the local and congressional elections after the promulgation of the 1987 Constitution, KBL politicians wormed their way back to power. Only a few Marcos fanatics ran under KBL. Most ran under regional parties or were endorsed by the President’s party because of their bailiwicks as seasoned politicians.

President Aquino did not really use her revolutionary powers to truly revolutionize the Philippine political system, economy and society so deformed by the14-year Marcos dictatorship. She restored freedom which, ironically, could have blunted her powers.

Ideals of EDSA

The ideals of EDSA animated the 1986 Provisional Freedom Constitution – “the ideals and aspiration of the Filipino people”, provided as 6-point mandate in Article II of PFC:

(a)  Completely reorganize the government and eradicate unjust and oppressive structures, and all iniquitous vestiges of the previous regime;

(b)  Make effective the guarantees of civil, political, human, social, economic and cultural rights and freedoms of the Filipino people, and provide remedies against violations thereof;

(c)  Rehabilitate the economy and promote the nationalist aspirations of the people;

(d)  Recover all ill-gotten properties amassed by the leaders and supporters of the previous regime and protect the interests of the people through orders of sequestration or freezing of assets of accounts;

(e)  Eradicate graft and corruption in government and punish those guilty thereof; and,

(f)  Restore peace and order, settle the problem of insurgency, and pursue national reconciliation based on justice.

Distorted

The same are reflected in the 1987 Constitution – provisions meant for real change. But politics of personal and vested interests – the monster that Marcos had vowed to slay only to become its avid advocate – survived EDSA and distorted constitutional reforms in their implementation.

In providing term limits for elective officials, the framers of the Constitution intended to eliminate political dynasties. But Congress, dominated by traditional and dynastic politicians, enacted an implementing law that entrenched more firmly old dynasties and engendered the emergence of new ones.

Marcos killed the two-party system while tolerating weak, token oppositions. The 1987 Constitution created the multi-party system to encourage, perhaps, political pluralism. But the last 23 years saw the emergence not of political parties founded on competing cause-oriented and ideological platforms for good government but of parties thriving on politics of personality and coalition principally for winning elections.

If electoral reforms were bended in favor of the traditional and dynastic politicians, so were economic and social reforms like that of land. Congress, dominated by the economic elite, passed laws suited to the vested interests of its members. Are these in keeping with the ideals and spirit of EDSA?

Frustrated

Three in the 6-point mandate above focus on good government, recovery of ill-gotten properties and eradication of graft and corruption. Toward these ends, President Aquino created the Presidential Commission on Good Government; the Provisional Freedom Constitution adopted the Sandigabayan; and the 1987 Constitution strengthened the Office of the Ombudsman.

In keeping with the ideals and spirit of EDSA, the PCGG and the Ombudsman are mandated to prosecute corrupt and the erring government officials. Since EDSA, the Sandiganbayan has been enlarged from three divisions in 1982 to five. Yet, how much of the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies have been recovered? Why is the Philippines today known to be among the most corrupt countries?

We only wonder how the ideals and spirit of EDSA could have been frustrated.

                                                                             EDSA II

In the 1998 election, then Jaime Cardinal Sin warned that electing Estrada would be a national disaster. Estrada’s impeachment proved the warning correct. The Estrada presidency mocked the ideals of EDSA. The pro-Estrada majority in the Senate blocked the presentation of evidence to abort the impeachment trial; that signaled people power to take over. EDSA II ousted Estrada.

The legitimate successor by her election as vice president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had the confidence of the people and their trust that as president she would be guided by the ideals of EDSA. The mandate of EDSA II to Arroyo was no less than the mandate of EDSA I to Aquino. In her inaugural speech, she accepted it.

So far, her eight years in Malacañang proved her to be a greater disaster than Estrada. Within months of her take over, she started ignoring the ideals of EDSA. Worse, to squeeze out of the political crisis of 2005, she proclaimed a state of emergency and tried to suspend constitutional rights ala martial law.

And, worst! She granted Estrada absolute pardon soon after his conviction of plunder on September 12, 2007. Instead of impressing on Filipinos that even to the mightiest corruption does not pay, she let the opposite sink in: political power and influence are a license to corruption.

                                                                      Culpability

As stated earlier, Aquino should have been more discriminating and decisive with her revolutionary power. The political reforms and moral transformation could have made a Philippines much more different than it is today. However, considering she was just a “housewife”, she did well. Credit her for sincerity and honesty. Being not covered by the no-reelection ban, she could have run in 1992 but she did not.

Arroyo, an accomplished traditional politician, is a hypocrite compared to Aquino in relation to the ideals of EDSA. By her impressive qualifications and political experience, she could have done very much more for the country and people. But look at the different crises besetting her eight years in the presidency – truth hurts.

However, much of the culpability falls on the political leaders and the people. The leaders refuse to change; the people lack the will to use their freedom of suffrage to change the leaders. While they can make the difference, they see no difference.

EDSA has given us the opportunities to make the Philippines great. But we wasted them. Invoking the ideals of EDSA and imploring its spirit to strengthen us against the many crises only deepens our regrets – crying over the milk we spilt.

("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a "Lifetime Achievement Award"  in 2002 for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You can reach him at patpdiazgsc@yahoo.com.)