Was Edsa 1 a revolution?
( In today’s “Bias” I’d like to share this piece by a good friend Miguel Barretto Garcia, a
Cebuano PhD. student, a University of San Carlos graduate and writer who shares his thoughts on the 31st anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution.)
This year marks the 31st year since the “Edsa People Power Revolution” of 1986, which was credited for taking down the 20-year regime of Ferdinand Marcos. As we take the time to remember 1986 as an important historical event, it is also important to continue asking ourselves tough questions and confronting harsh realities about our long-running experiment with democracy, which was restarted on that day.
While it has been 31 years, political institutions have barely progressed as political families continue to dominate elected positions.
Pablo Querubin, a professor from New York University who study political dynasties, estimated that 50 percent to 70 percent of all politicians in the Philippines today belonged to a political dynasty. About 70 percent of legislators in the present Philippine Congress are part of political dynasties.
Landed elites from prominent families around the provinces dominated the First Philippine Assembly in 1907. Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, who took power after Ferdinand Marcos and his family fled to Hawaii, was herself a scion of a landed political family from Tarlac.
A popular argument you will see today, especially in online discourse, is Aquino critics and Marcos loyalists’ position that Edsa I was not a revolution, but a glorified people’s coup. If you ask them, real revolutions would have led us to a drastic political change by now.
This is a view of revolution similar to the Marxist perspective, where its outcome leads to a transition of power from the rich political elite to the poor masses. Because the transfer of power passed down from Marcos to Aquino and the events after Edsa I saw the proliferation of political dynasties,
Edsa I — therefore — was a failed revolution.
But this argument has a problem.
It is a post-hoc reasoning of past events based on how events unfolded today. Or in other words, a perspective of the revolution formed in hindsight.
Just because the events after Edsa did not eliminate political dynasties, it does not mean the revolution itself failed.
To view Edsa this way is flawed historical revisionism.
In the twentieth century, as nations were licking their wounds caused by two World Wars and were facing a Cold War, the Edsa Revolution was more of an exception than the norm.
The Marxist theories of class conflict could not accommodate this type of revolution that involved bloodless multi-class coalitions that cut across the broad political and income spectra.
The mass gathering of people at Edsa were from all walks of life that included non-government organizations, student movements and religious groups.
In the eighties, scholars of political revolutions challenged the old Marxist view to account for the rise of peaceful multisectoral revolutions. Other “people power” revolutions that shared the same features with Edsa I include the 1979 Iranian and Nicaraguan revolutions and the 1989 Autumn of Nations in Europe, which brought down the Berlin Wall and ushered in the end of communist rule in central and eastern Europe.
In the twenty-first century, the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, which saw the pivotal role of social media to organize mass multisectoral protests, also shared similar features of the People Power Revolution.
For critics to dismiss 1986 as a failed revolution, they must also be prepared to dismiss the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Arab Spring as revolutions too.
What is important for critics to recognize is the difference between revolution and revolutionary change.
Edsa I was a revolution. The twin events of Benigno Aquino’s assassination and the deep economic recession in the mid-1980s as a result of Marcos’
debt-driven growth strategy sparked the political unrest. What followed the revolution was a successful change in regime and government.
The revolutionary change, however, did not materialize as most people hoped.
Economics Nobel Laureate Douglas North argued that revolutionary change usually involves an abrupt change of formal institutions such as laws or government systems, something that Aquino had in fact achieved. After the Marcoses fled, Aquino formed a revolutionary government. She suspended the 1973 Constitution, abolished the Batasang Pambansa and called for a commission to draft the new constitution.
But revolutionary change usually falls short in changing informal institutions, such as the deep-seated cultural role of family clans in Filipino political life.
When the Americans claimed the Philippines after Spain ceded the archipelago to them, they empowered prominent local families to take political and administrative roles simply because the country of more than seven thousand islands was too wieldy to govern on their own.
The first Philippine Assembly of 1907 unwittingly institutionalized the role of political families in Philippine society. It created the unwritten rule that Philippine politics is a family affair and the hidden incentives — in the form of social prominence and rent-seeking of government resources — for them to stay in politics.
Once citizens face the post-revolutionary reality that these informal institutions take much longer to change than expected, revolutionary change merely becomes political rhetoric.
The reality that political dynasties continue to monopolize Philippine politics is something defenders of the Edsa I revolution must confront.
Thirty-one years after Edsa I, the Philippines remains a flawed democracy. Nevertheless, the country should continue with its experiment in discovering the combination of political institutions that serve the Filipino people best.
At least, the Edsa People Power Revolution was one such experiment that worked.
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