Edsa Revolution: Meaning and Legacy

Legacy examines the long-term consequences of the event and how these affected the country, an important topic. But first, we need to understand the significance of Edsa from the participants’ perspective of what happened and why it happened. Unfortunately, I cannot provide eyewitness testimony; I was then based in Ann Arbor as part of a Fulbright Visiting Professor program at the University of Michigan. But I can confirm that Edsa’s “what” and “why” were clear, even to observers abroad who could only follow the media coverage of its unfolding.

A few weeks after Edsa, during a taxi ride in Washington, DC, the foreign driver, probably Nigerian, asked me where I was from. Hearing that I was from the Philippines, a place he knew little about, he began to ask me about Edsa, but especially about this woman, Cory Aquino. Shortly before arriving at his destination, he asked, “Do you mind if I don’t charge you for the ride?” I had never heard before, or yet, such a request from a taxi driver hustling for a living.

This immigrant worker’s offer to waive my tariff was his way of acknowledging Edsa as an admirable Filipino achievement and, in a way, sharing it. For him and the rest of the world, Edsa’s “what” was beyond debate. Thousands of unarmed citizens, already fired up by the continued attempt to steal the snap election, risking their lives, clashed with troops and tanks sent to quell a military mutiny against Marcos and overthrew an authoritarian regime in four days. ruled for more than a decade.

The undeniable result of popular resistance was to drive Ferdinand Marcos Sr. from the presidential palace and from the Philippines. As Mahar Manga’s Inquirer column put it bluntly: “Ferdinand Marcos [Sr.] fled” (19/02/2022). Ferdinand Marcos Jr., not a minor, but 29-year-old outgoing governor of Ilocos Norte, also fled.

Edsa’s “why” was equally clear. For those who lived through this period and for those familiar with its history, 1986 has become inextricably linked to two other dates that together establish the Edsa narrative. As in a Greek play, the dates marked the quirky hubris, the arrogant presumption that led Marcos to declare martial law in 1972, the ultimate criminal insanity of the 1983 murder of Benigno Aquino Jr., and the inevitable retribution at Edsa.

If Marcos Sr. had raised the Philippines to its “golden age“, as claimed by Marcos Jr., why were they so afraid of people that they had to flee? To counter the inconvenient truth about Edsa’s ‘what’ and ‘why’, the Marcos led a campaign to revise history focusing on the ‘how’ question: how did Edsa benefit the country? The effort aims to blame the sad state of the country in 2022 on Edsa’s so-called failed “legacy”, and thus downplay its achievement and diminish its importance.

This is a sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors, carnival trick. First, despite the efforts of President Duterte and the incompetence and corruption exposed in his administration, analysts agree that conditions in 2022 are still better than in 1986. Second, it makes no sense to take 2022 conditions to explain the events of 1986. The past influences the shape of the future, not the other way around. Third, assuming that the promise of inclusive and progressive democracy that the Edsa winners enshrined in the 1987 Constitution has not been kept, whose failure is it? People at the Edsa revolution barricade for four days did not worry about the legacy. Surviving Marcos and the renegade military coup attempts, Cory Aquino resigned in 1992. Five other presidents succeeded him, along with their respective partners in government and the private sector. How have they, and in particular Marcos Jr., contributed to the achievement of Edsa’s objectives?

We must distinguish between the Edsa event, a completed historical event, and the broader aspirations of the Edsa legacy. Then and now, these aspirations have remained, like Christianity, a work in progress. The incarnation of the Lord has made salvation possible for all; it always requires individual effort. Christmas came but did not deliver Paradise as an automatic, free gift.

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Edilberto C. de Jesus is Professor Emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.

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