THIRTY years after it occurred, the First EDSA Revolution with its global impact remains fresh in my memory. The CNN live coverage brought the event to millions of homes around the world. EDSA I was truly a shining moment for our country.
At the time I was serving as Charge d’Affaires in Islamabad and reported the reaction in Pakistan of the events in the Philippines to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila as follows:
The political thriller which unfolded in Manila from 22 to 26 February 1986 was extensively chronicled by the local press and the only television station in Pakistan. All Urdu and English newspapers published editorials on the Philippines, in general paying tribute to the peaceful expression of “people power” in the Philippines and acknowledging the role of President Aquino in the dismantling of the Marcos regime and unanimously welcoming her assumption to power.
The Pakistanis followed the events in the Philippines closely, school children viewed the test of wills between President Aquino and President Marcos as a contest between good and evil. President Aquino won accolades and gained many admirers in Pakistan as could be gleaned from the many telegrams and letters received by the Embassy from a cross-section of Pakistan society . Leaders of the various political parties of Pakistan issued statements hailing the ascendancy of President Aquino through the EDSA revolution.
The events in the Philippines have provided local politicians with the opportunity to call into question the nine-year authoritarian regime of Gen. Mohammad Zia-ul Haq. I received invitations from various groups in Pakistan to be the chief guest at their gatherings but I decided not to accept them since they obviously intended to capitalize on the Philippine experience .
No popular upheaval against a military dictator came to fruition in Pakistan for in 1988, Gen. Zia-ul Haq was killed when his plane exploded in midair.
But elsewhere, in Central and Eastern Europe , in 1989, communist dictatorships one after another, like a deck of cards, fell in circumstances as dramatic as those of the EDSA revolution, , in peaceful manifestations of ‘‘people power.”
In 2009, however, the former Asean Secretary General Rodolfo Severino was quoted thus: “I think that what happened in the Philippines is not being given enough credit for the overthrow of authoritarian regimes elsewhere in the world like in Eastern Europe and within the Soviet Union itself and elsewhere in Asia. People seem to forget that this wave of enlarged freedom was really pioneered by the Philippines.” In 2011, Teodoro Locsin Jr wrote: “Twenty-five years ago, the Filipino people invented People Power, although historically they did not. .. I used to wonder with deep resentment why the Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovakia, the fall of the Berlin Wall as well as subsequent peaceful liberations were never credited to the Filipinos by the world media or by anybody else for that matter other than by Filipinos.”
I feel that this matter of the relationship of the EDSA Revolution to the upheavals in other parts of the world must be viewed from the historical perspective of each country and consider the external and internal dynamics that brought about these upheavals. It might be said that EDSA I reminded peoples under authoritarian regimes of a peaceful way of liberating themselves. But to draw a casual relationship between EDSA I and the other upheavals especially in Eastern Europe could be tantamount to ignoring the long struggles of those peoples for liberation, including prior peaceful uprisings that only failed because they were crushed by Soviet tanks and troops.
I was the first resident Philippine Ambassador to Hungary, arriving in Budapest in early September 1989. From Hungary I also covered on concurrent and non-resident basis then Czechoslovakia and Poland. The following month, I witnessed how Hungary cleansed itself of Stalinist orthodoxy at the Congress of Hungarian Socialist Workers Party. In the same month, the reformist groups proclaimed Hungary a republic. The subsequent decision of Hungary to tear down the barbed wire on its border with Austria led to the exodus of thousands of East Germans to Hungary and neighboring countries, eventually precipitating the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament told me during my call on him in November 1989 that the Philippines and Hungary have had the same experience in discarding a prolonged dictatorship.
But it is to be recalled that Hungary showed the earliest manifestation of “People Power” in Eastern Europe with the Hungarian uprising in 1956. In his 2007 book Twelve Days: the Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution,Victor Sebestyn wrote: “ More than a quarter of a million people massed into Budapest’s Parliament Square on the evening of 23 October 1956 in a show of ‘People Power’that terrified Hungary’s communist leaders and their masters in the Kremlin. The spontaneous, unplanned demonstration was entirely peaceful.”
In my talk with him after my presentation of credentials, President Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia would echo the words of the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament in noting the parallel experiences of his country and the Philippines in democratic transformation. The so-called “Velvet Revolution” staged by dissidents and students led to the downfall of the communist dictatorship and brought Havel to the Czechoslovak presidency.But the stirrings leading to it began in 1977 when a group of Czecholovak intellectuals issued a magna charter called Charter 77. Among them was playwright Vaclav Havel who became the leader of Civic Forum that advocated anticommunist and pro-democratic changes. Much earlier in 1968, the new Communist Party leader of Czechoslovakia Alexander Dubcek attempted to create “socialism with a human face” in the so-called “Prague Spring” which was foiled by a massive Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. (I saw Dubcek in person in 1990 when then Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus had a meeting with him in Prague.)
Poland holds the credit for starting non-violent resistance in earnest during that period in late 20th century. In 1980, a shipyard electrician, Lech Walesa organized the labor movement Solidarity which gained the support of the Catholic church and the late Pope now St. John Paul II. Walesa succeeded in emancipating Poland from Soviet domination, gained power as president of the country , and won the Nobel Peace Prize.
I covered Poland from Budapest for but a short time. Before I could present my letter of credence signed by President Aquino to President Walesa, I was reassigned to India , where took place a peaceful movement that succeeded in liberating the country many years before EDSA . This was Gandhism, the principle of non-cooperation and passive resistance against British rule advocated and led by Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, who has been held in boundless respect and reverence by the Indian people and the rest of the world.
Whether peaceful or violent, revolutions have a tipping point. The upheavals in Central and Eastern Europe were in the main triggered by communist repression. In the Philippines, the combustion process for EDSA started with the assassination of opposition leader, former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. I was on home leave from my post in Pakistan in August 1983 when Aquino was assassinated. My father-in-law and I happened to be at a bank on the corner of Examiner Street and Quezon Avenue when we saw a growing number of people proceeding to nearby Times Street. We were told that they were proceeding to the Aquino residence to view the blood-soaked body of the slain Senator. We joined the crowd and what I saw would remain etched in my memory.
In the case of EDSA I and some other upheavals elsewhere, euphoria would turn to disillusion . EDSA I led to the restoration of democratic processes in the Philippines but it failed to bring systemic changes in the country’s politics and economy, which remained feudal. On the other hand, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe transformed themselves as restored democracies, gaining admission to the European Union and NATO.
Revolutions must do more than bring a change of leader and regime. It appears to me that ultimately history determines the importance of popular uprisings , peaceful or violent, on the basis of the range of vital changes they bring to countries and societies . EDSA I left a Constitution that would have brought no less than a social transformation . Unfortunately the pertinent provisions have not been carried out.
The peaceful uprisings that made up the so-called Arab Spring have mostly brought instability and anarchy to the countries where they happened. But for spawning a most terrible monster in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), those uprisings could have been simply written off, in the words of former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton , “as just a mirage in the desert” for failing to meet the demands for greater democracy and economic opportunity.
Juanito P. Jarasa is a retired career ambassador of the Philippines.