• Why EDSA didn’t work

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    On the third decade after the EDSA People Power Revolution drove out dictator Ferdinand Marcos on February 25, 1986, articles commemorating and commenting upon the four-day largely bloodless resotration of Philippine democracy invariably ask: Why is the country still a mess?

    The question is wrong-headed, of course. There is no way a single event can fix everything wrong with a nation, especially since EDSA was never intended to address all major problems afflicting the Philippines. Rather, it was supposed to fix just one: the lack of a president with popular support and democratic legitimacy.

    That EDSA did with the installation of Corazon Aquino, whom most Filipinos then accepted as the true winner of the 1986 snap presidential elections called by Marcos to put to rest widespread discontent and questions of legitimacy over his rule. She then proceeded to restore democratic institutions and processes under the 1987 Constitution. And that was the main achievement of EDSA and the Corazon Aquino presidency.

    What about corruption, poverty, injustice, insurgency, crime, and economic stagnation? Most thinking people will agree that these problems require far more than a change in the system of government and similar reforms under the new dispensation and constitution ushered in by EDSA.

    Solving these bigger problems of development and governance demand changes both in major policies and in the behavior of key sectors, especially the families controlling political and economic power. Sadly, this elite simply adjusted to the new dispensation, and even exploited the return of democracy to amass more power, privilege and wealth.

    Corruption and economic woes persisted
    Thus, while EDSA drove out Marcos and his cronies, it also allowed friends and relatives of the first Aquino administration to flourish. Kamag-anak Inc. was how media and public called the coterie of Corazon Aquino’s fellow Cojuangco clan members said to have enjoyed privileges under her.

    And the biggest break that critics say Aquino gave her family and other hacienderos is the provision in her land reform law allowing plantations to transfer ownership not to landless cultivators, but to a corporation, which can then issue shares of stock to farmers. That preserved Cojuangco control over the clan’s Hacienda Luisita.

    The economy rebounded after EDSA, but some major Aquino decisions hobbled it. In hindsight, some senior officials then thought she could have asked for cuts in Philippine debt, especially in her much-applauded speech to the US Congress, instead of simply restructuring loans.

    As a result, the full debt burden inherited from the Marcos decades continued to weigh on the economy until tax reforms in the Ramos and Arroyo administrations set the stage for the past decade of fiscal strengthening.

    But Aquino’s biggest boondoggle was her mothballing of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, over corruption allegations, with no replacement facilities built to generate the BNPP’s 600 megawatts capacity.

    That was perhaps the single most growth-sapping act by any Philippine president. It led to nearly day-long brownouts shutting down industry and commerce all over Luzon in the early 1990s.

    Plus: electricity shortages prompted Aquino’s successor Fidel Ramos to contract private generation firms by agreeing to pay for a minimum amount of power, even if it is not consumed — jacking up electricity rates to Asia’s highest outside Japan.

    Besides the BNPP scrapping, the other obstacle to addressing infrastructure needs was the Constitution’s limits on foreign ownership of public utilities. Thus, much needed transport, energy, water, and other facilities could avail of foreign capital only up to a certain minority ownership level. Thus, when local capital could not come up with the rest of the funding, and the government didn’t have funds, infrastructure didn’t get built.

    Hijacking Philippine democracy
    For all these problems, however, EDSA admirers argue that the uprising was justified and positive overall because it restored democracy and ended a corrupt dictatorship. Yet even that singular achievement must be more closely looked at.

    For Philippine democracy since 1986, like the pre-martial law edition, has fallen into the clutches of patronage politicians and their business backers. That has enabled the moneyed family and corporate interests to get their way in commerce and government, to the detriment of poor communities, workers and consumers.

    Perhaps the best illustration of how elites still rule is the business and political empire of Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, whose interests include the San Miguel beer, power, tollways, and telecoms conglomerate, plus Petron.

    Maligned as one of Marcos’s top cronies, Danding Cojuangco is accused of using levies on millions of poor coconut farmers to take over San Mig, yet his lawyers have succeeded in preventing the case from even being formally tried.

    In 1992, just six years after People Power, Cojuangco ran for president under his Nationalist People’s Coalition. He came in third, and NPC became a leading national party, and even instigating impeachment complaints against Supreme Court justices in 2003, while they deliberated the coconut levy case.

    Under his nephew Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino 3rd, Corazon’s son, San Miguel group has demonstrated clout not unlike his Marcos-era influence. This despite Danding Cojuangco once being rumored of involvement in the 1983 assassination of the current President’s father.

    For instance, when San Miguel was disqualified in the Calamba-Laguna expressway bidding last year due to erroneous documents, President Aquino himself ordered a rebidding based on its bid price (another bidder, Metro Pacific, eventually won).

    And to the detriment of motorists and commuters, the government did not act on a 2010 Metro Pacific proposal to build an elevated highway linking the North and South Luzon Expressways. Rumored reason: San Miguel also wanted to pitch. To date, this crucial project, like the Metro Manila traffic it can alleviate, isn’t moving.

    Now, Cojuangco’s billions and his NPC machinery are reportedly backing Senator Grace Poe, while he also supports other presidentiables. If she is allowed to run and wins in May, Cojuangco may well have more Palace influence than even under Marcos.

    Plainly, three decades after People Power, our democracy is still government off the people, floor the people, and buy the people.

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    12 Comments

    1. Emmanuel A. Marinas on

      That’s is why one should learn from the past. Now that the election is very near, vote wisely! You know WHO they are who are just there doing nothing but raking what is supposed to be intended for the people and those damn wannabes with their sweet talks and endless promises. But their real interest behind is to plunder the sources of the nation, oppress the people and favor its relatives and friends. NEVER again, now more than ever, it is up to you and me and the rests to make our Lupang Sinilangan a proud nation. For us, for our country, for our children, grand children and great grand children.

    2. You just outlined in your article the examples of the colossal hypocrisy and monumental incompetence that are the real reasons why EDSA failed.

    3. EDSA is for kamaganak ink, friends relatives that is the symbol of EDSA plus mga sipsip after 30 years compare with marcos mas maganda nuon ngayon right and left kurakotutan.

    4. That’s why we should vote for Duterte or Miriam; they are from the middle class and not from the elite class who has been making fun of this country and making us poor and unorganized!

    5. Indeed, the ‘evils’ of the 13-year Marcos rule which was supposedly ended by the EDSA revolution was replaced by a far worse predicament for Filipinos spanning 30 years. Unfortunately, the people have grown numb to the more rampant and blatant corruption of the present administration and become indifferent to the calls for change via a National Transformation Council. Which leads me to believe that whatever happened during EDSA was really a conspiracy among reigning oligarchs and the US whose interests could not take off in the face of a President who would not yield to their wishes.

    6. “EDSA Revolution” annual commemoration is mere political grandstannding of Aquino & elite families. Cory Aquino was never elected president by the whole Filipino people but chosen only by loud protesters in a very small part of the Philippines – EDSA shrine area.

      Marcos dictatorship was required by the times in that era.

      He was a victim as well as Philippine democracy by USA’s regime change strategy perpetuated by CIA & its militarystill pursued up today against sovereign UN member-nations, eg. Iraq,Syria and Libya.

      The Philippines must move on forward and look into a vibrant rich and higjly developed nation;instead of still focusing on past EDSA protests
      (surely,not a revolution) which happened way back 30 years ago.

    7. To undone what was wrong before Corazon Aquino took over Presidency was a Herculian job. To remedy existing maladies, this will take time and full cooperation by all parties.

      • Agree. The reporters are free on their work because of EDSA. So many lives where change for good because of EDSA. If it did not work in my opinion the family of Marcos will be at the helm and things will be the same 30 years ago. What we (Filipinos) now have to do is to build the trust of the people and get the government and private sector leaders in various agencies/companies to perform or function well and make them accountable for their actions and inactions.

    8. … “three decades after People Power, our democracy is still government OFF the people, FLOOR the people, and BUY the people.” (CAPS emphasis mine). Ricardo, Saludo ako sa iyo.

    9. That’s the peoples fault. There need to be change in the attitudes ways of our laid back culture

      • Agree. It’s about time to report on the positive gains of our country after the Marcos era. Most reporters lacks this!!! They are the one painting the bad picture. Look at Dubai or Singapore very seldom you’ll find negative reporting although we all know that there are also issues in these countries.
        As the reporter rightly puts it ” For all these problems, however, EDSA admirers argue that the uprising was justified and positive overall because it restored democracy and ended a corrupt dictatorship.” I will mention the next line because the writer put a twist or negative criticism.

    10. For me, this year’s expensive celebratory throwback images and theatrical acts, I guess, are meant to create sublimal images in the minds of our young children who will continue to pass on the EDSA story to the next generation, to ensure it lives on in the pages of our history books and searching minds.