(This article was published in The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Special Issue on People Power on August 21, 2009)
Corazon Aquino may well be the first Filipino to have a global impact: She inspired the nonviolent democracy movements that swept the globe in the past two decades.It is Cory who has a lasting impact on the world.Real heroes are not comic-book superheroes; they emerge from very real factors and very real situations. But heroes, nonetheless.
First of all, we need to clarify.
The EDSA revolution was the result of the collective action of Filipinos. It resulted from a confluence of events, from the assassination of Cory?s husband in 1983, the virtual collapse of the economy starting in 1984, the failed coup attempt by Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and his boys and their decision, together with Constabulary Chief Fidel Ramos, to dig in for a heroic last stand at Camp Crame, Jaime Cardinal Sin?s calling on the faithful to defend failed coup plotters, the massive turnout of people at EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue), and the military’s refusal to shoot demonstrators.
Yet things most probably would not have turned out as a peaceful people power revolution if not for Corazon Aquino’s moral authority, her appeals?never threats?for Ferdinand Marcos to heed the call of the people and step down peacefully.
They were certainly brave, but Ramos and Enrile, the latter toting an Uzi submachine gun, and beside them the gung-ho RAM boys wearing bandoleros, didn’t exactly send a message that they wanted a peaceful resolution to the conflict. They were gearing for combat, with the crowds at EDSA delaying Marcos? armed response, and giving time for other military units to defect to them for a showdown with the dictator’s troops.
Cory’s decision on Feb. 25, 1986 to take her oath of office not in Camp Crame but in a civilian venue, not only sent the strongest message that she was now assuming power peacefully. How could Marcos after all order the arrest of such a gentle widow who claimed to be Philippine President now?
Without the Gandhi-like aura of Cory, the EDSA revolt in February 1986 could have ended up like the Plaza Mendiola massacre, of course much, much bloodier. Violently dispersing a crowd, as an Asian nation demonstrated a few years after, is after all something a regime can do and still survive. But after that, what? Either a more cruel martial law, and then years, even decades of civil war.
With Cory as a kind of a mother, or “Tita” figure hovering over EDSA, it became a defining moment for Filipinos: Even if their brotherhood they called the Philippines was a very young one, they, even Marcos and his generals, realized in their hearts that brothers shouldn?t really be killing brothers.
Why, even criminals on those days remarkably stopped killing and robbing people; the communist urban guerrillas kept their 45s in their safe houses and maybe even fingered rosaries with the nuns at Camp Crame.
But are we exaggerating the global impact of Cory and the People Power revolution?
Look at the facts.
Before EDSA 1, the only two instances of a peaceful end to dictatorships were Portugal’s Carnation Revolution and the fall of the Greek junta, both in 1974. But both were actually colonels? coups?probably the inspiration for RAM?and the world soon forgot about these two restorations of democracy.
Democratic domino effect
But after the Philippine People Power revolution, there was, as it were, the quickening of democratic impulses.
Just a year after the EDSA uprising, huge people’s rallies challenged South Korea’s strongman, former general Chun Doo-hwa, which eventually led to democratic reforms, among them the direct election of the president. Chile’s Pinochet lost his iron grip in power in 1989.
While Poland’s “Solidarity” movement started in the 1980s, it gained momentum only after 1986, with Lech Walesa assuming power in 1989. Indeed, in his visit to Manila in 1995, Walesa said: “Your peaceful People Power Revolution was an inspiration to us for our own revolution.”
From then on, it was a democratic domino effect: Poland’s people power revolution in turn inspired the Singing Revolutions in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the Baltic states in 1989, as well as the East German democracy movement that finally tore the Berlin wall down; and Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution”which all contributed to the demise of one of the two most powerful anti-democratic states in the world.
South Africa was well on the path of armed revolution waged by the military organization “Spear of the Nation,” but then in the wake of peaceful strikes and protests, in 1990, the new president, F.W. de Klerk, started negotiations that peacefully ended apartheid rule by 1993.
At the very least, ‘People Power’ became a global meme, using the evolutionist Richard Dawkins’ term for cultural ideas, beliefs, and practices, e.g, a handshake, the birthday cake, monogamy, belief in an afterlife’that replicate rapidly among humans and accepted as normal practices or incontrovertible truths, even without people knowing why or where they came from.
Used before 1986 as a term for the role small communities played in changing government policies and practice, ‘people power’ after the EDSA revolt came to mean a peaceful revolution participated in by ‘the people.’
That it had become a global meme is reflected by the fact that one scholar on the scene reported that East German democracy activists mentioned ‘people power’ often in 1989, even if they didn’t even know that a country called the Philippines existed.
The many books printed in the 1990s on the anti-monarchist movement in Nepal, the communist Naxalite insurgency in Bihar, India, the democratization movements in Eastern Europe were all titled People Power or had that term in their titles, without any mention at all of the Philippines.
Not just romantic nation
That our People Power Revolution inspired democratization movements worldwide isn’t just a romantic notion, but based on certain rather mundane facts.
For one thing, it was the new, more powerful role of media that got people around the globe to be inspired by People Power.
CNN in 1986 was just a few years old, employing greenhorn, underpaid reporters. For the first time in history, through CNN, people were watching a revolution as it happened, with all its poignant images’no, videos’such as nuns praying the rosary in front of tanks, demonstrators putting flowers into soldiers’ gun barrels. And you can understand them: from the convent-school Cory to the NPA regular, they were articulate in English!
The 1980s were the heyday of international magazines as well as of dashing, hard-drinking foreign correspondents. Things got boring since the end of the Vietnam War in 1974, and they scoured the world for romantic stories of good vs evil and the story of a widowed housewife challenging a dictator was an epic story.
One Christian missionary left his ministry to string for several US and European newspapers.
Dreams of Pulitzer
Droves of American reporters dreaming of the Pulitzer Prize descended on Manila. It was indeed an assignment from heaven: You didn’t need translators, and Filipinos, even RAM coup plotters, were so talkative.
And after a hard day”s work covering the rallies, the nightlife in Malate was just fantastic. Five-star hotel accommodations and great rep expense required great stories that people got excited about. The Cory story landed on the front pages of many, many newspapers; Time, Newsweek, Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, and many more would make Cory and the People Power revolution their cover stories.
Morality play told, retold
With these, Cory’s morality play would be told and retold faster and broader than any similar revolution in the modern era. No wonder it inspired in such a short time peoples from different countries living under dictatorships.
Furthermore, with the ‘technology’ for People Power, as it were, developed in the country, there were people actively propagating the idea’and raking in a lot of money for their work.
The political consultancy group Sawyer Miller were close-in, on-the-ground advisers for the Cory camp whose people reportedly wrote some of her speeches and gave her advice in the February elections up to the revolt. (Cf: James Harding, Alpha Dogs: The Americans Who Turned Political Spin into a Global Business.)
With Cory’s victory in the People Power revolution, the firm’s prestige shot up, their ‘technology,’ even if pejoratively described as the art of the political spin, was studied, their political-consultancy business model adopted by a host of new Washington-based firms.
Harding noted in his book: ‘On the back of the success in Chile and the Philippines, Sawyer Miller spread across the South American continent…’
When the firm’s principal David Sawyer died in 1999, Sen. Daniel Moynihan stood up on the floor of the US Senate to mourn him, saying, among other things, that Sawyer ‘helped to open up the governments of Eastern Europe and Latin America by introducing mass communication into their electoral processes.’
‘The Sawyer Miller group had a lasting impact on the world because their craft worked, Harding wrote.
Now, that is an exaggeration. Sawyer would have been nothing without the People Power revolt. And there wouldnt have been a People Power revolt without Cory.
After Rizal, the globalist who first envisioned the Filipino, and Bonifacio the nationalist revolutionary, enters now into our nations pantheon of heroes, Cory, the icon of world democracy.
(The author is currently ambassador to Greece. He used to be editor in chief of inq7.net.)