On the contributions and criticisms of People Power

By Joshua Corcuera

Every February 25, we, Filipinos, commemorate the anniversary of the People Power Revolution in 1986 which saw the ouster of the Marcos regime, the installment of the Aquino government, and the restoration of Philippine democracy.

After two decades of Marcosian rule, the regime was forced into exile in Hawaii as a popular revolution dominated the nation. To be candid, I prefer to use the term ‘People Power’ than EDSA I since the peaceful protests also occurred in various locations in the country such as in Baguio, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, and so on. One of the contributions of the revolution is its ability to demonstrate to the nation, and to other countries as well, that power belongs to many and not the few; that unity towards a noble cause can defeat the unity of a select few individuals, particularly politicians and cronies.

As a result of the revolution, fundamental rights—freedom of speech, of expression, of the press, among others—that were once deprived have been restored. More importantly, free and fair elections were held once again in regular intervals ensuring that the will of the people would prevail. The struggling economy began to recover, albeit in a merely moderate pace as compared to neighboring countries, but still better compared to the recession of 1984 and 1985.

As with any event of historical significance, the People Power Revolution is not without criticisms. In the immediate years following EDSA I, although the economy has recorded positive growth as opposed to the final years of the Marcos regime, several socio-economic issues remain relevant in the country.

Based on data from the World Bank, the Philippine economy grew by 3.5% in 1986, peaked at 6.7% and 6.2% in 1988 and 1989, respectively, plummeted to -0.4% in 1991, then rebounded to 0.4% the following year. Though these figures are better compared to Marcos’ final years—which saw the economy enter recession with -7% and -6.9% growth in 1984 and 1985—it is argued to be merely mediocre for a developing and resource-rich nation like ours.

Another major campaign promise of former President Aquino is to accelerate agrarian reform, specifically speeding up the distribution of farmlands to ordinary farmers from landlords. It is clear that Aquino made actions to live up to her promise as evidenced by the passage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) in 1988.

According to Fuwa (2000), “redistribution of rice and corn lands under Operation Land Transfer (OLT) made a major advance under the [Corazon] Aquino administration (340,000 ha), with an increase of more than twenty fold compared to the amount transferred during the Marcos martial law regime (15,000 ha).” Be that as it may, however, the significant transfer of land to former tenants did not necessarily result in the significant improvement of living standards and income among farmers.

Much worse, the new administration is controversial for the 1987 Mendiola Massacre causing progressives to be critical of the Aquino government. This remains evident to the current political landscape of the country with progressive groups critical of the Marcoses and Duterte being also critical of the Aquinos. In the previous election, though, most progressives expressed their support to former Vice President and lawyer Leni Robredo—who, for me, should not be blamed for the controversies regarding her liberal allies.

But despite these issues, this should not be an excuse for historical distortion. More so, it must be realized that it is not the revolution that pulled the country backwards, but the years before the revolution which led to the inevitable slowdown of economic growth. Mounting debt, soaring inflation, a weakening peso, unchecked corruption and abuse within public institutions were issues that were also existent, and even much worse, before the people went to revolution. Had there been no peaceful revolution in 1986, things could have spiraled out of control.

While People Power is not perfect, it is reasonably a better alternative. During that time, it is better for the new to replace the old, for hope to replace despair, for freedom to replace fear.