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20 Years After EDSA 1
Volume 20 Number 2
Thursday, 29 June 2006 00:00

Aurora A. Parong, M.D.

The speech below was delivered at the University of the Philippines in Lahug, Cebu City on March 1, 2006 during a forum organized by the Sanlakas Youth and other student groups to commemorate the anniversary of Edsa I. The forum was a bold expression of protest against repression brought about by Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s declaration of the State of Emergency, a policy widely viewed as Marcosian.)

Introduction

In the last five days (since February 24, when Mrs. Arroyo issued Presidential Proclamation 1017), so many things have happened which need our analysis and action. We cannot just sit and listen on the side.

I come to speak from the heart and from lessons learned from the traumatic experience of martial law.

Newspaper headlines in the recent days speak about the economic and political crisis that we as a people and as a nation are confronted with:

“Poverty grim reminder on Ash Wednesday”, PDI, March 1, 2006.
“Rebels charged”, “Crackdown widens”, Sun Star, February 28, March 1, 2006.

I would like to talk about these events -- poverty, rebels, and crackdown -- and link them to unresolved issues which were the reasons for EDSA I and II. We should look at them together, as interconnected, as a whole, even as we look at their specificities and take action.

Issues and Problems
Suppression of civil liberties

The Presidential Proclamation (PP) 1017 and the calibrated preemptive response (CPR) policy signed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo remind me of Presidential Decree (PD) 1081 issued by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. PD 1081 resulted to the arrests and detention of about 70,000 people, deaths of thousands due to massacre and political killings, the plunder of our wealth and rapid decline of our economy during the one man-rule of Marcos.

But people did not just sit and listen on the side. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), Medical Action Group (MAG), and many other groups then documented many of these civil and political rights violations. Some torture victims filed civil damages against their torturers, though until now, are still awaiting the Supreme Court decision regarding their case. Some of the victims of authoritarian rule -- 9,539 individuals – filed a class suit against Ferdinand E. Marcos (when Marcos died, the case became against the Marcos Estate) in Hawaii and won. Although the judgment has not been enforced, the survivors and their relatives consider this a victory – a court judgment that indicted the dictator Marcos for human rights violations.

But most of all, the people exhibited courage and gradually developed strong, sustained resistance against the dictatorship. Human rights violations were exposed, far and wide, here and abroad. Protests were launched not only in the cities but also in the countryside and town centers in different parts of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Years and years of struggles against the dictatorship culminated in EDSA in mid-February 1986 to oust a dictator whose military might did not serve as an obstacle for peoples to collectively reject his authoritarian rule and say “Oust the dictator Marcos!”
Thus we gained our freedom from dictatorial rule and regained our lost democracy.
But this same freedom and democracy are being trampled upon, again.

Since Mrs. Gloria Arroyo became president of the Philippines, TFDP documented 105 cases of torture affecting 232 individuals. Last year in 2005, TFDP documented suppression of civil liberties and other human rights violations under the supposed democratic government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo: arrest and detention, torture, summary execution, massacre, disappearance, violent dispersal of rallies, displacement, illegal demolitions, and others affecting 23,115 individuals, 2,042 families and 9 barangays.

Now we have Presidential Proclamation 1017. What has been happening since five days ago? Violent dispersal of rallies resulting to arrest of 35 including UP Professor Randy David and the wounding of several people. Congressman Crispin Beltran was arrested by virtue of a 1985 case which cannot be used because President Corazon Aquino recognized the role of political actions in overthrowing the Marcos dictatorship and ordered the release of all political prisoners immediately after EDSA I. Congressman Satur Ocampo was only able to escape those who wanted to arrest him and now the authorities cannot even show an arrest warrant to justify the plan to arrest him. It is alarming to note that the authorities say more arrests will be done of “others to be named”.

It is not only in Metro Manila that arbitrary arrest is happening. Even before Proclamation 1017, police have been exercising powers arbitrarily – here in Cebu. The barangay captain of Basak in Lapulapu City and several others were arrested and charged with sedition -- they were protesting with about a thousand people against a drainage project which will virtually make their barangay a garbage pit like Payatas because the project wastes would drain into their barangay. The Barangay Captain was able to get out of jail because he posted bail. The barangay captain expressed fear that the drainage project would push through without the people’s approval.
And a party list congressman was also arrested in Davao.
Thus everyone must be on guard. The effect of Proclamation 1017 is nationwide.

Proclamation 1017 suppresses the media—we need to look at the raid of the Tribune with alarm. Information is very important. When media is suppressed, we lose control of our lives and many events, including trampling of our human rights may happen without our knowing. We have a right to information and this is only possible if media is independent and can give us the information from all angles and sides, and not solely from the perspective of the powers that be. It was reported that there would be guidelines on what the media should and should not cover and report about. The upcoming National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) guidelines may be a bad omen. Marcos controlled the media to suppress opposition to his authoritarian rule. The media played a key role in EDSA I and II, to oust a dictator and to seek justice for plunder.

Poverty and Corruption
One big issue that necessitates attention, while we are trying to defend our civil liberties, is poverty.

During the Marcos dictatorship, our foreign debt rose in a few years. Amidst the poverty and misery of many of our people, our nation’s coffers were emptied into Marcos’ Swiss accounts. The poor kept getting poorer while Marcos and his cronies partied and lived in luxury.

Bishop Lagdameo, the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said on this Ash Wednesday, “poverty, despite the professed development at the macro-level, remains the heaviest burden the country bears.” Poverty is highlighted by tragic events such as the death of almost 100 people at Ultra, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) seeking employment abroad despite deaths in war and employer brutalities, and the continuing existence of thousands of families who live on garbage in Metro Manila and Cebu.

We were able to recover some of the Marcos ill-gotten wealth. But it has been reported that about PhP 27 billion, which should be used for agrarian reform has already been used, not to implement land reform but for the campaign of Mrs. Arroyo in 2004.

The fertilizer scam amounting to PhP 728 million at the Department of Agriculture remains unresolved. Agriculture Undersecretary Jocjoc Bolante has disappeared without giving light to the questions raised about the almost a billion scandal. People cannot accept poverty and misery when such a huge amount as PhP 728 million can disappear like a bubble in the hands of our government officials!

Bad governance and disasters
The floods in Quezon and the landslides in Leyte resulted into massive loss of lives, homes and livelihoods. Even as we need to continue support for the victims, we must be critical and ask: Does the government have a policy to strengthen our disaster prevention programs? Does it put funds for disaster prevention projects?

During Martial law, mining operations by Placer Dome in Marinduque resulted into the deaths of two rivers. These displaced families from their homes and sources of livelihood. Some of the people affected by the mining disaster in Marinduque are still displaced and there has not been a clean up by the mining company until now. Yet, President Arroyo is opening our lands for mining explorations even by big foreign companies, with all the dangers of environmental pollution and degradation.
If we have these government policies that do not benefit peoples, these are reasons why people are disgruntled and go to the streets.

Truth and the legitimacy of government
We had the Snap elections in 1986 and Marcos cheated Mrs. Corazon Aquino. The peoples took to the streets and these converged as EDSA I People Power revolt and we successfully ousted a dictator.
During the 2004 May elections, there were charges of fraud: during the canvassing of votes May-June 2004, some ballot boxes were asked to be opened but these requests were only noted but not one box was opened. Thus presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ) filed a poll protest at the Supreme Court. When FPJ died, the Supreme Court said the case was moot and academic. Protests would have perhaps died down but the now infamous “Garci tapes” surfaced. Comelec official Garcillano disappeared and when he surfaced and testified, his testimonies did not resolve and answer people’s questions about the truth and legitimacy of Mrs. Arroyo as elected president. ISAFP Sgt. Vidal Doble is back with his agency but what he exposed regarding the supposed master of all tapes did not also lead us to the truth.

Impeachment proceedings against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo were filed at the House of Representatives but these were dismissed for technical reasons. Bigger questions were raised and the legitimacy question is not closed. The failure of the processes to clarify questions and arrive at the truth regarding allegations of electoral fraud resulted to the withdrawal of support for Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by some cabinet members and former President Aquino. The support of former President Fidel Ramos for Mrs. Arroyo played a critical role in preventing her ouster.
Senator Rodolfo Biazon wanted an investigation into partisan involvement of military officials in the May 2004 elections. In Senate public hearings on these, Gen. Bulane and Col. Balutan made revealing testimonies about massive cheating during the elections especially in Mindanao but the higher officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) sanctioned them. Further Senate hearings on the matter could not proceed because Mrs. Arroyo issued Executive Order (EO) 464 requiring any official of the Executive branch of government to seek permission before testifying at any hearing at the Senate or House of Representatives.

The stand-off between Col. Ariel Querubin and the marines at Fort Bonifacio last Sunday, February 26, is an important matter to be looked into because it was not just the sudden unexplained relief of the Chief of the Marines Miranda that triggered the crisis there. Yesterday, I heard over the radio that General Lim and Marine Col. Ariel Querubin were the two people who approached Senator Biazon in the past and told him that there might be a mass resignation of marine soldiers unless investigations are done regarding electoral fraud in Mindanao.

Abuse of powers and human rights violations without checks and balance
Impunity reigns. Officials of government just get away with alleged crimes without being brought to justice.

When the Senate was investigating the PhP 728 million scandal, EO 464 was issued. This made the efforts of the Senate futile to ferret out the truth and prepare legislation that can help prevent mis-use of government funds.

Nothing happened to Comelec official Garcillano and Undersecretary Bolante.
And recently, in the rape case against four US soldiers, we cannot even get custody of the soldiers because of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). We must recall that there were reported killings by US soldiers during the time of President Diosdado Macapagal but like now, the American soldiers were not brought to justice. Nothing happened to the case of an Aeta who was killed in Clark airbase because American soldiers mistook him for a wild boar!

And President Arroyo is depriving us of a venue for justice by failing to transmit to the Senate the signed instrument of ratification of the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC).We missed the opportunity to be the 100th state party to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2005.
At the domestic level, other venues for justice have not been very helpful to resolve many of the big issues and problems of injustice. The Supreme Court dismissed the electoral fraud case against Mrs. Arroyo as being moot and academic and opened our land and resources even to foreigners for mining. The Ombudsman is failing us also. And the Commission on Human Rights was nowhere to assist when violent dispersals were being conducted after Proclamation 1017 was declared.

Where do we go? What must we do?
There are Basic Tasks put forward by Randy David, the professor from the University of the Philippines and a leader of Laban ng Masa. I would like to share them with you:
“First, to end the scourge of absolute poverty once and for all, no matter what it takes. The stampede of the poor in Ultra is only a grim reminder of this unjust reality we must all help to end.
Second, to educate every one of our people, especially the young, in order to equip them for living in a highly competitive world.

Third, to rebuild the physical infrastructure of our country, and to protect its environment from long-term damage.

And lastly, to create stable institutions appropriate to a complex and modern society -- in a climate of freedom, tolerance, and openness.”

We want peace but peace not of the grave. We want peace based on justice and truth and where human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

The peoples of the Philippines, through years of courage and resistance, were able to oust a dictator. We, the peoples of the Philippines, must again gather that same courage to defend the freedoms and entitlements that are being trampled upon.


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