A journey still not completed

I was nine years old then with no other concern except my pigtails and sticker albums. The year was 1986. I don’t remember seeing my parents worried or jubilant. I can’t remember if classes were suspended, either – I was just too young.

Twenty five years ago, a revolution ousted the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. My country, the Philippines, had been in chaos in the years that led to the People Power Revolution.

It was a People Power Revolution because throngs of civilians faced military tanks and gun-wielding soldiers sent by Marcos. Nuns, priests, doctors, lawyers, teachers, students, artists, musicians and everyone who cared for their country went to the highway that we call EDSA. And a crowd of some 25,000 people didn’t leave the site until Marcos stepped down from office.

Marcos in Washington, 1983. Photo from Wikimedia Commons (A1C Virgil C Zurbruegg).

Twenty years of dictatorial rule were marked by rampant human rights abuses, corruption, poverty and high inflation. That peaceful revolution would later send ripples around the globe and inspire other nations to revolt in the same way.

And it was the same strong desire for change that gave Egyptians the strength to oust one of the Arab world’s longest-serving leaders, (now former) president Hosni Mubarak. Eighteen days of protests ended Mubarak’s 30-years-long term in office.

In Libya, civilians are also seeking the end of Muammar Gaddafi’s rule. Protests have become violent as Gaddafi ordered a violent and deadly crackdown of the protesters.

Most people power revolts succeeded in toppling unwanted abusive leaders. What will follow is a feeling of pure joy and victory.

However, after adrenaline dies down and the rush of joy disappears, deeply rooted problems remain.

Streets of Manila. Photo by Stefan Munder under Creative Commons licence.

Twenty years since the 1986 People’s uprising, corruption in the Philippine military and government in general remains as rampant as it has ever been. The democracy remains very weak, and fraud elections are still very prevalent.

Getting rid of a dictator is one thing, but rebuilding lives is another.

In the Philippines, some of the activists who had participated in the toppling of the dictator found themselves on the other side of the fence years later. They themselves have committed human rights abuses and have been mired in corruption as well.

Street parliamentarians are now in the same halls as Imelda Marcos, the infamous former First Lady. They are all occupying offices of the country’s House of Representatives.

Needless to say, the corruption present during the Marcos era remains. The police, politicians and the government continue to plunder the country’s resources. And even with volumes and volumes of evidence against them, no-one of the Marcos clan has been effectively prosecuted. On the contrary: they are back in power. The only son of the late dictator now occupies a Senatorial seat and is even eyeing the presidency in 2016.

Protesters continue to take to the streets and rage over various issues. Political killings are still a daily fare. Oil prices are skyrocketing and millions are still as poor as they have ever been.

Welcome to the Philippines, the country that peacefully toppled a dictator 25 years ago.

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