Friday, March 21, 2008

Lessons of EDSAs by Jose Abueva



By Jose V. Abueva

President of Kalayaan College

The Promise of EDSA 1986 was: a peaceful “people power” revolution to bring about “Justice, Freedom and Democracy.”

The Vision in the 1987 Constitution is: (1) “to build a just and humane society”; and to (2) establish “a government that shall embody our ideals, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of independence and democracy---under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality and peace….

The Ideal Political System is: “The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people, and all government authority emanates from them.”

But EDSA 1986 proved to be only a “revolt” that dismantled the Marcos authoritarian government; not a “revolution” that changed the political and social structure, but “a restoration” of our kind of democracy before the Marcos dictatorship.

Actually, what did we accomplish following the 1986 EDSA Revolt? Basically, we:

(1) Restored the old oligarchic, patron-client relationships between the rich politicians and political families and the people at large, many of whom are poor and vulnerable;

(2) Responded to the high-cost of elections with “big money politics” amid mass poverty, thus vote-buying, “pork barrel” patronage, electoral fraud, and the corruption of elected and appointed officials.

(3) Restored the old “political crony-capitalism,” albeit we effected the deregulation of various industries, achieved a measure of development, and lately some fiscal/tax reforms and higher economic growth.

(4) Continued our traditional politics and political parties focused on personalities rather than on issues, policies, and reform, with political (family) dynasties dominating power in many places.

(5) Restored the old, dysfunctional presidential form of government that is prone to gridlock, ineffective, and unaccountable for its corruption and failure in governance. (The President, Congress, and the political parties are not accountable to the people unlike in more mature democracies.)

(6) Restored the colonial unitary structure of national-local government relations that concentrates political power and resources in the national government; blocking the development and prosperity of local governments and communities by keeping them dependent on national government patronage and decisions.

(7) Inherited and sustained the corrupted political culture, politics and bureaucracy of the Marcos dictatorship in the absence of public accountability of officials and accountable political parties that assume responsibility for failure of governance.

(8) Inherited and maintained the politicized military/police as a partner in civil governance, a force for “militarization” of the civilian authority and its protected abuse of human rights.

(9) Encouraged a large and vibrant civil society some of whose NGOs have become highly politicized—a force for change and reform, as well as for selfish interest and partisanship.

(10) Restored the pre-martial law free press and media with a vengeance: as forces for democratization and reform, but also for promoting the self interest of their owners and political allies.

(11) Continued with our dependency on foreign loans and aid rather than on more self-reliant development and resource mobilization.

(12) Failed to put closure on the plunder and corruption and human rights violations and injustices of the Marcos regime and succeeding administrations. Pardoned a former president in a hurry after his conviction for plunder in a trial that took over six years—in the name of national reconciliation (or political expediency?).

(13) Failed—despite some development and progress in 22 years—to solve our chronic problems of poverty, social inequality, corruption, unemployment (forcing massive migration of OFWs), injustice, lawlessness, violence, rebellion, inadequate public services, environmental degradation, rapid population growth, lack of revenues, low global competitiveness, etc.

22 years after the 1986 EDSA Revolt we still have not consolidated our “restored democracy.”



We have tried “people power” revolts, impeachment of the president, coup attempts, calls for a “revolution” led by a civil-military junta, pressure to make the president resign, now a call to “communal action” and “alternative people power.

Will changing the President alone now or in 2010 really change our political system, our political culture, the quality of governance, and our quality of life as a people?

I suggest we focus on what we can do. A combination of strategies to move us in the direction of our constitutional vision of the ideal society and good democratic governance.

Not only a change of leaders but also a thorough reform of our political, social and economic institutions, including Charter change. A determined overhaul over the long term.

There are no panaceas, and no guarantees of success. And many chances of setbacks and failure.

But with God’s grace and sustained and determined effort by all our leaders and citizens we can make progress. This is the story of many progressive countries.


To make our reformed and revitalized institutions succeed, we also need to re-build our nation. We need to develop:

(1) a deeper sense of nationhood, a stronger commitment to the common good and the national interest, spirituality, moral values, and modern ethical behavior;

(2) competent, responsible and accountable leaders who have the political will to do what is necessary in terms of policies, decisions and reforms;

(3) responsible citizens who are empowered economically, socially and politically as members of a growing middle class; and

(4) a productive, competitive, and responsible private sector and an equitable economy.

To end my notes, I wish to share with you some verses, entitled Building “The Good Society” We, Filipinos, May Want.

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