By Anthony Divinagracia
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was first published on February 25, 2019 and was reposted with additional details in line with the 1986 Edsa People Power anniversary.)
FEBRUARY 25, 2020 – Revolutions, according to German philosopher Hannah Arendt, “are the only political events which confronts us directly and inevitably with the problem of beginning.”
She drives the point further: “Nothing could be farther removed from the original meaning of the world “revolution” than the idea of which all revolutionary actors have been possessed and obsessed, namely, that they are agents in a process which spells the definite end of an old order and brings about the birth of a new world.”
Yet beginnings are no bed of roses nor pickle plots for picking.
EDSA 1986 was no different, at least for some people who had left various accounts of the events that preceded the historic People Power revolution 33 years ago. Sure, they had political baggage. Most of them came from families aligned with the landed gentry which Marcos sought to marginalize after centralizing state power through Martial Law. They were neither saints nor martyrs, but hard-nosed politicians bent on regaining lost ground.
“At the heels of Martial Law where democratic space admittedly was constricted, where there were people who were benefiting from it but not all. It actually changes that. It restored democracy so to speak but at the same time it also restored the old oligarchic families. The Lopezes (and the old rich families), those who were out of power during the time of Marcos,” said Antonio Contreras, professor of political science at De La Salle University.
Lisandro Claudio, a professor of history also from La Salle, agreed but stressed that the elites were not just the traditional political families and businessmen that drew Marcos’ ire.
“Si Marcos may mga segments of the elite siyang sinubukang banggain, for example, mga Lopez. Pero ang ginawa din naman ni Marcos ay meron siyang other segment ng mga elite na binuhay naman niya. So hindi totoong binangga ni Marcos ang elite. Ang binangga niya ay isang segment ng elite para lumakas ang isa pang segment na kaalyado sa kanila. So meron ngang bumalik na mga elite noong EDSA. Ito ‘yung mga elite na binangga ni Marcos pero hindi ito nangangahulugang anti-elite ang administrasyon ni Marcos,” he said.
One of the scions of the old political elite was the late vice president Salvador “Doy” Laurel, the recognized leader of the opposition during the Martial Law years until President Cory Aquino’s group convinced him to join forces against Marcos. He obliged but the uneasy alliance with the “new face” of Asian democracy did not last.
In his memoir “Neither Trumpets Nor Drums” (1992), Laurel recounted the formative days of the first Aquino government after EDSA, highlighting the missteps that Cory allegedly made, one after the other.
“I felt it ironic that after abolishing a dictatorship, we should again resort to dictatorial power by abrogating the Constitution and governing by decree. It had become apparent that Cory’s manipulators had planned from the very start that they would monopolize power through Cory,” Laurel said of Aquino’s call to abolish the Batasang Pambansa and declare a revolutionary government.
“We agreed that the new majority would annul the proclamation of Marcos and Tolentino, that Cory and I would instead be proclaimed, after which I will be formally installed as Prime Minister.”
On March 25, 1986, Cory issued Proclamation No.3 declaring a “revolutionary government,” replacing the 1973 Constitution with a “Freedom Constitution,” and subsequently abolishing the Batasang Pambansa, the Supreme Court, all national and local position as well as the office of the Prime Minister.
A March 3, 1986 editorial of the Manila Times had earlier urged Cory to rid the new government of Marcos’ allies in government.
“How can this revolutionary government then have the Chief Justice, who swore in Marcos (after the snap elections), still sitting there? And how can it have the Batasang Pambansa that proclaimed Marcos now proclaim Mrs. Aquino unless the Batasan is again turned into a circus, in which case it would inconsistent with the people’s desire for change? … Many perhaps do not realize it, but we have staged a revolution. For revolution means change,” the editorial said.
Cory would then issue another proclamation to set up the Constitutional Commission which drafted the 1987 Constitution.
To all this however, Laurel, who would eventually earn the unflattering “langaw sa ibabaw ng kalabaw” allusion from Cory herself, thought he was taken for a ride.
“Cory chose to burn the entire house. In her attempt to demolish the infrastructure of dictatorship, Cory wrecked the entire political structure and thus delayed and derailed the application of needed solutions to our worsening problems. Her policy of vengeance and retribution likewise fueled a power struggle that would last beyond the end of her term.”
Prior to EDSA, then Defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile disclosed the formation of a “revolutionary council” to replace Marcos. Aside from Enrile, the other members would be Rafael Ileto, Rafael Salas, Fidel Ramos and Cory herself. But the council did not materialize. Enrile then proposed a provisional government headed by Cory and Doy with five cabinet positions (foreign affairs, finance, local government, justice and national defense) operating. Cory’s men however, had other things in mind.
Lawyer Homobono Adaza, who headed the opposition committee that negotiated with Enrile and Ramos, called it the “first betrayal,” in a Manila Times column on March 2016.
“This agreement was never honored. While the Opposition group was meeting at the Laurel residence after the Committee and I reported what was agreed upon with JPE-FVR, without anybody’s knowledge, except probably Cory alone, two betrayers, Jose “Peping” Cojuangco and MP (member of parliament) Ramon Mitra, Jr., met somewhere and prepared a list of the new Cabinet members in violation of the agreement,” he wrote.
Enrile and Laurel were eventually booted out from Cory’s cabinet as defense and foreign affairs ministers, respectively. But even before getting the axe, Enrile knew he would be the primordial casualty of “mutual suspicion,” being a Palace “outsider.” Like Laurel, he also questioned the way Cory utilized the gains of People Power.
“Cory’s group had been united in fighting a common enemy. With the enemy suddenly gone, they began to turn on each other, to stake out their respective turfs, and to tangle with those they considered opposed to their interests. Mutual suspicion, even paranoia, immediately se in and gripped the new rulers of the country,” Enrile wrote in his 2012 memoir.
“The others in the cabinet appeared aloof with me and felt very uncomfortable when I was around. I could feel their attitude turning to silent hostility. I began to feel like a total stranger in the cabinet – an intruder and unwanted member of the new government.”
With a revolutionary government in place, the politically scorned Laurel revealed Cory’s next project: “We were alone in Malacañang then she asked me: ‘Doy, how can I get rid of Enrile?’”
Laurel’s break from Cory was telling, if not tragic, after he personally confronted Mrs. Aquino as “Ninoy’s childhood friend.” He barely touched on the promise of power-sharing.
“I asked: ‘Whatever happened to all those promises you made, Cory? Why was the Constitution abolished without even telling me? Why did you appoint me Chairman of the Presidential Blue Ribbon Commission to investigate the behest loans (of the Marcos) only to be abolished again? Why am I now being asked to submit courtesy resignation – just because (executive secretary) Joker Arroyo and (trade secretary) Joe Concepcion had a shouting match?’
“Cory looked down and gave a halting reply: ‘I was told… that the EDSA revolution… erased all those promises,’” Laurel recalled.
In the Cory Aquino episode of the Cignal TV documentary Chronicles, La Salle history professor Vic Torres said the power-sharing deal actually existed before things went south for the supposed Cory-Doy partnership.
“May agreement talaga. Kailangan lang talagang pirmahan sa papel eh. But eventually Cory went back, the Cojuangcos went back on their work with regards to that which led of course to the resignation of Doy Laurel. When the 1987 constitution was instituted, it also abolished the parliamentary type of government. (He) was appointed prime minister, so basically nung dumating na yung 1987 constitution, tanggal na siya sa trabaho as prime minister kasi wala nang puwesto,” he said.
For Contreras, the struggle and disillusionment that marked the political events right after EDSA, was unavoidable for either party.
“That’s always characteristic of any change in regime. Naturally the winners will always fight for the spoils and so when you divide the spoils and you don’t divide it evenly or equally or equitably, some people will cry foul. Some people will be dissatisfied, and they feel that they’ve been left out,” he said.
“Any revolution or claim to revolution or change is always a product of many cooks, so to speak. Therefore, those people who felt they had a part in the transformation but were not given their due would definitely cry out that the promises were not fulfilled.”
But for all her much maligned “abolitionist” style of governance largely towards her predecessor, Cory chose not to repudiate or wave off the $28.2 billion external debt the country incurred from the Marcos years. That unpopular choice drove a deep wedge between her cabinet ministers.
Finance secretary Jaime Ongpin urged Cory to honor the debt, saying a repudiation policy would “frighten creditors” and discourage investor confidence in the country. Socio-economic planning secretary Solita Monsod, meanwhile, supported a partial debt repudiation.
But for Cory, these “are not possible, because if we did that, nobody would be willing to help us anymore. We have a word of honor and we have to borrow.”
Political activist Carlos Conde, who joined the protest movements leading to People Power, remained critical of Cory’s decision to pick the Ongpin gambit.
“Cory’s economic managers were working for the interests of creditors such as the IMF and the World Bank. That fact has not changed. This is the reason why they did not push her to repudiate our national debt or enter into a favorable repayment scheme. It was all to protect the interest of the creditors. Would the country’s economy have collapsed? Probably, but it was supposed to be a revolutionary time — in revolutions, things — not just people — that perpetuate injustice and poverty ought to collapse. Would she have done it on her own? I doubt it,” he said.
Prof. Claudio also spurned the non-repudiation solution, calling it a “decision out of pride.”
“Hindi tamang decision ‘yon. Desisyon ‘yon ng pride kasi marami sa mga utang natin, ay mga utang na binigay ng mga foreign funders kay Marcos, knowing naninanakaw (lang ito) ni Marcos. Merong karapatan si Presidente Aquino noong panahon na iyon na tanggihan ang pagbayad sa mga utang na ito. Isa pa, napaka-taas ng good will ni Pres. Aquino noong 1986. Siya and darling ng international community kaya kung hingin niya pagbigyan ang utang, napakalaki ng chance na pinagbigyan ang utang na ito,” he said.
‘Council of Trent’
Joker Arroyo, often described as the Machiavellian “little president” of the Aquino administration, himself despised the idea of paying the debt amassed by the Marcos regime. In an interview with Inquirer columnist Ceres Doyo back in October 2015, Arroyo lashed at the so-called “Council of Trent” where Ongpin and the rest of Cory’s economic managers belonged.
“This group turned out to be the proconsuls of big business and was entrusted with the economic recovery of our country. According to one journalist, this bloc, this clique, ‘is composed of nearly identical numbers of the Makati Business Club. Another journalist who knows what goes on behind closed doors said it was ‘allied to the Makati Business Club,’” he recounted.
Arroyo believed it was a mistake to honor the fiscal liabilities of the dictator, whose debt servicing ate a considerable chunk of the country’s annual budget under Aquino. He went as far as describing Cory’s economic team as “no different from, no better than, the Marcos technocrats.”
“They belong to the same school of thought…. Some members of the Cabinet pleaded that a political solution be made regarding our foreign debt, that it be taken up during her foreign trips, banking on tremendous goodwill. But what did our fiscal and monetary people say? ‘A debt is a debt, we will honor every cent we owe.’ That, of course, is a banker’s approach to loans. And so it was that the President’s visits were simply goodwill visits. We asked for nothing, we did not try for anything.”
Ernest Leung, who served as Ongpin’s assistant secretary, defended their recommendation to forego debt repudiation measures amid the political wrangling in the Palace.
“It was not a scenario option for us. It was the only scenario! How to maintain the goodwill of the governments that had already expressed a lot of goodwill for the Aquino government, and how to maximize that goodwill and transform it into resource transfers to meet out needs – that was the job Jimmy Ongpin tackled. And I think he was very successful in that era,” he told Nick Joaquin in “Jaime Ongpin: The Enigma,” in 1988.
Former senator Rene Saguisag, who also served as an Aquino cabinet member, sided with Arroyo and other progressive cabinet members on the debt issue.
“One big debate that time was the onerous debts. We wanted the country to ignore or repudiate those debts, but we were beaten by those who said we have to honor our debts if we are to remain our international credit standing,” he recalled.
Prof. Contreras agreed to the non-repudiation of the Marcos-incurred external debt for practical reasons.
“It will be economically disastrous on our part. Take note that we live in a global economic community. the trust and confidence of our debtors are important to us. This weighed heavily on her. Will it be good for the country, will it be good for our interest? There are so many factors that she should consider. Some of them are external to Cory and external to the country,” he said.
But apart from the debt issue, Cory was soon confronted by other pressing gut issues like the land reform program which triggered the Mendiola massacre in 1987 and the nagging Hacienda Luisita dispute among farmer-tenants and members of her own family, the Cojuangcos. The fruits of discontent in the countryside were ripe for the picking and the Communist rebels and military adventurists basked in the harvest.
The Aquino government may have added fuel to the fire after Cory decided to push through with the release of political prisoners, most of them Communist cadres who were arrested for rebellion chargesduring the Marcos years. One of them is Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison.
“Manong Johnny (Enrile) was very emotional about it. (He said) I cannot explain this to my boys kung bakit palalayain nila si Joma Sison. Eh kami naman ang linya namin, eh from Day 1 hindi natin tutuparin yung campaign promise of so many years, our credibility would be below zero,” Saguisag said.
Enrile described himself as a “lonely voice in the wilderness,” recalling his objection to Cory’s decision to free the enemies of the state. Then AFP chief of staff Fidel Ramos was quiet about the issue, apparently taking the side of the president.
“Cory’s point was that everybody who fought Marcos deserved a second chance for freedom. It did not seem to matter that Sison and company were not just fighting Marcos – they were out to overthrow the state and democracy. Cory would be proven wrong and naïve. Joma never supported her government and left for exile in the Netherlands where he remains to this day…,” Enrile recounted in his memoirs.
Cory never concealed her distaste for anything that has a Marcos imprint, including the operation of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power plant, which some political analysts and historians thought, would have been useful to avert the power crisis of the early 90s.
Prof. Torres recalled how Malacañang allies in Congress ignored then energy minister Geronimo Velasco’s recommendation to operate the powerplant and keep the Luzon grid stable. But the congressional inquiry focused on the powerplant as a product of Marcos’ corruption and the danger it poses once a nuclear leak happens.
“Geronimo Velasco was warning the senators that sooner or later you have to get the Bataan nuclear powerplant going because he said within a matter of years the powerplants all over the Philippines, which were almost a hundred years old would start to breakdown. But of course, being a Marcos colleague and everything,Velasco’s warning was completely disregarded. And true enough within a matter of years it began when the Luzon power grid suddenly collapsed. I think that later became the legacy of the Cory Aquino administration – 8 to 12-hour brownouts all over the Philippines which of course affected the economy,” he said.
“Ang daming magandang plano ni Marcos that was eventually disregarded. However, because these plans were made by technocrats who were only identified because they were Marcos technocrats.Something good for the country at that time. And of course, when they disregarded all of these things, it led further to the downfall of the opinion against Cory.”
Rent-seeking businessmen began to curry favors from Malacañang through deal makers close to the center of power, despite Cory’s efforts to shun the realities of political horse-trading. The elite which Marcos cornered and crippled, knew Cory (and her family) would be hard-pressed to betray her own kind. After all, the new president, raised with undeniable business pedigree by a haciendero family, had to “pay” her political debts by allowing them to set shop anew. For Prof. Torres, the return of “cacique democracy” was evident.
“One of the biggest disappointments that happened in her career was the return of the oligarchy which Marcos had already toned down at that time. Everyone thought that when Marcos was removed, tanggal na pati ang corruption ng Marcoses. They made a mistake. People eventually would say that nothing has changed.And that was of course tragic. And many of the programs of the Marcoses that were well planned by some of his technocrats went completely disregarded and it led eventually also to the collapse of the economy of the administration,” he said.
Veteran journalist Patrick Paez also lamented Cory’s shortcomings. By chance or circumstance, she enabled the “old order” to return and get their just dues with plenty to spare. Yet for that one, brief, shining moment that was Edsa 1986, Cory willingly essayed a political beginning that has yet to see its end to this day, for better or for worse.
“What was critical at that point was to grow our democracy. And I think growing our democracy does not require good management skills. It required a symbol. A moral symbol. And that’s what Cory Aquino provided,” he said.
Anthony Divinagracia is a supervising producer of News 5. He teaches at the Department of Political Science of the University of Santo Tomas. He holds a Master’s degree in History and Bachelor’s degree in Political Science.
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