Manila (AsiaNews) – “I still remember vividly the sea of people and the hopes of the Filipino people who thronged to EDSA road to topple Marcos,” said Susan Ong, a theology professor at Catholic University of Santo Tomas, Manila. She spoke on the 24th anniversary of the Rosary or People Power Revolution, which is being celebrated today in the Philippines. Susan is one of the millions of Catholics who played a key role in the overthrow of the military regime of Ferdinand Marcos that brought democracy to the country in 1986, with rosaries as their only weapons, egged on by Card Jaime Sin, then archbishop of Manila. “The spirit of democracy is still here; however, much more has to be done for the people and the country’s development,” she said.
The People Power Revolution broke out in 1986 after 20 years of military regime under then President Ferdinand Marcos. Elected democratically in 1966 and re-elected in 1970 (a first for the Philippines), Marcos could not run for a third term and so on 21 September 1972 he declared martial law. For the next 14 years, he held absolute power over the country and its people.
In 1986, under pressures from within and without, the dictator called a snap election, certain that he could use fraud to stay in power. However, on 25 February, millions of people gathered on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA), one of the capital’s main thoroughfares, armed with rosaries, to face off troops Marcos had sent to crush the uprising. After four days of non-violent demonstrations, the military joined the protesters and Marcos was forced to flee.
Card Jaime Sin, General Fidel Ramos and Corazon Cojuangco Aquino led the demonstrators. Ms Aquino, who would soon be elected president, had lost her husband, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, gunned down more than two years earlier by the dictator’s soldiers as he got off a plane at Manila Airport.
“I came from the provinces,” Susan Ong said, “My parents did not know that I was a part of the Revolution. I can still recall [. . .] someone saying that Marcos’ soldiers were going to shoot at the people. [. . .] It was scary, but I thought it was better to die for the freedom and democracy than allow Marcos to perpetuate his dictatorship. [. . .] The Revolution changed our politics and society, and we can still see today its fruit.” Yet, “after 24 years, corruption in public and private life has not been eliminated and that is discouraging for people.”
Since Marcos fled, four presidents have held office. They are Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo. The presidency of Estrada and Arroyo have been characterised by major cases of corruption, attempts at controlling mass media and violence against opponents.
Even though economic growth is higher than in the past, poverty levels remain high, up to 30 per cent in some regions.
For Susan, “only the Church’s pastoral and educational work can promote the values that underpinned the Rosary Revolution.”