People Power in 2016

I was attending the National Secondary Schools Press Conference (NSSPC) in Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo  representing Region 11 in a competition on editorial writing when a very excited program host interrupted the Miss NSSPC talent show with this announcement: “Marcos has left Malacañang!”

The adult teachers and administrators were all jumping up and down and clapping their hands in glee. They were hugging one another like they just won the sweepstakes. We, the high school delegates from all over the Philippines, all martial law babies who never knew any other leader than Ferdinand Marcos, were confused and wanted to know how that happened. There were no Internet and mobile devices yet then and all we had were government-controlled media as our source of information. We all looked at each other asking ourselves: “Now what?”

Well, for one, we were told that we could not go home to our respective hometowns yet because the airports were shut down. So we were stranded in Iloilo. Nothing scarier for a bunch of teenagers than being told that we could not go anywhere. But we were also told that Cory Aquino was in nearby Cebu praying with the nuns in some convent there like that was somehow enough to comfort us.

While stranded in Iloilo, my fellow campus journalists and friends discussed a Philippines without Marcos. But first, we could not believe all those Yellow Fridays worked. That Marcos would just give up and leave. Of course, we were not aware then that it was actually also a coup d’etat. Our very religious adviser simply told us it was a miracle of the Virgin Mary because people prayed the rosary. No, I did not attend a Catholic school, I went to a public high school. But this is the Philippines, where God intervenes in everything, big or small.

I was 15 going on 16 when the historic People Power Revolution happened in the Philippines. I was graduating in high school and yellow was my favorite color so it was a very cool time for me as a teenager at that time. The adults were telling us that change was finally happening. We’re free from the dictatorship. How exciting!

I only read about revolutionary governments in history books so I was super psyched to experience one under Cory Aquino. So I went off to college expecting things to be different.

Well, they weren’t. Mindanao was still militarized. People were still protesting. The military still staged coup d’etats. Davao was still the same killing fields of martial law; only this time, it was the paramilitary vigilantes and lost commands who were doing most of the killings.

So the Marcos loyalists laid low or shifted loyalties and the “Coryistas” and the “Yellow Army” ran things. There were reports that the money and jewels and precious assets left by the Marcoses were now in the hands of the Cojuangcos and their elite friends.

So much talk about agrarian reform under Cory but their Hacienda Luisita remained untouched. A human rights commission was established to investigate and prosecute human rights violations under Marcos but Cory’s human rights track record was no better. In fact, some human rights groups said it’s even worse. The Mendiola massacre was just one example.

Thirty years have passed since Marcos left Malacañang and People Power installed Cory. But there was no revolution that happened.

In fact, the Marcoses are back in power and Ferdinand, Jr. might just be the next Vice-President of the Philippines, a heartbeat away from the presidency. Cory’s son, Noynoy, is the current president and yellow is back in style. Two Aquinos already in power yet there’s still no definite report on who was responsible for the death of Ninoy Aquino.

The administrations that followed the Marcos dictatorship, including Cory’s, were all embroiled in corruption controversies, human rights violations, and abuses of power. One president was convicted of plunder and another president is facing the same charges. The pork barrel scandal exploded under Noynoy and there are reports of a coverup of involvement of officials belonging to the “Daang Matuwid.”

So what happened to the “spirit of EDSA” after 30 years? Well, the people are avoiding EDSA now because of the horrendous traffic. They now express their protests on Facebook and Twitter instead. Internet speed in the Philippines may be as slow as the traffic in EDSA but, at least, people can multitask while online.

People participate in democracy mainly through social media now. They tell their own stories in their own social media channels. They have their own talk shows even with no time limit. They do not need traditional media institutions as arbiters of information and primers of public opinion. It is now the era of citizen journalism. Yes, crowdsourcing, baby.

However, crowdsourcing is only as good as the crowd itself. As they say, one person’s democracy can be another person’s mob rule. Certain groups can manipulate the mob to push certain agenda. But, at least, there are more channels and sources now to choose from. Growing up, we only had one source of information – the government under a dictatorship.

We did not have the Internet available to us in 1986. But we were still able to mobilize people to bring about social change. Now we have access to this powerful tool that is capable of disrupting the status quo, reaching millions in one click, and sustaining the interest and engagement of a diverse group of people. How exciting!

So let’s continue the unfinished revolution of 1986.  With a lot of creativity and innovation, there might just be hope for a real people power revolution in 2016.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, February 25, 2016