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People’s Power in the Philippines

Posted on August 25 2013 by secret santa

People’s Power in the Philippines


"In keeping with this positive affect—and presenting a prime example of the radical power of the subordinated—Katsiaficas opens his series of case studies with consideration of the various explosive manifestations of “People’s Power” movement in the Philippines, which via mass-popular intervention first helped depose the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986, and would return in two other major waves over the course of the following twenty-five years. The original People’s Power movement of 1986—also known for the main roadway that was popularly occupied at the movement’s height, effectively blocking the movement of Marcos’s tanks, Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA)—was comprised of a multi-class nature, with businesspeople and ordinary citizens alike uniting to remove Marcos from power, following his arrogance in dismissing the results of the snap election he was forced to concede in early 1986, one that he lost to fellow oligarch Corey Aquino. EDSA 1, which brought millions out to the streets to demonstrate against this final insult of Marcos’s—for an estimated 90 percent of eligible voters participated in the election—was largely organized on the common popularity of Catholicism as the people’s identity, with the Church hierarchy involving itself explicitly in the struggle against Marcos. Crucially, the victory of EDSA 1 arguably came only because of the considerable extent to which both rank-and-file soldiers and military commanders defected against Marcos’s repressive orders to brutally put down the people, and specifically due to the efforts of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), the nucleus of military rebels who first broke from Marcos, thus catalyzing his downfall. In this sense, indeed, People’s Power 1 was not entirely a non-violent event: RAM did use force to incapacitate the air-power of units loyal to Marcos, and to take control of the TV station from which Marcos had his new inauguration—i.e., his fall—transmitted.

Katsiaficas hails the February 1986 power transition as a seminal illustration of the power of those from below to remake society, and he notes its importance as an inspiration for similar developments which followed in due course in South Korea, Taiwan, and Indonesia. However, he does note a number of limitations to the transition of power: most centrally, People’s Power I effectively served pro-Western interests in having Marcos replaced with opposition candidate Aquino, who was herself an embodiment of the Filipino ruling class, a group whose interests she represented well while in power. What is more, RAM units were in constant contact with the CIA and U.S. government throughout the tumultuous times which ended in Marcos’s departure: the CIA helped the rebels coordinate their movements, in line with the US’s desire to see the crony capitalism of Marcos give way to transnational liberalization. Katsifiacas muses that perhaps the events could have taken a different course, had the country’s once-powerful Communist movement not initially denounced the February election as a sham, and had it not previously been crippled by a 1985 thousand-person purge executed by the New People’s Army (NPA).

Unfortunately—and unsurprisingly—Marcos’s ouster proved not to be a social revolution, but rather a shuffling of power within the pro-Western Filipino oligarchy; in this sense, the Communists were entirely and presciently correct. Under Corey Aquino, the country’s “economic and social structures” changed hardly at all: while she was forced to allow land reform over some six million hectares in the country, she exempted an additional two million from redistribution, as these belonged in part to her family, as to those who effectively own the Philippines."

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