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35 years after People Power, groups say fight for democracy ‘not over’

Although 35 years have passed since the historic People Power Revolution that resulted in the ousting of a dictator, several groups asserted that the fight for democracy is not yet over.

During the 35th anniversary of the People Power Revolution on Thursday, February 25, groups raised how Filipinos must continue to fight for the country’s democracy, especially during President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.

35 taon na ang lumipas mula nang palayain ng nagkakaisang hanay ng masa ang buong sambayanan laban sa diktadurya at pang-aabuso ng rehimeng Marcos. Ngayong patuloy na lumalala ang krisis na kinahaharap ng bansa...Hindi pa tapos ang laban para sa pambansang demokrasya at pantay-pantay na karapatan,” said Anakbayan Nueva Ecija.

(35 years have passed since the people fought against dictatorship and the abuses of the Marcos regime. Now the country’s crisis continues to worsen...The fight for the country’s democracy and equal rights is not yet over.)

Authoritarian rule

Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA), an organization of victims and survivors of Martial Law, pointed out how the actions of the Duterte administration closely mirror the authoritarian rule of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

“Eerily, 35 long years after People Power, we feel like it's 1970s all over again...The government is again focused on spreading fake information and creating its own demons in the guise of ‘counter-insurgency programs’ and outright red-tagging. The judiciary and legislative bodies are again dominated by the administration's allies and pawns. More importantly, all lead to one common denominator: another dictator is threatening our democracy in the name of Rodrigo Duterte,” SELDA said. 

SELDA emphasized that the implementation of the Anti-Terror Law showed how Duterte legalized a witch hunt against activists and critics, similar to what Marcos did during Martial Law. The nearly decade-long period of the nationwide martial law from 1972 to 1981 was marred by thousands of killings, disappearances, and persecution of critics of the Marcos regime.

Alternatibong Katipunan ng mga Mag-aaral sa University of the Philippines said that the anti-terror law is used to stifle dissent and not to counter terrorism, as the administration claims. 

Hindi makatarungan ang anti-terror law kasi kami mismo nakaranas ng pangigipit nang nagprotesta kami noong July. Kung terorista ka sa mata ng kapulisan, yung ang paniniwalaan nila,” shared Renella Pineda, League of Filipino Student’s-Cagayan Valley spokesperson, and one of the arrested activists in Tuguegarao City at the height of the nationwide State of the Nation Address protests in 2020. 

(The anti-terror law is unjust, we know this because we experienced its wrath when we got arrested in July 2020 during a protest. When the police see you as a terrorist, that's what they will believe in.) 

Groups also raised the high number of extrajudicial killings under Duterte’s term, with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency recording 5,526 deaths during anti-drug operations by the government from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2019.

Rights groups, however, estimate the drug war to have claimed as much as 27,000 lives, including the victims of vigilante-style killings.

“There remain a myriad of circumstances that mirror the grim turn of events during Marcos’ regime, some of which include the unlawful killings that is made visible by thousands of unclassified extrajudicial cases, red-tagging of progressive groups and individuals, evasive campus militarization, suppressing the media through threat and intimidation,” Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista said.

Groups also pointed out another similarity: curtailment of press freedom through the ABS-CBN shutdown, among others. The College Education Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) said that the situation of campus journalism hasn’t changed in either administration too, adding that several campus publications and journalists are still vulnerable to harassment and surveillance, especially when they dissent. 

CEGP described their plight as “different situations, times, and names, but only in one form.”

“What's Martial Law back then is the Anti-Terrorism Law today, the red-tagging of NTF-ELCAC, the railroading of Charter Change, the endless corruption schemes, the Oplan Tokhang, the continuous price hike of basic commodities and privatization of services, the shutdown of ABS-CBN,” said Girls for Peace.

'Not just another holiday'

Remembering the essence of the People Power Revolution on its 35th anniversary, groups called on Filipinos to help preserve democracy and demand accountability from the government on various issues. 

“The pandemic has made our futures appear bleak, but we must not cease in the fight for a society that is grounded on social justice, genuine development, and the empowerment of all its sectors,” Kilos Ko Youth said in a statement. 

Kilos Ko Youth added that the martyrdom of the previous generation should inspire Filipinos to prevent another authoritarian rule from happening.

The Ateneo Professional Schools Community, in a joint solidary statement, asked the Duterte administration to effectively strategize and follow evidence-based recommendations from medical societies, academic institutions, and other groups in implementing the vaccination phase.

They also called upon local leaders to continually provide the necessary mental and financial support that will capacitate its people, especially those from the vulnerable sectors. 

CEGP, meanwhile, magnified its call to junk the anti-terror law and expressed its continuous fight to defend press freedom and academic freedom. 

“With rampant attempts to distort our history through mis- and disinformation, we are challenged to remember and be inspired by the real stories of revolution in our history,” said the We the Future PH, a non-partisan movement of Filipino youth. 

“To combat this, we have to engage in discussions to keep the conversation going, join organizations that aim to protect democracy, and exercise our right of suffrage,” it added. – with reports from Vincent Verzola/