EDSA amid crisis: Aquino slams ‘desperate’ critics

MANILA, Philippines – On the 29th anniversary of the Philippines’ peaceful uprising that toppled a dictator, President Benigno Aquino III slammed “desperate” critics taking advantage of his worst political crisis.

Aquino on Wednesday, February 25, also pushed for the peace process in the southern Philippines, which lawmakers decided to delay while investigating a controversial police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, where 44 police commandos were killed by suspected Muslim rebels.

The President is facing public outrage, including a reported coup plot, over his role in the bloodbath on January 25, exactly a month ago. (READ: Truth body to ‘reconcile’ Mamasapano reports)

Sinisikap po nating manatili ang kaayusan. Ngunit alam din nating habang palapit tayo nang palapit sa katuparan ng ating mithiin, lalong magiging desperado ang mga kontra dito,” Aquino said in a speech during a Mass at the iconic shrine along Manila's main highway, EDSA.

(We’ve been trying to maintain peace. But we also know that while we get closer and closer to the fulfillment of our dreams, those against us would become more desperate.)

The President challenged his detractors to offer solutions.

“'Di po nating maiwasang isipin na ayaw nilang magkaroon ng kapayapaan dahil sila mismo ang nakikinabang sa gulo at karahasan. Ang gusto nila, muling magkanya-kanya ang mga Pilipino at mawala ang tiwala natin sa isa’t isa upang isulong ang kanilang pansariling agenda,” Aquino said.

(We can’t help but think they don’t want peace because they themselves gain from chaos and violence. They want Filipinos to go on their own ways and lose their trust in each other, so they can push for their own agenda.)

This was the President’s most tumultuous celebration of the People Power Revolution, also known as the EDSA Revolution.

On February 25, 1986, a peaceful uprising toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos and catapulted Aquino’s mother, Corazon, to power. It inspired a similar movement in 2001, ousting President Joseph Estrada because of reports of plunder.

Nearly 3 decades later, the younger Aquino himself faces calls for his ouster.

His critics, mostly allied with former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, have wanted to remove him since his first few months in office. That was when Aquino enjoyed record-high satisfaction ratings and kept a residue of public sympathy after his mother's death in 2009 due to cancer.

The anti-Aquino movement, however, seized the opportunity in early 2015 when the Mamasapano crisis erupted.

The government on Sunday, February 22, vowed to use the “full force of the law” against the President's critics who push for an “unconstitutional and illegal power grab.”

‘Compassion over anger’

In his speech on Wednesday, as if to quell public anger, Aquino, the son of two democracy icons, refreshed the public’s memories. He showed a photo of his father, Benigno Jr, in his bloodied clothes shortly after he was murdered at Manila's tarmac in 1983.

Aquino said he was ready to die to avenge for his father's death.

He said he changed his mind about revenge, however, when he saw thousands of Filipinos who attended his father’s funeral. 

Nagbabalik-tanaw po ako sa kuwentong hindi upang kumuha ng simpatya para sa aking sarili kundi para idiin ang leksyong dala nito. Bilang inyong pangulo, maliwanag sa aking magkukulang ako sa aking tungkulin kung hindi ko ipapaalala ang kapangyarihan ng malasakit,” he said.

(I look back at this story not to gain sympathy for myself, but to stress the lesson it brings. As your President, it’s clear to me that I’ll be remiss in my duties if I don’t remind you of the power of compassion.)

Malasakit ang pinakamakapangyarihang tugon sa galit,” Aquino said, evoking memories of the recent trip of Pope Francis to the Philippines that had the theme “mercy and compassion.” (Compassion is the most powerful response to anger.)

The President then appealed for compassion in the face of the Mamasapano crisis.

He referred to viral videos that showed suspected Muslim rebels killing members of the Philippines' elite police force.

Sa harap ng mga video na nagpakita ng karahasan, sa harap ng galit na maaaring mamuo sa ating mga puso, kailangan nating ipaalala: mas makapangyarihan pa rin ang tiwala, ang malasakit, ang pag-ibig,” he said. (In the face of videos that show violence, in the face of anger that might build up in our hearts, we need to remind ourselves: trust, compassion, and love still wield more power.)

Peace process a fruit of ‘trust’

He also gave an example of a fruit of trust: the framework agreement that the Philippine government signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The MILF is engaged in a peace process with the Philippine government to end a 4-decade-old Muslim secessionist movement in the southern Philippine island group of Mindanao. Critics blame the MILF, however, for the alleged “massacre” of 44 Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) members in Mamasapano.

He urged Filipinos to value the trust that led to the peace process.

He asked lawmakers to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, a landmark in the peace process which aims to create an autonomous Muslim region more powerful than the one in place.

Aquino said, “Sa mga nagsasabi na ihinto na ang peace process at ang pagpapasa ng Bangsamoro Basic Law, paaano nila masisiguro na magkakaroon uli ng ganitong oportunidad?” (To those saying we should stop the peace process and the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, how can they ensure we can get this opportunity again?)

He also pointed out that the 44 SAF members who died in Mamasapano sacrificed their lives for peace.

At the shrine dedicated to Mary, the Queen of Peace, Aquino said, “Hindi naman po makatuwiran na ang kanilang inialay para sa kapayapaan ay maging mitsa pa ng karahasan.” (It won't be just if what they offered for peace would become the trigger of violence.) – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.