MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte skipped it again, Vice President Leni Robredo was not invited, and in a twist most unimaginable in 1986, a Marcos comeback in key positions of leadership could be looming in the Philippines.
Signs of a divided, forgetful country came on full display on Monday, February 25, as the Philippines marked the 33rd anniversary of the peaceful 1986 revolution that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos and propelled Corazon Aquino to power.
A far cry from the two million people who massed up along the iconic EDSA highway on February 25, 1986, an estimated crowd of 1,200 people gathered in front of the People Power Monument around 8 am on Monday.
Duterte, who idolizes Marcos and ran on an anti-Aquino platform, was nowhere in sight during Monday's event. He sent a wreath of flowers instead.
It was Duterte's third straight year to skip EDSA anniversary events – unlike Mrs Aquino's son, former president Benigno Aquino III, who himself led EDSA anniversary observances during his term.
Robredo's spokesperson, Barry Gutierrez, told Rappler that the Vice President was not invited to the EDSA anniversary event. Robredo, leader of the opposition, is allied with Aquino.
Former president Fidel Ramos, usually present through the years, on a rare occasion also missed Monday's event. Ramos, 90, played a key role in the EDSA Revolution when he, as the military's vice chief of staff, withdrew his support for the dictator.
Rappler is still trying to reach Ramos' office for comment about his absence from Monday's event.
It was an education undersecretary, Lorna Dig Dino, who led the wreath-laying rites in front of the People Power Monument on Monday.
'Huwag tayong umasa sa EDSA'
"Today we see a different kind of revolution," said Duterte's adviser, Joey Concepcion III, vice chair of the EDSA People Power Commission.
"The transformation from the People Power Revolution that we saw in 1986 is moving forward to a revolution that is creating greater inclusivity for many Filipino people," Concepcion said in his speech at the People Power Monument on Monday.
Veteran political campaigner Reli German, who spoke after Concepcion, said in his speech that Filipinos made a mistake after the EDSA Revolution. He said Filipinos thought the revolt would bring a "miracle" or an "instant solution" to the country's problems, such as corruption, traditional politics, and the way the Philippines is sold to other countries.
"Huwag tayong umasa sa EDSA People Power Revolution para mawala ang mga problema natin (Let us not depend on the EDSA People Power Revolution to eradicate our problems)," German said, as he stressed the need to find solutions "on a day-to-day basis."
In his own written message on the EDSA anniversary, Duterte made no mention of fighting dictatorship, but instead said he hopes the observance "will inspire all of us."
"More than 3 decades ago, we showed to the world that history can be rewritten without the need to resort to violent means," said Duterte, who once said "nothing will happen to this country" if he "will not be a dictator."
"As the entire nation prepares for the upcoming midterm elections this May, let us always remember how this historic revolution restored our power to collectively chart our future through the ballot. May we all have a profound sense of appreciation and understanding of what we lost and what we reclaimed," added the President.
Duterte backing Marcoses
Duterte recently endorsed the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos' daughter, Imee, as one of his chosen senatorial candidates in the May 13 elections.
Robredo's spokesperson said the Vice President led a separate commemoration of the 33rd EDSA Revolution anniversary in her hometown of Naga City.
Robredo on Sunday, February 24, called on Filipinos to break the misconception that the EDSA revolt is just about the "Dilawan" or the "Yellows," the color associated with the Aquinos and the Liberal Party, which she chairs.
"Hindi ito defined by isang kulay, hindi siya defined by any group, hindi siya defined by pulitika. Kasi nangyari lang naman ang EDSA dahil nagkaisa iyong mga Pilipino," Robredo said.
(It's not defined by one color, it's not defined by any group, it's not defined by politics. The EDSA Revolution only happened because Filipinos became united.)
In another event on Saturday, February 23, Aquino criticized Duterte as he campaigned for the 8 opposition bets, branded as "Otso Diretso" (Straight Eight), in the May 13 senatorial elections.
"Paano ba tayo susunod sa pinuno na hindi natin malaman saan tutungo (How can we follow a leader who does not know where he will go)?" said Aquino, who used the slogan "Tuwid na Daan" (Straight Path) during his term as president.
"'Yun ang iba sa Otso Diretso. Maliwanag, klaro, diretso ang pupuntahan natin (That's what's different with Otso Diretso. Our path is clear and straight)," Aquino said.
He also warned Filipinos about history repeating itself.
"Kung hindi na relevant, malimutan 'nyo ang aral ng nakalipas, garantisadong uulitin 'nyo ang pagkakamali. Nasa inyo 'yun, demokrasya. Nasa inyo kung gusto 'nyong ulitin ang madilim na bahagi ng kasaysayan," Aquino said in an interview.
(If you think it is no longer relevant, and you will forget the lessons of the past, it is guaranteed that you will repeat previous mistakes. Democracy is up to you. It is up to you if you want to repeat the dark chapter of history.) – with reports from Mara Cepeda and Rambo Talabong/Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.