Philippine bishops urge people not to forget ‘dark years’ of dictatorship
By Robin Gomes
As Filipinos on Friday mark the 36th anniversary of the People Power Revolution — a popular uprising that ended the fourteen-year martial rule of former president Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. — at least three bishops are calling on people not to forget the “dark years” of dictatorship and its bitter lessons.
Bishop emeritus Teodoro Bacani of Novaliches exhorted the people not to forget “the bitter truth of the Marcos dictatorship, not to refresh the wounds that people experienced but to heal our future.”
A member of the Constitutional Commission that framed the 1986 Constitution following the uprising, Bishop Bacani urged Filipinos to take into consideration the past in casting their votes in the coming May national elections.
A report by the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), estimates the Marcoses amassed an estimated $5 to $10 billion, or more than 500 billion Philippine pesos (P), in ill-gotten wealth, between 1972 and 1986. The Presidential Commission on Good Government, the government agency tasked with recovering billions of dollars plundered by Marcos and his allies, has recovered a total of P170 billion in the past 30 years.
Bishop Bacani said, “Let us not allow a Marcos to win because until now they refuse to ask for forgiveness for what their family did to the Filipino people.”
People Power Revolution
President Marcos imposed martial law on the nation from 1972 to 1981 to suppress increasing civil strife and the threat of a communist takeover following a series of bomb blasts in Manila.
The February 22 to 25, 1986, People Power Revolution, was a series of massive nonviolent protests by the people in the capital which led to the departure of Marcos and the end of his 20-year dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s, and the restoration of democracy in the Philippines.
The sustained protest is also called the February Revolution or EDSA Revolution (after Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, a major thoroughfare in Manila where the demonstrations were held).
The three bishops raised their voice as some 67.5 million Filipinos, 1.7 million of them overseas, are currently preparing to vote in the May 9 election for a president, vice president, about 300 lawmakers, and roughly 18,000 local government positions.
The country’s presidential candidates kicked off a 3-month long election campaign on 8 February, making lofty promises to rebuild the shattered economy, wipe out corruption, and uplift the lives of a pandemic-weary public.
Frontrunner Ferdinand Marcos, Jr, the son and namesake of the late dictator president, promised to foster unity to overcome the economic and pandemic crises. Joining him as his running mate is Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, daughter of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, and the favourite to win the vice presidency, which has a separate election.
Close on his heels is current Vice President and opposition leader, Leni Robredo, who narrowly beat Marcos in the 2016 vice presidential contest but trails him in polls for the country’s top job. She promised her supporters better healthcare and an honest and caring government.
Remembering to avoid abuses
Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Taytay also called for recalling the lessons of the years under martial law and the 1986 uprising. “It is important that we do not forget,” he said, noting that since 1986, stories of abuses during the dictatorship have surfaced.
Data from the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines and other human rights monitoring groups show that up to 3,000 people were killed, 35,000 were tortured, 77 went missing, and 70,000 were imprisoned during the Marcos rule.
“That’s why let us not be duped,” Bishop Pabillo said, urging the people to remember the 1986 People Power Revolution. “Let us give importance to truth in history,” he added.
Keeping to the spirit of EDSA
Meanwhile, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan also exhorted the faithful to vote in the coming elections for leaders who value the spirit of the 1986 uprising. “A good Christian will vote for someone who will continue to uphold the true spirit of the People Power Revolution, which restored democracy in our country,” said Bishop David, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). He did not mention any presidential candidates.
“A good Christian will [also] vote for a candidate who will uphold and strengthen the country’s democracy, will follow the law, and will respect human rights,” he said during a voter education webinar on Tuesday, February 22.
The Church and People Power Revolution
The Catholic Church of the Philippines played a key role in the 1986 protest that led to the restoration of democracy in the predominantly Catholic nation.
Pressured by the international community to legitimize his regime, President Marcos called a snap election on Feb. 7, 1986. Despite Corazon Aquino, the widow of assassinated opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr., leading in the race by almost 70 per cent, Marcos declared victory amid allegations of massive fraud.
On Feb. 13, the CBCP publicly declared the inadmissibility of the election results. When “a government does not of itself freely correct the evil it has inflicted on the people,” the bishops said, “then it is our serious moral obligation as a people to make it do so.”
As Marcos desperately scrambled to hold on to power amid protests and defections, people glued to the radio heard the prophetic voice of the then-Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Jaime Sin, calling them to rise. “This is Cardinal Sin speaking,” the 57-year-old church leader said on February 22, 1986, on Catholic Radio Veritas, inviting the people to show their solidarity and support for two prominent defectors of Marcos, by gathering around Manila’s Camp Aguinaldo.
Stressing his “only wish” was that “violence and bloodshed be avoided,” he called on the faithful to “pray to our Blessed Lady to help us in order that we can solve this problem peacefully.” “I would be very happy ... Please come,” he urged. The response was staggering, with over two million Filipino civilians, as well as several political, military, and religious groups converging in and around EDSA.
Three days later, on February 25, 1986, the bloodless revolt vanquished Marcos. As he flew into exile to Hawaii that evening, Corazon Aquino was installed as the new president of the Philippines.