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The People's Power movement

The People's Power movement, which bore fruit in the ouster of Marcos on February 25, 1986, was broad-based but primarily, although not exclusively, urban-based, indeed the movement was commonly known in Manila as the EDSA Revolution. People's Power encompassed members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, the business elite, and a faction of the armed forces. Its millions of rural, working-class, middle-class, and professional supporters were united not by ideology or class interests, but by their esteem for Aquino's widow, Corazon, and their disgust with the Marcos regime. After her husband's assassination, Corazon Aquino assumed first a symbolic and then a substantive role as leader of the opposition. A devout Catholic and a shy and self-styled "simple housewife," Mrs. Aquino inspired trust and devotion. Some, including top American policy makers, regarded her as inexperienced and naive. Yet in the events leading up to Marcos's ouster she displayed unexpected shrewdness and determination.

Martial law had emasculated and marginalized the opposition, led by a number of traditional politicians who attempted, with limited success, to promote a credible, noncommunist alternative to Marcos. The most important of these was Salvador H. "Doy" Laurel. Laurel organized a coalition of ten political groups, the United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO), to contest the 1982 National Assembly elections. Although he included Benigno Aquino as one of UNIDO's twenty "vice presidents," Laurel and Aquino were bitter rivals.

During the martial law and post-martial law periods, the Catholic Church was the country's strongest and most independent nongovernmental institution. It traditionally had been conservative and aligned with the elites. Parish priests and nuns, however, witnessed the sufferings of the common people and often became involved in political, and even communist, activities. One of the best-known politicized clergy was Father Conrado Balweg, who led a New People's Army guerrilla unit in the tribal minority regions of northern Luzon.

Although Pope John Paul II had admonished the clergy worldwide not to engage in active political struggle, the pope's commitment to human rights and social justice encouraged the Philippine hierarchy to criticize the Marcos regime's abuses in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Church-state relations deteriorated as the statecontrolled media accused the church of being infiltrated by communists. Following Aquino's assassination, Cardinal Jaime Sin, archbishop of Manila and a leader of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, gradually shifted the hierarchy's stance from one of "critical collaboration" to one of open opposition.

A prominent Catholic layman, Jos Concepcion, played a major role in reviving the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) with church support in 1983 in order to monitor the 1984 National Assembly elections. Both in the 1984 balloting and the February 7, 1986, presidential election, NAMFREL played a major role in preventing, or at least reporting, regime-- instigated irregularities. The backbone of its organization was formed by parish priests and nuns in virtually every part of the country.

The Aquino assassination shattered business confidence at a time when the economy was suffering from years of mismanagement under the cronies and unfavorable international conditions. Business leaders, especially those excluded from regime-nurtured monopolies, feared that a continuation of the status quo would cause a collapse of the economy. Their apprehensions were shared by foreign creditors and international agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Inflation and unemployment were soaring. The country's GNP became stagnant by 1983, and then it contracted--by -6.8 percent in 1984, and -3.8 percent in 1985, according to the IMF. There was a steep decline both in domestic and foreign investment. Outward capital flows reached as high as US$2 million a day in the panic that followed Aquino's death. The Makati area of Manila, with its banks, brokerage houses, luxury hotels, and upper-class homes, became a center of vocal resistance to the Marcos regime.

Left-wing groups, affiliated directly or indirectly with the Communist Party of the Philippines, played a prominent role in anti-regime demonstrations after August 1983. While the New People's Army was spreading in rural areas, the communists, through the National Democratic Front, gained influence, if not control, over some labor unions, student groups, and other urbanbased organizations. Leftists demanding radical political change established the New Nationalist Alliance (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan--BAYAN), in the early 1980s, but their political influence suffered considerably from their decision to boycott the presidential election of February 1986.

Corruption and demoralization of the armed forces led to the emergence, in the early 1980s, of a faction of young officers, mostly graduates of the elite Philippine Military Academy, known as the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM). RAM supported a restoration of pre-martial law "professionalism" and was closely allied with Minister of National Defense Enrile, long a Marcos loyalist yet increasingly unhappy with Ver's ascendancy over the armed forces.

Given its past colonial association and continued security and economic interests in the Philippines, the United States never was a disinterested party in Philippine politics. On June 1, 1983, the United States and the Philippines signed a five-year memorandum of agreement on United States bases, which committed the United States administration to make "best efforts" to secure US$900 million in economic and military aid for the Philippines between 1984 and 1988. The agreement reflected both United States security concerns at a time of increased Soviet-Western tension in the Pacific and its continued faith in the Marcos regime.

The assassination of Aquino shocked United States diplomats in Manila, but conservative policy makers in the administration of President Ronald Reagan remained, until almost the very end, supportive of the Marcoses, because no viable alternative seemed available. In hindsight, United States support for the moderate People's Power movement under Corazon Aquino, backed by church and business groups, would seem to be self-evident common sense. Yet in the tense days and weeks leading up to Marcos's ouster, many policy makers feared that she was not tough or canny enough to survive a military coup d'tat or a communist takeover.



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Page last modified: 12-07-2012 17:02:14 ZULU