Sixteen years ago, Filipinos gathered at the historic thoroughfare EDSA, where freedom was once won against a dictator in 1986.
EDSA People Power II, as it came to be known, was a series of protests held from January 16 to 20, 2001, against former president Joseph Estrada who was then facing plunder charges. The protests eventually triggered Estrada’s downfall – and paved the way for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, his vice president, to enter the spotlight in the political scene.But Arroyo would later face her own share of troubles during her administration. Both former presidents seemed to follow the same track in politics: they were both vice presidents before assuming the highest seat of the land, and both have been accused of criminal offenses. Despite these, Estrada and Arroyo have managed to retain positions in government today.
The two EDSA revolutions are examples of our penchant for anger and indignation at a national level. Whenever the occasion calls for it, Filipinos are quick to the draw (a trait shared by Erap himself in his manner of conduct during ambush interviews). We sit back and allow our problems to fester then, at the eleventh hour, go all out to seek a quick fix. And, make no mistake, our quick fixes are effective ‘ in the short-term. Both EDSA revolutions demonstrated this. However, it is disturbing to note some parallelisms between this and how we manage our roads. Our roads are rotten and structurally unsound on the inside, crumbling at the slightest bout of rainfall and subject to high-profile cosmetic repair work and asphalt overlays every election time. But the core remains rotten. In the same way that we will always have an abundance of cheap labour to dig up and re-pave our roads every year, so too do we have a rich reserve of warm bodies to march into EDSA whenever our rotten institutions crumble.
The power of the thumb
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), in a special report published in 2002, called it the “Text Revolution.” It noted how traditional gateways of information — usually through the mass media — were turned upside down as text messages passed on from one individual to another became a grassroots movement-of-sorts, “where the incredible is trashed and the believable passed forward.”
In a way, texting then democratized power among ordinary people in such a manner that they are given the ability to make and spread their vote of confidence against a certain political regime, without having to go through the traditional hoops that mainstream media are required to maneuver into.
“From radio in the first EDSA revolution in 1986 to cellphones during EDSA Dos in 2001, advancements in technology helped put more power from the top ranks down to ordinary people’s hands. Today, such trickling down of power is observed in the latest mass-communication medium to arise: social networking sites.”
(EDSA is one of Manila’s main drags, the thoroughfare where an estimated 2 million Filipinos converged for four days in February 1986 to protect the government troops who had turned their backs on Marcos.)
Fifteen years later, in 2001, a similar popular uprising – and again bloodless – ousted President (and former movie star) Joseph Estrada after an aborted impeachment trial for corruption.
In the first instance, it was the power of radio which brought people out onto the streets.
In the second, text or SMS from cellphones were instrumental in rallying people to come out in the streets in a mass protest against Estrada.
At the time, the Philippines had already been dubbed the text messaging capital of the world, sending an average of 400 million messages per day. But that was because texting was a more cost-effective way of communicating than calling, back in the late 90s and early 2000s. Texting then was used to send cheesy love notes, keep tabs with friends, or forward corny jokes to friends. Nobody then realized how texting could help spark a peaceful revolution, at least until that fateful day in January 2001 when Filipinos ousted a corrupt and philandering leader.
I think this is one of the more important values that EDSA taught us: taking action for something you believe in.”