IMAGES of soldiers embracing civilians as military tanks and soldiers retreated are still vivid in former Cebu City congressman Antonio Cuenco’s mind.
All around him, people were chanting, some in tears, to celebrate the victory of the Feb. 25, 1986 Edsa Revolution.
It was a moment of “glorious triumph,” Cuenco said, a day of celebration because, finally, the Filipinos regained their freedom.
The days leading to Feb. 25 were difficult ones for Cuenco and his wife Nancy, who are among the closest allies of the late president Corazon Aquino in Cebu.
He spearheaded rallies in Cebu against the dictatorship of former president Ferdinand Marcos, and called on Cebuanos to support Aquino’s cause.
His efforts to bring down the Marcos administration sent him to jail three times.
“I was deeply involved with the Edsa Revolution here in Cebu and even in Manila… Our objective was to denounce Marcos and his cronies, and to ask the Filipino people to boycott all the businesses of the cronies…and many people joined us to show their support to our cause,” Cuenco told Sun.Star Cebu.
Each time he organized a rally, he ended up in jail—once for 24 hours, one week the next time, and the last one lasting 39 days, all for illegal assembly.
The last rally that he spearheaded in Cebu, on Aquino’s request, was on Feb. 22, 1986.
That morning, Cuenco and his wife Nancy, a very close friend of Aquino, picked up Aquino and her daughter Kris at the Mactan airport, and proceeded to the rally in Fuente Osmeña area, which started at 1 p.m.
“Pwerte gyud kadaghan sa tawo, napuno ang Fuente Osmeña. Nagsugwak ang katawhan nga nisuporta ni Cory (There were so many people, Fuente was filled with them. The crowd supporting Cory swelled),” Cuenco recalled.
By 6 p.m., when they learned about the revolution starting in Edsa and Marcos’s orders to disperse the protesters, Aquinos’ allies here agreed to cut the rally short.
They then brought Aquino to the Carmelite monastery, the only place where they felt they would be safe. They were joined by Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, Jr., Aquino’s brother.
“We could not sleep the whole night. She (Aquino) and Nancy just kept praying the rosary, and Peping and I were monitoring what was going on in Manila,” he said.
At noon the following day, the group left the monastery to bring the Aquinos to the airport, but before that, Aquino stopped by the Magellan Hotel to hold a press conference, where she urged the people to join the ongoing revolution in Edsa. She also called on Marcos to voluntarily step down.
By 3 p.m., Aquino arrived in Manila and went to join the military officials who rebelled against Marcos and the millions of civilians who led the peaceful revolt that culminated on Feb. 25 and led to the departure of the Marcoses.
“Those days for me were dangerous, exciting and yet precious. Those are contradictions, but for me, regaining our liberty is a very precious thing…That day, Feb. 25, 1986, I felt triumphant, gloriously triumphant. I felt good, at last we’re free. It felt good to be part of that struggle,” Cuenco said.
He feels, though, that the Edsa Revolution should have continued to ensure that the Marcoses and their cronies were punished for their atrocities and ill-gotten wealth.
“They should have been brought to justice, but there was no justice done. They should have been tried, convicted and put to death because the death penalty was operative that time,” said Cuenco.
Looking back to his experience 30 years after the Edsa Revolution, Cuenco, now 79, feels the Filipinos continue to be betrayed by their leaders.
“I am disappointed because what is missing after all the struggle we made is that the people’s hearts were not changed. Wala gyud. There was no genuine change in the sense that there was no change of heart. Daghan gihapon mga kawatan,” he said.
“Marcos’ character was copied by many politicians. Katong mga pangilad ni Marcos naa lang gihapon, gipalabwan pa. Ang pagpangawat sa government coffers, nagpadayon gyud (Marcos’s deception still exists, even surpassed. Stealing from government coffers continue),” he continued.
When he thinks that the Filipinos had learned from the lessons of martial law and graft and corruption during the Marcos regime, Cuenco said the people still allow the mistakes in the past to happen.
He cited the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF), where senators, congressmen and their close friends allegedly benefited from government funds intended for the people.
“It was greed and the lust for power that destroyed the spirit of Edsa,” Cuenco said.