People Power anniversary reflection: Philippines is a ‘strange country’

Former martial law detainees Meinrado Paredes (left), and Democrito Barcenas (far right) with his wife Lourdes.
Former martial law detainees Meinrado Paredes (left), and Democrito Barcenas (far right) with his wife Lourdes. FACEBOOK

THE Philippines is a “strange country,” said former martial law detainee Democrito Barcenas as he reflects on the 38th anniversary of the People Power Revolution, which will be observed on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024.

Why strange? Barcenas said it is because of Filipinos allowing Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to run the country as President, three decades after his father and namesake was ousted from power after nearly 21 years in Malacañang.

“We’ve expelled the dictator only to welcome back his wife, Imelda Marcos, and his son, Ferdinand Jr. This is indeed a strange country,” said Barcenas.

Imelda’s return

In 1991, the government of then President Corazon Aquino allowed Imelda to return to the Philippines so it could put her on trial.

Imelda has not been jailed since her return.

In November 2018, the anti-graft Sandiganbayan court convicted Imelda in 2018 for a minimum of 42 years in prison for creating private foundations to hide her unexplained wealth. The former first lady illegally funneled about $200 million to Swiss foundations in the 1970s as Metropolitan Manila governor. She was 89 years old at the time.

Shortly after the release of the ruling, Imelda was reportedly seen at her daughter Imee’s birthday party. Subsequent online photos revealed Imelda’s presence alongside two former Presidents—then Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and then Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada—as well as then Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, then Solicitor General Jose Calida, and former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

Despite the warrant issued by the anti-graft court, the police did not take action to arrest Marcos. Then Philippine National Police Chief Oscar Albayalde said they had to take into consideration Imelda’s age and health.

Less than a month following her conviction, Imelda posted bail on Dec. 5, 2018, amounting to P300,000, to secure temporary freedom. Her legal team filed a notice of appeal, requesting the records of her case to be forwarded to the Supreme Court for further proceedings.

The Supreme Court still has to decide on Imelda’s appeal to Sandiganbayan’s conviction.

Successful presidential run

In 2022, Ferdinand Jr. ran for President and won, beating his closest rival, former Vice Leni Robredo, in a landslide.

Ferdinand Jr. has launched “Bagong Pilipinas (New Philippines),” which is his administration’s campaign that focuses on economic and social transformation. His father championed the “Bagong Lipunan (New Society),” which promised to eradicate poverty, drive development, and end corruption, among other objectives.

‘Darkness all over the land’

Barcenas recalled his hardships during the martial law years.

“During the Marcos dictatorship, we lost all of our civil liberties. All what we had was darkness all over the land,” he said.

Barcenas’ fellow martial law detainee Meinrado Paredes, a retired judge, said the People Power Revolution was a peaceful mass action that saw people from all walks of life participate such as students, workers, farmers, and even the rich.

The threats of Communist and Muslim insurgencies were used by Marcos Sr. as reasons that forced him to declare a martial law.

Call out abuses

The peaceful revolution should serve as an inspiration for Filipinos to stand up for their rights and call out abuses in government, according to Cebu City Councilor James Anthony Cuenco, the son of Antonio Cuenco, who was one of the figures in the local opposition during martial law and had helped arrange for then-opposition leader Corazon Aquino’s sanctuary when she came to Cebu just days ahead of the uprising, which started on Feb. 22, 1986.

Cuenco, who was in Cebu in 1986, said people should look back at history and review all the events that shaped the nation, especially the youth since they have become a little complacent and tend to focus on themselves and not react to events unless they are the ones primarily affected.

“I think the biggest lesson we learned is for our people to speak out against abuses in government,” he said Cuenco.

In his 2000 book, American historian Alfred McCoy, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote that there were 3,257 victims of extrajudicial killing, 35,000 torture victims, and 70,000 incarcerated during the Marcos years.

People’s initiative

Cuenco and Paredes also commented on the move to amend the 1987 Constitution through the people’s initiative.

The councilor said the public should look into the possible consequences that could come from changing the Constitution.

Paredes, for his part, said Filipinos must be wary of actions like the people’s initiative, and they should remain vigilant of government officials’ moves.

The People’s Initiative for Reform Modernization and Action, or Pirma, is the group that sought to amend the 1987 Constitution through people’s initiative.

In January, Pirma initiated the people’s initiative in an attempt to get a valid number of signatures to amend the Constitution.

However, the Comelec decided to stop accepting the signatures because it wanted to review first the implementing rules and regulations of the PI.

Sen. Imee Marcos has accused his cousin, House Speaker Martin Romualdez, as the brains behind the people’s initiative, an allegation which the latter denied.

The 1987 Constitution replaced the 1973 Constitution, which was ratified to consolidate the power of Marcos Sr. (RJM, KAL)


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