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The Philippines Celebrates 25 Years of Democracy

  • Simone Orendain

Students flash the 'L' sign for Laban or Fight as they join the march celebrating the 25th anniversary of People Power revolution, February 25, 2011 in suburban Pasig City east of Manila, Philippines

Students flash the 'L' sign for Laban or Fight as they join the march celebrating the 25th anniversary of People Power revolution, February 25, 2011 in suburban Pasig City east of Manila, Philippines

In the Philippines, celebrations are marking the 25th anniversary of the People Power Revolution that toppled the long-ruling dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Friday’s anniversary is especially significant for Philippine President Benigno Aquino the Third, whose parents were instrumental in restoring democracy to the country 25 years ago.

Speaking at a ceremony to unveil a statue of one of the revolution’s leaders, he reminded ordinary citizens of the day’s meaning.

Aquino says Filipinos showed so many nations that it is possible to have a peaceful revolution. This is their "gift to the world."

The uprising against Ferdinand Marcos, who had ruled for more than 20 years, began after what is considered to have been a widely fraudulent election.

For four days in February 1986, more than half a million people converged on a Manila highway known as EDSA to support Marcos’ election rival, Corazon Aquino.

After the military turned against Marcos, the United States flew him and his family out of the country. Aquino, the current president’s mother, was recognized as the new president.

Corazon Aquino, who died in 2009, was the widow of Marcos’ strongest opponent, Benigno Junior. She was thrust into politics after her husband was assassinated three years before.

The first President Aquino worked to restore institutions of democracy such as the election commission. She led efforts to reform the constitution, solidifying the country’s democracy.

But the reforms have not accomplished all that Filipinos had sought.

"Participation of citizens, for example, was enshrined in the constitution in 1986, however, the quality and the substantive participation of people in the decision-making in the processes of our governance have remained problematic," said Edna Co, dean of the College of Public Administration at the University of the Philippines.

Corruption and inefficiency plague the government. The country still suffers from both a communist insurgency and a violent Muslim separatist movement in the south. In some areas, local politicians or powerful landowners operate private militias. Over the years, scores of rights activists, journalists and political workers have been murdered, with few of their killers ever arrested.

Co says there has not been a serious commitment by leaders or ordinary people alike, to making sure the changes brought by the EDSA revolution have been upheld.

"We continue to yield to the same set up and we have not taken a decisive move and a collective - a shared move - to alter the existing system. And therefore I think things have gotten worse because we have not changed that system," said Co.

Co also says poverty is worse than it was 25 years ago.

But for all its flaws, the EDSA revolution was seen as an example for other countries, such as Indonesia. It was part of an overall peaceful trend toward democracy and away from strong-man governments in East Asia in the 1980s that included South Korea and Taiwan.

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