Eighteen years ago today, Filipino protesters equipped mainly with prayers and placards overthrew a dictator armed with tanks and troops. The 1986 ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos in a popular uprising was heralded as the beginning of a new era for the Philippines - one in which the country hoped to finally unshackle itself from poverty, privilege and corruption. The uprising is known locally as the Edsa revolution - named after the Manila highway that overflowed with protest marchers.

But nearly two decades later, and after a second "people power" revolt that unseated former President Joseph Estrada in 2001, little has changed. Nearly a third of the population of close to 84 million still lives in poverty, corruption remains rampant, and nearly one in 10 Filipinos works overseas.

Political analyst Nelson Navarro is a former student activist who lived in exile during the Marcos regime. He says hopes for a more democratic and just society after 1986 were dashed because the ruling families clung to power and thwarted real reform. "We saw before our eyes that Edsa was really hijacked right from the very beginning by the same ruling class," he says.

Mr. Navarro says the leaders who followed Marcos failed to strengthen vital institutions like the courts. He adds that the coming presidential election in May could determine whether the Philippines can enact badly needed reforms, or whether it will face an even bleaker future.

Former President Fidel Ramos was a key figure in the ouster of Marcos. He told a commemorative gathering Wednesday the 1986 uprising still serves as an inspiration to freedom-loving people at home and abroad. "While there may be criticisms tomorrow about the sparse crowd that's here today, I say on the other hand that the celebration of Edsa has become not only nationwide but universal," he says.

Despite fading public interest in the achievements of 1986, many Filipinos do take pride in having brought down the Marcos regime. But they say widespread cynicism threatens to make the promises of "people power" little more than a historical footnote.