By Simone Orendain
As citizens in countries throughout the Middle East clamor for new leadership, the Philippines is marking the 25th anniversary of its own "People Power Revolution," which ousted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The nearly bloodless revolution ushered in a new leader and democracy.
In Manila, Father Larry Faraon stands at the corner of Ortigas Avenue and Epifanio de los Santos Avenue — or EDSA as it's commonly called, where 25 years ago, more than half a million Filipinos celebrated Corazon Aquino's toppling of Marcos.
His 20-year regime was marked by corruption and brutality. Aquino, the widow of Marcos' strongest opponent, was thrust into the spotlight after her husband Benigno Aquino Junior was assassinated three years earlier.
It was harder back in 1986 to organize demonstrations. There was no social media, but there was radio. "Radio Veritas, I would boldly say, started it all," said Father Faraon, who was program director at Radio Veritas, the influential Catholic news-talk station.
Faraon said his in-depth coverage helped fuel the revolution. Faraon was behind the microphone when Juan Ponce Enrile, Marcos's National Defense Secretary, called in and told listeners that he'd cut ties with his boss and was holed up at the military camp Aguinaldo with defecting soldiers.
Ready to die in the fight
Enrile fully expected a fight between his rebel troops and Marcos's men, and he said he was ready to die in the fight. Over the air, Enrile asked for prayers. And Manila's powerful archbishop responded. He implored listeners to provide both defecting and government soldiers with food and water.
Catholic masses were held on EDSA. "We had nuns, priests, seminarians and they're all dressed in their cassocks and habits so people saw in the priests and the nuns some sort of, 'hey, hey, hey, hey! No to violence! No to violence!'" Faraon said.
The participation of the church made it hard for Marcos's military to fight their countrymen. This peaceful revolution led by military men in conjunction with the clergy appealed to people's deep faith in this staunchly Catholic country.
On the fourth day of protests, the US pressed Marcos to leave and gave him and his family safe haven in Hawaii. The revolution resulted in fewer than a dozen reported casualties.
Father Faraon, remembering Aquino's early years, said Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries that manage to topple their dictators should make sure their new leaders give plenty of time for transitional governments to take root. "Aquino installed a revolutionary government, cancelled the congress, and she was the sole leader.
She could have taken advantage of that, because everybody believed her, everybody loved her. But after a year or so, she started to normalize things, calling for elections."
'We are free'
At a recent reception for the opening of the EDSA revolution museum, former National Defense Secretary Enrile said the people power movement essentially changed the nature of the Philippine government. "We were free," Enrile said, "and we were able to enhance the economic life of the nation based on a free market, instead of crony capitalism. Now even the landscape of the center of power has changed."
Or has it?
"Society has largely been taken over again by the oligarchy," said Edna Estifania Co, dean of Public Administration at the University of the Philippines. She said Aquino-era constitutional reforms aren't being followed.
Part of the problem, Co said, is that idolizing leaders is engrained in Filipino culture. "It's the same patronage system; it's the same support for those who would be in the ruling group."
Co has this note of caution for would-be democracies in the Middle East: make sure to create new institutions that are more powerful than any one leader or personality.