The meaning of "People Power"


MANILA — Each time Leah Navarro opens her desktop computer, a widget pops up, displaying a series of numbers and the words “… until GMA’s history!” On this day, Feb. 25, the numbers were 489:23:10:33 — the exact number of days, hours, minutes, and seconds that remain in the term of President Gloria Macapagal–Arroyo, also known here as GMA.

Behind the widget, serving as the computer’s wallpaper, is V, the anarchist in the film "V for Vendetta," ominously standing in the dark. Taped on the side of the monitor is a piece of paper with the words (in the Filipine language Tagalog) “A Nation Without Gloria.”

Navarro and her group, the Black and White Movement, have called for Arroyo's ouster. They accuse her of cheating in the 2004 elections and of alleged corruption.

But 23 years ago, Navarro’s idea of a rebellion was less technology-driven and Hollywood-inspired. On Feb. 22, the first day of the so-called People Power Revolution that ultimately deposed the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Navarro and thousands of Filipinos trooped to a military camp along a highway called Edsa to help protect a group of renegade soldiers holed up inside after declaring that they were breaking away from the regime.

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That act ultimately led to what was subsequently regarded as a bloodless revolution that made headlines around the world. “I was one of the first at the barricades,” Navarro said, pointing to a yellowing newspaper clip showing her and others standing by the gate of the camp, their faces pressed against the iron bars.

There was an unmistakable pride in Navarro’s voice as she recalled what happened to her during those four days in February 1986. But there was also bitterness and pain. Tears burst forth. She and her fellow Filipinos, she said, had been betrayed by those who came to power after Marcos and after the second People Power activities that installed Arroyo as president.

Navarro was only 29 in 1986, a convent-bred, educated rich girl enjoying the peak of her career as one of the county’s most popular singers. On the side, she was doing volunteer work for an election watchdog called Namfrel that exposed the irregularities of the 1986 elections — those irregularities, in turn, helped galvanize public opinion against Marcos.

As a volunteer, she saw first-hand the election fraud, which drove her to join those massed on the highway. She and her colleagues were shot at by Marcos’s soldiers. They manned the barricades for four straight days (she went home only once to bathe and change her clothes) and offered sandwiches and flowers to members of the dictator’s army, who were just waiting for the strongman’s orders to attack and break up the crowd.

“I’m 52 now and I’m still doing what I have been doing these past three decades,” Navarro said.

The fact that no one identified with the Marcos dictatorship has been sent to jail fuels Navarro's anger. The former leader's cronies, among them leaders of Philippine industries and important politicians, still sit in the boardrooms and lead political parties. Imelda, Marcos' widow, is still out and about. The Marcos children are back in public office. 

“It’s as if the revolution never happened,” Navarro said.

For Navarro, "People Power" has not been cathartic and it hasn't resulted in true peace and prosperity for the Philippines because it was, she said, an “unfinished revolution and I’m still waiting for it to end.”


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