Here's the speech of His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III, President of the Philippines at the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution
[This is an English translation of the speech delivered at the People Power Monument, Quezon City, on February 25, 2016]
Allow me to begin this speech by repeating a few lines from the song we heard earlier—“Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo,” (The Filipinos’ offering to the world) which I believe fully encapsulates the point of EDSA: “Ating kalayaan kay tagal nating mithi. ‘Di na papayagang mabawi muli.” (We will never allow our long desired freedom to be taken again.)
To tell you the truth, even if my family was truly victimized during Martial Law, we were actually quite fortunate—because we were somehow able to visit our father during his imprisonment, and because after his assassination, we had a body to bury, and we now have a grave we can visit. Others were not so lucky. Many of you here today went through even greater suffering—far greater than anything I can share. But what I will speak of this morning is not intended for you, but for the current generation that experiences so many forms of freedom.
Today, if you are a fresh graduate, you can fly directly to Boracay, or to another country, without the authorities keeping watch over your every move. You can go out with friends without fear of breaking the curfew. Being able to purchase a car or a condominium is not a distant dream. Today, you can access the world’s information with the press of a smartphone button.
Perhaps, given your current situation, it is difficult to understand that, at one point in our history, information was hard to come by. Back then, apart from the comics section, there was a movie page in the newspapers, and that was the only accurate news you would be able to read. Everything else was propaganda. Back then, if you had the good fortune of attaining a copy of forbidden articles, you would do everything you could to conceal it from the agents of Martial Law, because if you were caught with the mere possession of such articles, it was enough for them to imprison you with no fixed term, without even a court case. In fact, back then, if three friends were found gathered together, it was enough for the state to file a case for illegal assembly against them.
These freedoms that do not even merit a second thought today are a stark contrast from the situation under the Marcos regime. In those days, the only freedoms were: the freedom to praise the dictator; the freedom to be patient as you attain an exit permit if you wish to leave the country; the freedom to expect imprisonment for fighting for your rights. For a moment there was also the freedom to believe in gossip as opposed to what was being reported on state-controlled radio and television, which is why the government implemented an absurd law against rumor mongering. There was likewise the freedom of having no process for appeals if the authorities somehow chose to target you for being against Martial Law.
I wish to emphasize: These are not products of imagination. These are neither theories nor the opinions of a small few. Martial Law actually happened. There was a dictator who, along with his family and his cronies, abused his position, and the price for this was the lives and the freedom of Filipinos.
I can only shake my head in disappointment whenever I am told that some are saying that Mr. Marcos’s time was the golden age of the Philippines. Perhaps they were golden days for him, who—after completing two terms as President, which is equivalent to eight years—created a way to cling to power. In fact I have wondered: We have both been President—where might our country be today if he had just stayed true to his mandate during his time in office?
Perhaps they really were golden days for Mr. Marcos’s cronies, and for those close to him. In fact, I heard several stories: During the dictator’s reign, businessmen did not want to grow their businesses, because those in power might notice and decide to steal them.
It was also the golden age of growing the national debt. When Mr. Marcos began his time in office in 1965, the national government owed 2.4 billion pesos. At the end of 1985, two months before he was ousted from the Presidency, our debt had grown to 192.2 billion pesos. And because this money did not go where it was supposed to, the payment of this debt burdens us to this day.
Let’s continue down this path: It was also the golden age of brain drain—the golden age of OFWs leaving for the Middle East. Now, it is the golden age of OFWs returning home. Back then, it was the golden age of the NPA, whose ranks grew from 60 people to 25,000 because of the people’s disillusionment with the government. It actually reached a point where Davao was being used by the NPA as an urban laboratory—as a means to prepare attacks on several cities across our nation. To this day, we still see news of them terrorizing far-flung communities in our nation.
It was also the golden age for those who abused our Moro brothers and sisters. Landgrabbing became a trend in Mindanao, and the Marcos regime, in spite of siding with those who were abused, seemed to approve of the actions of the abusers. Whereas they could have worked for justice, or passed a law to fix the situation, the solution they pushed for involved the Philippine Constabulary and the Armed Forces.
Now, when I think of what we have achieved through our peace process—through which we have a Framework Agreement and a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, and all that remains is the Bangsamoro Basic Law—I feel a deep sense of disappointment, because the only law that can bring forth justice and peace is being blocked. And is it not true that the BBL has hit a road block in the Senate Committee for Local Governance, headed by Senator Marcos? Is it not true that, in the last session day, it was Senator Enrile who continued to interpellate? And is it not true that these two surnames were the ones who pushed for a military solution against the Moros during the dictatorship?
To our bosses: Many of us who suffered during Martial Law can understand the plight of our Moro brothers and sisters. My family likewise confronted the extreme abuses of those in power.
You know what we went through. What was it that my father did apart from his job? Nevertheless, he was taken and imprisoned. After a while, he was brought from Crame and Fort Bonifacio to Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, where he was put in solitary confinement. They took his reading glasses so that everything he saw would be blurry. They took his watch so that he could not measure the passage of time. They took his ring so that he could not have anything to remember his wife and his family by. They painted his cell white, so that he would forget that there was a world outside those walls.
He was a civilian tried in a military tribunal. It was Marcos who accused him, Marcos who appointed the members of the prosecution and the defense, Marcos who appointed the judge, and Marcos who was the final reviewing authority. The one lawyer who disagreed with what was happening was likewise removed. It was such incidents that popularized the term: “Lutong Macoy:” situations cooked up precisely to suit the dictator’s tastes. The playing field was uneven, and it was unlikely—if not impossible—to pursue justice. To my young eyes then, how could I have thought of preparing for a proper future?
The dictator did not stop with my father. We had pilots under our employment, whose licenses were revoked so that they could not work. There were members of the media who, in the opinion of Marcos and company, were against them, and were prohibited from reporting the news, which is why they were forced to sell meat that only a few of us would buy. Even our helpers who were not even employed by us anymore—like my nanny and her husband, who was our driver—were apprehended so that they could be forced to testify against my father. The last time my yaya was arrested, she was six months pregnant. Our gardener was also taken by the authorities and went home with only a few of his teeth remaining and a face full of bruises. In almost every part of our nation, there are stories of those who were taken without warning, tortured, and killed, or those who disappeared, whose bodies have not been found to this day.
Let me emphasize: All this happened. Is there anyone here who can accept the possibility that we will return to a time in which these things can happen to you, or to your loved ones? A government that was given power by the people, used this very same power to abuse the people. To all those who maintain that Mr. Marcos should not be blamed for the things that took place under his regime, I can only say: Is it not true that, if you assume all power in yourself, you should also assume all responsibility?
It is also true that the sins of the father should not be visited on the son. At the same time, what I cannot understand: the dictator’s own blood had all this time to say, “My father did the country wrong; give us the chance to make it right.” And yet, just think, this was what he said, “I am ready to say sorry if I knew what I have to be sorry for.” If he cannot even see the wrong in what his family did, how can we be confident that he will not repeat the same? All I can say is, thank you, because you have at least been honest in showing us that you are ready to emulate your father. Do not mistake me: this is not about the Aquinos versus the Marcoses; it is clear to me that this is about right versus wrong.
Every time I leave the country, I tend to get asked: “Is it true that the Marcoses are still in power?” I have to admit, it is very difficult to explain. To this day, it is still painful to think that a Filipino had the gall to inflict such abuse on his countrymen, like what Mr. Marcos did. Perhaps this is also the right time to tell you what was reported in a broadsheet just yesterday: that the 1986 COMELEC tabulators are fearful. They are worried that the Marcoses will return to power, because they themselves saw the blatant cheating to favor the dictator during the 1986 elections.
At this time, I am reminded of those famous lines from a movie: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” Is it not true, the evil that took place then is precisely what some people are trying to erase from memory, by saying that the regime of Marcos was a golden age? Is this not happening now? Those who want to revise our history have reached some success, in that they have been able to fool a number of the youth. You can even see the style of the loyalists in traditional and social media: they continue to dictate a narrative, in order to manipulate the opinions of the people.
As part of the generation who suffered under the dictatorship, I tell you just as directly: the time we spent under Mr. Marcos was not a golden age. It remains one of the most painful chapters of our history—it was why so many of our countrymen mustered the courage to gather in EDSA and in other places outside Metro Manila, armed only with their faith and their principles. We were able to unite as one people, and by the grace of God, we toppled the dictatorship without resorting to a bloody civil revolution.
Today, if the surveys are right, then the son of the dictator who still cannot see the mistakes of the past has an increasing number of supporters. If that is right, then does it also mean that we have forgotten what we once said, “Enough is enough; we have had it out with the lot”? Does this mean that, today, we are being asked, “Can we give the possibility of Martial Law taking power once more, and repeating all its crimes?”
It is not surprising that there are those who benefited during the dictatorship, together with the remaining Marcos loyalists, who continue to say that we have not gotten anywhere since EDSA. They want us to believe that we had a better life under Mr. Marcos—since, anyway, that was the promise forcibly sold by the dictator. But where did his 21 years of leadership take us? Did our country not turn into the “Sick Man of Asia”?
Indeed, they are trying to smother all that we have achieved on the straight and righteous path. Today, there are 7.7 million Filipinos who have been lifted from poverty; there are the more than 4.4. million households supported by Pantawid Pamilya, or the CCT, together with the 92 percent of our population covered by Philhealth. Let us add the fact that the poorest 40 percent of our country can now receive free treatment from public hospitals, and the fact that we recorded the lowest unemployment rate in a decade. Infrastructure that were decades in the making, like the Aluling Bridge, the Lullutan Bridge, the Ternate-Nasugbu Road, and the Jalaur River Multi-purpose project, and many others, are already under construction, if not already completed and benefiting our communities. I am reminded of what we were told when we visited Apayao: at last, they have a road—a road that, for so long, they thought would never be constructed. Let me ask: Is it right to play at being blind, especially now that we have a government that truly cares for the citizenry?
Let me also remind you that the dictatorship has many faces; there are other personalities who want to reinstate all this—to deprive the people of the right processes, ang put in the hands of one man the power to determine what is right and what is wrong, and who is innocent, and who is guilty. Again, I am reminded of what the writer George Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
I believe that it is not our fate to repeat the grim parts of our past; our fate is the sum of the decisions we make in the present. I believe in the greatness of our people. I believe that, even if we are known for our patience, it has its limits—and if those limits are reached, then no one will be able to stop the wave of solidarity that will follow.
Today, I ask the youth: Take it upon yourselves to learn of what happened during EDSA. As part of our commemmoration, we have a museum: the EDSA People Power Experiential Museum, where you can experience, even in a far-removed way, the cruelty of the dictatorship. I hope that you make the most of this chance to see how important the freedom and the democracy you now hold in your hands are.
I believe that the current generations are aware of the fact that the stature they have reached today is because of the fact that they stand on the efforts and sacrifices of those who have come before them. I am already 56 years old, and if I am lucky enough to reach the age of 70, that means I have only 14 years left on this earth. But those of you who are far younger than me have some decades to go. You will reap the fruits of whatever future we are sowing today. Let me relate to you what my mother once said: “The problems we face are our generation’s…it is our generation that has to correct them. Your role is to prepare yourselves better, to avoid making the same mistakes.”
You grew up enjoying the freedoms that were taken away from the generation that came before you—where, if you reached your 30th birthday while fighting against the dictatorship, you were already lucky to still be alive. Now, at 30 years old, your professional life has just started. You have the freedom to earn and to save money, to love and to start a family—the freedom to dream. You will benefit the most if we are able to protect our freedom, so, God willing, you understand the responsibility you bear. God willing, we will all do our part so that darkness will never consume the Philippines once more. God willing, the freedom we so long dreamed of, will never, ever be taken away from us once more.
Thank you, and good day.
His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines