Philippine President Benigno Aquino is facing an unprecedented challenge with growing calls for him to step down ahead of tomorrow’s anniversary of the 1986 “People Power” revolution that ironically brought his mother to power.
Normally, the anniversary is marked by massive celebrations in the capital. But this year’s 29th anniversary will be toned down, a government official said.
The president is accused of failing to take responsibility for a botched police raid last month on militants in the south that left dozens of special forces commandos dead. The growing anger has triggered protests and the creation of a coalition determined to topple him.
One of those behind the group, which calls itself the “2.22.15 Coalition”, is Aquino’s uncle – Jose Cojuangco, younger brother of former president Corazon Aquino and a former congressman. The late Aquino was the mother of the current President.
The government official said this year’s celebration of the 1986 uprising, which ended decades of brutal rule by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, would be muted, “so we can go all-out for the 30th (anniversary)”.
Aquino will lead a wreath-laying ceremony at the People Power monument and then end the celebration with a mass at the Edsa shrine tomorrow, which the government has declared as a schools-only holiday.
In previous years, roads were closed to give way to celebrations that usually spanned three days, with government-sponsored “People Power parades” and dramatisations of key events in the revolt.
Political observers say the downgrade in this year’s celebration is being done to deny a coalition of leftists, church leaders and politicians a bully pulpit that they can use to pressure Mr Aquino to step down and give way to a “transition council”.
Cojuangco and his wife, Margarita, a former governor, had helped organise a “caravan” around metropolitan Manila on Sunday to rally support to end Aquino’s rule.
Criticising the government’s muted People Power celebration, Cojuangco said: “This is the only Aquino who is afraid of people power. What is he afraid of?”
The Cojuangcos’ rally attracted fewer than a thousand people.
Aquino’s spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, said: “I think the significance of the number of people who attended Sunday’s gathering is a significant manifestation of the support of the people for the president.
“I think people do realise… the effects of asking the president’s resignation. The president has made a number of significant reforms both in governance as well as in economy and continues to do so, and people see that and realise that.”
But more protest marches are scheduled this week.
Bayan (Nation), the Philippines’ biggest leftist organisation and part of the anti-Aquino coalition, is hoping to start another “people power movement” tomorrow, this time aimed at ousting Aquino.
“It’s not a coup d’etat, not an armed revolt… It’s people power,” said Bayan spokesman and former congressman Teodoro Casino.
Among those who will be joining Bayan and Cojuangco’s coalition tomorrow are Archbishop Oscar Cruz, former head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, and Sister Mary John Mananzan, a close friend of Aquino’s.
The January 25 police raid to capture Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Hir, better known as Marwan, ended in the death of 44 commandos and dozens of others.
Aquino has blamed ground commanders for the disastrous operation, although testimonies made during Senate hearings looking into the incident have revealed that he knew much more than he had earlier declared.
For four days in February 1986, hundreds of thousands of mostly middle-class protesters flooded Manila’s main highway known as Edsa to protect a small band of soldiers who had rebelled against their patron, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
That peaceful uprising, which forced Marcos to flee the Philippines on Feb 25, 1986, would later be known as the People Power Revolution.
It was a watershed moment for the Philippines.
It ended Marcos’ brutal rule, which had spawned an oligarchy that brought the economy to its knees and a repressive regime that fanned a middle-class rebellion in the cities and a communist insurgency in the countryside.
In the years since then, however, the sheen of the People Power legacy has been dulled by missteps in governance that failed to deliver the freedom, peace and prosperity that were promised in 1986.
Wealth remains in the hands of a few.
Corruption is still widespread and a culture of impunity continues to blight daily life.