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Philippine government accused of stifling protests

Restricts rallies marking the 1986 People Power Revolution that ended two decades of dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
Protesters raise clenched fists as they hold banners with anti-Marcos slogans during a demonstration to commemorate the 36th anniversary of the People Power Revolution in 1986 that ousted the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, in front of the People Power monument in Quezon City, suburban Manila on February 25, 2022.

Protesters raise clenched fists as they hold banners with anti-Marcos slogans during a demonstration to commemorate the 36th anniversary of the People Power Revolution in 1986 that ousted the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, in front of the People Power monument in Quezon City, suburban Manila on February 25, 2022. (Photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP)

Published: February 26, 2024 11:55 AM GMT
Updated: February 26, 2024 12:13 PM GMT

Filipino activist groups and Church officials have slammed the government of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for restricting nationwide protest rallies to mark the 38th anniversary of the 1986 public uprising that ended the dictatorship of his late father.

"We will not be intimidated by police checkpoints and overkill deployment of troops in our communities,” Raymond Palatino, secretary-general of progressive group Bayan, told UCA News in a statement on Feb. 25.

The 1986 People Power Revolution gathered millions of Filipinos from all walks of life to march along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA), the main artery of Metro Manila, to end the dictatorship of then President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and begin a new era marked by true freedom and democracy.

“Despite the malicious attempts to undermine today’s protests, we are ready to mobilize to honor those who defied the dictatorship in 1986 as we join all democracy-loving Filipinos in challenging another Marcos from monopolizing power through ChaCha," Palatino said, referring to a move by the Marcos administration to change the nation’s constitution that triggered protests.

Palatino alleged that police harassed and stopped activists from joining protests in Los Banos municipality in Laguna province, Cavite province, and Miagao in Iloilo province.

He also claimed that "police checkpoints were installed to harass activists, conduct illegal surveillance, and discourage people from joining the scheduled protests."

The police repression is intended to derail the People Power commemoration and silence those who are speaking out against Charter Change, he alleged.

“The coordinated actions of the police reflect Malacañang’s willful disregard of the historic significance of the 1986 People Power, the suppression of free speech under the Marcos Jr government, and the paranoia of authorities with regard to the rising public outrage against ChaCha," Palatino added.

Despite police restrictions, activists joined rallies in capital Manila and other cities to mark the anniversary. Many protesters, including the victims and survivors of the Martial Law imposed by Marcos Sr., vented anger as the day was not declared a special non-working holiday, unlike previous governments.

Redemptorist priest and Martial Law survivor Amado Picardal said the anniversary is a call for action not to allow the current president to “perpetuate himself and his family in power through charter change.”

“Nor should we allow Duterte to use the spirit of EDSA People Power to oust Marcos so that he or his daughter can seize power and thereby escape accountability before the International Criminal Court and continue his criminal activity," Picardal told UCA News, referring to ongoing disputes between Marcos and former president Duterte.

He also rebuked Duterte for holding a prayer rally on the anniversary, calling the latter's move "a cynical attempt to pursue his own agenda."

"We should remind the youth of today of the value of freedom and democracy," he said.

Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos, who is vice chairman of Caritas Philippines, urged the faithful and the public "to rise in hope and let the spirit of EDSA People Power ignite our unity to rise once again."

"So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up. There are days in public memory that begin to take on a life of their own: the EDSA people’s uprising is one such time,” Alminaza said.

“From Church people staving off tanks with flowers and rosaries to a sea of ordinary citizens with yellow waves gathered in protest of a stolen election and unwanted dictatorship, there is no doubt that the 1986 People Power was an outpouring of discontent with what was and of daring to rise for something better," he said.

The senior generation who survived Martial Law as well as the stories of thousands of activists, opposition, and community leaders who offered their lives in fighting a dictatorship, including those who disappeared and never surfaced, is an important "beacon of truth" for Filipinos to still struggle for the peace-filled Philippines today, he added.

"Our country’s situation is far from healthy. Some may even question, what use was a miraculous EDSA People Power since our country continues to be trapped in a mire of foreign indebtedness and control, crony capitalism, and the patronage politics of the elite. Here and now, through Charter Change efforts, the 1987 Philippine Constitution is under a dangerous threat to weaken constitutional protections of our national patrimony, sovereignty, and democratic rights and freedoms," Alminaza said.

In observing the 38th anniversary, the bishop maintained that the truth of the People Power "shines like a guiding star for the people to rise and continue the struggle for just Peace."

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