Irony had its way during this year's remembrance of the nonviolent 1986 revolution that restored basic freedoms for Filipinos. While protesters trooped to a portion of a four-lane highway that cuts across the Philippine capital to condemn what they regard as a growing dictatorship under President Rodrigo Duterte, a larger crowd gathered in another part of town to show their support for the president and his policies. On the highway, near a shrine marking the spot where the peaceful uprising began three decades ago, a musician known for his criticism of the government drew flak for aggressively confronting a group of the president's supporters. A numbers game ensued this week on social media quantifying the strength of support for Duterte and his policies — including the bloody anti-drugs war that has killed some 7,000 people — and pitting against each other the simultaneous rallies, leading a major Manila broadsheet to describe the country as a "divided nation." But without much fanfare, a young man sought to relive the spirit of the 1986 People Power Revolution.
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Filipinos present during the 1986 series of protests would reminisce the moving mental images of peace as a means of opposing a repressive regime — nuns handing flowers to soldiers on top of tanks as a loving response to the imminent threat of violence. This year, seven members of a group who call themselves the "Duterte Youth" ended in an altercation on the sidelines of the event with the musician and celebrity-activist, Jim Paredes. When the commotion died down and the cameras went away, 28-year old Simon Valencia, who joined the anti-Duterte protest, handed flowers to the seven young men. "I saw them standing there, and I just decided to give them flowers ... to relive what happened in 1986," said Valencia. His friends cheered him. The members of "Duterte Youth" accepted the flowers. One hesitated but ended up extending his hand to Valencia. When the last guy refused, Valencia left the flower on his foot. The young man then silently left the scene. "It was more of a gesture of welcoming democracy. They have the right to protest. I’m sure that’s why they’re there to express their support to the president," he later said. Over the weekend, all eyes were on Paredes' verbal tussle with the young people. The "Duterte Youth" members are reportedly preparing to sue the musician, who refused to apologize, with the help of the government’s legal counsel. A review of video footage of the celebration show that a man whose face was covered started the commotion when he pushed one of the "Duterte Youth" members and the young men pushed back while Paredes was speaking. Other protesters shooed the pro-Duterte men led by 31-year old freelance political speech writer Ronald Cardema who brought with him a banner and a sound system to gain attention, a move perceived by the protesters as an act of provocation. "What rudeness," said one anti-Duterte protester. Others accused the supporters of the president as paid hacks. Cardema later said they only wanted "to show our support for the president." "We understand that this is a commemoration of the People Power [revolution] of 1986, but many here also want the president to be removed from power," he said. For the young man Valencia, however, his action was a gesture of peace. "They have the right to protest," he said. "They should just support who they want to support," Valencia said, adding that it was the spirit of the 1986 uprising, to regain and respect freedom. More than 30 years after democracy was restored in the Philippines, the country is still indeed a "divided nation."