Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

Taming People's Power: The EDSA Revolutions and Their Contradictions

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

Taming People's Power: The EDSA Revolutions and Their Contradictions

Article excerpt

Taming People's Power: The EDSA Revolutions and Their Contradictions

LISANDRO E. CLAUDIO

Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2013, 240p.

People power is the foundationalist myth of the ruling Aquino regime which began with the presidency of Corazon ("Cory") C. Aquino who replaced the fallen dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1986 and which continues under the presidency of her son, Benigno ("Noynoy") S. Aquino, III, which will end in mid-2016. The Aquinos and their "yellow" crowd elite supporters claim legitimacy based on a divinely sanctioned popular uprising against an evil dictator re-establishing a righteous democracy. "People power" also gained international prominence as one of the first televised revolutions, with the plucky Cory Aquino defeating the wily dictator Marcos, leading to a heroic transition to democracy. That this piece of political folklore has lost appeal for most Filipinos who remain poor and are now often disillusioned with this once new political order is evidenced by the dwindling crowds at the annual official celebration of people power. The people themselves seem to have abandoned the idea of "people power."

No recent book captures the ambiguous legacy of people power better than the work of the young Ateneo historian Lisandro E. Claudio. What Claudio has done in this book is quite extraordinary. He systematically distinguishes two "discursive formations," the official, "yellow" narrative and the anti-people power "National Democratic" discourse of the communist left (later in the study it becomes evident that he analyzes a third discursive alternative as well: the subaltern perspective of laborers on the Aquino-Cojuangco owned Hacienda Luisita). Claudio then examines how these discourses are literally "monumentalized" and the message this political architecture is trying to convey. These "material commemorations" of the anti-Marcos struggle culminating in the mass uprising against Marcos that he examines are, on the one hand, the quasi-official shrine of the Shrine of Mary Queen of Peace, popularly known as the "Our Lady EDSA shrine" and the Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Monument of Heroes) of the left.

Beyond this Claudio then undertakes an ambitious and revealing case study of how "people power" is viewed in Hacienda Luisita, the great plantation of the landlord-politician Aquino- Cojuangco dynasty. But he also shows how the role of the communist left is viewed ambivalently by the sugar plantation workers, many of whom were caught up in violence initiated by the strike breaking landlords but also instrumentalized by the left.

The book is well written in a sophisticated, but intelligible "post-modern" style, with key theoretical insights effectively used to clarify Claudio's discursive approach to recent Philippine history. The result is a study full of more insights about recent Philippine politics than any other I have read in past decade. Claudio constructs a theoretical framework for the book drawn from "memory studies" to reconstruct the "people power narrative." He invokes Foucault's "regime of truth," a "provisional . . . product of the capillary movement of knowledge-power-but may nevertheless coalesce into identifiable discursive formations" (pp. 5-6). Not a mere top-down ideology like the authoritarian developmentalist one of the Marcos era, the mainstream people power discourse was created by the Church hierarchy, middle class activists, big business, and traditional politicians. But Claudio is not content with just analyzing the "official story" which deemphasizes the role played by ordinary Filipinos who overthrew Marcos in favor of the Godgiven- miracle explanation of EDSA (the major Manila street after which "people power" is often known in the Philippines). …

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