For 20 years, Ferdinand Marcos hypnotized the Philippines and most of the rest of the world. He did this through the use of one of the more effective and blatant methods of propaganda. He preached The Big Lie.
I would sit, dumbfounded, in Manila during the years of martial law and listen to Marcos tell the Rotary Club or the Business and Professional Woman’s Organization that “the Filipino is unable to govern himself, he is not ready for democracy. I am the only one who can lead.”
I would listen to him tell anecdotes about “the little woman,” his wife, Imelda Marcos, who was, among other things, the governor of metropolitan Manila. He would reduce women to manipulators interested only in money, and I would wonder then why no one in the room stood up to say, “The Emperor has no clothes.”
Marcos knew, as if he were a judo expert, how to use people’s fears against themselves. He deprecated the Filipino, and he blackmailed the United States government--for years obsessed with the idea that the military bases at Clark Air Field and Subic Bay outside Manila were essential to U.S. military interests. Marcos ruled this way for two decades and then in late February of this year, he fled the Philippines utterly defeated.
“People Power” is a photographic and conversational record of the downfall of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. It is a record of the rise of democracy, the redemption of the Filipino people, a story of very, very smart women who do not make foolish choices, a chronicle of nonviolent resistance and an unabashed tribute to God the Father and to Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
It is also a story of weak and frightened generals, politically involved bishops, priests and a cardinal, and a testimony to pure liberation theology in a time when the phrase has come to have negative political overtones. “People Power” is positively biblical. It is, one suspects, what a photographic and oral record of the Israelites would look like if someone had been taking notes when Moses led the people through the Red Sea.
But “People Power” is also quintessential Filipino. Filipino use of the English language is like no other on earth. There is a sometimes maddening presumption of knowledge on the part of the listener or reader that simply cannot exist unless one is Filipino or has lived there long enough to know the places and players in the drama. But there is that unrelenting sincerity and ingenuousness that is the Filipino. And it runs through “People Power.”
The Philippines lays claim to being the only Christian country in Southeast Asia. Colonized for centuries by Spain and then for years by the United States, the majority of its 54 million people consider themselves Christian. Most of those are members of the Roman Catholic Church. And, in a country of 7,000 islands, with little or no technology, everything about the Philippine revolution is fraught with religious symbolism.
The story of the revolution and of “People Power” begins with the death of Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino on Aug. 21, 1983. Aquino, imprisoned by Marcos for seven years and then released for medical treatment in the United States, was returning home after three years in exile. He was shot and killed by unknown assailants on the tarmac at Manila International Airport.
Francisco (Kit) Tatad, former press secretary to Marcos and author of much of “People Power,” says that Aquino was Marcos’ “arch-opponent.” This is a political view. To millions of Filipinos, Aquino was a martyr, and the adage, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” was never more true in our times than the day Aquino died.
The assassination triggered a chain of events that led to the election and assumption to the presidency of his widow, Corazon Aquino, and to the flight of Marcos. Mrs. Aquino is the Joan of Arc of the Philippines to the people there. The year preceding elections in the Philippines was a year devoted to worship of the Virgin Mary--a Marian year. Cardinal Jaime Sin of the Philippines sees this as an important part of the revolution.
God works in mysterious ways is more than part of the story of “People Power.” Mrs. Aquino goes to a convent to pray and to ask God if she should run for the presidency. God tells her that she needs a million signatures on a petition and a call for quick elections.
The million signatures are collected and the U.S. government pressures Marcos to call quick elections. Mrs. Aquino runs, wins, is cheated out of the election; millions of people stand up for her, crowd the streets; generals in fear of their lives defect; another popular leader is martyred. The cardinal deploys nuns and priests who stand in front of tanks and line the halls of radio and television stations to keep uncensored news on the air. And throughout “People Power” are the photographs of the Filipino in the national uniform of T-shirt and rubber thonged sandal.
Its photographs range from adequate to excellent. Its words and people are extraordinary in their ordinariness. It is a trip to the Philippines and possibly a portent of things to come in governmental overthrows. While the world waits for peace, the Filipino does not doubt that it has come to them through the grace of the Virgin Mary. “People Power” warns the U.S. government not to interfere with the unique brand of liberation theology that broke the hypnotic spell of Ferdinand Marcos and revealed the true Philippine nature living today under the reign of Corazon Aquino.
“People Power” is published by the James Reuter, S. J. Foundation. S. J. stands for Society of Jesus--a not unfamiliar group in the history of power and politics.