DESPAIRING FEW ATTENDED EDSA1 ANNIVERSARY  

Manila, Feb. 26, 2003 - Very few celerbants - estimates ranged from 300 to 1,000 - turned out yesterday for the commemoration of the 17th anniversary of the "people power" revolt that ousted Ferdinand Marcos.

Many who did attend said their lives had changed little since the 1986 revolt.

A handful of about 500 participants, mostly government officials, were in yellow or gold which is the color for People Power 1.

President Fidel Ramos, whose defection from Marcos helped spark the uprising, was aghast at the low turnout.

"I'm disappointed," Ramos said. "There's hardly anyone here. Maybe next year this will be empty. But I'll still be here."

Organizers said they made the celebrations simple.

Chief Supt. Rolando Sacramento, chief of the Eastern Police District, said there were around 1,000 people inside and outside the Edsa shrine church during the mass. About 700 policemen were deployed in the area.

President Arroyo led the participants in the mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace, scene of past celebrations but the crowds have grown thinner each year.

Arroyo, who flew in hours earlier from Malaysia, where she attended a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, did not speak.

She said after the mass that she would have delivered a speech had she prepared one.

Dodie Limcaoco, presidential adviser on ecclesiastical affairs, said Arroyo did not speak in deference to President Corazon Aquino. He added Arroyo's presence at the "main celebration" was enough.

Aquino, who took power after Marcos fled to Hawaii, where he died in 1989, expressed frustration.

"Instead of rejoicing and basking in its glory, we find our countrymen today tired, disillusioned, desperate for the magic formula that will bring back the glory of February 1986 when we became darlings of the world," she said.

"In the end, people power is about assuming responsibility for ourselves and for others," she added.

Marcos' widow, Imelda, 74, spent the day in her residence, aides said.

President Joseph Estrada said there was no reason to celebrate. He said Edsa 1 is no longer relevant because the masses are getting more and more disillusioned.

He told a radio interview Monday night that less people were attending the celebrations because people behind Edsa 1 failed to deliver on their promises of reform.

Cardinal Jaime Sin, who helped spark the uprising against Marcos, said in a homily: "Are we better as a nation after 17 years of celebrating 'people power' revolution?"

Sin denounced "destructive factionalism."

"We Filipinos seem to specialize in tearing one another and bringing ourselves down. And so there is sorrow. Is there really nothing left of the revolution, except the myth?"

He said the country is hardly better since Edsa 1.

Sin said for the promise of Edsa to be realized, government must achieve "political democracy" through a well-grounded economic democracy which, simply put, means bridging the gap between the rich and the poor.

"Our broadsheets have society pages about weddings and birthdays while the majority of the people can hardly have a full meal each day. Is that what we stood for at Edsa?" he said.

Aquino attributed the diminishing crowd to the "false impression that our victory at EDSA came very easily."

But she reminded the public that the Edsa I was the culmination of 14 years of struggle including the sacrifice of lives and lost of fortune.

"And that is something that we must bear in mind - that if something is worth having, it is worth struggling for. The same goes for what we want and after restored our freedoms. If peace, progress, prosperity and good governance are worth achieving, we must make the necessary effort to get us there," she said.

She said the country does need large crowds to celebrate or remember the people power revolt because it can be seen in everyday lives, be it in efficient and pleasant service rendered by a public servant or official, returning lost valuables to owners, or ensuring smooth traffic flow.

"It is such a sense of responsibility, this kind of selfless giving by ordinary Filipino that inspired and animated the people power we witnessed in Edsa in 1986, and it is such acts of heroism, big and small, by ordinary Filipinos that will fuel our national renaissance," she said.

US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone congratulated Filipinos on the 17th anniversary, and asked them to "stand up for the principles of democracy everywhere in the world, including Iraq."

Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo said Ramos has no reason to feel bad. "We were very happy there (at the shrine) with President FVR."

Anti-riot policemen blocked around 70 members of the militant groups Kilusang Maralita sa Kaunlarang Panlipunan and Tanglaw ng Karapatan sa Dike from marching toward the shrine before the noon mass.

The protesters said they wanted Arroyo to stop demolition of their shanties to give way to a two-way railroad track in Metro Manila.

The National Capital Region Police Office said no untoward incident was reported in the different venues of the celebration, particularly Edsa and the People Power Monument.

NCRPO chief Reynaldo Velasco said personnel strictly enforced the "no permit, no rally" rule and that operations successfully anticipated the influx of people to the shrine.

Other officials who attended the celebrations were Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Senate President Franklin Drilon, Secretaries Dinky Soliman (social welfare), Manuel Dayrit (health), Vicente Perez (energy), Patricia Sto. Tomas (labor), Roberto Pagdanganan (land reform), Richard Gordon (tourism) and Jose Lina Jr. (interior); presidential adviser Eduardo Ermita (peace process) and Heherson Alvarez (overseas Filipino communities), senior consultants Vicky Garchitorena and Paul Dominguez and anti-poverty commission lead convenor Teresita Delez.

Also present were Tarlac Rep. Benigno Aquino III, SBMA chairman Felicito Payumo, Guillermo Luz of the Makati Business Club, singer Jim Paredes and other prime movers of People Power I. (Malaya)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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