FEBRUARY 26, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero -  NO MORE EDSA REVOLTS:  After surviving several ouster attempts, President Arroyo appealed yesterday to Filipinos to use people power not to topple the government but as a means to achieve "a strong and modern nation.’’

"People power should not only mean that the nation is united to oust a government. Instead, just like our awardees, responsible citizens must unite to build a strong and modern nation,’’ Mrs. Arroyo said.

The President made the appeal at the ceremonies marking the 21st anniversary of the bloodless 1986 people power revolution, at the People Power Monument in Quezon City.

"The world embraced EDSA in 1986. In 2001, the world tolerated another EDSA. The world, however, will not forgive another EDSA, but instead will condemn the Philippines as a country whose political system is hopelessly unstable and the Filipinos as the finest people in the world but who always shoot themselves in the foot,’’ she said.

Highlighting the event was the granting of "People Power heroes’’ awards to several individuals and groups, including a posthumous citation to Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin.

The 1986 popular military-backed revolt ousted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and catapulted Corazon Aquino to the presidency.

Mrs. Arroyo was herself a product of people power after taking over from President Estrada who was ousted by a popular revolt in 2001.

In her speech, Mrs. Arroyo said that while Filipinos "believe that the spirit of EDSA must remain alive,’’ it should be given an "appropriate meaning in keeping with the times if we want to continue to value it and be commemorated by the coming generations.’’

The President said people power is about the future not just the past.

"I am glad that today we honor those from the past but also those from the present working for the future. People power should be about new ideas...not old complaints,’’ she said.

"People power should be about fighting for a stronger nation, not just fighting,’’ she said.

Mrs. Arroyo added that people power "is about the heroism of the many in their daily labors and trust in the Almighty, which is a very important characteristic in 1986.’’

Present at yesterday’s EDSA rites were former President Fidel Ramos, Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte, Papal Nuncio Fernando Filoni and other members of the diplomatic corps, leaders of civil society and religious groups, and Cabinet officials led by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

The groups that received citations from the President included the Gawad Kalinga, which has established more than 600 villages as part of its nationwide self-sustaining house building program for the poor; and Pondo ng Pinoy, a project spearheaded by Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, which called on the public to share 25 centavos daily to generate funds for livelihood and micro financing projects. Overseas Filipino workers were also cited for their "sacrifices, excellence, and increasing dollar remittances that have propelled the economy forward.’’

Sin posthumously received a Mahal Kong Pilipinas Award for his call for moral recovery and for helping pave the way for the people power revolution.

She also said that Filipinos displayed people power when they supported her administration’s painful fiscal reforms including higher taxes.

"These past years under our government, there was another people power (revolt) that happened. This is the support of the people and sacrifice for our difficult but necessary decisions to strengthen our economy,’’ she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said political and economic stability could be achieved not "through the noise of protests and political bickering.’’

"When President Ramos came to EDSA on the first day in 1986, and throughout those four days, especially when Cardinal Sin called on the people to come and the people responded, the world embraced EDSA in 1986, in 2001, the world tolerated another EDSA, the world, however, will not forgive another EDSA, but instead will condemn the Philippines as a country whose political system is hopelessly unstable and the Filipinos as the finest people in the world but who always shoot themselves in the foot,’’ she said.

In his homily at the EDSA Shrine, Fr. Romeo Intengan S.J. said the "the country needs a social revolution that would usher in a better way of life for Filipinos, who continue to face the specter of unemployment, hunger, political instability, and a plodding justice system.’’

He said term "people power’’ would be meaningless, particularly to poor Filipinos, if the political freedoms they regained in 1986 do not lead to equal social and political opportunities.

"Government leaders should work to fulfill the promise of people power and for socio-political upliftment,’’ he said.

"The nation should move to a society that cares equally for all,’’ Intengan, founder of the Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas, said.

To achieve this, he said, the poor should be organized into potent social movements and political parties to empower them to work for comprehensive and radical reforms.

In 1986, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos including priests and nuns massed along EDSA in front of camps Crame and Aguinaldo to protect mutinous soldiers from loyalist tanks and troops.

Nuns and unarmed civilians holding rosaries and flowers knelt before tanks to halt their advance in iconic images beamed by TV networks around the world. Marcos, who ruled with an iron fist for 20 years, was forced to flee into exile in Hawaii, where he died in 1989.

The euphoria over the dictator’s ouster, however, soon subsided as the country remained mired in poverty, raging communist and Muslim separatist insurgencies, official corruption and chaotic politics. Democracy remained fragile.

Mrs. Arroyo, then Estrada’s separately elected vice president, was abruptly swept to power following a relatively peaceful uprising in 2001. She ran and won in the 2004 presidential elections but the release of a wiretapped conversation between her and election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano spawned accusations that she cheated her way to victory.

The administration-dominated Congress later blocked efforts by the opposition to impeach her for cheating in the elections. The Arroyo administration later had stifle dissent with an iron-fist saying it was needed to save the republic from "destabilizers.’’

Last year, President Arroyo accused disgruntled troops allegedly allied with left-wing guerrillas of plotting to stage a coup to coincide with the 1986 revolt anniversary, prompting her to declare a weeklong state of emergency. About 30 military officers are facing a court-martial. – with AP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved