ON THE 28th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolt, both EDSA veterans and the younger generation discovered the ultimate irony – the EDSA Shrine, dedicated to the millions of Filipinos who fought for freedom by ousting Ferdinand Marcos through a peaceful protest in the same place in 1986, is a no-rally zone.
No one sees the irony more clearly than Jojo Borja, who helped stop pro-Marcos tanks at the corner of EDSA and Ortigas in 1986. Borja, who hails from Iligan City, even brought a newspaper photograph showing him trying to push back a Marine LVT-5 Amtrak that was trying to advance on mutinous rebel soldiers in Camp Crame on Feb. 23, 1986.
The photograph showed a younger Borja wearing a t-shirt and a vest, with head bowed and hands on the camouflaged slab-side of the 39-ton Amtrak along with other civilians, as if wishing the vehicle to go away.
But when Borja joined more than a hundred other people at the EDSA Shrine on the 28th anniversary of the People Power Revolt to protest a variety of issues, they were told to leave because the Shrine was private property, and a no-rally zone. The activists were protesting the cyber libel provision in the Cybercrime Prevention Act, the Priority Development Assistance Fund, or the pork barrel, and the continued prevalence of corruption in government.
Borja bristled at the idea that no one is allowed to demonstrate at the Shrine, saying he had earned the right to demonstrate in the same place where he helped hold back tanks 28 years ago.
“I was here in 1986, we stopped the tanks here,” he said. “If there is a place we can voice our sentiments out, it is this place, and it is today.”
The Shrine’s private security at first tried to persuade the demonstrators, mostly protesting against the Cybercrime Act, to leave the Shrine.
“Hindi po ito public, private property po ito,” a private security officer of the Shrine told the demonstrators. (This is not a public place. This is private property.)
“What private property?” Borja countered. “Before we gave it to them, we captured this place in 1986. Kung wala kami, wala kayo rito!” (If we had not been here, you would not be here now.)
When persuasion failed, more than a hundred policemen with riot shields and batons tried briefly to push back the demonstrators. Cooler heads later intervened, and the demonstrators were allowed to hold their rally at the foot of the Shrine. Police officers said church officials were complaining that the noise from the demonstration would disrupt the mass inside the Shrine.
Senior Superintendent Wilson Caubat, deputy director for operations of the Eastern Police District, appealed to the protesters to vacate the area. Caubat showed a letter written in 2004 by Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales to the Shrine’s vicar then, Monsignor Soc Villegas, affirming the Church’s policy not to allow non-religious and non-Catholic demonstrations at the Shrine.
The Shrine’s website says the property was donated by the Gokongwei and Ortigas families to the Archdiocese of Manila for the construction of the Shrine of Mary, Queen of Peace, Our Lady of EDSA to commemorate the EDSA Revolt. The Shrine was constructed on the empty lot at the corner of EDSA and Ortigas, where Marine armored vehicles were forced to retreat after civilians prevented their advance by kneeling in front of the vehicles.
The Shrine was also the scene of several protest actions during the time of then President Gloria Arroyo. It was during this time that the Shrine’s no-rally policy was first made public. During the time of Arroyo, several demonstrations at the EDSA Shrine were dispersed, sometimes violently.
But Borja says this policy goes against the spirit that made EDSA possible to begin with.
“Others have their own reasons to be here,” Borja added. “Galit sila sa DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program), galit sila sa PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund), galit sila sa mahal na kuryente, then why can we not say it here so long as we do it peacefully?”
Red Tani of the Filipino Freethinkers said it was ironic that they were being prevented from demonstrating in the same place where, years ago, people stood their ground against another administration that would have prevented the same demonstration from happening.
Activists who gathered to oppose the cyber libel provision in Republic Act 10175 said this was one of the many ironies that mark the 28th anniversary of EDSA. While press freedom and freedom of expression were restored in 1986, government has been passing laws that are more restrictive of civil liberties.
The activists are protesting the Supreme Court ruling affirming the cyber libel provision in R.A 10175, which expands the coverage of libel into the digital domain and increasing the penalty for the offense. The ruling comes at a time when media organizations, netizens, and civil society groups are pushing for the decriminalization of libel.
“Instead of signaling that the decriminalization of libel would happen, we are disappointed that the Supreme Court instead increased the scope of libel,” Tani said.