THE YEAR 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of the EDSA revolution that led to the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship and the restoration of democratic institutions under President Corazon C. Aquino. The celebration of “people power” is not just about those four extraordinary and triumphant days of non-violent uprising in February 1986. From a broader perspective, it is about a larger project and movement for democratization that goes further back than 1986 or even 1983, and in many ways remains an unfinished and continuing struggle at present. In fact, the democratic victory at EDSA was soon after threatened with reversal by rightist military coup plotters who besieged the government of President Cory Aquino throughout her term. More recently, Philippine democracy has been undermined by widespread corruption and blatant abuse of power in the highest levels of government during the Estrada and Arroyo administrations, and by various initiatives associated with President Gloria Arroyo and her allies to evade accountability and even extend their terms beyond existing constitutional limits via charter change. Post-1986 Philippine democracy has largely seen a restoration of pre-1972 institutions, which while formally democratic, essentially did not challenge the concentrated political and economic power of a few dominant families. Thus the full promise of participatory democracy, social justice, and communal solidarity symbolized by EDSA people power has not been fulfilled.
The landslide victory of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and the peaceful transition of presidential power in 2010 marked a significant moment in defending and consolidating democratic institutions. The successful Aquino campaign was also crucial in harnessing widespread political participation and generating renewed hope in the possibilities of deeper political reform. May 2010 saw the election of a president who is seen as the heir of the struggle for democratization with a clear mandate for promoting development and addressing poverty through a kind of politics and governance imbued with integrity, trustworthiness, and accountability. The present political moment is thus an opportune time to document the history of Filipino social democracy. While less well-known and visible compared to other formations on the right and left of the Philippine political spectrum, the history of social democracy in the Philippines is closely intertwined with the struggle for democratization in the country. From its beginnings in the late 1960s, nascent Filipino social democracy formed part of the surge of student activism that questioned the severe limitations of the elite two-party Philippine electoral democracy. It was a political system superimposed on highly unequal sociopolitical structures that persisted from the colonial period. The declaration of martial law in 1972 and the 14 years of authoritarian rule that ensued, forced Filipino social democrats to develop their political ideology, strategy, and organization in the context of violent repression. They defined their commitment to democratic socialism not only against the Marcos national security regime and its agents, but also vis-a-vis remnants of the “traditional opposition” from the pre-martial law era. Filipino social democrats likewise differentiated themselves from the national democratic/communist movement. While socdems shared the natdems’ long-term aim of radically transforming the structures of Philippine society and even some tactical goals and modes of struggle to bring down the Marcos dictatorship, they rejected the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology and one-party vanguardist political strategy as ultimately incompatible with the twin goals of democracy and socialism. In the post-Marcos period, social democrats positioned themselves as a movement to defend democracy against the continuing threat of authoritarianism from both the right and the left, and also to deepen democracy towards wider political participation and empowerment, and greater equality in the ownership and distribution of economic resources and the fruits of development. The essays in this book have discussed the various social democratic formations in the Philippines in the context of the struggle for democratization at key moments in the country’s recent political history: from the organizing and politicization efforts in the late 1960s—early 1970s; to the militant underground and aboveground resistance against the Marcos regime during martial law; to the contestation of the “democratic space” created by the political awakening and mobilization of the “middle forces” after the Aquino assassination in 1983, culminating in snap elec- tions and the EDSA revolution in 1986; to the dilemmas of political expansion, consolidation, and engagement (electoral and extra-parlia- mentary) amidst restored democratic political institutions during the Aquino and Ramos governments. A key aspect of the political narratives in the book are oral histories culled from personal and collective story-telling: memories of political recruitment, organizing, formation, and active involvement (amidst real physical danger and actual experiences of political violence and state repression); stories of political awakening and commitment to the imperative of social transformation—often rooted in a deep desire to respond more fully to the call of faith, justice and service to the nation; and personal and organizational struggles to be steadfast and consistent amidst very complex and conflict-ridden political challenges. These are stories of success and achievement, but also of inadequacies and failings. Many of these experiences of political engagement towards advancing democracy and socialism in the Philippines have originated from the days of youthful involvement but have also continued in various ways even in middle age and senior years.
What is Filipino social democracy? What are its distinctive characteristics? What are the political lessons and challenges coming from its
history? What is its continuing relevance? What does it have to say to those who seek to be politically engaged at present, especially among the youth of today?