The Philippines – The “People Power Revolution” 1983–86 and the role of the Catholic Church: The actors and their motives The most important actors in the Philippine conflict were the Marcos regime supported by the United States, the military, which partially changed sides in the course of the conflict, the opposition both in Parliament and in the armed resistance movements, and last but not least the diverse currents within the Catholic Church.
The Marcos regime As a friend of America, Marcos’s political goals were above all the modernization of the economy and the suppression of socialism. As a “strong leader”, Marcos exercised a pseudo-democratic autocracy with massive reprisals against the opposition. Under him, a “compadre” system reigned: all the critical positions in the army, in the economy, and in the administration were occupied by Marcos relatives or confidants. Without, however, the economic support from America, from the IWF and from the World Bank and without the military support of the USA in the “fight against communism”, the Marcos regime could not have remained in power.
The military With the declaration of martial law in 1972, the size and the influence of the army increased enormously. Officially, the goal was the suppression of the rebel movement (see “armed resistance”), but in fact it functioned to suppress the opposition generally and to terrorize the population. Beginning in the 1980s, discontent began to spread among the younger officers on account of the poor prospects of advancement. Promotions were not based on merit but rather on good connections to President Marcos.
The opposition a) The parliamentary opposition The bourgeois parliamentary opposition was led by the country’s wealthy elite. It was divided into factions and had little support from the populace. The biggest and most important group was the UNIDO (United Democratic Opposition), founded in 1979. This was the party of the well-liked Senator Benigno Aquino. After his assassination, his widow, Corazon Aquino, became the outstanding identification figure for the opposition and she ran against Marcos in the 1986 election.
b) The armed resistance movement Since 1969, the radical left in the Philippines rallied behind the Communist Party (CPP) and its armed wing, the “National People’s Army”. They fought against Marcos with bombings and other guerrilla actions and strove to establish a socialist regime. A militant Muslim group, the “Moro National Liberation Front”, also took up arms to obtain autonomy.
The Catholic Church a) The conservatives The greater part of the church leadership, including Cardinal Sin (Archbishop of Manila) and the majority of the Episcopal Conference, was connected with the Marcos regime and was reluctant to criticize it. However, beginning in the mid80’s, Cardinal Sin began to support the political opposition (UNIDO), fearing that ongoing allegiance to the dictatorial regime could permanently damage the reputation of the Church. b) The moderates A minority within the Episcopal Conference and a significant portion of the clergy began openly to criticize the Marcos regime. c) The progressives Bishop Claver, a portion of the clergy (both priests and religious), and a basis movement among the Church’s laity rallied behind a specifically Philippine “Theology of (non-violent) Resistance”. Base communities united in solidarity began to organize opposition and attracted international attention. Like the adherents of a Theology of Liberation in Latin America, the church-based political reform advocates in the Philippines appealed to the Second Vatican Council’s professions of a reform theology.