Poverty mars Filipino freedom festival

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The Independent Online

Associated Press

Manila - President Fidel Ramos led tens of thousands of Filipinos yesterday in a celebration of 10 years of democracy but acknowledged the goals of the "people-power" revolution had not been met.

The four days of peaceful demonstrations that forced the then president, Ferdinand Marcos, into exile on 25 February 1986, became a model for pro- democracy movements around the world. Corazon Aquino, widow of an assassinated opposition leader, Benigno Aquino, was catapulted into the presidency and restored democratic institutions.

But feelings of euphoria soon faded as living conditions failed to improve. The economy slumped, land reform slowed and the number of urban squatters climbed.

"We as a nation face a more formidable kind of tyranny," said Mr Ramos, who succeeded Mrs Aquino in 1992. "The tyranny of poverty still oppresses almost half of our people."

Over the past two months, tens of thousands of people have protested against Mr Ramos's economic policies. On Friday, about 5,000 marched through Manila's financial district, accusing the government of backsliding in the fight against poverty.

In Sunday's anniversary service, Mr Ramos called for a revival of "people power", optimism and unity. "We need to recapture the sense of unity, the sense of being one people that we possessed," he said.

The crowd cheered as two military helicopters dumped confetti on them at the large "People Power Monument" in suburban Quezon City, where Mr Ramos was speaking.

But two important players in the revolt boycotted a re-enactment of the 1986 unity between demonstrators and the soldiers who had broken with the Marcos regime: Juan Ponce Enrile, the former defence secretary and Gregorio Honasan, the former lieutenant colonel in the army. Mr Honasan said that there was nothing worth celebrating.

Over the past week, Mrs Aquino and Mr Enrile have blamed each other for the corruption and the economic hardship that continues to burden most Filipinos. Marcos's wife, Imelda, now a congresswoman, has also defended her own husband's record.

Critics say recent measures, including a new 10 per cent tax and an oil-price increase, have hurt the very poor, estimated to make up 36 per cent of the country's 68 million people.