MANILA — More than 100,000 Filipinos paraded through downtown Manila on Thursday, releasing white doves and yellow balloons and singing songs of joy to celebrate their first national Independence Day since the overthrow of President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
For more than three hours, they saluted, cheered and chanted praise for President Corazon Aquino, who declared from a grandstand that the Philippine nation, for the first time in decades, is now truly free.
The nation, Aquino said, is both "free and hopeful. We are free because of the collective power of the people, and we are hopeful because we know we can use that power to do anything we want.
"Today, we are celebrating Independence Day to celebrate people's power."
Troops on Alert
In anticipation of a possible violent protest by forces still loyal to Marcos, the entire city of 8 million had been put on alert and tens of thousands of riot troops were deployed. Several days ago, police discovered a cache of gasoline bombs near the stage where Aquino delivered her brief Independence Day address.
But there were no reports of violence at the government-sponsored rally Thursday, and even a small demonstration by the Marcos loyalists in the suburb of Quezon City remained peaceful.
Throughout the parade and Aquino's speech, the government constantly stressed the theme that the military and civilian revolt against Marcos' 20-year rule was only the first step toward true freedom in the country, which was a Spanish colony for 350 years until 1898 and then an American colony for the next five decades until it was granted full independence after World War II.
"In the coming months, we will be able to taste the real freedom--the freedom we felt in 1898 and 1946," Aquino told the cheering crowd of more than 100,000. "Now we have been given a chance to give true meaning to our freedom . . . The way is hard, and we must sacrifice a lot."
And in an apparent attempt to deflect the mounting pressure on her government to solve the nation's pressing crises, Aquino declared from her parade stand, "In this celebration, do not just look at the grandstand for the source of that hope and power. Look within yourselves because you are the source of the power."
Another main theme in the celebration was national unity--particularly between the military and civilian forces in the Aquino government. The parade float for the Ministry of Defense, whose minister, Juan Ponce Enrile, helped lead the military mutiny that brought Aquino to power, included not only soldiers but also priests and nuns.
Manila's military police, which once used tear gas and water cannon to break up anti-Marcos demonstrations by Aquino's supporters before his overthrow, marched obediently past Aquino's stand and saluted her.
Fleeting signs of anti-American sentiment appeared at the rally. A leftist labor group paraded a giant Uncle Sam effigy cradling a nuclear missile in its arms and one large sign directly across from the president declared, "For a sovereign Philippines, no foreign bases." The United States maintains two large military bases a few hundred miles north of Manila.
Despite such overtones and attempts by the event's planners to display austerity in a nation beset by a deep economic crisis, there were also faint reminders of the lavishness that accompanied the many Independence Day celebrations organized by Marcos and the former first lady, Imelda Marcos.
According to government sources, the parade itself cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce, and it was preceded by an elegant reception by Aquino for her Cabinet ministers and foreign ambassadors at Malacanang, the presidential palace.
The highlight of the reception was a toast to the progress and prosperity of the nation over dozens of bottles of imported French Champagne.
Asked about the apparent excess, Aquino's information minister, Teodoro Locsin said: "We found it in the cellar. It was left over from the Marcoses."