MANILA — More than half a million Filipinos poured into the streets Wednesday in a mass fiesta of liberation, celebrating the day they brought down a dictator and trying to rekindle the spirit of unity that has splintered badly in the year since President Corazon Aquino took power.
As church bells rang throughout the country, children played on army tanks. Helicopter gunships strafed the street with thousands of yellow flowers and confetti. Uniformed soldiers carried yellow balloons bearing portraits of the Virgin Mary.
At precisely 9:15 p.m., the time one year ago that former President Ferdinand E. Marcos and his family fled his presidential palace in U.S. Air Force helicopters, the sky lit up over Manila as seven Japanese technicians set off more than a ton of fireworks to mark the historic moment.
Aquino mounted a makeshift stage with priests, nuns and the American folk group Peter, Paul and Mary to lead her nation in celebrating the civilian-backed military coup that overthrew Marcos.
Credits Unity for Victory
"Today, let us recall why people power was so successful," Aquino told the huge, largely sedate crowd in the same Manila park where nuns had stopped tanks with rosaries and crosses near a military camp where pro-Aquino rebel soldiers were holed up a year ago.
"We were gifted with freedom, and now it is in our hands on how we will use it for peace and progress," she said. "Our future lies in our hands. Our victory is in our unity."
There were many symbols, though, of how divided Filipinos have become since they deposed the man whose 20 years of authoritarian rule ultimately caused the nation to rally behind Aquino.
Conspicuously absent from the daylong festivities was the man who started the "people power" rebellion--former Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, who, along with the armed forces chief of staff, Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, led 300 soldiers in defying Marcos.
Enrile Boycotts Events
The 63-year-old Enrile, fired by Aquino last November amid speculation that his military followers were plotting against her, boycotted the day's events. His only public appearance during the past week was last Sunday, when he attended a memorial Mass for a close friend who had helped him in the rebellion.
Wearing a black armband at the graveside of Col. Tirso Gador, who died during a parachuting accident last July, Enrile told the several hundred soldiers with him at the Mass that he wanted to celebrate "the February, 1986, event . . . in a simple, austere and solemn manner."
"Perhaps we should go back to the spirit of that revolution . . . so that once again we can move forward unhampered by any disunity or division."
But there was little austerity, simplicity or solemnity Wednesday, the day that Aquino had declared a national holiday of liberation.
Organized by Aquino's friends, family and government officials, the extravaganza was capped by a Street Disco in the boulevard outside the two military camps that hundreds of thousands of civilians had surrounded to protect Enrile and Ramos during their four days of defiance against Marcos.
Like 1960s Hootenanny
Sounding more like a 1960s American hootenanny, folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary, who are visiting Manila solely for the anniversary event, sang "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "Blowin' in the Wind," a song that, as Mary Travers explained from the makeshift stage, commemorates revolutions worldwide.
However, the real Philippine revolutionaries--the extreme political left--also boycotted Wednesday's celebration.
Antonio Zumel, an official of the leftist National Democratic Front coalition, labeled the festivities hypocritical in a statement issued Tuesday and said the nation's workers and peasants would not attend because they reject Aquino's "elitist revolution."
Even some of Aquino's strong supporters sharply criticized the tone of Wednesday's 12-hour street fiesta, which included sky diving, air shows by the Philippine air force's F-5 and F-105 jet fighters and a Freedom Cup polo match at the wealthy and elite Manila Polo Club.
"I cannot for the life of me understand what sky diving, polo games, parties across the nation, a flea market, disco music and Peter, Paul and Mary have to do with (the February revolt)," declared political commentator Ninez Cacho-Olivares, who was a staunch pro-Aquino activist a year ago.
Offerings to Cardinal
There were, however, some relevant images Wednesday, most of them appearing during a one-hour Roman Catholic Mass led onstage by the Philippine prelate, Cardinal Jaime Sin, and broadcast live nationwide on government television.
During a somewhat bizarre offering ceremony at the Mass, an army general presented the cardinal with a gun; a former political prisoner under Marcos gave Sin a strand of barbed wire; nuns presented him with ballot boxes they had guarded with their lives during the presidential election between Aquino and Marcos last year; a seminarian gave the cardinal a cross he had planted firmly in front of a tank last February, and children presented him with candles, rosaries and statues of the Virgin Mary, which were often placed over the heads of Ramos and Enrile during their revolt last year.
Referring to that revolt, the cardinal declared in his homily, "Never before has it been better shown that love is a greater weapon than the most explosive bombs."
Spirit Has Faded
But he quickly added that much of that spirit has died during a year that has pitted Aquino's centrist government against Communist rebels in a continuing guerrilla war.