Thursday, February 23, 2006

What EDSA Means to Me

When the Philippine Daily Inquirer asked for contributors to share their experience of EDSA I People Power to commemorate the 20th anniversary of this four-day revolution that happened on February 22-25, 1986, I thought my share in the event that put our country on the pages of world history was too insignificant to write about.

This week, PDI has been featuring stories from prominent people who indeed played pivotal roles in toppling the Marcos dictatorship. The newspaper itself shares its roots with the Pinoy peaceful revolution, as I remember that it was born at around the same time as the 1986 Snap Elections and the events that ensued. My family has subscribed to the Inquirer ever since.

Reading other people’s stories led me to a bit of reminiscing as well, and since nothing is too insignificant for this blog, I will share about my small part in Philippine history. I know you have your own EDSA I stories, and I invite you to share about them too. Remembrance of things past is good. History teaches us lessons. Our own memories can guide us to our ideals and teach us how to reach our dreams.

I was eleven years old then, in fifth grade, when Ferdinand Marcos called for snap presidential elections in order to prove that he was still the choice of the Filipino people. That was his response to the vocal opposition to his dictatorship fired by the assasination of his arch-rival, UP Law fraternity brod Ninoy Aquino, in 1983.

I was studying in a school that was friendly to political detainees then. Yellow was the color favored by the SFIC nuns who ran our school and we had demonstrations on campus. I was awakened to the issues of that time through Ibon Ekono-comics, movies such as “Sister Stella L.”, and campaign materials about Cory and the late Doy Laurel.

We had Cory fever in school. Our neckties were decked with yellow punk buttons and we wore yellow ribbons on our hair. We had yellow bells planted all over the school grounds and memorized the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”.

As I shared before, my family was living in Pureza St., Sta. Mesa, Manila in 1986, walking distance from Nagtahan Bridge and Mendiola, and one jeepney ride away from MalacaƱang Palace. Classes were suspended due to the people power movement taking place along EDSA.

On February 23, Mama was preparing our dinner when she and Papa were inspired to join in the outpouring of support for the soldiers who protected the people at EDSA. Our family cooked guiniling, one of my kuya Dan’s favorite dishes, which is a simple meat dish made of ground pork, potatoes, garbanzos, and carrots, and colored with achuete. We likewise cooked rice. Then we placed them separately in several one-kilo plastic bags. Then, my parents took us all to EDSA, and we had to walk long and hard to find the gate of the camp where they were accepting food donations. I remember thinking how little our contribution was compared to the truckloads of food that were coming in for the soldiers and the other people who kept vigil. But it was an activity that I shared with my family that turned out to be something I would become proud of in my later years.

We stayed in EDSA for a while. I saw several nuns and priests among the common people. I saw rich people and poor people. I saw Filipinos united, and it was something I would miss seeing later in life. We joined the recitation of the rosary and then we went home. The next day, we woke up early, all excited to go back to EDSA. On the road, cars honked at each other to signal their unity with People Power. I was lucky enough to have been standing at the very spot where the soldiers passed that day. Everyone was looking for Gringo Honasan, but I didn’t see him. The crowd parted to let the men-in-fatigue pass, and people gave them flowers. The atmosphere was emotional. There was love of country and hope in God. Devotees to Mama Mary kept on praying the rosary. It was an unprecedented event and nobody knew what would happen next, but we had a feeling then that we were making history.

Channel 4, the government TV channel, was taken over by the opposition. Maan Hontiveros, without makeup, showed up. So did Mitch Valdez, the Apo Hiking Society, and several other singers and actors who had a conscience. Maan Hontiveros came back the next day wearing makeup, and delivering "the real news" about what was going on in EDSA. To our surprise, the world noticed. And the world watched with us.

So the whole world cheered with us when Marcos fled. It was victory for a praying people, and we thought then that at last we were free. At last we had our country's riches to ourselves. At last we would have good leaders and good laws.

And so Malacanang was looted. We were shocked at the discoveries - 3,000 pairs of shoes (to which Imelda Marcos would forever be infamous for); giant bottles of French perfumes; paintings of Malakas and Maganda that made us want to throw up; and other signs of ostentatious living. We considered them atrocities amidst the economic crisis that we were experiencing.

We sang Magkaisa and Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo. And yes Cory and Doy took over the country’s leadership. Everywhere I looked, I saw people who were proud to be Filipino! I don’t remember which awards show it was, but I know I watched an American show on TV where the presenters greeted the Philippines with the Laban sign, which stood for PDP-Laban, Cory’s party, and the known sign of support and encouragement for her to keep up the fight, for she was not alone. Cory, hindi ka nag-iisa, we said.

We thought we had the country back in our hands. And we said that we would never allow a dictatorship to imprison us again.

Twenty years later, however, there are now a million things to say about how we forgot the ideals of EDSA and how we prostituted the gains of EDSA. As PDI columnist Conrado de Quiros implied, what happened during Cory’s term (and the birth of Kris' showbiz career - aside mine) is a whole other story. For me, focusing on the negative now, which by the way, we have learned to be experts on when it comes to our country's ills, would just douse our idealism and water down the symbolism of EDSA. During the succeeding presidential terms of Ramos, Erap (however short-lived), and now GMA, we had lost our pride for "People Power", which was a peaceful revolution and the Filipino nation's gift to the world. But we have the rest of the year to talk about all that.

For this week, the true spirit of EDSA for us Filipinos lives. Even if our current President is afraid of it. Even if the government refuses to give this anniversary its proper celebration. Even if we still suffer from calamities and tragedies.

Some of our countrymen have closed off EDSA again. I have not joined them. I don't think an EDSA revolt will ever happen again in the same manner, so let's stop trying. Just look at the product of our second effort! Yes, I was there at EDSA II in 2001, and all grown-up. I slept for a couple of hours at the Perpetual Adoration Chapel of The EDSA Shrine then out of sheer exhaustion. I was there to make a stand for morality, not to put another leader of the same ilk that we had been unfortunately prone to.

What I know is that we Filipinos all believe in God, whether we are Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, or otherwise. Maybe we should stop taking matters into our own hands, and let God be God. We have been confused by our own freedom, and have grown impatient in claiming our victory. Why don't we wait a while to find out how we could recover from our own seflishness, greed, and pride? I simply believe that the answer is not in violence; neither is it in revenge, which only leads to us doing the very things that our "enemies" did, with the only justification being that we have the right to inflict injustice, after suffering much injustice. I think we should, this time, try doing things God's way, whatever our individual concept may be of God.

Lessons are repeated until learned. The lesson of EDSA is not to do another EDSA, but it should cause us to open our eyes, use our heads and search our hearts. People Power was good, but perhaps now it should give way to the Father's Power.

"Justice and justice alone shall be your aim, that you may have life and may possess the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you." (Deut. 16:20 [NAB]).

No comments: