Sia: EDSA and the disillusioned youth

Riding the Tiger

THIS week marks the 33rd anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution, which according to our history books is widely recognized because a peaceful but persistent demonstration by the people managed to bring down decades-long dictatorship.

However, I’ll leave it to the historians to discuss the details; right now, I intend to write about what it means to us in this day and age, especially among the generations of younger people that came after the Martial Law babies.

Some numerologists would say that anniversaries with repeating digits like the number 33 should be more auspicious than those neatly divisible by 10, such as 20th and 30th anniversaries. Judging by how things turned out last Monday, however, this year’s commemoration is anything but auspicious. At best, it was uneventful; President Rodrigo Duterte said a few perfunctory but pleasant words but did not attend the ceremony at the EDSA Shrine, but to give everyone credit, it would seem that the political players who’d be squabbling on any other day put aside their differences out of respect.

As for everyone else, it was business as usual, and students were more than happy to get the day off. And here’s the rub – that is precisely the main reason why young people appreciate EDSA, if you can call that appreciation. Most would be happy to just memorize facts, dates, and events as taught in history class and write essays on why the ousting of Ferdinand Marcos was a good thing and how it couldn’t be anything but a good thing, all for the sake of complying with academic requirements.

However, a growing number of young people – mostly millennials and Gen Zers – are turning to alternative sources on the Internet that argue that unless you were an avowed communist or Moro separatist and therefore an enemy of the state, life in general was much better under Martial Law (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg).

Veteran journalists who lived through the period like the esteemed Raissa Robles would no doubt be aghast at this development. How dare the youth of the nation betray the promise and legacy of EDSA by saying Marcos did nothing wrong – and even worse, believing it completely?

But that is precisely the thing: EDSA had a promise back then, and it has a legacy now. And it failed our country on both counts.

It is widely accepted that the main promise of EDSA was that the Philippines would have a taste of true democracy at long last: not an American-backed commonwealth government, not a government by and for the good old boys of the upper echelons, and most definitely not a dictatorship.

However, good intentions notwithstanding, in the years that followed, it became clearer and clearer that one big dictator was toppled, only to be replaced by a plethora of smaller dictators all over the country – namely, politicians and oligarchs. And don’t get me started on the dynasties! It was as if the feudal or hacienda system were reinstated all over again, but this time wearing the disguises of democracy and capitalism.

As for the legacy of EDSA, you can see it all around you today. Regardless of your opinion of Ferdinand Marcos, it cannot be denied that during his time, the Philippines was an economic powerhouse. Filipino botanists and agriculturists at the University of the Philippines Los Baños made major strides in the cultivation of high-yield and hardy varieties of rice, which resulted not only in windfalls for Filipino rice farmers, but also in other countries sending their most brilliant scientists to learn this new alchemy of rice in Philippine classrooms, from Filipino professors.

Heavy industries such as steel, sugar, and petroleum were nationalized, and full-swing plant operations both national and private guaranteed jobs for blue-collar workers. Imports were strictly regulated, and people everywhere were strongly encouraged to buy Philippine-made goods instead of their foreign counterparts.

But today, you cannot say the same about our country. If anything, it’s as if the situation back then had been turned completely on its head, and the Philippines has since become an economic cesspit. It would seem that Marcos was guiding the country on the path of economic self-sufficiency (albeit with an iron fist), but nowadays we have become too dependent on international aid to stay afloat.

Compare this with the situation in the People’s Republic of China, where heavy industries remain securely nationalized to this day, major corporations like Huawei remain firmly in Chinese hands, and all the wants and needs of modern-day living are manufactured on Chinese soil – in other words, no need for imports (and if they really wanted to, the Chinese could even isolate themselves from the rest of the world again!). Xi Jinping may have 99 problems, but debt and inflation aren’t one of them.

The youth hear nothing but glowing words about EDSA from their teachers, the media, and other institutions. Meanwhile, they see that our current circumstances tell a completely different story. Now can you understand why they have grown disillusioned – disgusted, even? Can the People Power Revolution’s most ardent proponents give a satisfactory answer as to why this is so, without heaping all the blame on Marcos? We await their reply.


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