ONE way of celebrating the anniversary of the 1986 EDSA People Power this week is to ask ourselves why we are no longer able to mount a similar revolt, no matter how we try and no matter how much the situation warrants it.

What has happened in the last two decades that Filipinos today not only can’t produce another People Power, but also in fact don’t want to anymore?

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Removing a president by People Power is, we now say, undemocratic, forgetting that People Power was precisely what made us the darling of the democratic world in 1986. People Power was the “handog ng Pilipino sa mundo” because it spawned similar movements in South Africa, South Korea, China and most significantly, Eastern Europe, where the unarmed uprising started a chain of events that led to the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

If only Filipinos today were like they had been in 1986, I don’t think President Arroyo would have lasted another day in Malacañang. The fertilizer scam, the ZTE deal, the Garci tapes, the mutiny at Oakwood and again at the Manila Pen, the Marines’ standoff at Fort Bonifacio—any one of these could have led to her ouster had the crowds come to back up the military, like what happened at EDSA.

But they didn’t, and the few people who showed up didn’t stay, too. What happened?

Malls — that’s what happened.

In 1986, we had no choice but to face the tanks all day and man the barricades all night, because going home meant going back to our dreary lives made even drearier by the dictatorship.

Today, we join the rallies all right but at the slightest hint of dehydration we head for the nearest mall. With iPods plugged firmly in both ears, there’s no way we’ll hear the clarion call of patriotism, and with so many channels to surf on cable TV, we’ll never stay glued to any live coverage of a developing political story.

This apathy and short attention span of our youth has given this government a field day raiding the national treasury and corrupting everyone with impunity—from lawmakers to generals to justices to religious leaders.

How did we do it in 1986 and why can’t we do it again today? What combination of factors or confluence of events happened then that are no longer present now? What last straw are we still waiting for before the camel’s back breaks?

Here in Pampanga, will the crowds protesting Among Ed Panlilio’s loss in the election recount swell and snowball into People Power big enough to protect him from an inevitable political fate?

Or will it be Lilia Pineda’s turn to summon People Power to seize what the Comelec says is rightfully hers?

Kapampangans should be the last to lose faith in the power of the people to unseat a President outside an election, because the last beneficiary was a Kapampangan (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2001).

In 2007, Kapampangans came together to protect Among Ed’s ballots—that was People Power, too, although its objective was to install, not unseat, someone. But it showed that when Kapampangans put their heads together and close ranks, change does happen.

Flashback to 1660, the year Kapampangans revolted against Spain.

That’s right, despite our reputation (or notoriety) for blind loyalty to the Spaniards, we did blow our fuse and fought back.

It started when the Spaniards imposed the system of “vandala” which forced Kapampangans to sell all their harvests to the colonial government in Manila. This meant Kapampangans had to work longer hours on their farms so that they could produce rice for themselves, too.

But Manila did not pay the right amount, incurring a debt that amounted to P200,000.00 (huge money at the time). Worse, Kapampangan men were hauled off to the mountains to cut timber for the shipyards in Cavite, leaving their farmlands untilled for months, which caused famine across Pampanga.

The colonial government was actually never in a financial position to pay a just wage to the laborers it drafted or a just price for the goods it bought. Being forced to sell your produce was injury enough, but not being paid for it and then being forced to leave your farm to work elsewhere and not paid again—that’s insult added to the injury, and Kapampangans could take anything but an insult.

And so one night in October 1660, the Kapampangans revolted.

Led by Francisco Maniago of Mexico town, the rebels pitched tent in Bacolor, barricaded the river in Sasmuan to halt commerce between Manila and Pampanga, and sent word to their compatriots in Pangasinan and Ilocos to urge them to join the fight (Maniago’s emissary to these provinces was Agustin Pamintuan of Macabebe, nephew of Phelipe Sonsong, whose cause for beatification is being advanced today).

It was the revolt that the Spaniards had feared the most because it was led by the same Kapampangans they had trained in the royal army (Maniago himself was a former master-of-camp at Fort Bonifacio). And with the participation of Pangasinan and Ilocos, it threatened to become a multi-region conflagration—a national revolution 200 years ahead of schedule.

Unfortunately, a Kapampangan village chief in Arayat named Juan Macapagal (yes, a direct ancestor of you-know-who) sided with the Spaniards and barricaded the only road connecting Manila and Northern Luzon, thus preventing augmentation troops from Pangasinan from joining Kapampangans and then proceeding to Manila.

The revolt fizzled out and Maniago (as well as the leader of the revolt in Pangasinan, Andres Malong) were executed.

This year, 2010, is the 350th anniversary of The Kapampangan Revolt, an event where the best traits of Kapampangans clashed with the worst in them. One lesson to be learned is that injury is not enough to start a revolution; it takes an insult to make people snap. Another lesson is that one man’s betrayal is enough to sabotage an entire people’s yearning for greatness.

May the unfolding political scenario in Pampanga today bring out only the best in us.