Abellanosa: Edsa 1986

Fringes and frontiers

“IT HAS been 35 years since Edsa 1986 and yet things have remained the same.” I begin with this statement because this speaks volumes for those who were never supportive of People Power since it happened. This is also the statement of a generation that lives in its own relatively comfortable bubble that has been made to believe that Edsa is meaningless, and People Power a myth. For people of today who enjoy freedom to its relative extent, liberty is like inherited wealth. It is depleting and yet the heirs continue their mindless spending. Worse, they are aware of the existence of the wealth, but they deny the fact that it is not the product of their toil but merely inherited. Sometimes I am made to think that some Filipinos are either forgetful or ungrateful.

“It has been 35 years since Edsa 1986 and yet things have remained the same.” This has become the punch line of critics and antagonists of People Power. This is the argument of politicians and their supporters who want to convince those who have less in life that freedom gives greater benefits only to the elites. The criticism is directed at Edsa for having failed to bring “progress” and “justice” in this country. But one should not rush into buying such an argument. It is rhetorically powerful but logically flawed, it is politically tempting but morally problematic. It is not a new argument. In fact, it is the same argument constructed with the same logic used by the dictator who was overthrown by the revolution. Essentially, it is an argument founded on the same logic used by all dictators. It is a subtle invitation to go back to the lost days of authoritarianism.

Even academics and public intellectuals are gradually joining the bandwagon. One would hear or read, every now and then, that democracy after Edsa is not “radical” enough because it has not listened to the “true masses.” There are also those who would argue that democracy itself is a kind of tyranny and is worse than the dictatorship that ended in 1986. These positions or perspectives are disgusting. They are directed not at the social and economic problems but the value of freedom itself. In the end the issue is not EDSA but the desire for power of those who were unseated.

I listened to a recorded 2018 dialogue between Bongbong Marcos and Juan Ponce Enrile, and through it, I realized where the danger lies. It is not in the identification of historical facts because facts will always be the same. The devil dwells in the unexamined “subjectivity” that is always prior to any claim of objectivity including the selection of facts. Part of this “subjectivity” is the persuasion or conviction that fuels any decisive action. It is correct to say, for example, that Cory Aquino was inexperienced. However, it is not only illogical but also ethically questionable to insist on the causal link between the problems faced by the post-Edsa Philippines and her inexperience.

It is easy to say that Edsa has failed. Sadly, it is doubtful if there is any politician who would admit that he has betrayed this country. Some people cannot be faulted for their ignorance, and much as we wish to cure many others of their apathy, there are just too many of them. Precisely why it is easier to put the blame on an event rather than admit that we have betrayed our principles and sold the same to the highest bidder.

Edsa 1986 is an unfinished project. The event happened 35 years ago, but its goals have never been achieved. The task of ending the dictatorship was accomplished by all those who gathered all over the country on that momentous day of February 25, 1986. But who said that that was it? Who said that after that day all things would be fine?

Freedom is not a one-shot deal. Analogically, the Philippines is like a prisoner who was released from jail 35 years ago but has not completely decided on what to do with his life. Freedom is not just the movement out from the cell, it is also about finding direction which requires conviction and bold assertion and resolution to sustain and continually enhance the given liberty. But where people would only love to be “free” without doing their share, dictators and populist leaders would always be ready to offer themselves as the “shortcut” to everything.


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