By Dr. Herman M. Lagon
THE CHAPEL bell rang almost in unison with the siren howling all over the place, intermittently squeaking as it passed by the narrow street of Lapuz Norte, La Paz, Iloilo City. Radio transistors were in full volume while people flock to the plaza that is just a stone’s throw away from our house. Men and women alike wore happy faces and shared a festive ambiance embracing each other with almost tears in their eyes.
I was 10 years old then.
“Looters and vandals have entered Malacañang,” the radio broadcaster said in vernacular, adding, “Marcos is out! Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!”
Only then that I realized that the strongman they call “Makoy” was just kicked out from Malacañang and a new government was about to be formed with Cory Aquino, the bespectacled widow who looks more of a resident housewife than a statesperson, leading the pack.
For the lack of the right word let me say that the feeling then was euphoric–people in different genres, classes, and events came together neatly and forcefully in February 1986 to cause the fall of the Emelda, rather Marcos, dictatorship.
Who won’t be awed by the turning of events? Ferdi’s bootlickers turning against himself, the civil disobedience launched by his opposite alter egos Tita Cory and Cardinal Sin, and, on top of it all, the multitudes of people from all walks of life marching in Edsa with only their rosaries and flowers as shields against the M16-boosted, tank-reinforced camouflaged loyalists.
When my mom Diana asked me a few days after the revolt to accompany her to a university where she teaches, I gave her my nod with a thrill in my mind wondering what might be happening there amid Edsa revelries.
I was not surprised. Classes were suspended, of course, and just like everywhere else, the school was also covered with streamers while retro-fashioned students and sharp-tongued teachers alike wore sunflower-colored ribbons and whatnot.
People crowding all over the hallways, parking spaces, and corridors were showered with speeches and pamphlets at the quadrangle, all blabbing against the former dictatorial regime and asking for support for the new government. The crowd can’t say more but agree. “Tama na! Sobra na! Napalitan na! Panalo na!” they cried.
When everybody was in jubilation, I heard a group of students at the corner of the stage shout “but the war is not yet over!” Noticeably, they wanted to say something but they were denied and the closed-fisted organizers of the program just proceeded with the singing of the famous revolutionary song “Ang Bayan Ko” to end the hours-long prayer rally.
That was it.
And the great waves turned into gushes. It calmed and died unnoticed.
37 years later and true to Edsa’s ideals, Filipinos are now somehow freer to speak their mind and to air their grievances. Albeit the specter of the old regime has resurrected, no thanks to the recent “bastardized” elections, I still believe that millions of Filipinos are now inspired by and “mulat na” with the spirit of good governance that is anchored on what is true, just, democratic, and honorable.
But that is about all that Edsa can offer right now. That is all Edsa can clearly boast for. We may have a voice now courtesy of Edsa. But what is it for? Yes, we do exercise our right to suffrage. But is it the votes or the politicians’ money, popularity, clout, trolls, or “program” that counts? Many are even questioning how mature our electorate is in terms of choosing the right leaders. Exhibit A is the result of the recent national and local elections.
It is still difficult to understand that despite Edsa experience we still have people who think of voting for the corrupt, the tax evaders, the peddlers of fake news, and their cohorts. Many still vote for gutter, patronage, and traditional politicians who are congenital liars, halfwits, plunderers, and war freaks.
More than electoral concerns, we still need to see more Edsa-inspired people actively participating in nation-building. We still need to see more committed citizens who are socially involved and who translate such devotion to concrete large-scale and micro-scale initiatives like supporting genuine service-oriented initiatives and following traffic rules. We still need to see more empowered Filipinos fleshing out their love of country through vigilance in the social tri-media, in the parliament of the streets, and in the legal framework of government. We still need to see a socially aware population that sides with lady justice and has preferential option for the poor.
Sadly, we are almost back exactly to where we started. Juan dela Cruz has reclaimed his middle names: Poverty, corruption, political immaturity, lots of it! Traditional vested interests, although less than before, are still clear and obvious. Political order is still out of order in some places and cases. National purpose is adrift. Education, labor and justice are turned into a shaggy dog story. National unity is in tatters. The poor are still poor, and the filthy rich are still in charge. Capitalism with no heart emerges stronger and unrestricted than ever. Edsa spirit is flirting with death. The youth (with few heroic exemptions) seem to be oblivious to it.
Almost four decades later and there’s hardly anything left to be said about Edsa. There are no sirens, nor festive mass actions anymore. No media hypes. No school rallies. No yellow pamphlets. No L-shaped finger signs. People consider the day ordinary, except that it is a non-working holiday. In fact it was found out that more than half of the Filipino youth are not even aware of what Edsa is all about!
I am now an educator. Yet every time Edsa is marked, I always remember those college guys in jeans and red Che Guevara shirts who, though in an anticlimax fashion, bravely reminded us that “the war is not yet over.”
(The author slightly revised and contextualized this article that was originally published in select national and local newspapers in 2006.)