Taking stock

TO have been born on the day Ferdinand Marcos fled, is to be 18 years old today. Old enough to vote, old enough to have received military training. To be 18 is to be young enough to know the Edsa Revolution only as a story. A magical story of a time when Filipinos were united: united by a shared moral outrage; united by a valor that defied guns, goons, and gold; united by a shared dream of having a country and a government in which we could all take pride.

Today the inheritors of Edsa see the tactics of People Power used like any old tactic, often for causes directly related to the people and ideas that outraged a nation into engaging in People Power in the first place. The forces scattered in all directions after Edsa, who fled, hid, and feared for their lives, have slowly, and inexorably tried to reduce Edsa to merely a game of numbers, thinking that all it takes to accomplish political change is to summon enough people to the streets, to attack enough people and institutions in the press with black propaganda, and to get enough adventurous soldiers on your side. While these forces have certainly been successful in creating mischief, they have never been successful in creating the unity that true People Power requires.

The tactics of People Power, without the moral compass that gives direction to genuine People Power, is the politics of the angry mob, the insincere rabble-rousing politician, and the egomaniac military putschist. Those who envy People Power do not see beyond the colored shirts, the hand gestures, and the mass actions because they cannot comprehend a world in which people are not paid to act, or frightened into participating in a mass action.

Since 1986, People Power has only manifested itself when the correct conditions have existed to spark a moral outrage that crosses socioeconomic lines. People Power was present twice in rejecting charter change when it was obviously meant to benefit the incumbent. It manifested itself when there was a proposal to give a disgraced dictator a hero’s burial. It flourished when a democratically elected president thought his office was meant to be enjoyed like an oriental despot’s, and not exercised with seriousness and held in trust as befits a responsible leader.

To understand the meaning of Edsa, for a generation too young to remember it, requires taking stock of the things we now take for granted. Freedom of speech; of assembly; the freedom to complain, and even be disappointed. Freedom to vent that disappointment not just on the streets, but in the polling booth. Edsa did not liberate the country from poverty, or the control of crooked politicians; it did not free us from the baleful influence of soldiers on our national life. What it freed us from was the paralysis that fear and brainwashing instills. It gave a country a chance to show it was not about “the true, the good, and the beautiful” as expressed in antiques bought with the people’s money, but about spending that money in an accountable manner.

Edsa brought together a nation, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, in a common cause. That cause was for a national leadership that derived its mandate from the public, and not from the barrel of a gun or the bribery of the population. That cause was about allowing people the freedom, in a sense, to be free. But having freedom is different from behaving like free men and women. Learning the difference is, perhaps, the task now left to the inheritors of Edsa.

This year, the Edsa babies become men and women. They are now free citizens who get to vote. Some of the Edsa babies were at Edsa II, and already feel the bitterness and regret that their parents felt in the aftermath of Edsa I. Their elders must remind them that the young are in a far better position, today, to do something about their feelings of disappointment, than their parents were in the days of martial law. Edsa I was not a failure, as shown by Edsa II. But it wasn’t a total success, either. For perhaps in telling stories to the young, of those glorious February days, we have forgotten to tell them of how long, and difficult, the road to freedom was. And how long and difficult the road ahead remains. Freedom is not an eternal flame. It must be kept lit, and tendered, even during warm and sunny days.

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