Last Saturday, in between a K-Pop concert in Cubao and the Great British Festival in BGC and many other weekend events, two rallies were held.
One was in the Edsa People Power Monument. The other one was at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park.
Both, it seems, were a disappointment to some people.
It wasn’t for lack of hot copy, much to the irritation of both sides. Jim Paredes had a face-off with a group that, when it isn’t shaking hands with Ferdinand Marcos Jr., calls itself the Duterte Youth.
At the Quirino Grandstand, Sandra Cam said it’s good to kill, Senator Cayetano called for a rebranding, then the resumption, of the war on drugs, and Secretary Aguirre revealed his brand of justice when he asked the people who they wanted to see behind bars next.
But lost in these cringe-worthy details are the two problems they represent. Thirty-one years after EDSA, people still have to take to the streets to make their displeasure known, and in the same period governments still have to issue memorandums inviting local government units to attend pro-administration rallies –an offer no LGU can refuse.
So, while some enjoyed the way police estimates changed within the span of an hour, and others rolled their eyes when PTV4 predicted a turnout of 1.5 million.
Officially, it was slightly above half of that. Unofficially, there’s always fake news, courtesy of an impostor ABS-CBN site.
As for those at the Edsa Monument, there weren’t as many as last November, some complained. Since when, in a democracy, did going out and standing up for a cause, not matter? Since when did taking baby steps for different groups to know each other and explore the hard work solidarity requires, become a waste of time? Because it did take effort, with no single group having the means to command attendance by mere memorandum.
What does matter, though, is both represent action and reaction based on the same template, when that template has become problematic. Whenever people get irritated enough to set comfort aside and rally for a cause, governments panic. February 2017 is like November 2000, when Joseph Estrada held a huge Luneta rally to answer an Edsa Shrine one.
I am referring to our love-hate relationship with Edsa, and People Power. We tried it thrice: successfully in 1986, with mixed results in 2001, and as a total flop in 2006. We often hear, and I agree, that we should have moved on to the hard work of accomplishing change through our institutions.
But you know what, we actually did. More or less. We expressed our views at the polls in 1992 and 1998, less successfully in 2004, without a doubt in 2010 and 2016, and in the midterm elections in between.
Personally, I prefer the Marx brothers, but let me quote the more famous, unsmiling, Marx. Referring to an idea by the philosopher Hegel, Karl Marx observed that “personages appear, so to speak, twice,” adding, “He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
He was referring to Emperor Napoleon III, nephew of the original.
He could also be referring to rallies and counter-rallies, because not since 1986 have we had a clear idea of what we wanted, which was to topple the tyrant, and replace his government, whatever the cost.
So turnout isn’t the disappointing thing. It’s that the two colliding points of view are being put forward in ways that are three decades old. Simply put: for many at Edsa, the problem is the president. At the grandstand, the problem according to those making the speeches, is everyone against the president.
Here’s what everyone overlooks: the problem is that behind the grandstand was a plan, and that plan is the proclamation of a revolutionary government. A revolution from the center, if you will, as someone named Ferdinand Marcos once put it. What is problematic about that is people power, love it or hate it, doesn’t matter much in the opening scenarios of such a plan.
To be sure, the first instincts of the administration was a democratic one: to amend the constitution. Here’s the problem with that plan, the same problem other proposals by previous administrations faced: the means to amend the constitution aren’t clear, or, to be precise, will require all sorts of confrontations both in Congress and the courts, that only spark public suspicion as to both means and motive.
In a country that self-confesses to constitutional ignorance, the past 30 years have demonstrated the implications of that ignorance that, sad to say, might extend to those who drafted the constitution. A constitutional democracy is supposed to contain the means to revisit its provisions. Events have proven the near-impossibility of this. Thus, thirty years of increasingly expensive, zero-sum confrontations leading to a deadlock among factions is the result.
So, people have to take to the streets to try to break the deadlock.