Eighteen EDSAs After
by Jason Tablante and the FHL Team
Filipinos have gone through a lot these past eighteen years. In what seems to be a roller-coaster ride of sorts, the country has weathered tumbling economies, power grabs, and more controversies that we could ever wish for.
With the imposition of martial rule in 1972 came a new life for Filipinos. The basic freedoms enjoyed by citizens were suspended by the dictator in an effort to stay in power. Strict discipline was imposed by the militia. Those who dared to oppose this new government were trampled on, crushed, or made to disappear without a trace. Censorship was imposed on the media. Written works that dared to report the dark side of the government were silenced. The country was made to appear as though it was on the rise, but behind the facade was a country in chaos, a country silently screaming in anguish.
The Filipino tolerance was pushed to the utter breaking point. Enough was finally enough, and in 1986 came the EDSA Revolution. Thousands of Filipinos gathered in EDSA, armed with nothing but their faith in God to protect them. Priests and nuns, their arms linked as though in a chain, led the people in prayer. Every word uttered was one voiced in hope, hope that they would regain the freedom they longed for. Government tanks came and though they had but rosaries for weapons, the people prevailed. The Marcos government was overthrown and a new government was put into place.
The Aquino administration was far from perfect. Corazon Aquino, housewife of then-mass leader Benigno Aquino, was chosen to lead the new republic. But she was a political neophyte, will little knowledge of politics, and even less of leading a country scarred by Martial rule. Yet she was chosen by what the people believed she stood for: democracy. Reluctantly, as though shoved into the limelight by society, her administration began the slow and tedious task of rebuilding the country.
By 1987, a new constitution was in place, and pundits everywhere heralded the country’s smooth road to recovery. But instead, the sudden change in government caused the economy to spiral downward. A series of coup attempts and power grabs forced peace initiatives to the ground, which threatened investors to take their money elsewhere. These came at a time that the country was trying to pay billions of dollars in foreign debt. Natural disasters pummeled an already weary nation, and a power crisis put the remaining industries to a grinding halt.
When Fidel V. Ramos assumed the country’s top chair, his goal was to restore the country’s economy. Fidel Ramos embarked on numerous diplomatic trips, hoping to woo back investors. Ramos’ initial success, however, was negated by the Asian economic crisis, affecting all but the sturdiest Asian economies, and which halved the currency’s value in worldwide markets.
In 1998, starstruck, hungry, and hopeless, the masses brought Joseph Estrada to Malacañang, hoping that he would save them from their quagmire of poverty. But instead of being the savior the masses hoped he would be, Estrada pillaged the country’s treasury in a frenzy second only to Marcos’ act. But instead of guns and repression, Estrada played on the masses, brazenly playing his act of deception. All this while he dined, womanized, and gambled. Finally, in a repeat of a revolution just fifteen years earlier, Filipinos trooped to the place where they oust presidents.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Estrada’s vice-president, was catapulted into the presidency. Her three years were spotted with power grabs, see-sawing economic conditions, and political scandals.
Eighteen years, four presidents, and two EDSAs later, we ask: what now?
Eighteen years ago, Filipinos braved tanks and guns for their genuine right to vote. Eighteen years ago, we risked losing our lives for the chance of gaining our voice. Eighteen years ago we stood against a government unfit to rule a nation born of freedom.
Yet during the last elections, there were reports of massive vote buying, flying voters, and election fraud in all levels. The freedom to express oneself has been used blatantly to hurt others through baseless accusations and mudslings. In a few months we risk installing a new government unfit to rule a nation clobbered by poverty.
The concept of EDSA has become, for some, overused, abused. So much, in fact, that we refer to our EDSAs with a literal number, as though each iteration were an episode in a movie. Rina Jimenez-David has even gone so far to call EDSA ‘baduy’. Indeed, some have used the concept in ploys dangerously close to mob rule, threatening to stage their EDSAs at a whim, in efforts designed to override the very democratic institutions and processes we so boldly fought for less than two decades ago.
And what is to be learned from all these? We troop to EDSA not to cry out our passion for democracy, but to admit that we have let down our guards and let individuals blemish the freedoms we hold so dear. We troop to EDSA not to take back our freedoms, but to exercise the innate freedoms that we have sorely forgotten. We hold our EDSAs not because we want to change presidents, but to humbly admit that we were stupid enough to get them to Malacañang in the first place.
If there is anything that we should have learned from our EDSAs, it is that we are a nation that has yet to learn our lessons.
What has EDSA become for you? Does the concept still elicit the same passion as it did 18 years ago? Tell everyone all about it in the Talakayan Board