Victory laps

I was supposed to write this blog entry two years from now, when we mark thirty years since the first EDSA revolution.

By then not much would have changed. The 25th of February would still be a school holiday. There would still be events at the People Power Monument - maybe, since this year the president decided to mark the event in Cebu, for some reason - but there would still be events, featuring the same faces that stood up to the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos all those years ago, now older, maybe wiser, or more cynical, depending on how you look at it.

Some of the major players have already died. Jaime Cardinal Sin, he who called for the people to protect the mutineers at Camps Crame and Aguinaldo, has passed. Same with Cory Aquino, she who became the symbol of the freedom the Philippines could not have under Marcos. (Granted, she hasn't really gone away, now that her son is president, occasionally invoking the events of 28 years ago to rally Filipinos towards whatever it is that he's pushing. The fact that the thirtieth anniversary of EDSA coincides with his final months in office is something that just occurred to me now, as I write this.)

The remaining players are not getting younger either. Fidel Ramos, rebelling head of the Philippine Constabulary and later president, has become comfortable with his position as "elder statesman", fading into the obscurity of retirement, except on these days, when they ask him to jump in premature celebration, like he did then. Juan Ponce Enrile, rebelling defense secretary and now senator, has gone through parabolas of popularity, recently earning plaudits for expertly overseeing Renato Corona's impeachment trial, only to lose them all when he was tagged in another government fund misuse scandal.

Whatever they're up to now, what they did - what many people did - in 1986 is still astounding, to put it lightly. Two high-ranking political personalities - one from government, the other from the military - broke ties against Ferdinand Marcos and risked their lives as they barricaded themselves within their camps. Within the next four days, masses of people have come to EDSA to prevent military units loyal to Marcos from taking Enrile and Ramos out - and after several skirmishes, even more defections and two inauguration ceremonies, Marcos yielded to public (and American) pressure and left the country. Once again, we were free.

The first EDSA revolution remains the last moment in Filipino history which we can be proud of, a reason to pat ourselves in the back and feel good about ourselves. So, yes, I understand why every year we revisit those events, as those who lived through the era - not me, not my peers, definitely not those that came before me - question whether we have lost grasp of the hell we have not lived through, whether the lessons of 1986 still ring true within us.

But that's the catch. Not much has changed in the 28 years that have passed since. You can argue that things have gotten worse. And we are still basking in the glory of an event - one that we should be genuinely proud of, for all our tendencies to claim credit for anything, or anyone, vaguely Filipino - that has clearly lost its relevance. EDSA has lost its relevance.

EDSA has lost its power, because we constantly revisit it, and we constantly treat it as the one event that turned things around for us.

Now, of course, I wasn't around during the height of martial law. I can only rely on stories from the people that lived through it. I only know what I know from the things I've read, from my parents' and grandparents' stories (from opposing sides) of how it was to live in an era of chaos turning to order, and of order masking chaos. I'm a guy who grew up while supposedly basking from the effects of the courage of those men and women in EDSA, in those four days in February 1986, finally standing up against a leader who ruthlessly squashed everybody's rights for a select few's.

But I'm also a guy who grew up as we grabbed many opportunities and subsequently plundered them. I grew up as we Filipinos faced test after test, and we Filipinos promised that we will rise above it all, and we Filipinos find ourselves doing less than we expect, and deeming it as good enough. I grew up as anger from stories of abuse of power paved way to tolerance of similar stories of abuse of power. I now live in a time where we are angry at these same abuses of power one moment, and happy at the progress we've made the next. Well, we hear, or often told, as long as we don't get into the really scary kind of trouble, I don't see what the problem is. I don't see why we should get angry.

Now, 28 years after EDSA, we are content with keeping quiet. We are content with letting whatever big bad thing is there slip by, if only because we don't want to cause trouble. Things have not gotten better. Janet Lim Napoles (if she really is the main culprit) has almost gotten away with stealing millions of pesos in government funds to, what, throw a lavish birthday party for her daughter and her cool circle of friends? Government officials, both elected and appointed, continue to dither with their duties, choosing instead to play "drama workshop" in an effort to look brilliantly heroic.

And it's not just in government, but in every place where one has more power than he should, and the other is merely yielding. Boardrooms. Factory floors. Television studios. The VIP lounge at Republiq. Sidewalks, buses, trains, just being in EDSA - we keep quiet because we don't want trouble. We don't want trouble because we don't want to be a pain in everybody's ass. Or maybe we speak up, extra loudly, hoping to get something in return, something we otherwise couldn't get ordinarily, and then, we're all praise be, Hallelujah.

Now, 28 years after EDSA, we live in a society where being quiet is an institutionalized belief. Protests are frowned upon as a nuisance. Having an opinion, especially a dissenting opinion, gets you called a hater - and nobody listens to haters because they ruin your good vibes or something. The Supreme Court affirming a law heavily penalizing libel committed online ensures that public discourse is limited to a powerful being, whoever or whatever that is, proclaiming something, and everybody else playing the "yes man" role, agreeing without batting an eyelash. Those with power get to keep their power, and those who don't get to lose some more.

I'm not, of course, calling for another EDSA-type revolution. That is not the lesson of EDSA, at least not the lesson I got from all of the recycled stories and all of the idealized retrospectives. (If anything, the second EDSA "revolution" was an organized protest that served the status quo by coinciding with the popular mood. The third? It's just chaos.) EDSA taught us - should have taught us - to never sit idly when injustice is happening. To never keep quiet when our rights are being trampled on. To never watch by when the power we hold as the majority is slowly, slyly, being taken away from us - by government officials, by tastemakers, by advertising agencies, by self-obsessed media types, by anyone who is in a position to be over us.

And here we are, making do with warm beer, watching the powerful make a billion-peso victory lap, hoping to be like them, someday soon.

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