I WAS born 25 years ago, five months before Fidel Ramos’ much-repeated victory leap, three months before Ninoy Aquino’s wife became Cory Aquino, a full month before Ferdinand Marcos announced he would hold presidential snap elections. I am, by all intents and purposes, what the national media have been calling an Edsa baby, one of the millions born at the cusp of God’s revolution, the target audience of congressional privilege speeches and television documentaries preaching patriotism and nationhood.
On the day of the anniversary, the veterans of People Power 1986, surrounded by cameras, passed a symbolic torch of peace to the youth of the country, with the exhortation that we live our lives according to the spirit of the Edsa Revolution. “Let us not waste the efforts of the past,” said President Aquino, son of Edsa’s heroes. “I am asking all my fellow Edsa babies to help in building a good society,” appealed soap opera star Dingdong Dantes. Again there was the sea of sweaty yellow, again there were shouts of celebration, and again Fidel Ramos threw himself into the air, and for one more moment became the fearless tobacco-chewing hero of 1986, instead of an aging former president whose influence has been relegated to Makati book launches.
The songs are the same, although the chorus has become the loudest it has been in years. Remember what happened, say the gentlemen of the old guard. Remember what we fought for, say the plump revolutionaries. The commentators wonder if today’s youth understand what Edsa was, admit that the new generations seem to care little about the revolution that their fathers risked their lives for, shake their heads at horror stories of iPod-toting teenagers who look blank-eyed at the mention of an assassination on an old tarmac. Remember Edsa, they say.
I don’t remember Edsa. None of us do. I’ll tell you how it was for most of us, especially for the lucky ones, whose parents and grandparents could say that once upon a time, they stood against a dragon. My first memory is a picture from a book my grandfather left me, the image of a frail old man standing before a tank. Someone in the picture was holding up the Virgin Mary, someone else had a fist to the air. They called it the greatest democracy ever told. Understand that the story is an old story, of a cruel king who loses to the fearless hero. And so the bad king flees, the hero takes the throne, and the forces of good once again prove to all that the truest weapon is the pure heart. This is the story I understood, only it was better than Disney, because the characters were alive, were still heroes, were still forging ahead in the name of God and country. Joker Arroyo storming the courts. Cardinal Sin shouting a call to arms. Gringo Honasan standing his ground. The crowds singing, as confetti rained and a woman named Cory promised an end to cruelty and deceit.
This was the Edsa I grew up with, told by the country I was born to. Two parts magic and one part myth, peopled by giants, all thunder and power and bright yellow hope. That the heroes would fall was only a question of time, because they were only people, but it took a very long time for me to accept it. So Joker sold his soul and abandoned human rights to the President’s butcher. So Cardinal Sin accepted gambling money from the same sinners he condemned. So Ramos bought his Expo Filipino, so the brave Honasan turned tail and ran after the police appeared at his door. They were not the protagonists of my story, the same story I told myself whenever the country found itself at the bottom of another list of Asian nations. It took the massacre at the Cojuanco-run Hacienda Luisita to end the fairy tale, and the testimony of a farmer with gnarled hands, whose son bled to death from a bullet wound sustained on Corazon Cojuangco Aquino’s farmlands.
Remember Edsa, say the heroes. I don’t know what to remember. I can only tell the story that I know. I can’t speak for my generation, although I suspect many of us harbor the same intangible disappointment after a childhood when pride meant a revolution fought on a highway. In 2002, in the heady days of Joseph Estrada’s failed impeachment, it was still the stuff of legend, Loren Legarda and her tears, Joker Arroyo walking out in outrage, my 16-year-old self at home, begging to be allowed “to fight too.” Instead Estrada was hauled out of Malacañang in a charge led by the heroes of Edsa, to be replaced by the much applauded woman whose hand allowed torture and murder and the wholesale savaging of every decent truth. When I think about it now, I understand why the people who marched in 1986 were called freedom fighters, and why, in spite of vigorous and indignant denial on the part of the Republic of the Philippines, the Edsa II crowd was called a mob.
I don’t know what it means to remember Edsa. The Edsa I saw in 2001 was an easy victory, a far cry from the wide-eyed panic on the faces in the shaky footage from February 1986. And maybe the difference is there, not in the composition of the crowds or the difference in generations, but in the fact that the revolution in Edsa began 14 years before Imelda Marcos was forced to leave her high heels scattered on the Palace carpet, began in 1972 when the lawyers and the activists and the poets began to speak against a president whose New Society was also called martial law. 1986 was the prize, fought for by the Aquinos and the Saguisags and Tañadas and a boy named Lean Alejandro and the many nameless who died fighting before 1986. There was no legend behind them, no myth of a four-day quick-fix, only years of unsure outcomes and variable right and wrong. Even today, Bongbong Marcos, senator of the republic, has the gall to say that his father was a hero victimized by bad PR, and on the same week Ferdinand Marcos’ victims are awarded compensation for suffering under his rule.
I’ll tell you what Edsa is for me, for someone who was never there and is still grateful to have lived under the weight of its shadow. For me it’s no longer about good or evil or the sound of helicopters with waving white flags. It’s about accepting that the worst is possible and still standing, about knowing that soldiers on tanks care nothing for wreathes of flowers, and the awareness that sometimes, even great men are still only men. Mostly, it’s about the tedious marching, every day, year after year, asking the same questions and fighting the same fights, even as a new hero comes and offers to carry the sword.
I write this for myself and for the children born 25 years ago to a free country. I do not remember Edsa, but neither will I forget.
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