From February 21 to 25, we commemorate the 26th anniversary of an event that is so unique and unprecedented, it spawned numerous ones like it around the world. We Filipinos peacefully toppled a two-decade dictatorship, and re-installed democracy in the Philippines.
But, as we all look back to this historic moment, some questions need to be asked: Have we reaped the benefits of the 1986 People Power Revolution? Or the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same” holds true?
I grew up reading in textbooks, and later being told by the media, that the events of ’86 were important turning points in our country’s history. We were taught that the Martial Law period was a turbulent time. Many people, guilty and innocent, were arrested and charged of crimes. We heard stories of curfews, communist attacks, Marcos cronies, and the lavish lifestyle of Imelda Marcos.
Later on, as my interest in alternative history grew, so did my collection of anecdotes and opinions on the Marcoses and the ’86 EDSA Revolution. I found out that not all Filipinos approved of the dictator’s ouster. Adults and friends of mine who lived during the 70s and 80s say that Ferdinand Marcos was a good president. They say that his imposition of Martial Law was just, to discipline the unruly communist rebels. To some, it was more peaceful during Martial Law, for they were afraid to break the law.
When Ninoy Aquino surfaced and presented himself as a major threat to Marcos, the President went on the defensive. Ninoy’s arrest, exile, return and assassination are well-documented. Three years after Ninoy was gunned down at the tarmac of the airport later named after him, and days after a hotly-contested snap election, close to three million Filipinos trooped to EDSA to protest years of pent-up frustration and “anger” under the rule of Marcos. Most of the nation’s military men, once following the President’s orders during Martial Law, turned on the strongman and defected to the people’s side. The rest is history.
My main beef on the Revolution of ’86 is that 26 years later, it seems that only a few things have changed. Yes, democracy was restored, but it was abused by almost the same persons who played major roles in the revolution. Add to that the fact that the same personalities get elected by the populace, who should have been more responsible this time, for fear of repeating the “horrors” of the Marcos regime.
It seems to me that after we won a hard-fought battle for freedom, we left our prized trophy behind, allowing the wrong set of people to “take home the prize”. From the looks of it, these people have a very strong grip on our trophy (freedom) that we’ll find it hard to win it back. During the struggle to regain the prize, the trophy will sustain damages. When we get to finally win it back, it will not be the same trophy as we originally won.
We look to Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies as the bad guys, and Ninoy and Cory Aquino as the good ones, but we do not include ourselves in the dichotomy. Have we been good or bad Filipinos years after the Revolution? Where was our active participation on nation-building afterwards?
Nation-building is a collective effort by a nation’s populace. Look at the Commonwealth Era during the 1930s: every Filipino dreamed of attaining full independence from the Americans. They preferred a country “run like hell by Filipinos,” not a country “run like heaven by Americans.”
Our goal in 1986, it seems to me, was only to remove Marcos from office and install the martyr Ninoy Aquino’s widow, Cory Aquino, as President. After that, we brought our feet back to our homes, and came back to EDSA each year only to celebrate the fact that together, we once did something great. We allowed the system to be toyed around with by people with vested interests. The same people tasked to bring back power to the people kept that same power to themselves.
We fought as a large, united group of Filipinos in 1986, but we dreamed individually. We all thought that after Marcos steps down from office, all will be back to normal (presumably to the Philippines during the 1960s), that we would live good lives again. Instead, we forgot to dream as one nation, and left that job to a select group of people who suddenly became power-hungry. It has even come to the point that we ourselves look at each other with suspicion and cynicism. (The huge divide between the rich and the poor is an example.)
We Filipinos need to realize that nation-building is a day-to-day effort. We don’t remember the EDSA Revolution only on February 25. We have to remember always the real essence of People Power: we Filipinos uniting as one for a cause, for a common good.
We can forget Ninoy or Cory or Ramos or Enrile, or any other prominent personality during the revolution. We are the real heroes of People Power. That’s why it’s named after us.
Our actions, our motives, our goals should be one and the same: the eradication of poverty, the enforcement of responsible freedom, and the constant check-and-balance amongst ourselves as the country’s stakeholders. We must act together, think together, stand together.
Clearly, there’s something wrong in the system. Something’s not working. We as a nation should determine what those are, and work as one to change for the better, before it’s too late.
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”