This is the question that hovers over the national observance of EDSA Day (People Power Day) today.
Whether because of thrift or weariness or sheer laziness, there will be no official commemoration today—no rites, no Mass, no speeches at the now-shunned shrine in front of Robinson’s Mall and the replacement monument outside of Camp Aguinaldo.
Our government—the fifth to be installed in office since February 1986—doesn’t see the point of holding a formal commemoration anymore. The only happenings, if we can call them that, will be taking place elsewhere.
Former President Fidel Ramos, a key figure of that long-ago time, will lead a group in laying a wreath at the Libingan ng mga Bayani as a gesture of remembrance.
The other leading figures at the time—notably, Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Gringo Hionasan—perhaps in protest against being targeted for shaming by the administration—will be doing their remembering elsewhere and in private.
Perhaps unable to endure the thought of delivering another pious speech about the historic four days of February 1986, President BS Aquino 3rd has decided to spend the day instead in the company of the survivors of last year’s disasters and catastrophes—with Cebu City as his main stop. It is hoped that out there in the country, among the people, he can be authentic and eloquent.
For about a decade now, we have been having trouble marking EDSA Day i n a fitting way. We have tried all kinds of motifs and gimmicks to turn on the public memory. We have tried showbiz. We have tried religion. We have tried exhibits and circus shows. The only thing we did not dare try was comedy, which would step on the message.
But whichever gimmick we adopted, nothing stirred in our hearts. The people did not go to EDSA to celebrate. The energy of the past did not return.
EDSA Screed runs out of words
I can understand the reasoning that impelled the administration to eschew all ceremony today. The time when Filipinos could be held in thrall by the spirit of EDSA is no more. It’s as if our screed for EDSA and people power, once brimming with ideas and emotion, has run out of words and platitudes.
This year’s observance skirts, wittingly or unwittingly, the edge of irony and parody. For years, Cebuanos and Visayans have complained against imperial Manila and of being shortchanged in the division of national largesse. Now, it will be their task to raise the banner of EDSA and do the cheering.
There is a more complex irony that stares us here. From the first we extolled EDSA to the world as the emblem of national unity and solidarity.
Today, if the citizen wants to celebrate, he has to do it himself/herself—alone.
Perhaps this is the ultimate consequence of Mar Roxas’s immortal bequest: “Bahala na kayo sa buhay niyo.[You are on your own].”
From the nation united in joy and celebration, it’s now to each his/her own commemoration.
Perhaps this, too, is the consequence of a government that refuses to honor and take responsibility for its solemn obligations—to uphold the Constitution, to observe the rule of law, to build a just and humane society, and to secure to every citizen the blessings of independence and democracy.
Stretchmarks of Philippine democracy
A friend, who has a mordant wit, tells me that this EDSA day, the stretchmarks of Philippine democracy are showing.
Giving birth and raising so many mediocre administrations has been a trial for mother Philippines.
But there have also been some good moments and high points.
If today seems a little creepy, it’s because the national mood today is different.
We Filipinos are sullen, uncertain and angry today. No, it’s not just because of the pork barrel and the DAP, and all the billions being lost to thievery and waste. We are oppressed by the monstrous traffic in our capital. We are tortured by the memory of Super Typhoon Yolanda and by the stark reality that misery continues to hound the typhoon survivors in spite of the billions of relief and financial assistance that poured in from other nations and the billions more that our own Congress has appropriated for recovery and reconstruction.
The knowledge that under the Aquino administration, the country registered 7.2-percent GDP growth last year, and that we got investment grade ratings from the rating agencies is no consolation. The reality that wounds is the fact that the growth and the good news do not trickle down to the masses of our people. Poverty is rising across the archipelago. And the jobs that can make a difference in lives are missing, and are not being created.
There is deep distrust of government today, of all branches and all officials. People worry now that the basic competence to carry out duties and responsibilities may be missing in our government today.
People can’t understand why President Aquino, after forgetting to mention jobs and the jobless in his State of the Nation report last July, should wonder to his Cabinet “What went wrong?” when surveys showed that the ranks of the unemployed had swelled to over 12 million.
People can’t comprehend why the new 16th Congress—elected only last year is bent on replicating the footsteps of the unlamented 15th Congress, which surrendered its powers of deliberation and its power of the purse to the President, and served as his rubber stamp in the impeachment of a sitting chief justice of the Supreme Court.
People can’t understand why there are more political dynasts today than in the past, when it is now expressly written in the Constitution that political dynasties should be stopped.
People can’t understand why after neglecting for so long the modernization of our armed forces, we are acting and talking like we are ready to go to war, trusting only to an old mutual defense treaty with the United States that many Americans today would prefer to forget.
Learning a deep truth
What useful message can we extract from this dimming of the public memory?
I believe 28 years after our EDSA revolution, our democracy is not stronger but weaker. It is frayed around the edges because basic principles of our democratic life—such as the rule of law, the separation of powers, the sanctity of the electoral process—are no longer sacrosanct and are being openly challenged and violated.
We came into a great bequest at EDSA in being given the opportunity to start afresh as a republic. But we squandered the opportunity. We passed a flawed Constitution and failed to create the institutions that would serve our democracy well. We yielded again to the power of elites to control our democracy and our economy. And along the way, the old political habits that made our democracy weak returned, and we developed new habits that were in every way as corrosive of our public life.
It is emblematic of how we squandered the opportunity provided by EDSA that the pork barrel was transmogrified from virtually nothing under Marcos into the monster that we detest so much today
The philosopher Sidney Hook left a penetrating insight that can be useful for us during this time. He said that people must learn the difference between a truth and a deep truth. A deep truth is a truth whose converse is equally true.
For example, it is true, as George Santayana said, that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.
Yet it is equally true that those who remember the past may not know when it is over.
There will be, as there is now, a lot of talk about moving on. But this I believe is also true: history is not served by turning our back on it.
President Aquino’s Hitler swipe against China continues to stir the waters. Some generals and legislators in Washington are worried that it has raised the temperature in our part of the world. There is a danger of miscalculation occurring that might set off the trigger for conflict.
What the writer Ellen Goodman once wrote about Hitler rhetoric should be pondered by our leaders. She wrote:
“Crying Hitler in our time is like crying wolf. The charge immediately escalates the argument, adding verbal fuel to fires of any dimension, however minor. But eventually, yelling nazi at those who annoy us, diminishes the emotional power of those words should we need them.”
Let’s save the words for the real thing.