Last week, I was designated driver/alalay of Angela, as she went to two equally small but very different EDSA 1986 Anniversary events. One was with the Philippine Historical Association (PHA) on the invitation of Professor Xiao Chua, whose lecture on EDSA takes from Angela’s body of work on EDSA (that’s three books from 1996, 2000, and 2013). The other was with the Flips Flipping Pages book club, a group that had read the most recent EDSA Uno, A Narrative and Analysis with Notes on Dos and Tres (2013) and wanted to bring Angela into their discussion.
The fear of a boycott
Chua’s lecture dealt not with the four days of the EDSA Revolution of 1986; he spent a good amount of time contextualizing this in the excesses of Martial Law, the murder of Ninoy Aquino, and the rise of his wife Cory as alternative to Marcos. Speaking to a room mostly filled with would-be teachers from the University of Makati, this contextualization was important because Chua touched on the violence of Martial Law —one that every Marcos crony likes to deny and/or dismiss —and because it spoke of the pre-EDSA civil disobedience campaign. Cory had called for this boycott of all Marcos crony companies and businesses on February 16 1986; “Many restaurants stopped serving San Miguel Beer, Coca-Cola, Sprite, and Tru Orange . . . Bulletin Today denied that it was a crony paper.”
“On Day Four of the Boycott . . . Apparently agitated by the people’s overwhelming response to the boycott call, San Miguel called an emergency meeting of all its marketing officers and personnel to discuss the possibility of reducing the prices of SMC products. Rustans was reportedly mapping out plans to do the same with its wares. According to the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, many businessmen were thinking of closing shop or massively laying off personnel. Seven crony banks hit by huge withdrawals were said to be ‘teetering on the verge of panic,’ while one crony newspaper was reported to be selling only por kilo in San Pablo City” (EDSA Uno Dos Tres, 2013).
Chua is one of the few I’ve heard or read who discusses EDSA1986 with a very clear sense of the value of this boycott, where there was a critical mass that knew of the possibility of change, no matter that it was merely about shifting loyalties from one crony product to a non-crony one. We might love our bottles of Pale Pilsen, but in this critical moment in history, Filipinos proved we could go beyond the personal —no matter how easy that is— because there is reason to, because it is important.
Of course we’d rather not discuss this moment in recent history when our parents and grandparents could disobey, and could change the world by taking crony capitalism by the balls, showing them how powerful the people actually are. It’s too scary, too revolutionary, for comfort, to find a people that knew to boycott the way we did in February 1986. Of course we know who exactly would be in fear of that.
In the FFP discussion on EDSA Uno, much of the questions were about the story of EDSA 1986, of how Angela had gathered this information together, how she had gotten the interviews. But also it was about the question of why this story had yet to be spoken about, in the manner that the book does, where it is clear how things unfolded, and the personalities are put in their place by the fact of a timeline of events. Culled from newspapers and magazines, books and personal interviews, this timeline is what makes this work definitive; it was certainly reason enough for Malacañang to use the text of the chronology for its EDSA Revolution commemoration in 2013.
This year, though, Malacañang and its allies have practically disowned the revolt as a revolt, and certainly they will not talk about the boycott either. This year, Malacañang’s thrust on EDSA commemoration has been about the slogan “Kabit-Bisig Tungo Sa Pagbangon” complete with branding this year’s anniversary as EDSA28 (without people power, without revolution).
Compared to last year’s government page that had as title “The 27th Anniversary of the People Power Revolution,” and which dealt with plotting the events that led to and of the four days of EDSA, this year’s branding silences what actually happened at EDSA, saving us all from the more important discussions about it, the lessons learned that we have yet to talk about. Instead the President and his propaganda team talk about how this year’s EDSA Anniversary is about how we rise to the occasion of a nation in need, say, after a storm.
To commemorate EDSA 1986 by talking about how people power is in the task of helping others when the situation calls for it, is to fail at actual commemoration: EDSA 1986 was not about helping others, it was about change. It was about kicking out an oppressive and corrupt regime. It was about restoring democracy and freedom of speech. What it has meant given the past 28 years, is the discussion we expect to have.
The government won’t have any of it. And if ANC’s Talkback Special Episode entitled “Philippine Media: 28 years after EDSA”—with the veteran journalists of our time—is any indication, then the media cannot even begin to have this discussion either.
The fact of hope
One of the questions asked of Angela in the FFP discussion on EDSA Uno, was if she thinks there is still hope for nation. That is, after talking about how this story had yet to truly be discussed, and how it seems the media is too busy to even begin reading up, to engage nation in truly intelligent and relevant discussions about nation. She ends the 2013 book with a postscript, a commentary on what we might do now, what it is we need as a nation, given the lessons of the EDSA Revolution of 1986. She talks about the need to engage the people, the masses included, in the discussions that matter about nation. EDSA was also about a populace that was so well-informed about the excesses of government, that had gained much knowledge from a mosquito press and an alternative media.
Angela said there is hope for nation, because we were given EDSA 1986.
I remember one of the President’s more famous jabs at critics was when he said that he would stop listening to the “hopeless critics.” On the contrary, I think that not all critics are hopeless. And while I imagine that there are critics who do it just to be contrarian, there are those who do criticism because they know to imagine a nation that is better.
Because there is reason to believe that things can change, and because justice and truth remain worth fighting for, if not are worth talking about.
If that’s not hope, then I don’t know what is.