The truth shall keep you free
(Concluded from yesterday)
To date, the one thing that has stood as the most formidable obstacle to martial law rewriting itself is the storyline, or narrative, or myth, of Edsa. To say that it is a myth of course is not to say it is fiction. Some myths, unlike that of “I shall return,” happen to be good. Some myths, unlike that of the “Liberation,” happen to be true.
Edsa is so.
Over the years I have come to appreciate it more and more, lamenting its decline over the past two decades, culminating in the 10-year rule of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who though a beneficiary of it did everything in her power to banish it from the face of the earth, and rejoicing in Edsa’s resurrection with the death of Corazon Aquino and the ascension of her son, P-Noy, to the presidency. The massing of the people in front of the camps, braving the cold and dark, mastering the fear and dread, facing the guns and tanks: That was a sight to behold. It was heroic, it was magical, it was miraculous.
But Edsa is also a myth not just in its mythical resonance of a great battle between good and evil, not just in its image of Cory rising like a Joan of Arc to challenge a mighty oppression. It is also a myth in one crucial respect. That is that its version of Creation, or the beginning of liberation, begins with the murder of Ninoy Aquino. That is that its cosmology does not extend to what went before.
That is something it shares with MacArthur’s “I shall return.” “I shall return” removed from the story the people who kept the fires burning while the Americans slunk away, who made life miserable for the invading horde, who formed a resistance so formidable it enabled MacArthur and company to return when it was safe to do so. Who were the Huks.
The Edsa narrative in turn removes from the story the people who kept the fires burning when the politicians slunk away, who made life miserable for the dictator, who formed a resistance so formidable it allowed the timid and fearful to rediscover their pride and courage and turn out into the streets like a flood. Who were the priests and bishops whose whispers roared out in the quiet of the pulpits, the human rights lawyers whose efforts to make things right were Joshua’s trumpets blaring at a regime dedicated to making things wrong, who were the common and not-so-common folk whose struggle and sacrifice and heroism gave a resonance and depth of meaning to the phrase, “Hindi ka nag-iisa.”
Before Ninoy died, there were the activists, rebels, writers, artists, nuns, priests, workers, farmers, indigenous folk, city folk, the armed and unarmed, the shod and the barefoot, who were imprisoned, tortured, “salvaged,” or made to disappear for refusing to be cowed by the bayonets of martial law. Without those who kept the flame of freedom flickering in the 1970s, without those who kept lonely vigil in deepest darkness, without those who kept the voices of protest and the fists of rage raised, Ninoy Aquino’s murder might never have taken on the silence-shattering, dictatorship-toppling force that it did.
The convenient excuse for their scorning, their spurning, their being buried in the shallow grave of history is that they were communists. Well, what of it? The French continue to remember and revere the communists who swelled the ranks of the Resistance during the Nazi Occupation, many of whom suffered the same fate as members of our own revolutionary movement during martial law.
They are heroes, no more and no less than the republicans, liberals, conservatives, monarchists, Christians, atheists, the philosophical and the skeptical who fought the Vichy government. Many of the communists who were tortured and killed during martial law possessed an idealism that would put many of today’s self-styled democrats to shame.
I’ve always been ambivalent about the phrase “The Filipino is worth dying for.” At its best, it speaks of something exceedingly noble. But at its worst, it also suggests something messianic. As the Filipino showed during martial law, he does not really need anybody to die for him. He is perfectly capable of dying for himself, if he needs to. Indeed, more than that, he is perfectly capable of living for himself and for others, as he deems so.
Call the people who fought Marcos communists, call them extremists, call them atheists—which was what Marcos did, which gave him the excuse to try to exterminate them —they had a deep and abiding respect for the people they fought for. They did not consider themselves messiahs, they did not consider themselves saviors, they did not ask whether the masa was worth dying for or not. They saw themselves as one with them, as one of them, as…them.
That is what this country needs to reclaim. The Edsa story alone does not complete the narrative of the ending of martial law. The Edsa story alone does not guarantee that the propositions and pretensions of martial law will not come to haunt this country once more. It needs the other story, the story of what went before, the story of what created the Creation, for the narrative of liberation to stand on two legs, for the narrative of liberation to stand in the way of the invading army of revisionism.
Books like “Not On Our Watch” and the Quimpos’ “Subversive Lives” help mightily in that reclamation. They make us see what has been hidden from view, what has been forgotten, what has been treated as though it did not happen at all. It makes us see the time not just when so many of the country’s best and brightest fell in the dark pit of a dark rule but when so many of the country’s best and brightest rose to remind the world of what it means to be the best and brightest.
What can I say? The myth shall set you free.
The truth shall keep you so.