It cannot be denied that the second Aquino administration has done much in a concerted effort to revitalize the spirit of Edsa. But we must not conflate the legacy of the People Power Revolution with any administration, not even this one.
This is precisely the mistake the Edsa People Power Commission makes, when it blithely assumes that today’s 27th anniversary celebration is an occasion to spotlight President Aquino’s brand of “kayo-ang-boss-ko” governance. A key passage from the commission’s press release reads: “Approaching the midpoint of the Aquino administration, Edsa 27 will be an opportune time for all Filipinos to gather together as an expression of unity and support behind the unprecedented political, legislative and economic gains of President Benigno S. Aquino III.”
Actually, no. The Edsa anniversary, like the yearly rites we observe for Independence Day, the birth of Andres Bonifacio and the martyrdom of Jose Rizal, is not only resolutely nonpartisan; it is part of the necessary myth-making process that lies at the heart of our nation-building project. The myths that we need are not fabrications or noble fictions, but the larger truths of history: that we have the power of self-definition; that the freedom we are entitled to must be earned again and again, that it cannot be won without a struggle; that the face of the oppressor, the “manlulupig” and “mang-aapi” we describe in our national anthem, can assume the countenance of a fellow Filipino; that we have it in us to liberate ourselves, according to our fundamental dignity. The last line of “Bayan Ko,” the unofficial anthem of the anti-Marcos freedom struggle, phrases it well: “makita kang sakdal laya”—We long to see a nation that is truly free.
So “Edsa 27” is not an opportunity to express support for the “unprecedented … gains” of the second Aquino administration. It is, rather, a celebration of that moment in history which serves as a source of standards by which to measure all administrations—including this one.
In other words, the commission got it backwards. This year’s celebration of Edsa is not an occasion to highlight Mr. Aquino’s achievements; rather, it is an opportunity to hold these achievements to the light of history. Do they hold up, or will they crumble to dust after attention flags? Are they in keeping with the legacy of Edsa, or a betrayal of it?
We are certain that specific initiatives of the Aquino administration are truly worthy of Edsa. The Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, which the President will sign into law today, is a genuine milestone. The landmark law recognizes the supreme sacrifice of many who had fought against martial rule or became victims of it. The new policy of the Department of Education to require the teaching of the lessons of Edsa is a welcome and necessary breakthrough; last week, millions of schoolchildren who were born after People Power systematically studied Edsa as an event in living history (under Araling Panlipunan, or Social Studies). The (still incomplete) transformation of the Philippines into a creditor nation may trace its origins to certain economic decisions made under the previous administration, but high international confidence levels in the current government have allowed the Philippines to begin to repudiate one of the most debilitating policies of the Marcos regime: amassing debt. Even the tourism department’s effective marketing slogan manages to capture “Pinoy” pride, which has some of its roots in the unprecedented flourishing of People Power in 1986.
Above all, the focus on fighting corruption is one inescapable lesson from Edsa. It was a stolen election that brought people to the streets, but it was the corruption in the regime, a rot that could no longer be hidden, that led to the election in the first place. Those who counsel that it is time to “move on,” amid the continuing attempt to hold the Arroyo administration to account, forget their history, or seek to subvert it.
But the 27th anniversary of Edsa should also serve as an unavoidable reminder that the true test of policy is the common good. By this simple standard, key initiatives of the Aquino administration must be considered failures, including the Cybercrime Prevention Act and the inexplicable nonpassage of the freedom of information bill. These and other losses must be brought to the bar of Edsa; a true accounting does not measure gains alone.