Shining moment in living history
Contrary to popular belief built by textbooks and reinforced by school quiz bees, history is not just about who, what, where, when, and how, but more about why. It is the last question that makes history interesting and provides historians with a career, or at least a reason for being. Laymen who see historians debating the whys in the national narrative often ask why history is confused and confusing, remembering textbook history that has definite answers, unlike higher-level history that is continually contested by various voices, interests, and points of view.
This weekend, the 31st anniversary of Edsa 1986 comes with a debate on the commemoration of a historic event. The more important question is how that event should be remembered, since the magic has faded over time and been made painful when seen with hindsight and the disappointment over broken promises and lost opportunities. Ferdinand Marcos, Corazon Aquino, and Jaime Cardinal Sin are now history, but the two men that triggered Edsa 1986—Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel V. Ramos—are still around to answer questions about the legacy of People Power.
Ramos, who writes a newspaper column that often sounds like a Sunday homily, recently called on people who lived through Edsa 1986 to remember and to impart to those born after it—Gen X and millennials—what it was all about:
“The greatest loss to our posterity would be our failure to impart the values of transcendent events of our nation-building to those who now bear the torch of national leadership and our younger generations. For us present-day Filipinos, therefore, our first duty to our beloved Philippines is not to take our freedom for granted, but to defend our liberties against any tyrant who comes around. Our second duty is to plan and act as one national team to reduce poverty, advance our economy, reinforce our democratic institutions, and insure the nation’s enduring peace and sustainable development, especially in Mindanao.”
Ramos is but a voice in the social media wilderness now, at most a relic of a past era brought out each year on Feb. 25 to jump in front of the gates of Camp Crame. Perhaps it is time to go beyond the factual and chronological to make the narrative more engaging or sensible for a new generation.
History can be dates and events off a calendar to lull you to sleep, or make you think. Take, for example, Marcos and his penchant for the number 7. We all know that although the declaration of martial law is dated Sept. 21, 1972, it was actually implemented on Sept. 23. Marcos often made important decisions or signed state papers on dates with 7 or divisible by 7. He won the party nomination to run for president in 1965 by 777 votes, and in his last battle, the snap election of 1986, he set the polls on Feb. 7. If things had gone as planned, he was to assume office on Feb. 25, the day he actually left Malacañang after 21 years in office. Once you have caught the interest of the student, then you detail the turn of events and show how numerology could not prevent Edsa 1986.
Unlike other national holidays organized by the national government, such as Independence Day on June 12 or Rizal Day on Dec. 30, the prime mover for the Edsa commemoration used to be the Edsa People Power Commission established by an executive order of President Joseph Estrada in 1999, since watered down under the second Aquino administration. Without a national organizing committee and a budget, Edsa may or may not be commemorated in a manner considered appropriate by those who risked their lives for it.
Holidays are established to give people time to remember and commemorate, but in actual practice this does not happen because the day off is used for other things, like doing the laundry or strolling in the mall. This weekend we should remember not just Edsa 1986 but also Edsa 2 in 2001 and the failed Edsa 3 a few months later. Edsa 1986 was a shining moment in living history that showed Filipinos uniting for a common cause. Could we have Edsa 4? Should we have Edsa 4? Or do we just relegate Edsa 1986 to the proverbial dustbin of history?
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