Before and beyond Edsa
As the nation approaches the anniversary of the People Power experience, my thoughts go back to the events surrounding the “First Quarter Storm” — or FQS — nearly 50 years ago.
Perhaps it is because of the obsession currently shown by lawmakers for Charter change that I am reminded: It was the efforts and energy of students for a nonpartisan Constitutional Convention in a rally held in front of the old Congress in Manila on Jan. 26, 1970, that triggered the bloody events on that day and on Jan. 30 (dubbed as “the battle of Mendiola”) that ushered in FQS. Though 16 years apart, FQS was a milestone intimately linked to the events of Feb. 22-25, 1986, when Filipinos expressed their power to depose President-turned-dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Marcos’ rule was made uneasy after the awakening unleashed by youth unrest in the 1970s. He tried to rig the 1971 Constitutional Convention and to abort its completion by bribing delegates or jailing the progressive or unyielding among them, rewriting the transitory provisions, and making a mockery of the 1972 referendum. This grand deception paved the way for martial law and dictatorial rule. It prepared the ground, so to speak, for the people’s eventual resistance that we now commemorate. In brief, given the backdrop of massive poverty and inequality in the land, the deep anxieties about Charter change combined with repressive state brutality sparked the social unrest led by students in the ’70s.
I recall the “days of disquiet and nights of rage” (in the words of the writer Pete Lacaba), the class walkouts, and the campus teach-ins. I testified at the Senate-House joint investigation on the demonstrations then chaired by the venerable Lorenzo Tañada: “The view from Mendiola bridge was almost like a nightmare: burning lampposts, a ruined bus used as a barricade, iron railings destroyed and cluttered in the streets, troopers charging in the streets in the dark with wicker-shields and high-powered rifles, while young men who could have been their sons, brothers and friends were running away — some felled by bullets, others bloodied by merciless truncheons, others captured and hauled away in trucks….”
Before Edsa, as the journalist Boying Pimentel writes, there were countless sacrifices, and we tend to forget that what happened before and what happens beyond Edsa are perhaps as important, if not more so, in forging our future.
I remember Enrique Voltaire Garcia, my seat mate and friend in Class 4-C Ateneo HS ’58, a staunch advocate of reforms during the 1971 Con-con who was jailed in the waning days of the crafting of the Charter and fell progressively ill, dying of leukemia in the prime of his life.
I remember Manny Yap, a companion in Lakasdiwa founded on Feb. 17, 1970, the day we commemorate the sacrifice of the Filipino martyrs, Fathers Burgos, Gomez and Zamora. He was school salutatorian Batch ’69 who was “made to disappear” after a visit to his family in Quezon City in the mid-’70s, never to be seen again.
I remember Ditto Sarmiento, who became UP Collegian editor. He was imprisoned for an editorial he wrote which bravely challenged the regime; he died after suffering a heart attack shortly after his release at the age of 27. Ditto coined the memorable likes that became his generation’s rallying cry: “Kung hindi tayo kikibo, sino ang kikibo? Kung hindi tayo kikilos, sino ang kikilos? Kung hindi ngayon, kailan?” (If we do not act, who will? If not us, who? If not now, when?)
I remember, at the UP Diliman barricades in 1971, when a young man barely 17 was felled by a cruel bullet. At the funeral Mass, the Jesuit priest intoned: “No one lives for himself alone. No one dies for himself alone”—aptly summing up the shock, the sorrow and the message of the lives lost before the historic events at Edsa.
Though the days are difficult and uncertain, I suggest that a new Kairos moment (an opportune time) may be upon us. If the promise of Edsa remains largely unfulfilled, we nevertheless need to believe that we have young people standing on the shoulders of those who marched before them, imbued by the same idealism, fired up by the same love of country, and undaunted by the challenges posed by the leaders of the day.
While we have lost count of the lives lost in the war on drugs waged primarily in poor communities, and while martial law prevails for another year in Mindanao, nevertheless we keep faith in our people to take a stand, to brave the odds, and to stay the course beyond Edsa.
The challenge now is to rediscover new forms of resistance and reinvent new ways of organizing and mobilizing, and to summon a “second wind” in seeking a new direction in our struggle to forge a better future.
Edsa in a sense is a mixed blessing. Some people may call it some sort of failure, forgetting perhaps that sometimes defeat is a better teacher than victory. Edsa is also a symbol of hope, a call to courage. In the words of an anonymous writer: “For do we not see how everything that happens keeps on being a beginning, since beginning is in itself always so beautiful?”
Beyond Edsa, what happens next? That then becomes the question!
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Ed Garcia is a veteran of the FQS and a framer of the 1987 Constitution.
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