Resist the dying of the light
In the flurry of hope and regret arising at about this time of year, one point should be beyond argument: The 4-day Edsa uprising that culminated on Feb. 25, 1986, was a historic event that deserves proper commemoration. The discourse accompanying the yearly observance will necessarily include, among others, profound disappointment over the missed chances and flubbed opportunities for wide-ranging structural reform, but the public should not lose sight of the fact that the Marcos dictatorship was toppled and a regime of oppression and plunder ended—a sterling development that brought pride to Filipinos and their nation, and served to inspire similar movements worldwide. It was a victory, but because it was not backed by deliberate and sustained efforts to, among others, dismantle the martial law apparatus and root out the crony system, the euphoria was necessarily momentary. The fall from power of the ruling family did not prevent its members from nurturing themselves and their infrastructure of connections with purloined fruits, so that, as political resurrections go, being wise to the ways of playing cards right and betting on the correct horses, the heirs of Ferdinand Marcos found it fairly easy to reestablish themselves in high echelons once they had set foot back in the motherland.
That the dictator’s son and namesake—who looked forlorn but defiant in fatigues at his father’s pitiable presidential inaugural in Malacañang hours before the family fled to Hawaii under cover of darkness—came within spitting distance of the vice presidency in the 2016 elections illustrates the perfidy of politics and memory. His relentless efforts to clinch the post, indulged by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, should be watched closely.
But in fact Edsa 1986 threw Marcos and his heirs out of the Palace, which they had claimed as a decadeslong entitlement marked by the arrest, torture, disappearance and death of dissenters, as well as by an “adventurous overseas borrowing” that yoked the nation to tremendous foreign debt, part of which Filipinos could well be paying off still. An earnest and resourceful study of the martial law era is an effective tool for debunking the promotion of the dictatorship as “a golden age” and depiction of Edsa 1986 as “a huge mistake” by the Marcos camp’s army of trolls and video producers.
According to a report by University of the Philippines economics professors, which was written in June 1984 as the economy floundered dangerously: “A substantial part of the foreign debt was either guaranteed by or channeled through government financial institutions. What might have been limited failures and corporate tragedies confined to private persons become transformed into a national economic crisis, and the burden of paying the debts of the few was passed on to the entire nation.”
And it took 27 years but the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013 now holds the state to the moral and legal obligation of recognizing and indemnifying all victims of rights violations and their surviving families “for the deaths, injuries, sufferings, deprivations and damages they suffered” in the hands of the Marcos regime’s agents during the martial law years of 1972-1986.
“Pera-pera lang,” the dictator’s son and namesake was once heard saying contemptuously, as though his family were dispensing, and the rights victims claiming, small change. In fact the compensation comes from a P10-billion fund transferred on the strength of a 2003 court order to the Philippine government from the Marcos ill-gotten wealth scattered in troves overseas.
The law recognizes the heroism and sacrifices of all victims of summary execution, torture, disappearances, sexual abuse, hamletting and other forms of rights violations endured in the course of resisting martial law. It compels the government to set up a memorial commission that would work with the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education to teach young people of the atrocities committed by and during the dictatorship.
It is thus an obligation of the government to correct the distortions in school curricula rationalizing so-called “good things” about martial law, and not add to the culture of untruth now animating the zeitgeist.
All these and more make up the unfinished business of Edsa 1986, the stirring dynamics of which, 34 years later, are fast fading as the democratic space continues to shrink. It was a “brief shining moment,” but it behooves us to resist the dying of the light.
“Regardless of what the current regime may think of it,” Inquirer columnist Randy David wrote, “[the observance of Edsa] as a milestone in the nation’s life is an occasion for Filipinos to remember and reflect upon, and possibly, to rededicate themselves to their civic duty as guardians of a fragile democracy.”
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