Edsa’s shining moments
The formal rejection last week of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s election protest against Vice President Leni Robredo constituted a fitting prelude to today’s commemoration of the 35th year of the toppling of the dictatorship. Martial law survivors growing grayer by the year and still seeking (not necessarily financial) redress should deem it not only a small triumph—like a satisfying elbow to the ribs of one who should know his place but, coddled by his family’s overweening sense of entitlement, petulantly refuses to—but also a bright note in the enduring struggle for justice. The struggle yet continues; today’s commemoration of the Edsa People Power Revolt is an essential part of it.
That the dictator’s son and namesake was even in a position to claim he had been cheated of votes and to file his protest was ironic proof that the democratic project launched by the people at Edsa was—is—working. (Working albeit weakly: It took the Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal four years to definitively say that Marcos Jr. had lost his bid for the vice presidency and to give it a rest.) Let’s be clear: Marcos’ heirs have it good despite the dictator being listed in official records of plunder and other nasty things besides. In moving to regain political ground—a task to which they have diligently applied themselves all these decades with the backing of friendly administrations—they have taken full advantage of the rule of law reinstalled after Filipinos, young and old, including those whose blood was fatally spilled early on in the struggle, threw the dictatorship out on its ear on Feb. 25, 1986.
The end of the Marcos dictatorship is the gift of Edsa. Their numbers are swiftly diminishing but those who still can will remember the way it was before then: the 70,000 imprisoned under the aegis of the “new society,” the 34,000 tortured, and the 3,240 killed, all for not yielding to one-man rule and for keeping the fire of resistance ever burning; the military yoke on civilian authority and the perils it even now poses; the crippling impoverishment of the people including the foreign debt that rose from $355 million in 1962 to $28.3 billion in 1986, as well as the merry and systematic looting of national resources by the powers that were including their cronies and associates, the fruits of which are to this day the subject of retrieval operations and constantly on the brink of sliding forever beyond the people’s grasp.
It’s imperative to remember, else where will the struggle find its meaning? To mark both victories and defeats is necessary for looking back and moving forward, and for continuing to seek just recompense. Marcos’ heirs, allies, and associates failed to bury the dictator’s remains at the Libingan ng mga Bayani during Joseph Estrada’s abbreviated presidency, but managed to pull it off on Nov. 18, 2016, during President Duterte’s current stewardship. The deed is a spit in the face of those felled in the dark night of the dictatorship. The stealthy transfer of the remains from the family enclave of Ilocos Norte to Manila using state resources, the interment conducted with pomp and ceremony as though to rub the travesty on the public face, it was a major battle lost for those who count the collapse of the dictatorship among Edsa’s shining moments.
In explaining his decision that activist groups had sworn to vigorously contest, Mr. Duterte said he allowed the burial at the cemetery for heroes because Marcos was a soldier. Filipinos should not lose sight of the facts: That soldier claimed to have led a guerrilla resistance unit during the Japanese Occupation, and that claim as well as other claims involving wartime heroism which supposedly led to his being awarded 33 war medals were found “fraudulent” and “absurd.” Think of the insult to the true heroes buried in those grounds.
The commemoration of this day in history when world attention was trained on the Philippines—an inspiration to him and his fellow Eastern European dissidents, according to Václav Havel—is dampened by current realities: a nation vised in poverty and corruption and unable even to provide for its citizens a safe and efficient vaccination program against the COVID-19 pandemic. The missed opportunities of Edsa, when political dynasties, plundered wealth, and a militarist mindset could have been dealt with in bold, resolute strokes, have dimmed its shining moments. What was it that the Philippine Collegian editor Abraham Sarmiento Jr., gone too soon, said about the necessity and wisdom of resistance? Kung ’di tayo kikibo, sino ang kikibo? Kung ’di tayo kikilos, sino ang kikilos? Kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa?
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