Awkward commemoration, missed opportunity | Inquirer Opinion
Public Lives

Awkward commemoration, missed opportunity

/ 05:02 AM February 26, 2023

Signing for the President, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin issued Proclamation No. 167 last Thursday, moving “the celebration of Edsa People Power Revolution Anniversary from Feb. 25, 2023 (Saturday) to Feb. 24, 2023 (Friday).” The switch in dates, the document states, will enable Filipinos to enjoy a longer weekend pursuant to the “principle of holiday economics.”

Perhaps realizing that the Palace advisory, as worded, appears to assign a greater value to the enjoyment of a long weekend than to the commemoration of the event itself, whoever prepared the proclamation added the following, obviously as an afterthought: “Provided that the historical significance of the Edsa People Power Revolution Anniversary is maintained.”

This graceless phraseology is emblematic of the awkwardness of the situation we face today as a nation. We have a president who, in his official capacity, enjoins the nation to remember and celebrate a historic event that marked the peaceful overthrow of the oppressive and corrupt rule of Ferdinand Marcos Sr., his own father and namesake. How does he handle it?

But the awkwardness is also on the side of those for whom the significance of that event remains as fresh today as when it happened 37 years ago. “Never again!” we used to chant, tirelessly reminding ourselves and our children of the meaning and import of what we did at Edsa. Yet here we are today — a nation that is hard-pressed to recall the significance of that day, barely a year after ushering into the presidency the son and namesake of the dictator we ousted from power in a heroic moment of popular outrage and willful hope.


What are we supposed to do? How do we make sense of these paradoxes?

President Marcos Jr. opted to be silent about the event, preferring to delegate an official duty to his executive secretary, who issues on his behalf a perfunctory advisory adjusting the date of the nonworking public holiday as homage to the benefits of a long weekend. But as though to show to what other uses this public holiday may be applied, he hies off to his clan’s home province to celebrate, in his words, “the unique history, heritage, and culture of Ilocos Norte.”

One can read all kinds of meanings in Mr. Marcos’ chosen way of enjoying the long weekend. But one that stands out, at least for me, is the message that, whatever may happen to the Filipino nation, we can always go back to the secure embrace of our ethnic identities. It’s the wrong message for someone who sought the presidency on a vision of national unity. It is also a missed opportunity — a chance to reach out to those who did not vote for him in the last election, if only to say that although we have gone through many difficult moments as a nation, when stark differences in our appreciation of events threatened to fatally divide us, it is reassuring to think that our shared love for our country and collective concern for our children’s future always led us to the path of peace.

In that spirit, the President could have used the Edsa commemoration to acknowledge the lingering sensitivities that continue to divide us — and call for national healing. He could have sealed such a call with a directive to the secretary of justice, mandating him to immediately review the cases against detained former senator Leila de Lima with a view to withdrawing them and releasing her at once if the evidence is lacking.


We could also do better as a community. As difficult as it may be, we could learn to see the horrible acts that were committed during the dictatorship as collective acts that proceeded from a certain mentality, rather than the sole responsibility of one hopelessly depraved person or family. We could begin to regard them as possible under any dispensation, when favored by a confluence of circumstances and enabled by a public that cannot see beyond its fears, resentments, and ingrained prejudices.Such critical reflection is already happening in the small circles of academe, where hand in hand with the unearthing of more facts, scholars and researchers are gaining a better understanding of how certain decisions can produce unanticipated consequences, and political leaders can easily lose control of the processes they initiate.

A case in point is the declaration of martial law itself. Marcos Sr. felt it necessary to clarify from the very start that this did not at all mean the takeover of government by the military. The term was used in the 1935 Constitution to refer to one of the extraordinary powers that the president as commander in chief could invoke when the survival of the state was threatened. The employment of this power was meant to be limited, temporary, and subject to periodic review by the legislature. Marcos made it permanent.


Surrounding himself with technocrats and advisers who agreed that what he was doing was both good and necessary, and with generals who agreed that the communist threat was both real and imminent, Marcos spawned a regime that proved unable to control the corruption and abuse from within its own ranks. The detention, torture, and disappearances perpetrated by a military drunk with power forced many young Filipinos to wage their resistance underground, thus swelling the ranks of what was in reality just a fledgling communist movement.

But the dictatorship lasted more than 13 years, and not just because it managed to silence everyone through coercive means. Indeed, it continued to enjoy a fair amount of public support until the 1986 snap election. This is what we who were at Edsa often forget. Public opinion is a complex and volatile phenomenon. We must never assume it thinks like the rest of us.

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TAGS: edsa people power, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, Public Lives

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