Can an Edsa still happen today?
I spoke to a group of youth some time ago and that was the question they asked. I answered: It probably won’t anymore, though you never know, stranger things have happened. But People Power can and will. In fact, it continues to happen even as we speak.
The two terms have always been used interchangeably, but it may help to distinguish one from the other.
Edsa I’d put down as the act of massing in sheer numbers at some physical space—“Edsa” has acquired a mythical resonance over the years to refer to spaces beyond the literal avenue that now looks like an “Edsa” on ordinary days during rush hours—for the purpose of protesting an oppression and hopefully getting rid of its source. The fact that it never happened during Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s time when it seemed especially ripe and rife suggests its time has probably come and gone.
I myself think the reason for that went far beyond Arroyo’s extraordinary talent for corrupting people, which included the generals and the bishops, to the people themselves getting jaded about the exercise of that power. Where’s the sense in ousting an Erap only to install a Gloria? That is quite apart from the fact that over the past decade physical space has been greatly overrun by cyberspace. Why mass at Edsa, and endure “Edsa-like” traffic, when you can do so in the space created by text, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, reactions to articles, online forums?
People Power is another matter entirely. I’d put that down as a spontaneous burst of concentrated activity to accomplish an end. That doesn’t have to be reactive, or opposing or protesting or stopping an iniquity, it can always be proactive, such as by pushing an idea or cause or advocacy. We’ve had three luminous examples of that over the last few years, which is why I say it is happening even as we speak.
The first was P-Noy coming out of nowhere to become the frontrunner in the 2010 presidential election. A phenomenon triggered by the death of his mother, which reminded people of the storyline of good vs. evil. P-Noy wasn’t even a bleep in the presidential radar, the next president was going to be either Manny Villar or Chiz Escudero or Gibo Teodoro. Yet overnight, the landscape changed completely. P-Noy lurched forward and strode fairly comfortably to the finish line.
That was as much a case of People Power as the ones that took place in 1986 and 2001, except that in lieu of ousting somebody—though it had that element, too in dashing Arroyo’s hopes to cling on to power—it pushed for an idea, a cause, a new president. It was spontaneous, instinctive, popular, powerful, irresistible. It captured the imagination of the nation. Overnight, it brought in droves of volunteers, who offered their services freely to make up for a campaign that lacked money, resources and organization. But who were left behind afterward, Mar Roxas and Butch Abad first in line to reap the harvest of something they never sowed.
You wonder why something like this cannot happen in 2016, with the people themselves bidding someone other than Roxas and Jojo Binay to come out of the shadows. After all, 2016 is the 30th anniversary of People Power.
The second was the outpouring of generosity, malasakit, bayanihan, after “Yolanda.” That has always been there in the wake of calamities; for some reason those things bring out the best in us, but nowhere was it more in evidence than after Yolanda. Of course that drew in the same larger-than-life levels of altruism from abroad, other than from China, but the internal galvanization was a joy to behold. People didn’t just give money, they gave of themselves—men, women, and children volunteering to help the refugees at Villamor Air Base, musicians spending Christmas, which was when they normally earned a fortune in gigs, holding benefit concerts and donating all the proceeds to Leyte, students and professionals trekking to far-flung areas where the supertyphoon had cut a swath of destruction to distribute relief items.
Again, this was people coming together spontaneously, instinctively, heroically to do the right thing without anyone telling them to do it. If that isn’t People Power, I don’t know what is.
The third was the “Million People March” held appropriately enough on National Heroes Day last year, echoing a key People Power proposition that each one could be a hero, the people themselves could be heroes. They did not need a leader, they could be their own leaders. They did not need a messiah, they could be their own saviors. The march of course arose in protest over pork, and though it was never quite duplicated on the same scale afterward, it produced a template that offered enormous possibilities in the future.
What made it possible of course was the social media. That was where the idea began, gestated, and bore fruit. Which shows yet again how the physical space of Edsa has given way to cyberspace as the new site of People Power. The latter is the more natural soil for the idea of a spontaneous and leaderless—or nominally led—action to spring from and grow.
Yet surprisingly, the one administration that had itself sprung from a show of People Power showed a lack of appreciation for it. I myself had thought it would welcome it in recognition of a common provenance. Alas, it would look at it with fear and distrust, going on to pass a law that would seek to sap it, weaken it, curtail it. The people who noted the irony of online libel being upheld by the Supreme Court on the eve of Edsa are right. It had the same taste as Arroyo, an undeserving beneficiary of People Power, doing everything in her power to disparage People Power.
But that is the remarkable thing about People Power, too. When it happens, it is unstoppable.
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