When the “Edsa Generation” moves on—to inevitable death or to forgetfulness—who will do the remembering?
The article by Jia Aquino Dee, daughter of Viel and granddaughter of Cory, shows us how Edsa will be remembered—through second-hand memories, glimpses of events told in retrospect, insights gained from study and history, sentiments generated by sympathy and affinity.
For the moment, there are still plenty among us who lived through those days—and the years and months that preceded them—to tell the stories first-hand, to bear witness to events and personalities as they truly were, and to put perspective and context to all the tumult and controversy.
I suppose we should count ourselves lucky, as efforts have been underway, almost from the first few days after the crowds on Edsa thinned, to rewrite history, to shift perspectives, and turn villains into innocent bystanders, champions into plotters. Maybe that’s why witnesses have been busy churning out books and eyewitness accounts, dramatic news photographs, documentaries and myth-making productions.
“People power,” the phenomenon and political myth, has been analyzed from its first causes to its global impact. Its meaning has also undergone extensive parsing, reexamined, documented, tracked and replicated.
But as the years pass, counterfeit memory threatens to conceal the truth. And as propagandists know too well, a lie repeated often enough soon morphs into truth, or is accepted as the “official version.”
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WE SEE indications of that from the results of an informal survey of elementary and high school Filipino students gleaned from entries submitted to an on-the-spot essay writing contest asking them why we should continue to observe the Edsa 1 anniversary, and what meaning they glean from it.
After all, these were children who were hardly even in the imaginations of the young people who figured in the protests after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, and filled Edsa in the days of the “People Power” revolt. Call them the grandchildren of Edsa, born decades after the historical moment, for whom those gleaming memories are just that—memories, recollections gathered from stories, from readings, from perceptions gained second- or third-hand, and therefore, confused and nebulous.
The “memories” first strike one as humorous, odd turn-abouts and jumbled history as the young people speak their confused, albeit sincere, thoughts of what happened 28 years ago.
Some of them get the chronology awry, thinking the Edsa uprising preceded Ninoy’s assassination. A few add embellishments, like Marcos’ plan to destroy all military camps, a counter-intuitive move if ever there was one.
It’s not unlike the telling of the Philippine revolution against Spain and the United States, or the struggle against the Japanese occupation forces, or even the martial law years. Young people’s eyes turn glassy with indifference and unease as their elders start down memory lane, only to regret such willing ignorance when they turn into adults and realize what a rich mine of memory and heritage they had lost.
That is a danger we face today, 28 years after the first Edsa, even as we struggle against time and failing memory to record those events that played such a prominent role in the shaping of the nation we are today.
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BUT even as we begin to forget, or reshape the outlines of the story, people elsewhere are writing new endings, different outlines, creating new main characters.
In nearby Thailand, months of street protests that soon escalated into shootings and killings have resulted in the current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra leaving Bangkok for an undisclosed destination more than a hundred kilometers from the capital.
Uncannily, like the Philippines in 1985, Thailand was to undergo a general election, which opponents of the premier, who had billed themselves “democrats,” opposed. They demanded instead the appointment of a ruling council. This is not the first time Thailand has erupted into political chaos and massed on the streets of the capital, the protesters shifting shirts from yellow to red depending on the target of the protests. Who shall prevail this time?
In Kiev, pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych has fled the country, after weeks of bloody, violent clashes between security forces and protesters gathered in the capital’s main square. The protests erupted in the wake of Yanukovych’s brazen turn-away from the European Union towards Russia.
Uncertainty, too, rules over countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Syria—where “people power” has morphed into different forms and expressions, but essentially following the central motif of (usually) unarmed and peaceful masses of “the people” harnessing their collective anger and power against government abuse and corruption.
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AND as other observers have noted, we, too have tried at various times to replicate the original “People Power” phenomenon, the most recent attempt being the “Million People March” against the pork barrel.
That attempt at “People Power,” triggered mainly by angry online posts and general disgust at the abuse of public funds, quickly faded after the first angry demonstrations, and ironically, even as further revelations have painted a far bigger and more deep-rooted picture than was previously thought.
How will Edsa’s grandchildren harness this power of protest? Will they be content with second-hand memories and venting on Facebook and Twitter? And have they learned lessons from the previous generations—most important of which is how to create and police a society where protest is no longer necessary?
For learning to begin, we must first learn not to forget.
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