For freedom and democracy
I had always believed that people power meant less about the people in power than the power of the people. Twenty-eight years ago is a long time, but not long enough to get confused about the essence of EDSA I to me. I have not forgotten how we stood before the gates of Channel 7 while Marcos troops were manning the TV station, cajoling them to join us on the other side of the gate. I have not forgotten how people rushed towards the directions, instead of away, where tanks were supposed to be coming from to rescue the take-over of Channel 4 by the people’s rebels. I remember the snipers in the TV towers and how a helicopter gunship was neutralizing them. I can remember these but cannot remember that we were exposing ourselves to risks for Cory Aquino, for Cardinal Sin, for Gen. Ramos, for Enrile or whoever else. I remember we just had enough of a dictator and a thief. I remember we just wanted our freedom back, wanted democracy back.
Maybe, because this is how I remember EDSA People Power 28 years ago, I kept focusing on how I could contribute to that freedom I wanted for myself and my family. Of course, I could not but help know about what else was going on, the dynamics of divisive power play between our national and local leaders. How could anyone when all sorts of media kept screaming with a newly found freedom? But the noise was not louder than my understanding that EDSA I was for me, for my family, and for all other Filipinos who wanted freedom from a dictatorship and a clique of thieves. Therefore, as I was forced to notice what was going on among our leaders, I refused to let go of the more important reason why I became part of EDSA I. For several years, then, despite coups and attempted coups, I tried to contribute my share as a citizen of the Philippines. I kept reminding myself that the revolution was less about the leaders and more about the people.
When the thievery was beginning to re-establish its dominance in the Estrada presidency, I went to the streets again. Some of us tried to promote the idea of asking all government officials to resign instead of just Erap. But our influence was simply not enough, our group too small, and the spirit of the people unwilling to be radical enough to bypass a constitutional successor whom Cardinal Sin preferred to be installed. The weakness was that the people kept looking at leaders and, consequently, did not demand of themselves a greater personal accountability and intolerance to corruption and poverty. Again and again, I joined others who wanted to exert pressure on another president who seemed bent on becoming the biggest thief yet in Philippine history. We did not succeed despite the risks we took, but people were just not ready to be the active backbone of both freedom and independence.
Today, though, there seems to be a marked difference. President Noynoy Aquino has become a symbol for change, focusing on going against the corruption embedded in government. Almost 32 years of Marcos (1966-1986), Estrada (1998-2000) and Gloria (2000-2010) with Marcos and Estrada making it to the top ten of the World’s Most Corrupt Leaders and Gloria a strong contender to barge into that elite class of plunderers, was a long, long time to embed a culture of wanton corruption, not just corruption. I wonder how many honest presidents and how many decades this corruption culture can be dismantled and reversed. So many think a culture can be done away just like that without realizing that it is not a culture in the first place if it is easy to change. And it will not change soon if we do not begin to change ourselves, if we just point to others to do so.
There are major events, though, that trigger rare opportunities for radical change. Dramatic changes around the world remind us how powerful People Power can still be. Yolanda and its aftermath, too, is another. The great need to help devastated parts of the Philippines allows another occasion for People Power to express itself in the most noble way, the bayanihan way. We witnessed and participated in the most awesome, the most emotional, the most generous response to calamity and tragedy in our history. If we can sustain that spirit of bayanihan, the dark culture of corruption is confronted by a more powerful and noble force. The truism, then, that only by doing good can evil be defeated will come into play.
There are other ways as well that we can push the change of culture faster, and modern communications technology will be a most effective tool. The advent of whistle-blowers is not exactly new, but previous cases did not allow the vast majority to become players, too. Last year, though, courtesy of the Napoles scam as described by her former employees and a growing number of whistle-blowers, major changes were forced on the pork barrel system and the way projects are funded, approved and implemented. Social media became the way that tens of millions of Filipinos participated in demanding for change, peacefully but with great impact.
Indeed, there is a convergence, one that is unplanned but all moving towards one direction, one that our youth are being a part of. This is the one ingredient that is the most promising, because a culture cannot continue its dominance if the younger generations do not perpetuate it. We must find ways to encourage our youth to become the warriors of change, not necessarily by fighting evil, but more importantly, by doing good. They can drive social media to push change, and they can help rebuild from the destruction of Yolanda, the Bohol earthquake, and the Zamboanga siege. By doing good. By being the new heroes Rizal was waiting for.
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