Alienating youth from Edsa

The uproar over Imelda Marcos’ selfie with Ateneo de Manila students flashing “V” signs at the Ateneo Scholarship Foundation’s 40th anniversary might not imply that present Ateneo students are vapid and superficial. Rather, it might imply that knee-jerk reminders about the Edsa Revolution are becoming vapid and superficial, not to mention counterproductive. These needlessly imply that today’s students were not yet born in 1986, yet should feel guilty because they do not share emotional reactions to People Power. How can one tell students to “never forget” what they justifiably do not remember?

The ASF (not an official university arm) invited Imelda to its anniversary as an early donor who organized a Van Cliburn piano concert in 1974 for its benefit. Imelda was photographed not just with the “V”-flashing students, but also with Ateneo president Fr. Jett Villarin. These photos immediately drew dismissive responses from alumni and the public. Some anger was aimed at the students. Critics argue that Ateneans, of all people, should know who Imelda is and what that “V” sign meant.


The alumni outpouring of vitriol is a welcome affirmation of the Ateneo’s values, along with Father Jett’s apology and promise to be more critical of how Ateneo recalls martial law. However, such emotional responses, often from those old enough to remember Edsa and directed at those too young, sometimes contain vitriol and not much else. This characterizes many responses to persistent Facebook posts about how the Marcos years were allegedly the Philippines’ best in terms of economic growth, peace and order and literacy, to news articles floating Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as a presidential candidate, and to StyleBible.ph’s “How Imelda Saved Fashion,” which opens with: “Monstrous as most would describe her, there’s no eradicating that portion of the population who look at former first lady, Imelda Marcos, as a muse of fashion.”

We must accept that the Edsa Revolution is a historical event to those 35 or younger, and an increasingly distant event for today’s students. John Richmond Go, a management senior and Ateneo Celadon VP-HR, shared this representative but unvoiced reaction: “They expect us to know through history but that’s knowledge. The emotion behind history is different and we all can’t learn the real feeling of what happened  through textbooks alone.” Edsa still feels abstract for Miguel Sevidal, a management engineering sophomore. He adds, “Our experience is secondhand. Words aren’t real enough to characterize the pain and lack of freedom.” Aldrin Chua, a management honors senior and Celadon president, adds that the students in the selfie would not have known that their pose meant something completely different in the 1980s.


We must critically reexamine how we retell Edsa. For example, angry reactions made implied and unfavorable comparisons between the students in the selfie and Edgar Jopson, a prominent Ateneo student leader killed during martial law. But the stories of Edjop and University of the Philippines student leader Lean Alejandro have barely been translated to an Instagram and YouTube age. Students do tell me that they want to know more about the student leaders of martial law, and no one taught me about Edjop’s too brief life when I studied in Ateneo. We must consider what presentation of martial law’s most moving stories appeals to today’s students, whether Carlos Celdran’s “La Vida Imelda” play or the old “Batas Militar” documentary my high school class watched.

Further, it is no longer enough to denounce persistent messages of how the Marcos years were the Philippines’ alleged golden age with statistics of theft and photos of human rights victims. One is speaking to a generation for whom the Philippines is perpetually just on the verge of rising to take its place in the world and who perceive the post-Edsa years as still riddled with frustration and corruption. One must address how propaganda appeals to their aspirations in a more stable Philippines, including the idea that perhaps the Philippines needs a strong, decisive leader after all, or that perhaps we need an informal ambassador like Imelda to put the Philippines on the cultural map. We should not be surprised; Indonesian youth likewise weighed former general Prabowo Subianto and his human rights record and his candidacy raised strongman Suharto’s specter in their recent presidential election.

The members of the Edsa generation must accept that the members of the next are perfectly entitled to form their own opinions regarding Edsa, and will do so whether or not they choose to contribute to this. Their perspective will increasingly be not about what happened but how—or even if—Edsa is relevant to them today, and validly and understandably so. Painful as it might be, they are likewise entitled to reject Edsa as an unfulfilled dream.

Edsa thus represents the new generational divide. The members of the Edsa generation risk having their attempts to retell Edsa mistaken for an extended, condescending harangue. Would it not be better to sound more inclusive and emphasize that Edsa is an ongoing pursuit of aspiration that today’s youth will soon inherit? Would it not be better to stop comparing them to Edjop and empower them to return to Edsa should the call of history sound once again? Would it not be better to accept that their seemingly alien penchant for selfies might not reflect their appreciation of martial law? Nagging comes easy, but unintentionally alienates youth more than it educates.

Oscar Franklin Tan (@oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan) is from the Ateneo Management Engineering Class of 2001, “the class still wondering whether Edsa II was right, after all.”

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