Beyond the holiday | Inquirer Opinion
Pinoy Kasi

Beyond the holiday

/ 01:42 AM February 25, 2015

Much has been said about the Philippines having too many holidays. I think the bigger problem about our holidays is the way they lose their meaning. Originally meant to commemorate significant events in a nation’s life, holidays are now seen mainly as days for beaches and malls, which is why the business sector is divided about holidays. Some complain about lost productivity while others rejoice at the added days for shopping.

There have been attempts to “rationalize” the holidays, like declaring a kind of generic National Heroes Day on the last Monday of August. But this can be confusing as well, as older Filipinos look for older commemorations like Bataan Day, which is now Araw ng Kagitingan or Day of Valor.

The younger ones? You may as well call the holidays Boracay Day or Tagaytay Day, or something to that effect.

In recent years we’ve seen attempts to be more inclusive, with the declaration of Muslim holy days and Chinese New Year’s Day as holidays. The latter is something I’ve opposed even if I’m ethnic Chinese because we’re a tiny minority, even smaller than Muslim Filipinos. The Muslim holy days, on the other hand, are not explained to non-Muslims except for some confusing comparison of Eid al-Fitr to a “Muslim Christmas.” These holidays would be more useful if used to promote Muslim-Christian understanding.

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We come now to Feb. 25, which I’m almost tempted to call a thing, and a mysterious one at that. Officially, it’s the “Edsa Revolution Anniversary,” but my computer keeps flashing a reminder: “people power anniversary,” something that I did not input.

This year marks the 29th anniversary of that historic event. With almost two million births each year in the Philippines, that’s a lot of post-Edsa babies who have to rely on their elders to explain what happened on Edsa. In addition, a few more million Filipinos were still children in 1986. We sometimes call them the “martial law babies,” so the time disconnect involves even more Filipinos.

School holiday

Since last year, there’s been an added twist to this Edsa anniversary: It’s been made a school holiday, meaning no classes, but all offices, including those of the schools, remain open.

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It’s been suggested that President Aquino made this “school holiday” modification only this year, to prevent students from joining protest rallies, but I distinctly remember that last year it was also a school holiday, and how our university offices’ workers were grumbling about the “discrimination.”

It is important, though, to think more about how the Edsa anniversary might retain its relevance, and maybe the best place to start is to dissociate it from a holiday, maybe even get rid of the holiday itself.

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Like Independence Day, an Edsa anniversary holiday puts people on vacation mode. People check the papers for announcements about the celebration and commemorative activities, not because they want to join but because they want to avoid those areas, which they presume will have heavy traffic.

Actually, in recent years if there is heavy traffic on Edsa, it’s because of people going to one of the many malls in the area.

The commemorative events have lost their appeal, in part because the event itself has faded from people’s memories. What remain are recollections of its being “anti” something—anti-Marcos, antidictatorship, but the memories are like faded photographs.

Others, especially older Filipinos, think of Edsa with cynicism, of dashed ideals and dreams.

But maybe those dashed dreams can be a starting point for restoring the Edsa anniversary. What exactly were the dreams? Can we go beyond rhetoric like freedom and dictatorship and talk about concrete aspirations, maybe framed in terms of food, and jobs, and land for the landless? I suspect many hoped that Edsa would usher in an era of peace, an end to revolts and rebellions and secessionist movements.

This is why I think we should just abolish the holiday, especially this school holiday bit. Letting off the students for a day while keeping their parents at work is just a bad idea: That’s a double holiday for students, transforming Edsa’s message into freedom from school and freedom from parents.

Have classes instead, and have activities to talk about what Edsa could mean. Make the past relevant by making people think of what Edsa could have meant for the future.

That means putting Edsa as a kind of reference point. Why did people finally pour out into the streets? There was more than an abstract yearning for freedom. One major reason people finally said “enough” was that the economy was so bad: There was one year when the inflation rate was something like 50 percent. Our gross national product actually dropped, and it would take years, after 1986, to recover.

We need stories of how people coped, including parents leaving their children to work abroad. “Saudi” was a generic term to refer to overseas deployment, because most overseas Filipino workers ended up there.

Perhaps those parents are now grandparents, and as they recount their adventures, and misadvantures, working in “Saudi,” it might be a time to ask: Why do so many Filipinos still have to leave their children behind, to work overseas?

We’re just not hearing enough stories. Last month I was talking with another UP official, whose husband was in the Air Force. She told me how he and other young officers had linked up with RAM, an antidictatorship group within the military, spurred by witnessing the massive corruption within the military. One story struck me—about their having to deliver bribery money, in cash, in doughnut boxes.

Doughnuts and revolutions… Why not? Remember, the Chinese moon festival is about moon cakes, except these were used to deliver messages to rise up and revolt!

National narrative

Let’s celebrate Edsa, not with a holiday, but with activities in schools. Invite people who lived through that era—not just people who went to work overseas but the ones who went underground, some who went up the hills—and let them tell their stories, and why some of them came back down, and others stayed on.

The very name of the holiday, Edsa, leaves me uncomfortable because it reinforces the idea of Metro Manila as the only place for political change. We need a national narrative about the events that led to 1986. This is where the mass media play a key role. I am glad the Inquirer has its Edsa 29 series, and hope that we will hear the stories, too, from outside of Metro Manila. I wonder what Mindanao’s Muslims were thinking about.

As we unfold our national narratives, let’s talk too about how the Edsa spirit did take root, in people willing to take risks together. We’ve seen it in times of natural disasters—many heroes and heroines taking greater risks than at Edsa.

We could also examine why Edsa II was the last sequel to the 1986 event. If people seem to have tired of going to the streets to depose a president, is it because the Edsa spirit has mellowed? Or is it people becoming wiser? Or more cynical? Perhaps, too, there are more safety valves now, jobs overseas, jobs in the outsourcing sector.

For the Edsa spirit to be revived, it needs to be delinked from the place, and from the holiday.

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TAGS: History, Philippine holidays

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