Martial law activist generation passing
“Never again!” is the declared aspiration vis-à-vis the injustice experienced over 14 years of one-man rule. It has been 43 years since that fateful day this month when martial law was imposed. It seems distant, but the impact, like dynastic rule and corruption, continues.
The 1986 Edsa People Power revolt that toppled Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship seems like contemporary history though 29 years have passed. The key players still make news. Agapito “Butz” Aquino, organizer of the August Twenty One Movement or ATOM passed away at 76 last Aug. 17. Juan Ponce Enrile, Marcos’ defense minister turned rebel along with Fidel V. Ramos, then the military vice chief of staff, was recently granted bail by the Supreme Court despite his being charged with plunder in relation to the pork barrel scandal. Enrile is 91; Ramos is 87.
Among the high-profile people opposing Marcos then, Teofisto Guingona Jr., Jovito Salonga, Joker Arroyo and Rene Saguisag are still around. Gone are Joaquin “Chino” Roces, Jose W. Diokno, Lorenzo M. Tañada, Salvador “Doy” Laurel, Jaime Cardinal Sin and Corazon C. Aquino. The Edsa I activist generation is quickly vanishing.
The groups active during Edsa I have either merged into the mainstream or quietly stepped aside. ATOM is essentially now history, but the RAM (Reform the Armed Forces Movement) still has a little visibility courtesy of personalities like Sen. Gringo Honasan, Danny Lim and Rex Robles. On the media front, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the pillar of the change movement then, continues to be the leading national broadsheet. Ang Pahayagang Malaya has become a business paper.
Many of the millions of other Filipinos who fought the Marcos dictatorship are no longer around as well. They may be in the world beyond or now lead quiet lives, disappointed that what seemed a successful struggle has failed to lead to the necessary changes in economics and in the broader social order.
The expectations after regaining freedom from one-man rule in 1986 were multifaceted: justice for all, agrarian reform, workers’ emancipation, effective governance, economic development, social equity. They have largely been unmet. A succession of five presidents have failed to bring about the economic and social emancipation promised when this nation stunned the world with its nonviolent revolution. It was a great honor to be Filipinos in 1986. The world was proud of us.
Now the activist generation is passing, yet the challenge for greatness remains. But there can be no retreat from achieving the ideals. The last 29 years may not have seen the eradication of poverty and income inequality, but the pursuit can be made to start again. Those from Edsa I who have kept the spirit of engagement must not transition to oblivion without passing the baton to the next generations.
The sacrifices that led to Edsa I can be made to converge with the sacrifices of overseas Filipino workers who have managed to shift the struggle from the battleground of politics to the warfront of economic survival. If millions of Filipinos did not leave home and family to find jobs in other countries, the Philippines would have been snowed under by the political and economic elite’s exploitation of the poor. Finding leadership from among the OFWs, transcending the “crab mentality” that seems to be the drag to unity, will have to be considered. The challenge that the Edsa I leaders confronted may have to be revisited and updated to allow the would-be leaders of the OFW class, the new middle class, to acquire the needed perspective. OFWs have virtual ownership rights to the resources on which the economy has been running. This is wealth that they have generated.
The real challenge is mobilizing the leadership potentials from among them. They saw the necessity to explore opportunities in other lands that were unavailable in their own. They sought their own survival, but in the process they helped their country survive. The context in which the diaspora happened needs appreciation to better understand the prospects of “brain and brawn gain” after decades of “brain and brawn drain.” Many countries have benefited from Filipino hard work, commitment and dedication. It is time the Philippines experienced the positive impact of Filipino leadership honed from overseas challenges. Those who can provide selfless involvement may be able to contribute to bringing to reality the changes that the country needs.
The OFW identity as a force for economic and social change can be established by creating an OFW investment fund. Significant magnitudes can be expected by issuing investment certificates with a unit value of $100. A million OFWs getting a unit will generate $100 million, or P4.5 billion. As much as P25-50 billion in investments will not be impossible. Leveraging the fund can generate bigger resources.
The key is to organize prudential responsibilities for fund management, which can be a startup for development finance for projects in agriculture that will work for inclusive economic growth. The remaining idealists of Edsa I and those who want to see more Filipinos break through the poverty ceiling can help organize the OFW leadership to give them their rightful power base.
A new leadership is imperative given the state of the nation. The passing activist generation can put the final touches in their fading struggle by passing on a viable agenda and program for OFW potential leaders who will pursue the interest of the common good. The struggle continues.
Danilo S. Venida ([email protected]) holds undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from the University of the Philippines and the Center for Research and Communication/University of Asia and the Pacific. He is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and is now a business consultant.
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