A walk through Edsa
Every year, at around this time, the memories come flooding back. I’m talking about Edsa, of course, “Edsa” being the name of the highway (which used to be Highway 54) along which was staged the dramatic show of “people power” that made the Philippines—for a brief shining moment—the toast of all democracies the world over.
Straddling Edsa were two military camps: Camp Crame where the Philippine National Police was headquartered, and Camp Aguinaldo, the military nerve center. To protect the small group of mutineers who had proclaimed their breakaway from then President Ferdinand Marcos, Filipinos of all ages and persuasions rushed to Edsa to protect then Defense Secretary (and now senator) Juan Ponce Enrile, then Armed Forces deputy chief (and now former president) Fidel V. Ramos, and a band of army reformists (or so they claimed) led by (now senator and vice-presidential candidate) Gringo Honasan.
The crowds grew even thicker on Edsa, despite threats issued by Marcos in Malacañang, when the mutineers crossed over from Aguinaldo to Crame, which Ramos said could be better defended. This is an event commemorated every year the Edsa anniversary comes around, and I remember one year when the “salubong” (meet-up) failed to materialize, Ramos forcing attendees at a book launch that day to do the victory “jump” made famous by an iconic photo.
Edsa refers not just to the highway, but to all the events that preceded it, from the declaration of martial law, to the large-scale “salvaging” and violation of human rights that culminated in the assassination of Ninoy Aquino. It was his death that galvanized the anger and restlessness just simmering beneath the surface. But it would take three more years and the “snap” election before it burst into the climactic confrontation on Edsa. The coup attempts, the power grabs, the jockeying for influence and power were still far into the future, or so it seemed at that time.
But if memories of Edsa are triggered every year by the commemoration of those fateful days, why the need for yet another recitation of events?
Because it seems we have forgotten. “We,” the generation that lived through martial law, the protest years and Edsa, of course, have not forgotten. Memories of loved ones lost, opportunities squandered, futures derailed, but also of experiencing a sudden surge of courage and defiance in the face of a collective will remain fresh, with the ability to still sting and elate.
But it seems we are the minority now. The majority of Filipinos are young, which means the majority of our people know only of Edsa as an iconic moment, one celebrated in song, in documentaries that show increasingly yellowing footage, in stories shared by “oldies.”
What does Edsa mean to the millennials? Do they care for it still? How do we explain the shockingly good showing of the dictator Marcos’ son in the polls for vice president? And why are voters saying they would give the mandate for president to an official facing corruption charges (even if he did fight on “the side of the angels” as a human rights lawyer) and to one who would tear human rights principles to shreds if he wins?
Maybe if the young knew more about Edsa and the events it commemorates and celebrates, they would be empowered with the tools to make better decisions, or at least view the past with clearer eyes.
That may be the reason for the creation of the “People Power Experiential Museum,” the centerpiece of next week’s Edsa celebrations. At the museum—a temporary setup in Camp Aguinaldo—visitors will walk through halls that “tell” the story of the events leading up to Edsa and then following it.
Assistant Secretary Celso Santiago of the Presidential Communications Operations Office said a walk-through of the museum would take on average about two hours, with an estimated 45 minutes spent on each hall or segment of the exhibits. On Feb. 25, P-Noy and a few selected guests will tour the experiential museum, but the locale itself will be open to the public on Feb. 26 from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Edsa Commission member Maria Montelibano (the commission is chaired by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa) said at yesterday’s “Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel” that they hope to bring the exhibits around the country, adding memorabilia of local “heroes” who led the struggle for democracy in their own areas. Afterwards, she said, they are hoping to find a “permanent” home for the museum. They are currently eyeing a structure to be built beneath the People Power Monument at the corner of Edsa and White Plains Avenue, which will be raised, the better to increase its visibility to the public.
At present, much of the media coverage on the coming Edsa commemoration centers on the potential traffic jams to be created by the closure of portions of Edsa and White Plains—even if, it must be pointed out, the celebrations will be held on a holiday.
This is how low in the nation’s consciousness and priorities, it seems, the country’s proudest moment now ranks: traffic trumping historical significance, inconvenience overshadowing national pride. How did things come to such a pass?
Regardless of one’s political leanings, of one’s loyalties to political clans, or even of one’s preferred candidates in the May elections, Edsa is a word—a place, a series of events, a spirit—that deserves to be remembered. And more important, its deeper meanings, its impact on our lives and future, should be constantly studied and reviewed. Imagine the country if Edsa had not happened. All the more reason not to behave as if it indeed had not taken place at all.
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