Sisyphus’ Lament

Do Filipino youth care about the Edsa Revolution?

/ 12:08 AM February 22, 2016

EXACTLY 30 years ago, on Feb. 22, 1986, Jaime Cardinal Sin made his fateful call over Radio Veritas for Filipinos to take to the streets. Then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos, speaking of conscience and justice, announced their rebellion. Many feared they would die at Edsa as President Ferdinand Marcos broadcast his boast of wiping out the rebels.

Any Filipino may now google scenes of people pushing against armored personnel carriers, the human wall massed from Ortigas Avenue to Cubao, attack helicopters dramatically defecting instead of firing, and triumphant protesters holding up the Inquirer’s immortal Feb. 25, 1986 issue, headlined, “It’s all over; Marcos flees!” YouTube even archives the moving music video of “Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo,” whose lyrics are etched onto the Edsa Shrine’s wall.


But the Edsa Revolution has not seeped into society’s consciousness. When did we last discuss Edsa and free speech together, outside martial law’s context?

No one denounced Rep. Manny Pacquiao’s recent statement that gays are worse than animals (“mas masahol pa sa hayop”) as dehumanization that betrays Edsa. No one contrasted a bishop’s defense of this with Sin’s great moral authority in 1986, even as talk show host Boy Abunda cited Pope Francis’ own words against Pacquiao. No one argued that a petition to ban the broadcast of Pacquiao’s next fight smacks of martial law censorship, and goes beyond using one’s own free speech to condemn.


Edsa is not a gauge to critique incumbent President Aquino, son of Edsa heroes former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and former president Corazon Aquino. No one cited Edsa when a teenager who heckled Noynoy had his cloth banner stuffed in his mouth by security. No one cites Edsa to lament the continuing failure to pass the freedom of information bill. No one cited Edsa when our Supreme Court voided Noynoy’s first executive order to investigate corruption in the preceding administration.

When a religious group massed at Edsa last August to protest potential criminal charges against its leaders, Filipinos decried the traffic caused, not a profane appropriation of hallowed ground. Nor do Filipinos cheer recent peaceful protests elsewhere, such as Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution, Kuala Lumpur’s Bersih 4 rallies, or the “Hunger Games” salute flashed at generals in Bangkok.

If Edsa has been so glaringly absent from our national discourse, is it fair to harangue our youth over it?

When I ask patriotic students and recent graduates about Edsa, many answer they do not typically discuss politics. This in itself is a pregnant answer. It implies they see Edsa as but one episode in an unchanging cycle, not an idea so sacred that it transcends ordinary politics.

We keep emphasizing that the youth never saw Edsa—because they were not even born in 1986—but overlook how they ask, with the benefit of temporal distance, why so many failures of governance, which suspiciously parallel those of martial law, remain. Is it not fair for the youth to explore what Edsa means in 2016, beyond 1986?

The political stakes of Edsa’s meaning have never been higher. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is a leading candidate for vice president. Presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte proclaimed in Ilocos Norte that he would allow Marcos’ burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

The Inquirer ran the provocative story “Youth, loyalists enable Marcos to tie Escudero” last Feb. 16. The youth perception of Bongbong is more complex and intelligent than a stereotype of a gullible, sheltered generation willing to embrace tales of a supposedly more disciplined martial law Philippines.


Individualistic millennials demand to judge Bongbong on his own merits, not his father’s. Thus, many would hold him accountable less for abuses before 1986, but more for whether he disbelieves, condones or repudiates these today. The youth are not necessarily ignorant of the long list of martial law victims, but focus on the “solid north’s” current economic state and Bongbong’s ideas on the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

This is fair play in the youth’s eyes. It follows from how they would likewise judge Noynoy solely by his merits, not his parents’. We should not be surprised after seeing American millennials’ warmth to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ socialist ideas just a generation after the Cold War and female millennials’ not necessarily voting for Hillary Clinton solely because she could be their first female president.

Those who lament the youth’s lack of an emotional tie to Edsa should ask why they inject memes of Gen. Antonio Luna, not Ninoy, into Facebook debates. Why does the movie “Heneral Luna” inspire today, like Washington DC’s Holocaust Memorial Museum and Amsterdam’s Anne Frank house, even though it tells a story from a century ago? Does “Heneral Luna” speak of an almost forgotten tragic death, or idealism versus political machination that frames the challenges of today?

By the 2022 elections, Filipinos younger than 43 will have no direct memory of Edsa. This year marks the last opportunity for those who stood at Edsa to influence its future meaning.

One hopes that instead of giving sermons, they respect youth perspectives as legitimate. One hopes they guide the search for tomorrow’s greater meaning, beyond the necessary inventory of yesterday’s sins.

One hopes they respect today’s youth as worthy inheritors of Edsa’s great legacy, who legitimately need to define this legacy on their own terms, and so charge them with the duty to return to Edsa at democracy’s darkest hour.

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React: [email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan

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TAGS: EDSA, Edsa anniversary, Edsa Revolution, martial law, opinion, People Power
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