Monday, February 23, 2009

Again, EDSA

This week in '86 many of my countrymen trooped to Camps Crame and Aguinaldo along historic Epifanio De los Santos Avenue to form human barricades to protect then-Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and then-General Fidel Ramos against the wrath of my favorite President.  

The Good Old Days  

It turns out that then-President Ferdinand Marcos was becoming more and more unpopular in proportion to the country becoming more and more destitute. People who didn't agree with him and his wife were disappearing, being locked away or joining the Communists. It didn't help that three years before, one Benigno Aquino died at the hands of an unknown gunman (though everyone suspected Marcos's involvement). That death was important because Aquino was widely seen as Marcos's most capable rival and his staunchest, most visible critic. The investigation of the Aquino assassination yielded no results that anyone would believe at the time. The issue was so hot that Marcos was forced to hold elections a year earlier than they should have been (hence the term "snap elections") on this very month. His chief opponent? Aquino's wife, Corazon.  

The elections were rigged (of course) and key people at the Commission on Elections, fed up with years of massive corruption and this newest incidence of barefaced cheating, walked out because of it.  

Everyone could sense that the country was at the tipping point. Enrile seized his chance, and with supporters in the military, tried to stage a coup d' etat. Only, it didn't quite work, as Marcos was still at the palace calling the shots and his troops were likely to arrest the conspirators. Wikipedia tells me Enrile got Fidel Ramos to sign on at this point, but rightly or wrongly, I'd always lumped those two together from the start (that's the power of youthful memory associations for you). Then it gets weird.  

The Weirdness of EDSA  

Jaime Cardinal Sin, Catholic Archbishop of Manila, called on everyone within earshot of Radio Veritas to protect the coup plotters. The people, most of them fed up with how crappy everything had become and fearful of more violence, complied. More people trooped to a couple of television stations (notably Channel 4) to defend them against any Marcos-controlled military intervention. When Marcos sent the tanks to EDSA the people fought back... with rosaries and flowers. Tank drivers would not drive over the civilians, other soldiers would not shoot them despite orders. After the soldiers were won over, people marched all the way to Malacanang Palace and Marcos and his family were on their way to Hawaii. Corazon Aquino was finally sworn in as the Republic's first woman president.  

The Unfinished Story  
As with Marcos, at least at the beginning of his first term, we showed a lot of promise. There was hope in the air and it felt like we were finally climbing out of the 20-year rut we were in. Sadly we kept dropping the ball. We're very good when it comes to saving the day at the last minute but we tend to get complacent. One change of president, or political system, and we think the job is done. It's not. Whatever darkness and weakness that co-opted Marcos and the others after him are the same demons that hobble us today. The corruption, the pandering-- these were not invented by Marcos, but they were systematized and made highly efficient under his rule. Twenty-three years after the original EDSA, we still have our work cut out for us. The challenge of nation building and remapping our national destiny is two-fold: keeping the memory of EDSA alive and applying its lessons-- doing something about our problems-- intelligently. No mean feat, but that's another journal entry.  


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We now return you to our regularly scheduled program of "I miss my ex."

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