Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Forgotten Legacy of People Power

When EDSA I took place twenty-seven years ago, a privileged vision formed in Filipinos’ minds, a vision of the future in which the Philippines’s authoritarian and oligarchic landscape would be replaced by a rational democratic process and by a more socio-economically egalitarian and mobile society. In the near quarter of a century that has passed since, that self-contained vision has not lost any of its cogency or power.

Every year in the days and weeks leading up to the EDSA I anniversary, I have occasion to revisit articles and other resources that are concerned with the popular and military uprising that culminated in the end of the Marcos dictatorship. And every year in doing so, I ponder this question: to the extent that People Power I succeeded in deposing Ferdinand Marcos and subsequently adopted as an effective, non-violent technique for the extraction of dictators in other countries, has the Filipino polity since irretrievably discarded EDSA I’s moral vision of society?

There is a particular significance and poignancy in this question. In order to take it up, even a modicum of a historical consciousness is readily needed to account for why the question is being asked at all. The problem is that a sea change of priorities has quietly eroded Filipinos’ historical memory of EDSA I, arguably the single most momentous event in the history of the Philippines.

My contention is that there is a pressing need for the restitution of Filipinos’ historical consciousness. It is in danger of being transcended by the highly-contagious, signature artificial disease of our age, materialist greed and consumption. In the topsy-turvy Philippines, as well as around the rest of the world, this disease is reaching lamentable proportions. The apparent triumph of the “ownership society” over a prescribed historical consciousness among Filipinos has had its unintended consequences, namely the gradual but steady obliteration of the EDSA I uprising from the collective historical memory.

The differences between Philippine society today and the Philippine society that existed in 1986 are as profound as they are illuminating. In 1986, any Filipino would not have been surprised to witness the simmering political unrest and anger at the Marcos regime. Twenty-years of corruption and repression and a stolen presidential election rapidly brought matters to a head in the form of the EDSA I revolt. Filipinos were united then in calling for a completely different political structure to replace the rotten-to-the-core one that Marcos had built. It was easy to recognize that as a result of the EDSA I revolt, Filipinos had finally come of age as a people entirely in touch with their historical destiny.

How facile that lofty optimism looks now. The legacy of EDSA I has since given way to a worldview that is correlated with the era of high capitalism and globalization. It is primarily for that reason that Filipinos have misplaced their historical consciousness which has all but disappeared. Hence, instead of making the most of what EDSA I had to teach us about freedom, unity, equality, and human rights, Filipinos have put aside what should have been most important to them and have justified pursuing a self-congratulatory life of excessive commercialism, insatiable consumerist appetites, and material wealth.

In so doing, the nobility and dignity of the EDSA I spirit has become a burnt out shell of itself, thus exploding the illusion that the past was behind the Filipino people once and for all. Filipinos must realize that so much hangs on their appreciation and discernment of their nation’s history. A country cannot move forward as it should if it treats the past as a waste byproduct of history to be dispensed with for it will always come back to haunt it.

It is no doubt a delicate balancing act to make a historical event like EDSA I a prominent feature in one’s memory while meeting the demands of everyday life and in fulfilling material ambitions. But if we pull down the barrier of historical time that distances Filipinos from EDSA I, we will observe that the Philippines has been made into something that it should no longer be: rather than learning valuable lessons from the past, it is a society that continues to live in it in so many ways.


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