Saturday, February 26, 2005

The tragedy of Edsa I

The tragedy of Edsa I

Posted 11:28pm (Mla time) Feb 25, 2005
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the Febrauary 26, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

YESTERDAY marked the 19th anniversary of one of the most remarkable events in the history of our country. This was the people power revolution that thrilled the whole world and earned its unbelieving admiration. On Feb. 25, 1986, the Filipino nation redeemed its lost freedom, not through the force of arms and violence. They did this in a massive demonstration of their faith in peaceful reform and the justice of their cause.

Edsa I, as it is proudly remembered, ended more than 13 years of tribulation for the desperately captive nation. Ferdinand Marcos had become the new despot of Asia. Many of his foes were arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned. Congress was abolished and later replaced by a rubber-stamp Batasang Pambansa [National assembly]. The Supreme Court was intimidated into "legitimizing" the dictatorship. Human rights were disdained and violated. Public funds were cold-bloodedly plundered. The ordinary citizens found themselves defenseless under what was called "constitutional authoritarianism."

The Philippines has been subjected to regimented domination before, first by Spain for more than three centuries, by the British in 1762-64, by the United States for close to five decades, and during the Pacific War by the Japanese belligerent troops. Each of these occupations of our country had its particular cruelty that left indelible livid scars on the national psyche. But all these regimes were foreign and so could be easily albeit painfully rationalized.

But the regime of Ferdinand Marcos and his criminal gang was imposed not by foreigners but by fellow Filipinos. They dictated their will upon their own countrymen, not with the ruthless objectiveness of alien tyrants but with full awareness of the maledictions they were visiting on their own people. Marcos knew this as all those who connived with him also did. They knew they were debasing their own race but this did not deter them from their transgressions. This was what made the martial law enforced by Marcos the most heinous rule of all.

The Philippines suffered as the rulers fattened on their iniquities. Erstwhile paupers became instant millionaires because of their ties to MalacaƱang. Political parties were abolished to give way to the all-powerful KBL party that could do no wrong. Enemies of the New Society were eliminated, many of them murdered without accountability. The Armed Forces of the Philippines became the Armed Forces of the President and his murderous and arrogant defender.

The Filipinos are like the carabao, it is said, patient but only up to a point. When that limit is reached, the placid animal becomes a raging beast. We reached that point after that graceless period of unbearable travail, but our quiet tribulation did not erupt in violence. We did not lose our cool or explode in uncontrolled rage. What we did instead was gather at the Edsa highway, not to raise our arms in anger, but to protest our grievances in peace.

There were a handful of heroes at first, and then they grew to a hundred and then to thousands until it swelled to millions of indignant Filipinos. It was a mixed and unusual crowd that represented a cross-section of the aggrieved nation. Political leaders, simple citizens, jeepney drivers and moneyed businessmen, slum dwellers and the elite, students and their teachers, teenagers with their parents, nuns fingering rosaries with watchful ladies bearing flowers, and, yes, even innocent children playing as in a carnival-all of them met at Edsa to dare the hated oppressor and face his mighty tanks with real but muted apprehension of the dictator's weaponed wrath.

The tanks did come but they did not attack. The soldiers were there but did not fire a single shot. One grandmother in a wheelchair confronted them alone and stopped them on their tracks. The defining moment of the victory of Edsa was when the military capitulated and joined the ranks of the jubilant people. Events swiftly followed with the induction of Cory Aquino and Doy Laurel as the duly elected leaders of the new government. Marcos took his own oath before a fidgety crowd in MalacaƱang even as a vengeful crowd was rushing at its gates. Soon the despot had escaped to Hawaii, and there was dancing in the streets.

That was what happened during those heady days that climaxed on Feb. 25, 1986. Everyone savored the hope of a new day as the dark night finally ended. The Freedom Constitution would later mandate that all the vestiges of the previous regime would be erased and the rule of law would again reign throughout the land. The economy would be improved for poor and rich alike, criminality would be reduced, social justice would be realized, and real democracy would be restored at last. This was what Edsa I promised.Have all these noble purposes been pursued and realized? Nineteen years since Edsa I, they are still empty reveries to taunt us of that magnificent people power revolt that made us the model of all oppressed nations still dreaming of freedom. The worst mockery of all is that the scoundrels of martial law are still with us, many of them still lording over us as before, like canonized demons enjoying an unholy immunity. That is the ultimate tragedy of Edsa I.


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