Column: Is there a future for Edsa?

Published on February 24, 2009

I thought the use of former acting award winners to pay personal tribute to the acting nominees at Monday’s Oscar awards — to substitute the tribute for the usual name-and-video-clip nomination routine — was a deft touch. It delivered on what first-time host Hugh Jackman had promised, a depression-era awards rite with more show and less biz. It dramatically welcomed the nominees into an elite fraternity of talent (Anthony Hopkins’ lauding of Brad Pitt’s “magnificent” quality as a “character actor” left Angelina Jolie beaming; Shirley Maclaine’s praise for Anne Hathaway amounted to a benediction). Not least, it reminded a global audience that the movies have a long, storied tradition. And that that tradition must be welcomed, assimilated, transcended, lived — in sum, reckoned with—in every movie worth the name.

* * *

Malacañang’s calculated snub of the Edsa I anniversary is offensive on many levels, but it is on the level of tradition that the offense cuts deepest. EDSA I as a political event defined the democracy that was restored, however haphazardly, in 1986; to slight it, or to leave it out of the narrative altogether, is nothing less than an attempt to redefine the tradition behind our democratic project.

Yesterday’s Inquirer editorial noted the policy implications of the Arroyo administration’s grudging decision to declare Monday, February 23, a limited holiday. Call it the cynicism of the practical; the administration would rather forget all about People Power, but realizes it still needs to pay lip service to that which it is most afraid of.

What, exactly, is “Edsa”? Three years ago, on the 20th anniversary of the People Power I revolution, the Inquirer produced a video documentary that retold the Edsa story in the words (and in some cases the images) of key participants and witnesses. “Edsa 20: Isang Larawan”  helps explain, not only how Edsa happened, but what it was that actually happened. (At least two clear versions are available on YouTube; simply search for “Edsa 20.”)

The documentary allowed the subjects to talk for as long as they wanted, letting the camera roll. I may be biased (I wrote the script, among other duties), but I thought then and still think now that our sources revealed their very character, in their consistencies and their contradictions: Gringo Honasan and Charles Hotchkiss; June Keithley and Jim Paredes; Ed Lingao and JP Fenix; Butz Aquino; and above all, the two admirable nuns at the center of that famous photograph.

I wrote the following (in my Newsstand blog) the night of the first broadcast:

* * *

Moments after the documentary aired tonight, a friend sent me a congratulatory message, which included the following line: “The nuns were a casting coup.” I could only reply: “It helps that God was the casting director.”

Sisters Ping Ocariza and Terry Burias belong to the Daughters of St. Paul congregation. They had never attended street demonstrations before; the day they helped stop the tanks at the intersection of the Edsa highway and Ortigas Avenue was the first time they joined a mass action. They happened to be at that exact corner because of a chain of accidents: They had signed up for the morning shift that Sunday, Feb. 23, instead of the afternoon. When the tanks arrived they had lost track of their fellow nuns, who had gone back to their vehicle. In the confusion, they had found themselves asked (or pulled, according to Sister Ping) by others in the crowd to move to the front, right where the tanks were … At that crucial juncture, they had found themselves leading a rosary — without a microphone, Sister Terry recalls. (“It was probably the most beautiful rosary I ever said,” she added in Filipino.)

In contrast with the thorough preparations of the rebel soldiers (which went for nought, after the planned coup was discovered), the nuns had no idea, when they woke up on Sunday morning, that they would be called to offer their prayers and their lives, at that fateful intersection. They had no inkling that, like millions of other ordinary Filipinos, they would be called to perform on history’s stage, right before the footlights. Deeply scared and yet strangely, serenely peaceful during the encounter with the tanks, they couldn’t possibly have planned on the iconic role they would assume in the Edsa story.

In hesitant English, Sister Terry summed up what happened to them in Edsa. “In our smallness, God used us as his instrument.”

* * *

Another time, I also wrote:

“In his Edsa 20 interview, reformist leader and Army Col. Gringo Honasan waxed inconsistent … At certain points he would refer to the political component of the plan, which involved reaching out to Cory Aquino’s camp … His intention was to present a more comprehensive explanation of the events of 1986. But at certain points, he also could not deny the simple reality. Ours was ‘a military plan,’ he said. ‘Wala kaming kamuwang-muwang sa People Power. Wala kaming sinasandalan na People Power.’

“[Gringo’s] military rebels did not launch the revolution; like charity, which the Bible assures us covers a multitude of sins, the People Power revolution that redeemed them descended on us like a gift.”

* * *

There will be time to discuss the meaning of the candidacies of the presidential aspirants with the best chance of succeeding in 2010, but it seems to me that the May elections will, in a fundamental sense, be reduced to a vote on the future of EDSA.

Will Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s successor also spurn the legacy of Edsa , or will Edsa — both eruptions of People Power, understood as one — be recovered as a renewed republic’s true foundation stone?

1 Comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

One response to “Column: Is there a future for Edsa?

  1. manuelbuencamino

    It’s noteworthy that GMA celebrated it on the 22nd instead of the 25th. That’s why Enrile finally attended an EDSA commemoration. Enrile and Cory did not have the same goals. Cory wanted a return to democracy. Enrile and his Ram boys simply wanted to take over from Marcos. If Cory didn’t make a stand at the right moment (as that featured story your paper carried pointed out) we would have had a military dictatorship under Enrile and Ram.

    That’s what is so bothersome about this year’s EDSA celebration. The message was a denigration of democratic aspirations.

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