Column: One real legacy of Edsa

Published on March 4, 2014.

For lack of space, an article prepared by Inquirer Research on the so-called myths of Edsa 1986, as seen by political scientists, did not see print last week. I was especially struck by the view of Benjamin Tolosa Jr.—a friend and indeed a fellow citizen of the streets in the 1980s—because he cogently summed up not only the worldview that many Filipinos (myself included) subscribed to but also the history that it helped shape. I reproduce Tolosa’s view, which he shared with me by e-mail, below.

* * *

But first, an argument itself in search of more space. The other political scientists interviewed for the story included Eric Batalla, chair of De La Salle University’s Department of Political Science, who offered what I thought was a remarkable thesis. “There might be several myths surrounding [martial law and people power] largely because our history education tends to be partisan or ideologically biased. It is difficult to say at this point what the real story is because of the propaganda from both sides.” I find this astonishing, because it undermines the primacy of the historical actors themselves—the sources, many of them still alive, of “our history education” regarding Edsa. It is rather like saying, We cannot trust the Katipuneros’ accounts of the Philippine revolution, because they were partisan. Is it really possible we do not yet know the “real story” about Edsa? (I’d be glad to run Batalla’s reply.)

* * *

To write history is not to cancel out conflicting biases, but rather to meet Leopold von Ranke’s simple ideal: “to tell how it really was.” Tolosa’s perspective on Edsa, for instance, proceeds from the bias of someone deeply engaged in the anti-dictatorship struggle at the time—and all the truer because of it. Listen:

I don’t want to use the word “myth” but I would like to point out one common misunderstanding or, perhaps at best, a partial or incomplete framing of what happened in 1986. Because of the dramatic and decisive way in which Marcos was ousted, there is often a tendency to understand the Edsa revolution only as the actual events of Feb. 22-25 during which people took to the streets to bring down the dictatorship in a nonviolent uprising.

But while it’s true that there was a certain spontaneity to the rapid mobilization of diverse groups and individuals that occurred after Jaime Cardinal Sin made a call to surround the military camps, one should understand that people power—lakas ng sambayanan, the strength of the people—did not emerge in just four days. It rose out of many years of painstaking education, organizing and mobilizing efforts, developing in the “parliament of the streets” of the 1970s (First Quarter Storm and after) and the 1980s (post Aquino assassination). More directly, it also emerged out of the principled electoral participation to oppose the dictatorship by supporting Cory Aquino’s candidacy in the snap election, protecting the ballot and protesting the massive fraud and violence through a calculated civil disobedience campaign inspired by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ historic post-election statement.

Active nonviolence as a mode of struggle that triumphed in Edsa people power (and not the failed coup attempt of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement) surprised many scenario-builders of that time. But it also did not emerge overnight. It was nurtured and practiced by committed individuals and movements over time and inspired by principled beliefs and prominent role models dating back to the late 1960s.

Of course, the most important catalyst was Ninoy Aquino’s witnessing to Gandhian active nonviolence both in word (see his undelivered arrival speech of Aug. 21, 1983) and deed (his assassination seen as martyrdom for the democratic struggle). For those who saw their sociopolitical involvement as part of a faith-response culminating in Edsa, what former Senator Soc Rodrigo later revealed from a letter written to him by Ninoy in 1973 after his solitary confinement in Laur, Nueva Ecija became very significant. It showed Ninoy’s own renewed political commitment to fight the dictatorship as resulting from a deep conversion experience amidst suffering. He was no longer the same pre-martial law traditional politician. There were many political divisions and different alternatives being proposed at that time, but a very important contribution to what eventually manifested itself at Edsa was the political education and organization work which promoted active nonviolence by groups such as AKKAPKA founded by Fr. Jose Blanco, SJ and supported by the International Fellowship for Reconciliation.

What made such an alternative attractive and viable was that for many years there were already efforts before and during martial law to promote social justice and popular empowerment among various sectors (not just the middle classes). This vision and project was anchored on the core principle of upholding human dignity and the common good. Social involvement matured into political involvement. This is often lost in the present-day mass media “sound bite” representations, but there was an emerging climate, culture and even spirituality of active nonviolence and civic engagement grounded upon deliberate formation, organization and mobilization work that paved the way for the Edsa uprising.

Sometimes we dwell on the “imperfections,” “limitations,” “missed opportunities” and even “betrayals” that followed the Edsa revolution. This is understandable given our continuing problems and struggles as a people. But there is a real legacy of painstaking work, self-sacrifice and commitment from that time which we can draw upon and share with new generations who did not experience it first hand, and can be a basis for continuing the struggle to complete the unfinished Edsa revolution for genuine democratization.

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