Philippine Daily Inquirer

Re­mem­ber­ing Edsa I

- Fr. Joaquin G. Ber­nas, S.J.

FEB. 25 is a day for re­call­ing Fe­bru­ary 1986 and the times that pre­ceded it. My own thoughts about what tran­spired have not changed:

“There is a ten­dency to at­tribute the re­birth of democ­racy to the events of the four days of Fe­bru­ary 1986. Those days will for­ever be re­mem­bered as a shin­ing mo­ment in a peo­ple’s his­tory; but the four days do not tell all. Edsa was but a part of a process, al­beit the most mem­o­rable both for the in­ten­sity of its emo­tion and its dra­mat­i­cally eye­catch­ing and in­fec­tious sym­bol­ism. But the long process of which it was a part in­cludes both the strug­gles that pre­cip­i­tated the im­po­si­tion of mar­tial law as well as the strug­gles dur­ing the long dark nights that fol­lowed.

“There was never a mo­ment, start­ing on Sept. 21, 1972, when the nation was not mov­ing to­ward Edsa. The un­der­ground strug­gle, the bloody en­coun­ters, the groans of tor­ture vic­tims, the pam­phle­teer­ing, the ral­lies, both po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious, the silent storm­ing of heaven by con­tem­pla­tive nuns, the whir of fax ma­chines, the elec­toral strug­gle un­der the most ad­verse cir­cum­stances and, yes, even the ‘col­lab­o­ra­tion’ with the en­emy—each in its own way con­trib­uted to the as­sur­ance of re­birth. In the end, Divine Prov­i­dence, which the Filipino peo­ple had first for­mally in­voked in its 1935 Con­sti­tu­tion, put the pieces to­gether and let them ex­plode into the cel­e­bra­tion that was Edsa.

“When I re­flect on the events of 20 years ago, I see hubris as divine Prov­i­dence’s trig­ger­ing weapon for the fi­nal down­fall of the ruler. Feel­ing that he be­strode the world like an un­con­quer­able colos­sus, Pres­i­dent Mar­cos dared all chal­lengers to a ‘ snap elec­tion.’ That was Novem­ber 1985. The events that fol­lowed brought out a mul­ti­plic­ity of heroes no one of whom could have achieved the re­sult alone.

“First, pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls sac­ri­ficed their am­bi­tion (re­al­is­tic or not) in fa­vor of one pres­i­den­tial can­di­date sup­ported by all. They anointed a house­wife in­ex­pe­ri­enced in gov­er­nance, de­ri­sively branded by the ‘ wise’ as walang alam, to be­come

There was never amo­ment, start­ing on Sept. 21, 1972, when the nation was not mov­ing

to­ward Edsa

the ‘fool­ish’ in­stru­ment through whom Prov­i­dence would con­found the proud. Her battle cry of tama na, so­bra na cap­tured the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion.

“Next, in the early weeks of Fe­bru­ary, whether by free choice or by des­per­ate ne­ces­sity, new heroes emerged. The com­puter op­er­a­tors un­masked the con­spir­acy to cheat the ‘fool­ish’ woman of her elec­toral vic­tory. Gov­ern­ment in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers dis­cov­ered a RAM plot for a coup d’etat. Trapped, the sol­diers made a de­fi­ant stand. To the death, they said.

“Then fol­lowed the call of the Car­di­nal and of Butz Aquino for the pop­u­lace to res­cue the be­lea­guered sol­diers. The peo­ple came in massed brigades of all ages and sexes to shield the sol­diers from the threat­en­ing mor­tars of the Pres­i­dent.

“The mor­tars were never fired. Fun­da­men­tal hu­man­ity over­came the sol­diery. Loy­alty to the sov­er­eign peo­ple con­quered, and the sol­diers turned their back on the Com­man­der-in-Chief. In that fact too there was hero­ism. And the dra­matic en­counter be­tween civil­ian and sol­diers, bound to­gether by the bonds of love of the same coun­try and of the same peo­ple, is what is cel­e­brated as salubong, sym­bolic of a peo­ple de­ter­mined to join hands and work for a new fu­ture.”

To­day the lament is some­times heard that noth­ing has re­ally changed since 1986. What a waste Edsa I was. That ob­vi­ously is not true.

The gov­ern­ment struc­ture un­der the 1987 Con­sti­tu­tion, though by no means per­fect, is bet­ter than the gov­ern­ment that evolved from the 1973 Con­sti­tu­tion. Im­per­fect as it is as a protest against the Mar­cos Con­sti­tu­tion, in more ways than one it is truly demo­cratic.

Congress to­day is struc­turally al­most the same as that of the 1935 Con­sti­tu­tion even if, in terms of the qual­ity of mem­ber­ship, it suffers by com­par­i­son with those of the 1935 Con­sti­tu­tion. But at least it is dif­fer­ent from the Batasang Pam­bansa.

As in the 1935 Con­sti­tu­tion, the of­fice of Pres­i­dent is not free from the temp­ta­tion to­ward au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism. Much de­pends on who holds the power. For the­mo­ment, we seem to be safe.

The Supreme Court mem­ber­ship to­day does not go through the same rigid screen­ing as the mem­bers of the Court un­der the 1935 Con­sti­tu­tion. But col­lec­tively it is an im­prove­ment on the Mar­cos Con­sti­tu­tion.

The emo­tion and drama of Fe­bru­ary 1986 have died down and I do not see “peo­ple power” like that of Edsa I emerg­ing. Nor do I see hubris pre­cip­i­tat­ing rad­i­cal re­form. Not yet, any­way. What I see is an emerg­ing peo­ple power in the form of en­er­gized lo­cal gov­ern­ments, un­for­tu­nately not yet na­tion­wide but hith­erto only here and there. But I also see corruption and pop­u­lar in­dif­fer­ence of a peo­ple lulled by eco­nomic and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances as ma­jor ob­sta­cles to progress. In the end, there is truth to the dic­tum that a peo­ple get the gov­ern­ment they de­serve. How can ev­ery­one be awak­ened to the re­al­iza­tion that the fu­ture de­pends not on gov­ern­ment but on all of us?

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