The problem with EDSA


They called it a revolution–those who define revolution as any sudden change, which EDSA 1 indeed was. In EDSA 1 the people overthrew Ferdinand Marcos, in a process that was both swift and unprecedented.

That should have meant, as Marcos flew to Hawaii, that his coterie of kin, cronies and military goons would go with him, if not literally into foreign exile, at least figuratively into the everlasting contempt of their victims. They would lose the power they had, as Marcos would lose his. They would no longer have the capacity to torment and to kill, to exploit and to plunder. They would live out their lives in disgrace in internal exile in the country they had shamelessly ruined, and whose people they had brutalized.

The same should have meant a new beginning: the reconstruction of a country ravaged by decades of misrule since 1946. The empowerment of the millions to whom had been promised since the 1896 Revolution the right to govern themselves as free men and women so they can realize their aspirations for progress, freedom and democracy.

As millions of Filipinos now know, neither was to be.

And yet EDSA 1 was more than a million people massing between two military camps to defend former protectors of a dictatorship–that, at least, was what many of those who were there thought. It was to be another milestone in the tortuous Filipino road to the dawn that Rizal had predicted would eventually break after his death, a step towards the national liberation and social revolution for which Bonifacio and the Katipunan had fought. It was, in many minds then and in the afterthought, the Revolution resumed.

But overthrowing a tyrant was only the first step; social change was the hard part that should have come after. The second, however, can only be achieved if the first step involved the overthrow not only of one man or one family or one dynasty, but of an entire class, and its replacement by another. The French overthrew not just Louis XIV but also the absolute rule of the feudal aristocracy, replacing it with the rule of the rising bourgeoisie. The planters and slave owners of George Washington’s time overthrew not just the overlords of King George; they also overthrew colonial rule, and replaced it with their own.

EDSA 1 did overthrow a dictatorship. No one can, or should, denigrate the meaning of that achievement, which among others meant the doors of many prisons swinging open. But as many of those who were there and/or who supported and hailed it have come to realize, EDSA was, alas, a restoration. Not by accident has the word “return” and its variations been often used to describe what resulted from it. It reinstated elections. It restored democratic institutions. It re-established the rule of law.

But what it did as well was bring back to power, dominance and influence certain families Marcos had thrown out into the cold, while the people who had provided the warm bodies during the three days of EDSA (February 22 to 25) once more receded into their accustomed state of inaction and apathy.

Many of them now lament that EDSA 1–and EDSA 2 as well–was a waste of time, a futile enterprise that has brought them and the country further ruin. They had overthrown Marcos, yes, but their hoped-for changes had not materialized. They wail that for the risks they took–braving tanks and helicopter gunships, bullets, grenades and bombs–they have been gifted with more of the same, and worse: the same poverty and misery, the same government corruption, lies and treachery. What they’re saying is that they wanted a revolution and thought they were getting it.

One thing escapes those who had pinned so much hope on EDSA 1, and who now weep over its results: if it was revolution they wanted they would have had to fight for it. They would have had to demand that they– the middle class, as well as the workers, the peasantry and all other social classes that had long been in the margins of the political process–not only be heard, but empowered as well.

It wasn’t enough to overthrow a dictatorship. To make EDSA 1 a revolution they would have had to overthrow the very social class that since the Spanish period has collaborated with this country’s colonizers, and monopolized wealth and political power besides.

The problem with EDSA was that the very people who had made it possible had limited expectations, and demanded so little of themselves, thinking that their four-day vigil between Camps Crame and Aguinaldo was enough. The problem with EDSA 1 was not the traditional leaders of the elite who benefited from it. The problem with EDSA were the people who won it.

Of the many questions asked of this country and its people, that of why it is in such a deplorable state and what the latter are doing about it is foremost. As EDSA 1 was commemorated yesterday, foreign news agencies, for example, were not only asking whether that event 19 years ago was worth celebrating at all. They were also asking whether the “social volcano” that everyone and his or her grandmother have been talking about for decades will ever erupt.

Only literally is this country in the Pacific Ring of Fire witness to volcanic eruptions. Unlike literal volcanoes, social ones can only erupt through the people’s storming (to mix metaphors) of the Bastilles of privilege, corruption and misused power.

That has not been forthcoming, despite the opportunities for it. It did not happen in the 1950s despite the Huks’ conviction that it would take only three years to take Malacanang. It did not happen despite the First Quarter Storn in 1970 and the vast awakening that shook every sector of Philippine society in the aftermath.

For both failures Filipinos have blamed the CIA and the mendacity and treachery of the traditional elite, including Marcos’ declaration of martial law in 1972 with US support.

They seldom blame themselves. But the truth is that the elite and its foreign supporters can no more be depended on not to act in their own economic and political interests than a leopard can be expected to change its spots–or even abstain from meat.

In every society and in the entire planet at large, that is a given. The moneybags and the power elite will do all they can to preserve and extend their power and wealth. What has not been a given in the Philippines has been the sustained capacity to resist. We saw it in the 1950s, when the convenors of revolution failed to sustain their own drive for power. We saw it in 1972, when the millions who had massed in thousands of demonstrations faded into inaction in the face of the declaration of martial law. And we saw it at EDSA, when the millions who had massed there thought four days off from office and factory were sacrifice enough.

Revolutions happen when objective conditions–poverty, mass misery, injustice–coincide with the people’s preparedness to wage it. No one will now deny that the first conditions do exist and have existed for centuries. But seldom has the second coincided with the first. If the elite has not the political will to change anything, neither have those over whom it rules had the same will to see things through beyond a few days or months.

The reasons for this are many and varied, among them the oft-observed truth that Filipinos no matter how poor and miserable always see a way out, and are capable of seeing silver linings even in the darkest storm clouds of existence. The way out may be a loan from a rich relative. In these most miserable of times, it can also be, and has often been, a visa to a developed country where one can earn dollars, euros and yen scrubbing bedpans.

What that amounts to is a social volcano with enough safety valves to prevent its eruption. The problem with EDSA is a problem with that most critical factor of all, the human one.


3 thoughts on “The problem with EDSA

  1. Mamuri, Ma. Cristina A.

    Good day Sir! I am a first year History student at UP Diliman. I dont have any comment,I just wanted to ask questions to gain insights and ideas merely not based on books but on your own perspective and point of view. Sir I would just like to ask the differnce and comparison of 1896 Revolution and the 1986 Revolution.

    Thank you very much.

Leave a Reply