Treading the Avenue known as "Epifanio De los Santos"

Remembering EDSA I

By Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J.
Sounding Board - Philippine Daily Inquirer

February 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 eye-catching 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 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 the moment, 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?