Monday, February 26, 2007

Forsaking the spirit of EDSA

This is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

Yesterday was the 21st anniversary of Edsa 1.

I was fresh out of college during those fateful events of February 1986 when Filipinos linked arms and stood up together in a proud moment of national unity. In those few glorious days, we showed the world the real stuff that Filipinos were made of.

For a few years after 1986, Edsa 1 was a beacon that guided us in charting our path toward building a better nation. I remember volunteering for many causes including conducting training programs to professionalize government institutions. I was, like many, only too willing to do all these things for free. For a few years, it seemed there was nothing we could not do.

The spirit resurfaced briefly in Edsa 2 when people took to the streets once again to denounce another corrupt president.

Eventually, though, that beacon dimmed. Or perhaps we simply lost sight of it. Whatever the reason, we have not since been able to re-claim that spirit that brought Filipinos together in a shining moment of unity.

Thus, former President Fidel Ramos, perhaps in a fit of exasperation, castigated practically everyone last week for already forgetting the spirit of Edsa. Unfortunately, his message has been lost in the din and dynamics of the current political discourse, which is one of divisiveness and therefore farthest from what the spirit of Edsa was about.

Today, we are stuck in this “we are right, they are wrong” paradigm, with practically everyone claiming a patent to the real spirit of Edsa. Even former President Joseph Estrada, who was the subject of the uprising in Edsa 2, has his own version of what that event was about. Naturally, it is a self-serving version that paints him as a victim and hero.

Aside from being a former President of this country who actually did well, Ramos was a key player in Edsa 1. This alone should earn him some respect regardless of where his current political affiliation lies. But sadly, such is not the case—most of our current political leaders are pre-occupied with mudslinging. Anyone who is not on their side is simply wrong. They prefer to focus on their differences as a way of distinguishing themselves from everyone else out there. It is tragic because our current leaders prefer to demonize others, particularly those who happen to be on the other side of the political fence, in an effort to project themselves as the better leaders.

Except for a few, notably, senatorial candidates Sonia Roco, Nikki Coseteng, Noynoy Aquino and some candidates from Team Unity, hardly anyone else is talking goals and platforms. Most others are still stuck in demagoguery and rabble-rousing.

I am not saying that our leaders should set aside their political differences. I am not even saying that they should forgive and forget, that they should simply close their eyes to the anomalies that hound this current administration. By all means, they should stand their ground, lambast all the wrongdoing of this government, even submit to the people better alternatives. But there are larger goals that can still serve as rallying points for unity. And there are moments when they should temporarily take the higher ground.

I prefer to remember Edsa 1 not so much as a revolt against a dictator, although I agree that animosity toward the Marcos dictatorship was a major factor that brought Filipinos together during those momentous days. I prefer to see Edsa as a proud testament to what Filipinos can do together when they put their hearts and minds into the pursuit of nobler goals.

Edsa 1 was about unity. It was about putting personal interests and misgivings aside for the sake of a nobler goal. It is a shame that even former presidents and the supposed senior statesmen of this country cannot even make that token gesture to show Filipinos out there that regardless of political differences, the spirit of Edsa still lives.

***

Tomorrow, Feb. 27, it will be exactly one year since I wrote that open letter that got forwarded to the world and created a maelstrom of reactions and counter-reactions. That letter was actually written on a Sunday evening (Feb. 26) immediately after the standoff at Fort Bonifacio involving Col. Ariel Querubin. But I posted it in my blog at a little past midnight (Feb. 27).

That open letter earned for me many appellations—from unsavory ones such as being a mouthpiece and apologist for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to titles which I couldn’t figure out such as being the supposed Prophet of the Thinking Filipino (bestowed by Star columnist Alex Magno) and Poster Boy of the Middle Class (given by Ricky Carandang of ABS-CBN News Channel).

Along the way, I got invited to write columns (I accepted the offer from this paper mainly because this paper was the only one that offered absolutely no other conditions except meeting deadlines), got invited to speak at this and that forum, and the number of hits in my blog (www.bongaustero.blogspot.com) shot up from less than a thousand to about 30,000 all in a month’s time.

It’s only been a year since those tumultuous events of February 2006 that featured an unsuccessful coup d’etat, a series of protest actions and dramatic calls for resignations. But it could very well have been a decade since it seems nobody remembers anymore what we had to go through as a nation around this time last year.

Oh sure, the militants are still screaming the same slogans and singing the same old refrains, but then again, they’ve been at it for almost half a century. They have allied themselves with the so-called opposition today but we all know that any coalition entered into by the militants with any group will purely be for the sake of expediency. They have done it before with every administration after Marcos. But as in the past, it will only be a matter of time before they are back on the streets lambasting whoever is in power.

That’s because our problems are structural and systemic; our problems are complex. Our problems as a nation are not just Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her administration. That was what that letter was about.

1 comment:

snglguy said...

Wow! Has it been a year already? A year ago, you wouldn't have thought that you'd be writing a column in a major daily one day.

Time sure flies when you're having fun, doesn't it? :-)