As we celebrate today the 31st anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution, let me address these few questions to our beloved millennials:
- What would you feel if you can’t watch your favorite TV shows because all the media networks are closed down except for a few that are government-controlled?
- What would you feel if all your activities on all your social media accounts are being closely monitored and censored by the government, or worse, if you’re not allowed to have any account at all?
- What would you feel if you can’t stay out beyond 12 midnight because of an imposed curfew?
- What would you feel if you are put behind bars if you so much as say, write or post something about your candid, but negative, observation about how things are run in the government?
- What would you feel if you can’t openly meet with your classmates to discuss a school project for fear that your meeting could be charged as an illegal assembly?
- What would you feel if your friend, after joining a rally, is found tortured beyond recognition?
- What would you feel if your girlfriend, sister or mother is abducted and raped by a high-ranking official or his son or even his driver, and that perpetrator is walking around scot-free?
- What if your father is sbrutally killed because he refused to sell his land to any one of the president’s relatives or friends?
I was just thirteen years old when the EDSA People Power Revolution took place in 1986. I, along with my parents, were monitoring the events unfolding in EDSA from our little home in Bataan through our transistor radio.
I sat in rapt attention as June Keithley Castro reported over Radio Veritas and later on, Radyo Bandido, a blow-by-blow account of the revolution — the official announcement of then Defense Sec. Juan Ponce Enrile and Armed Forces Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Fidel V. Ramos of their withdrawal of support of the Marcos regime; the crucial role that then Army Col. Gregorio Honasan and his allies at the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) played by way of rebellion; Butz Aquino’s decision to bring the August Twenty-One Movement (ATOM) leaders, members and supporters to Camps Aguinaldo and Crame to support the rebel soldiers; and, of course, the late Jaime Cardinal Sin’s historic call to the Filipino people to leave their homes and proceed to EDSA to support Enrile, Ramos and their troops in their fight against the dictator.
I sat in awe as hundreds of thousands of people came pouring in from both near and far to heed the call of the Cardinal until the part of EDSA from Ortigas Avenue to Cubao was filled with a multitude that reached an estimate of three million.
I sat in horror when I heard that Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver sent armored tanks, carriers and heavily-armed soldiers to disperse the burgeoning throng in EDSA.
I sat in tears when, after Brig. Gen. Artemio Tadiar warned the crowd that he would open fire if they don’t disperse, people responded by singing “Bayan Ko,” praying the rosary, and offering the soldiers flowers and food.
I sat in immense relief when not a single shot was fired. The EDSA People Power Revolution — our revolution – was later hailed as the first non-violent, bloodless revolution that the world had ever witnessed.
I sat in excitement as the late Corazon Aquino and Salvador Laurel, in an inauguration at the Club Filipino, were sworn into office by Senior Justice Claudio Teehankee as the duly-elected President and Vice-President, respectively.
I sat in jubilation when the news broke out that, after the crowds stayed to serve as human barricades both in EDSA and Malacanang for four days, the Marcos family and their closest allies finally left the Palace and fled the country. The entire world rejoiced with us. Bob Simon, a CBS anchorman, even said, “We, Americans, like to think that we taught the Filipinos democracy. Well, tonight, they are teaching the world.”
I sat in solemn silence when it was all over. Still overwhelmed with a myriad of emotions, I thanked the Almighty for His guidance and protection in allowing the voice of the people to prevail without bloodshed, in ousting the dictator that put us in hell for more than a decade, and in providing hope and a ray of sunshine for a nation that has been shrouded in darkness and misery for far too long.
During that entire time, I was just sitting within the relative safety of our home.
But at that tender age of 13, I already knew what drove those hordes of people to EDSA.
The nightmarish tales of disappearances, tortures, killings, warrantless arrests, detentions and other horrendous acts of human rights violations and abuses against political leaders, student activists, journalists, church personalities, and virtually anybody who would dare challenge the people in power during Martial Law were my father’s favorite topic back then. (My father used to be an activist in Manila before my mother, afraid for his safety, whisked him off to the province.) He told me everything he knew about how the Marcoses and their cronies would blatantly and wantonly plunder the public coffers and ransack and sequester huge local companies until they had almost drained the country and its people of all their resources. He also introduced me to the tyrant’s insatiable greed for power when Marcos pressured the Constitutional Convention to replace the 1935 charter, which would have disqualified him from seeking another four-year presidential term. Marcos also made sure to maintain his tight grip on power when, during the snap elections a few days prior to the EDSA revolution, widespread practices of fraud, vote-buying, intimidation, violence and tampering of election returns were reported.
We, Filipinos, could be long-suffering and forgiving, oftentimes, to a fault. But there would always be that proverbial straw that would break the camel’s back.
In our case, it was the treacherous and ruthless assassination of Ninoy Aquino on August 21, 1983. That event, which triggered a series of civil disobedience campaigns that eventually culminated in the 1986 revolution, proved that a dead Ninoy could be a more formidable opponent to the Marcoses than the fearless, fast-talking, hard-hitting political leader that the former was when he was alive. Ninoy’s death inspired and empowered the masses to go out to the streets and shout, “Sobra na! Tama na! Palitan na!” It resulted to public outrage that eventually put an end to Marcos’ 21-year oppressive rule. It changed our country’s history.
Today, exactly thirty years after that fateful day when democracy was finally restored, I have to ask myself. And again, you, my dear millennials.
Have we, as a nation, adequately learned our lessons from that dark part of our history?
Or are we like some people who try to bend history itself? To conveniently forget? To forgive the perpetrators without a single person held accountable for the atrocities of Martial Law? To reinstate the same people who had been principal players during the dictatorship?
If you want to hear it, in a nutshell, here goes.
According to the historian and writer Alfred McCoy, “the Marcos government appears, by any standard, exceptional for both the quantity and quality of its violence.”
- 70,000 were incarcerated; 35,000 were tortured; 882 went missing; and 3,257 were murdered.
- The country’s foreign debt of US$7 billion in 1965 when Marcos was first elected President ballooned to US$25 billion in 1986, the year he was ousted.
- PCGG pegged at US$10 billion the total amount of the ill-gotten wealth amassed by the Marcos family during their 21-year reign. Of that amount, only US$4 billion had been confiscated and returned to the treasury. The remaining US$6 billion is yet to be recovered.
Despite all these glaring statistics, though, people, mostly those your age, are still singing a totally different tune. Many of our young voters are fooled into believing that the Martial Law era was the best part of our history, and that a Marcos scion should be catapulted back into power.
Ninoy and Cory Aquino, along with the thousands of Martial Law casualties, must have been rolling over in their graves right now.