Thirty-two years since the first EDSA People Power and the celebrations continue to lose its spirit, and the crowds that attend it. I am referring, of course, to the official government celebrations.
It is natural for the collective memory of the Filipino people about EDSA People Power to start fading. After all, those who have experienced first hand the dark years of Martial Law and the struggle against it are now in their golden and senior years.
But for a President to purposely skip the EDSA People Power celebration is quite instructive of the incumbent administration’s regard for this historic event, regardless of the release of a prepared statement, which was also sent to the media. Worse are the attempts of President Duterte’s avid supporters, even a member of his official family, from the Presidential Communications Operations Office at that, to raise questions on the historicity and significance of the event.
Some people surmise that the low regard for EDSA People Power by the Duterte administration, and it is not so a secret cabal of defenders, could be attributed to President Duterte’s closeness to the Marcos family. After all, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos has been financing a systematic campaign to revise history by presenting the Martial Law years as a “golden age” in the country, conveniently skirting the fact that it was a brutal dictatorship and characterized by scandalous corruption. Needless to say, the Marcos family is aching to make a comeback in national politics and to power.
However, this may not be all there is to it. To attack EDSA People Power is to attack the ideas that represent it and the aspirations that made it possible: love of God and country, democracy, human rights, good governance, peace and social justice, national unity, and people empowerment.
Is the low regard of the Duterte administration for EDSA People Power surprising?
The Duterte administration has been receiving a lot of flak for its disregard for democracy by attacking the press, free speech, and critics of its policies; disregarding human rights and the rule of law with the numerous killings of suspected drug users and political activists; for its perceived kowtowing to China in the country’s territorial dispute with it and allowing the US to intervene in the Marawi conflict; terminating the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines; for passing and implementing the TRAIN law, which has been causing price spikes, its planned jeepney modernization that will result in a massive loss of livelihood, and for turning its back on the vow to end labor contractualization; for its failure to stem corruption; and need I mention about national unity and people empowerment?
These very same ideals and aspirations that are enshrined in the 1987 Constitution are being planned for removal by the Duterte administration’s allies in Congress with the current push for Charter Change.
A sign of hope is the increase in attendance in EDSA People Power commemorations during times of crisis and struggle. Here, I am referring to the unofficial celebration being held by different groups. The Catholic Church held a “Walk for Life” to uphold Human Life and Human Dignity. Progressive groups and civil libertarians likewise held their own commemoration with a protest against attacks on the people’s democratic rights.
If the Duterte administration continues with its collision course against broad sectors of Philippine society, well, they haven’t learned from history.