This week we commemorated the EDSA People Power Revolution, which happened 23 years ago. I was only six years old at this very momentous event in our country’s history. Thus, my only knowledge about EDSA was from the history books that I read and studied in school. As I read about millions of Filipinos gathering to in EDSA to peacefully topple a dictator, I felt proud to call myself a Filipino. Many other countries looked at the Philippines back then as an exemplar of how the power of the people can prevail upon the vested interests of a few.
At the same time, let us remember that the people power revolution didn’t happen overnight. It was a product of years of struggle against the Marcos regime. The struggle eventually reached its peak when Ninoy Aquino was assassinated on his way back to the country. It is very sad that our current administration does not anymore give much importance to the spirit of EDSA. Even the President chose not to attend commemoration rites last February 25, choosing instead to attend to more “important” matters.
What could be more important than to celebrate one of the proudest moments of our people’s history? Could it be that President Gloria Arroyo knows that she has not lived up to the spirit of both EDSA I and EDSA II?
The sad reality is, 23 years after EDSA, millions of Filipinos continue to suffer in poverty and many Filipinos even the young are slowly but surely becoming more cynical about our country’s future. I recall one of my students at the Ateneo de Manila University telling me that she loves this country so much but she is losing hope in our country because of what she is seeing in our government leaders. On the bright side, the spirit of people power has remained alive in small pockets all over the country as evidenced by the victories of Gov. Eddie Panlilio of Pampanga and Gov. Grace Padaca of Isabela.
In Naga City, Mayor Jesse Robredo continues to ensure transparency and accountability in his government by getting people’s organizations and non-profit organizations to be involved in decisions that are made by city hall. These small islands of good governance and ethical leadership continue to make us believe that there is still much to hope for in our country if only we have national leaders of the quality of Panlilio, Padaca and Robredo.
In 2010, we are all called to relive the spirit of EDSA but this time people power will no longer happen on the streets but rather, we are challenged to bring this same spirit when we go to the polls and elect our next leaders. Right now, many Filipinos say that we are worse off than we were during the Marcos years but the reality is, unless we all do our own share in making this country better, we will forever be condemned to a Philippines that is run by tyrants, thieves and corrupt leaders.
When we once again practice our right to suffrage this coming 2010, let us make sure that we choose the right leaders for our country. Let us choose leaders who are God-fearing, honest and ethical, pro-poor, well-educated and have a proven track record of delivering basic services to their constituents.
Besides this, now is the time to push for new faces and better alternatives to our national leaders. Many of my friends are considering not to vote in 2010 since, they told me, regardless of who they will vote for, the candidates are all of the same kind. But if we all have that attitude then we will never have be able to elect reform candidates to our government.
Our right to vote for whom we want to lead us was one of the most important gains in the EDSA People Power Revolution. Let us make sure that we practice this right in the best possible way so that 27 years from now when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of our nation’s first people power revolution our countrymen will no longer have to entertain thoughts again of leaving and giving up on our country.
(Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government. He is also the lead convenor of Kaya Natin!)
Comments are welcome at harveykeh@gmail. com