The Price of Freedom

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Next week, the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution will be replayed in the minds of many. There will be mixed reactions, of course. Some, like the youth who were too young then, or not yet born, there is little or nothing to be remembered. Others, like those from the extreme Left or rebels from the military, would remember lost opportunities. To many, though, EDSA One was a miracle called freedom, the liberation of a people from the clutches of dictatorship.

Freedom is such a big word, its meaning so profound and its scope so expansive. I remember how an inspiring patriot who had been the country’s most prolific and sought-after inspirational speaker for the last three years would often relate snippets of the Americans’ struggle for freedom, how a dream of a people cost so much for so long. Alex Lacson, now a senatorial candidate for the Aquino-Roxas team, would clearly explain how freedom is a pursuit of an inner dream that comes from the soul more than an ideology, and that the need for freedom stimulates evolution itself.  In the 18th century, peoples from various countries in Europe who braved the hazardous travel to faraway continent sought their freedom from the rule of monarchies, declared their independence and spoke of equality for in their new world. One century later, Americans fought Americans because slavery persisted in a country that had won its political independence on the cause of freedom. Then, one more century passed and a black American hero, Martin Luther King, rallied the American people to dismantle the walls of inequality between whites and blacks – the glaring hypocrisy festering in a society claiming to be the global champion of democracy.

In 1986, Filipinos celebrated the recovery of democracy when a simple housewife confronted a powerful dictator and his minions of great might and wealth. All she had was a people’s need to be free, the obsession to be emancipated from the nightmare of authoritarianism, the dream of a future full of hope. It was not only Cory Aquino who was catapulted to honor for her simplicity, courage and character, it was also a whole people who had endured slavery and shame from corruption and poverty.

A quarter of a century later, the Filipino people continue to be ravaged by corruption and poverty. There are those who would like to avoid censure or dishonor for their roles as lackeys of a dictatorship. They do their best to distort history, to devalue a political miracle, and to blame a peaceful revolution for the lack of progress today. These unrepentant traitors are joined by many more politicians who try to put down the nobility of a modern day Joan of Arc, a woman who has been given the title by TIME magazine as the Saint of Democracy, simply because she presents a shining contrast to their trapo ways and image, and because her only son now threatens to continue her dream of freedom and justice for the Filipino people.

As the anniversary of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution will be celebrated next week, there will be many attempts to diminish and demolish an event which shocked not only the Marcos dictatorship but all dictators, which inspired not only Filipinos but all freedom-loving nations of the world. The spin masters of those who were guilty of the dictatorship, or who profited from the suffering of the people, will say that EDSA One failed because things are worse today than during the Marcos regime. And more mercenary spin masters of thieves and cheats of the modern times will gleefully parrot the same line so as to prevent Noynoy Aquino from benefiting from the heroism and nobility of Ninoy and Cory.

What is insidious is the intent to rob the people of their rare moment of pride and honor, of their victory against evil, and their expressed desire for freedom. One quarter of a century after their own revolution against the dictators of their times, imagine how those who lost their advantage during the monarchies must have said that life under the kings and queens was better than the hardship of a people seeking their own destiny, seeking freedom, seeking equality and justice.

EDSA did not fail us. EDSA delivered what it could. EDSA was a moment when the spirit of nobility and courage won over shame and cowardice. Any attempt to diminish or demolish the honor of a historical struggle and event is to mock the need of Filipinos to seek freedom from exploitation, to recover a lost dignity, to discard what shames them before the eyes of the world.

Just as Americans and other people did not see all the fruits of their revolution, not after a quarter of a century, not after one century, not after two centuries, it does not mean that it would have been better than they had not fought for their freedom from kings and queens, that they had not fought to throw away slavery among their people, that they had not marched against discrimination and segregation.

In like manner, the continuing poverty of tens of millions of Filipinos is not the failure of a peaceful people powered revolution, it is the failure of leaders who cannot resist stealing from the people, who cannot stop lying to them, and who cannot stop cheating Filipinos to hold on to power.  Corruption is not the fruit of a miraculous revolution; it is the result when evil rules over good, when cowardice reigns over courage, when traitors govern over patriots.

From guns for hire, from the disgruntled who lost their opportunities to enrich themselves or hold on to positions of advantage, from the ambitious who fear that their power or money are not enough to win over a people’s desire for honesty, integrity and heroism, there will be sly moves to divert the blame from wrongdoing and wrongdoers to a noble attempt for freedom, for honor, for hope. Watch carefully in the days to come how wolves in sheep’s clothing, how traitors masquerading as public servants, how candidates without a proud connection to a historic moment, will instead say life under a dictator is better than freedom that has yet to bear its wonderful fruits, that the competence to lie, to steal and to cheat is better than the character to be honest, brave and determined to confront corruption as a primordial obligation of the highest public office.

“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.” Albert Camus

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