Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Remembering EDSA 1986

Ben’s EDSA 1986

The early and mid 1980s are signifcant for many of us, what fellow congener Jessica Zafra calls the Voltes V generation for these times coincided exactly with our entry to adulthood and political maturity (and of course the phenomenal rise of Japanese Anime). In 1983, we were junior high school students who were on a field trip for our mythology class. In this rather uneventful August 21st, we heard on the way back to Manila that Ninoy Aquino had been shot!

Six years before, as grade three kids my Araling Panlipunan classroom teacher asked us if Ninoy Aquino was a bad man. The class responded “yes”. This was at the height of Martial Law. And our teacher said, “Oh my poor martial law babies”. But on that 21st of August, we knew who Ninoy Aquino was, but quite hazy on the freedom he was going to lay down his life for.

And that was when the haze was lifted. Perhaps nothing in human history can jolt the conscience more than spilled human blood. We rage if blood is spilled in a cold blooded murder.  We rage even more if innocent blood is spilled.. From August 21 we knew that life wouldn’t be the same again. We now raged, but still had to find the “coeur”or heart in French to go with it.

And so the rage began but I wasn’t an ideologue but appreciated some of the positions taken by the Left. Marxism-Leninism I found unattractive just like many in my generation. Perhaps it was the fact that the communist revolution has spilled human blood like what the fascists and Marcos did and for which the communists deplore.  In 1985 Marcos called for his snap election and I was in Korea on a student’s exchange. I was then a freshie at UP. And at UP, we were and still are free to choose our ideologies and personal beliefs.

1984 and 1985 turned out an eye opener. The opposition won 1/3 of seats in parliament. That they won this much despite widespread electoral fraud attested to the rage that the people felt. The communists in their inflexible ideology, failed to realise that the people wanted the largely peaceful and non-violent way to express the rage. We were then just one year short of being able to vote. But we knew that it was just about a matter of time.

The 1986 campaign was marked by violence, intimidation, rage and prayerI remember that someone was collecting signatures for Cory Aquino’s candidacy at Palma Hall. I did not sign since I in principle supported the left’s call for boycott. But soon enough I realised the folly of boycott and decided to support the vote not in a partisan way but to defend the ballot. I told my Dad, now that you have convinced me to cast my first ballot, I have no choice but to defend it. It was too valuable.  Thus on February 7, 1986, I lost my political virgnity. Perhaps I was really right. Any form of losing one’s virginity is still and should be special. My political one is way out of the ordinary!

In the pollwatch I carried weapons for self-defence, but the voters’ high regard for the non-violent path impressed me that I eventually dispensed with weapons. The votes were counted and  I had no sleep for days. . I went to a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Sin at Baclaran Church. This was at the height of the poll count. What I clearly remember is a chat with a grandmother after the Mass. I confessed to her that I was fearful of what could happen. And she told me “never to fear or give in. If you give in, we lose everything.” It was beginning to sound like a Greek Tragedy. We have old women give advice and the young seem about to die.  When fraud reared its ugly head and was consummated, the Catholic Bishops drew the moral line. The front was fixed. On which side then should I be? It was crunch time.

It was on this front that 21 February 1986’s Sun shone. Enrile and Ramos had defected. I came from ROTC training on that day and my father told me of the news after I had dismissed my marksmanship platoon. One of the cadets phoned me that they were on the barricades in front of Crame. A friend called me that the situation was serious. I replied that we are now in a revolutonary situation and this was no longer funny. The week before, when the Marcos parliament declared their President as the winner,my whole barkada shouted “rebolusyon” and for the first time I saw fear in my father’s eyes. He was not fearful that Marcos’ days were over but that many of the members of my generation will die. Young as we were, we had only romantic notions of “revolution”. No doubt the leftist propaganda in UP contributed to our romanticism. Being a good soldier he was, my dad did not say any word on what we said. I told him that some of the cadets were in Crame and that I as their commanding officer, have to be there. Once more my father did not say a word but gave the salute. I put on a blue jacket with a flak vest underneath.

So I had to look for my members of my platoon. I did find them inside Crame with orders to shoot back. These cadets were all army brats, sons of Army officers who had defected to the Enrile-Ramos camp. And the long nights began. The most fearful time is when some helicopter gunships landed. Probably this was it. But it was General Sotelo’s men, who defected to the rebel side.

With the situation relaxed, one of the army brats said that we could take a shower at his dad’s quarters at Crame, “for it would be the last time”.  A priest had given us viaticum the night before. In the morning, I found my Dad looking for me, who ordered the UP cadet squad to “go home” . He brought me to General Ramos’ office where we stayed  for the day. I then knew how much my father loved me for it did take courage to put himself in line of possible fire. He was a  bemedalled combat veteran but  going after me still required a lot of courage. My recollection is now hazy, for I was dead tired, very hungry and wasn’t able to take that “last shower”. There were another group of other army brats, armed with assault weapons. The situation was still dangerous. I had been trained as a marksman in ROTC and had learned to dissociate my emotion from my weapon. This is a skill I still have and has served me well in many of life’s trials since. After watching the movie “Taps” twenty years later, I now realize that youth can  do the unthinkable.  Perhaps this is why my dad was fearful. He was in-charge of ROTC training in Metro Manila colleges and knew cadet psychology very well. I distinctly remember General Ramos and Minister Enrile saying prayers before a statue of the Fatima Virgin. I had never seen politicians do this. I then moved  to a side room and while watching the TV, I saw Marcos cut from the air. The end was at hand  for Marcos and for his pulling the plug off Voltes V, this was revenge on a cold plate!

Well Dad ordered (and brought) me home and together with some officers we first headed to Greenhills (around Crame via Santolan Road) where we saw some of the RAM units ready to secure  Club Filipino where Mrs Aquino was to take her oath. It was surreal since only the place was shut save for Aristocrat Restaurant. Dad ordered a decent meal for all of us. The waiters did their job well and were cool despite a possible armed confrontation at the shopping complex (Twenty years later, Aristocrat is still there, little changed from Feb 1986 and still serving good chicken barbeque). The next day, I was just manning a first aid station near where the Aquino built Cubao underpass is now located. My EDSA experience was almost over. My first aid task was just to hydrate the EDSA rallyists who needed water. The Marcoses were gone in a day and then the next day, I was in Malacanang finding that some computers were looted. In Malacanang we saw the orchids used to decorate the Marcos inaugural being taken by people powered plant lovers!

My EDSA experience was almost totally confined inside an army camp. Unlike my friends and classmates from UP who scaled a TV tower under fire, or who stopped the tanks or wept under tear gas, I just had to keep the cadets in good spirits and to hold their fire. We were courageous as young people were expected to be. And we raged. It is by God’s providence that this rage was not expressed in the violent way, but in a most lauadable non-violent one.

For what good is to rage without courage? English gets its word ‘courage” from coeur in French and cor from Latin. The outcome of all struggles is in the heart. Victory or defeat will always end in the heart. Rage or emotion or reason  aren’t enough. One has to battle against one’s weakness, fear is just one of our many weaknesses.  Today, complacency and apathy have largely replaced fear now that we have our democratic institutions back no matter how imperfect and immature they may be. In our present travails as a nation, we seem to believe that we can no longer do anything about it. We don’t realize it but this attitude is the one that has damaged EDSA’s legacy to future generations.

EDSA 1, EDSA 2 or EDSA 3, We have to take principled stands on many issues facing the Philippines, from environment degradation, globalization, corruption, Church and State issues, bad governance and to top it all, poverty and injustice. The Voltes V generation largely believes that EDSA’s gains were betrayed by the leaders it has installed. (Thus it should not surprise anyone that despite Marcos cutting our favourite robot show off the air, the surveys say that we now look with favour on the Marcos years) We saw with dismay the wasted opportunities for real social reform and justice upon Aquino’s ascent to the presidency. Today we have a government slavishly committed to uncritical globalisation, to the ruin of the environment and deepening poverty of the people. And the ballot is still prostituted. Hello Garci! ?!What now?

The answer: We need courage still.Not just coeur but rage still. And we of the  Voltes V generation I am sure still rage,  and will once  again Volt In and remind any Malacanang tenant who fails to live by freedom, justice, and truth; that he/she will be kicked off the presidential chair.

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