Ever heard of the Holocaust deniers? Holocaust deniers are people who are trying to convince everyone that the Holocaust of World War II did not happen. They claim that the genocide mounted against Jews during World War II did not occur at all or did happen, but wasn’t as bad as the history books or documentaries show it to be. These people reject the reality that more than five million Jews were systematically exterminated as a matter of state policy by the German Nazi government.
These are quite shocking claims aren’t they? Even with the amount of evidence and testimonials, there are still people who say that what happened was grossly exaggerated. Holocaust deniers even say that the whole tragedy was just a fabrication made by the Jews to gain sympathy and to justify their occupation of Palestine. Not surprisingly, this conspiracy theory was started out by Nazis themselves who denied involvement in the atrocities. I guess some people start believing their own lies if they repeat it often enough. It is a truly extraordinary lie you might say, but at least the Jews have all kinds of documents, testimonies, photographs and physical evidence to use against the perpetrators to bring them to justice. I wish I could say the same for some of the things or events that happened in the Philippines.
Ever heard of the Edsa Revolution deniers? Well, I’m not aware of any yet. No individual or group of people has yet claimed that the People Power revolution of 1986 never happened. Indeed, there is no denying it did happen because most Filipinos have become so addicted to it to the point that people power revolutions have become the first choice of method for getting rid of sitting presidents. Lately though, most calls for street revolutions have been largely ignored, not because Filipinos have wisened up but largely because the poster person for these, the late Corazon Aquino, who can gather a huge crowd of supporters with a flick of the “L” sign, had passed away late last year. Likewise, the coming presidential election this year has put all detractors of the incumbent president into a temporary Zen like state. So, everyone is just waiting for May to get rid of Gloria Arroyo and put Noynoy Aquino on the driver’s seat, hardly a significant change in the bigger scheme of things, if you ask me – just the baton being passed to another oligarch by another.
If an Edsa Denial group were to emerge today, their job will be easy. Aside from Ninoy Aquino’s statue on Ayala Avenue, his image on the 500-peso bill, and the Edsa “Shrine” at the corner of Ortigas Avenue, evidence of any legacy left by the 1986 “revolution” in Philippine society is becoming harder and harder to come by. What constitutes evidence that the Edsa Revolution did happen? What was the result of this event? Where is the country now in terms of economic stability and security — that “progress” that seemed so within our reach amidst the euphoria of 1986?
The Holocaust only happened once in the 1940’s but reminders of the atrocities perpetrated against a particular group of people remain strong to this day and, like I said, the perpetrators of the said event were brought to justice, hence, there is an unlikelihood of the same thing happening again. In contrast, much of the imprint on our society of what was supposed to be the legacy of the 1986 Edsa Revolution is fading. Of course, there are so many people who will gladly testify that they were there during the Edsa revolution when it all happened. Some would even claim that they were among the millions of Filipinos who stood side by side with the late Cory Aquino. They will talk about how they braved the tanks and the machine guns wearing yellow shirts clutching either a yellow banner or a rosary while singing “Ang bayan kong Pilipinas…“. In short, they will proudly say (or in some cases even brag) that they risked their lives to gain the country’s democracy. They may as well join the ranks of the thousands of others who claim to have been abducted by aliens.
Some young Filipinos today (ahem, myself included) who were still too young or who weren’t even born yet during the first Edsa revolution but who are now qualified to vote are questioning its significance. Unfair you might say, considering that young Filipinos today did not experience the cruelty of the dictator, former President Ferdinand Marcos. I can understand why these youths feel cynical with regard to the essence of the Edsa revolutions especially the succeeding ones. It is because there hasn’t been much progress since democracy was “restored”. Some would argue that we are even worse off now. This last statement can be true in the sense that, today, Filipinos already have freedom but still don’t know what to do with it. As early as 1992, Singapore’s former leader Lee Kuan Yew said that “Filipinos have too much democracy but too little discipline” — a very astute observation that remains relevant today.
I tend to agree with journalist and author Greg Sheridan who said that restoring democracy is neither sufficient nor necessary for economic progress and development. China and Hong Kong are both not a democracy but they are doing well economically.
How could it have gone so wrong with us?
In his book Asian Values, Western Dreams Sheridan talks about how Cory was considered heroic in achieving democracy but ineffectual as president. Even the noted intellectual, Frank Jose, who ran a magazine called Solidaridad, considered “Mrs Aquino’s presidency a dreadful disappointment”. He disagrees with the majority’s view that Cory restored democracy and says that it is all bullshit – “We have empty institutions. The essence of democracy is in the stomach. The taxi driver in Washington can eat the same sort of meat as the president. That’s not the case here”.
The Edsa revolution is also called the “people power” revolution. People power, because supposedly it was “the people” who decided that they have had enough of Marcos and his dictatorship. The late Cory Aquino happened to be the leader of the opposition at that time and was seen to have inspired the people to go out onto the streets and express their indignation. But she was neither prepared nor qualified to lead. Had the people decided against supporting her, she wouldn’t have become president. So the credit should have gone to the people too not just hers alone. Time Magazine should have named the Filipinos “People of the Year”. We should give ourselves more credit for the restoration of democracy (as well as accountability for still not knowing what to do with). We shouldn’t give all the credit to just one person for toppling a dictator, Cory couldn’t have been able to do it on her own. In the same way, we shouldn’t put all the responsibility of building a nation to one person, i.e., Noynoy Aquino or any other candidate. Even Napoleon Bonaparte wouldn’t have been able to conquer other nations without his soldiers’ help. The president needs our cooperation for his administration to work. Without our cooperation, he is nothing more than a mere puppet.
The real problem started when the Marcos collaborators were not even put on trial. Just look around the Philippine political setting right now. You will still see the likes of Juan Ponce Enrile who was a one-time Marcos collaborator. He is head of the Senate. By defecting to the opposition in 1986, he had secured immunity from being taken to account for his former master’s atrocities. Imelda Marcos herself is still received warmly at various elite social functions. There exist in our society a lack of moral judgement and moral commitment. Since we fail to condemn those who do our society wrong, we jump into bed with the demons of impunity, corruption, and lack of accountability. If the most heinous crimes go unpunished what is there to arrest the equally-widespread incompetence that characterises our public officials’ tenures? If the Aquino camp were so sure that former president Marcos and his allies were responsible for Ninoy Aquino’s death, how come none of them were ever put on trial? Even the former president and one time criminal Joseph “Erap” Estrada is now free to run again as a presidential candidate. He is even getting a marginal lead in the polls. Where is the justice there?
Even children of former politicians have joined the Philippine political gold-rush without shame. This includes Bong Bong Marcos, Jinggoy Estrada, Mikey Arroyo, Mar Roxas and most noted of all Noynoy Aquino, the strongest contender for the prized seat once occupied by his mother. The incumbent president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is also the daughter of former president Diosdado Macapagal. Philippine politics so it seems, is just a recreational sport for a few dozen families from the landed oligarchy; a ball which is passed on from one family to the next.
Could it be that the real value of the Edsa revolution was actually exaggerated by the supporters of the Aquino administration? Could it be that to retain a strong hold on the people’s mind, the Aquino legacy is still being sang to this day even if it lacks real virtues or intrinsic worth? The supporters of the late Cory and Ninoy Aquino keep talking about their legacy. What is that legacy anyway? What if this so called legacy which is so hard to grasp and comprehend is being used today by the Liberal party to ensure that they win the next election?
One thing that has always puzzled me is how the late former president Cory Aquino couldn’t even be honest with herself and the people. She knew that she wasn’t fit for the job, she could have handed it over to someone more qualified after our much-hyped democracy was restored. You can argue that it’s all in retrospect, it’s passed now, and the circumstances were different then. However, one could also argue that the circumstances are also different now. We have the best opportunity to vote for someone different but why is Noynoy Aquino leading the latest polls?
How do we address the people’s beholden-ness to the handful of elites running the show? Our media needs to shape up. During the Nazi era, Adolf Hitler had a propaganda minister named Joseph Goebbels. He was given control over German radio, press, cinema and theatre. Everything he created was geared towards justifying Nazi policies. This explains why the Fuhrer had a dramatic grab on his constituents’ attention. The Philippines doesn’t have a propaganda minister like him but we might as well say that we have one because our media is acutely responsible for the dumbing down of the electorate. The Philippine Media have lost all their balls in reporting the news. They have lost that and the plot. It was even former president Fidel Ramos who once said during his term that “Our press needs to address its quality. It’s too dramatic all the time, too ideological, too much based on rumours and opinions. The writing is good but the reporting is poor. Their facts are often wrong”.
The media needs to start taking a more keen interest in serving the people and and less on enriching their shareholders (a tall order, considering that profits are the whole point of their existence). At the moment, they are more preoccupied with creating shows of inferior quality and low cost which, of course, increase their profits but routinely subtracts from the intelligence of the average Filipino. Filipinos need to become more critical — of their politicians and of their Media. That is, unless we prefer to continue to be blissfully ignorant of the happy collaborative partnership the two have become in the election-winning game that is Philippine-style “democracy”.
Most nations learned from the experience of World War II and do not want a repeat. In contrast, most Filipinos look forward with Glee (pardon the pun) to a repeat of history and are nostalgic of an Aquino administration.