Benign0’s and BongV’s excellent retrospectives on what is in this country viewed as a sacred, watershed moment reminded me of the value of an honest memory. So much of what we regard as “history” is corrupted by our hindsight: we witness what happens after a great event, and making the connections to turn those subsequent events into its results changes our original, non-prescient observations and expectations. That’s not always bad; often we cannot fully understand the implications of something until we actually experience them. But hindsight just as often can lead us to draw false conclusions, and perhaps assign more importance to an event than it deserves.
EDSA I seems to be one of those events. As my colleagues have described, the ‘uprising’ was a paradoxically unique moment: more than what it seemed at the time, but so much less than what it seems now. I remember it simply because of a coincidental set of circumstances. I was in the second semester of my freshman year at college, and happened to have a schedule of classes that were in buildings on either side of the Student Union; twice or more per day, I took a shortcut through the Union, past the central lobby where there was a large television. Anything that happened in the Spring of 1986, I saw on that TV. Less than a month before EDSA, I and my classmates watched the Challenger explode; in the months after, we were informed of the bombing of Libya, the Chernobyl disaster, and the non-contents of Al Capone’s vault. And since I had also chosen to take my required Poli Sci course that semester, if something big happened, it would end up being the topic in class for a day or two.
Naturally, the EDSA uprising was a popular subject, at least in class; elsewhere, I had more pressing chemical- and hormone-related issues to occupy my thoughts. For most of us, EDSA was a triumph – not, as one might think, because it was bringing freedom to the Filipino people, although that was our vague understanding – but because it was a slap in the face to Ronald Reagan and his gang of triple-chinned Romans. As far as we were concerned, everything Reagan did was wrong. Voodoo Economics had taken away our jobs, our student loan funds, and our ability to buy a full tank of gas, while giving us the AIDS epidemic, the K-Car, and ketchup as an approved vegetable in return. The Reagan Doctrine had declared that we would no longer maintain an uneasy peaceful coexistence with the Soviet-influenced Communist world, but instead do our best to piss them off and provoke them at every opportunity. They called it “Low Intensity Conflict,” which was another way of saying “turn the whole world into a violent ghetto.” Anyone who was not a Communist passed muster with the Reaganites, whose moral discernment stopped there; as a result, we became reviled the world over for cozying up to some of the most horrible thugs and thieves imaginable: Saddam Hussein, Jonas Savimbi, Suharto, Noriega, Botha, Zia…Marcos.
The beady-eyed pig-men of the Reagan White House did their damnedest to keep it from happening. In the tense weeks leading up to February 22-25, Phil Habib – the bush-league version of Henry Kissinger – raced back and forth between Manila and Washington, trying to salvage something out of the growing mess. During the uprising itself, the usual suspects in their usual officious, condescending manner – Regan, Weinberger, Schultz, Reagan himself, and even, at one point, that secretive toad Bill Casey – paraded through the White House press room to explain to us the “strategic importance” of the Philippines (forgetting, of course, that we all realized the war to which that applied had been over for 10 years), and their “full support” for the democratic process that was a domestic matter for the Philippines that they would never, ever even think of trying to influence, seriously, we’re not just saying that. But clearly they were pissed. Their guy, who had kept one more banana republic compliant and “on board” for a long run of years was about to get thrown out on his ass by some dippy housewife and a bunch of nuns, and there wasn’t anything they could do about it. And we loved every minute of it.
In class we talked about the uncertainty and likely chaos that would result from the election of a sentimental and clearly in-over-her-head choice, but on the whole, that prospect was inconsequential compared to Reagan actually losing one. When Richard Lugar, the Republican stalwart senior Senator from Indiana sat down with David Brinkley and said, “The problem, I suppose, is finally saying the magic word, and that is ‘Go’,” little did we know – although we dared hope – that the Almighty had just decided to wipe his ass with the Reagan Doctrine.
The disappointment of EDSA is that it could have been the start of a new and better age, not just for your country but for mine as well. As it turned out, the Philippines after February, 1986 ended up looking a lot like it did before, if not worse, and as for America, it would take us a number of years to emulate the rejection of an anachronistic and self-absorbed leader that you had demonstrated in that fleeting moment. And to make and even bigger mockery of what EDSA could have represented, we went backwards and found ourselves the same kind of ignorant yahoo to run the country into the ground for another eight years after we presumably learned our lesson…in not too different a way than you did.
All things considered, we’d probably all be better off if it wasn’t something that happened again.