EDSA, As Seen Through a Long Lens

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. 

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About bkritz

I'm a writer, and I do things my own way. That might sound cool to you, unless you're one of the people who actually knows me, in which case you're probably shaking your head in exasperation at the depth of that understatement.
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31 Responses to EDSA, As Seen Through a Long Lens

  1. FreeSince09 says:

    I just have too ask, is that whole Ayn Rand “free Market”really just a bunch of BS or is their some truth that?

    • Kahlil says:

      hey free…

      personally, my take on ayn rand’s ideology is more for personal application than anything else. sort of like a self-help book if you will. i always found her universe too other-worldly or even utopian. and i guess atlas shrugged felt more like a science-fiction allegorical alternate reality though it has become handy as a personal self-improvement guide and as a world-view map. should be taken in slight doses. i almost went crazy with it 🙂 hehe

    • Kahlil says:

      hey free…

      personally, my take on ayn rand’s ideology is more for personal application than anything else. sort of like a self-help book if you will. i always found her universe too other-worldly or even utopian. and i guess atlas shrugged felt more like a science-fiction allegorical alternate reality though it has become handy for me as personal self-improvement guide and as a world-view map. should be taken in slight doses. i almost went crazy with it 🙂 hehe

    • BenK says:

      Ayn Rand’s problem is not necessarily her philosophy, but her absolutism. Much of her Objectivism is valid and useful, but she tries to apply it to a world she sees as black & white, while the rest of know it’s mostly gray. I don’t particularly like her, because I think she presents Man at his worst, and what’s more, attempts to tell the rest of us that it’s actually the way we should all be.

      • Kahlil says:

        benk
        you know when i was still in pinas i felt a lot like dagny taggart’s assistant at times, left on the train going nowhere because i don’t know better.

  2. BongV says:

    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.

    I remember those years too well. The ecstasy that came with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the downfall of Apartheid – and the peace of the grave that came with Low Intensity Conflict (L.I.C.).

     Those were the years when squatter communities in Davao were rounded by the AFP akin to the Japanese Imperial Army in WWII. I saw with my very own eyes, how the state’s coercive institution was turned on its own citizens.

    To kill the flea, the dog had to be killed.

  3. J.B. says:

    Speaking about tying EDSA I to equate to as all-in-one package to solve the countries perennial woes of the people’s apathy reminds me of one engineering concept:

    “The amount of effort to correct a proble is always proportional to the degree of defect.”

    EDSA I could solve only quite a few threats or eventualities:

    1. Marcos perpetual rule
    2. The eventual takeover of the communists (Rodolfo Salas had 26T already at this time by the number dwindled down significantly after armed revolutionaries return to the fold of law by leaps and bounds)

    Other than that, I think EDSA I is never enough to solve its assumed solution detailed in Virna Lisa “Magkaisa” or Jim Paredes “Handog ng Filipino sa Mundo”.

    Btw, many people would argue that #2 could be good for the people but that’s highly hypothetical assumption.

  4. benign0 says:

    Edsa 1 is to a hand-crafted Italian suit what all the subsequent ones (Edsa 2 thru 7) are to mass-produced made-in-China Marks and Spencer suits.

    Trouble is Pinoys can’t tell the difference between a hand-crafted once-off masterpiece and a mass-produced branded-for-the-masses disposable. And it is these disposables that are still being churned out and shoved down the throats of Pinoy society by idiot hangers-on that pass off as the revered political “analysts” and “experts” of today.

    The funny irony in how modern-day demagogues and their Big Media employers try to make the Edsa 1 fiesta “big” (packaging and pitching it to society as some kind of “revolution” or miraculous “intercession”, for example) is that the results of these moronic efforts go more towards shrinking it down to a pathetic historical curiosity of a relic.

    The epiphany I had from Bong’s previous article was that there was no concept of “revolution” or “miraculousness” at the time we were on the streets in 1986. We were just there participating in something.

    And now here, we see the extent to which the 1986 “revolution” captured the sensibilities of Americans at the time. Contrast that to TODAY where even the noisiest crowing of Pinoy politicos and the most unsightly massing in the streets of third-generation street “parliamentarians” led by their misguided “activist” leaders fail to make even Page 3 of any major foreign newspaper.

    It’s a familiar story line. Just as the jeepney was turned from a monument to Pinoy “ingenuity” into a garish symbol of Pinoy ocho-ocho mentality, our society has turned Edsa 1 from a promising social experiement into a sad reminder of how barren our social landscape is to any seeds of learning sowed on it.

    • Kahlil says:

      hello 🙂

      perhaps, with these guide posts that have been erected in AP, a younger generation would see past the established history that was EDSA. I for one could not connect with its legend because i wasn’t old enough to experience it the way you guys did. i see that as a plus. the road i’m on now is a bit more navigable with the information at hand and at the same time a lot more confusing being that there is no one enemy that has to be taken down. It seems that the Get Realist movement has more pressing issues to tackle after the election fever dies down. Hopefully, no more rehashing of tired formulas in the coming years.

      • BenK says:

        That’s the idea. I’ve just finished reading a book called 35 Days to Gettysburg, which presents the war diaries of two soldiers, one Union and one Confederate, as they soldiered along on their marches to what would become the Battle of Gettysburg (in which the Confederate soldier was killed). That great event, one of the most-studied and revered turning points in American history, takes on an entirely different meaning when you see it from that kind of first-hand, as-it-happened point of view. What I realized after reading it was that sometimes what we believe to be the significance of an historical event, or what we are told is its significance, cannot be entirely justified by what actually happened. As benign0 said, events are unique moments caused by a convergence of circumstances for reasons relevant to the instant they occur — thus, the Battle of Gettysburg turns out not to be quite the turning point in our Civil War and EDSA turns out not to be the turning point in Philippine democracy and global geopolitics, because those events did not happen according to a plan intended to achieve those results.

        J.B.’s comment above is quite right; the EDSA ‘revolution’ only achieved a few narrow results on its own, and much of its significance came after-the-fact, as further results of people’s reactions to their perceptions of it. Which is why subsequent efforts to ‘resurrect the spirit of EDSA’ have failed; what people believe it means, and therefore assume must automatically be the outcome of any repeat of the main activity (“spontaneously” gathering a bunch of people in the street, in this case), is based as much if not more on subjective interpretations of what happened the first time than what actually happened. The original event can never be repeated exactly in all its details, and so the outcomes will never be repeated. What I’ve tried to show in this article is that part of the outcomes of EDSA, for better or worse, were affected by perceptions and reactions outside the Philippines — increasing, by several orders of magnitude, the folly of trying to repeat it and expect a preconceived outcome. Even if it were possible to exactly duplicate conditions for it here in this country, doing the same for the conditions in the rest of the world is definitely beyond impossible.

      • J.B. says:

        I envy you guys you have plenty of time reading a priceless book. I wish I could. One thing I like about that civil war is that it was beneficial for the whole nation growth…

        Not to mention they have Confederate Lee who surrendered after thinking the futility of furthering a bloody war. Thinking about in the Philippines, I wonder how those people in the hills and mountains will also do a Lee — there’s no more point of fighting using the power of guns.

        The internet is here with us for our perusal. Even the military genius Napoleon was scared of words more than the swords.

      • BenK says:

        Reading is not a luxury, it’s something you make time to do. If you don’t read, you can’t communicate.

      • J.B. says:

        Agree. But there are also a tendency that many people with so much info and analyticals skills tend to overlook what they already learned.

        For example, over-analyzing the Philippines using proven precepts in other places put us in danger of the anthropology’s ethnocentrism violating the philosophical assertion that one works in one place “will” surely work for Filipinos?

        Most people here jump their guns easily to Filipinos rude behaviours. But on the other end they tend to ignore the obvious realism that it brings our countrymen an aura of invincibility against onslaught of loneliness in a foreign land.

      • benign0 says:

        Spot on, BenK. Nassim Taleb made (or rather cited) a similar observation as well in his book The Black Swan where the study of diaries kept by various people who lived through World War II yielded a different insight because they come from people who take in and interpret events as they come without the benefit (or curse) of hindsight or any perspective bigger than the particular space of the circumstance they are in at that moment.

        The same kind of corrupting effect of hindsight is what leads many analysts and experts (in the case of Taleb, his beef is with economists) to make forecasts based on observed historical trends. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with making forecasts and basing one’s intentions on them, but it is when there is a disproportionate reliance on forecasts (particularly ones that go out beyond 2 to 3 years) where the risk of exposure to catastrophe begins.

      • ChinoF says:

        History may be written by the victors, but the losers can always rewrite and edit it. 😛

      • ChinoF says:

        Let me add: Annotate history as well. 😛

  5. The people power that brought down communism was totally opposite from FlipPinos… they went there to bring down a regime ….. ours is accidental ……

    • BenK says:

      I’ve heard other …what do you call them? Tibak?…sort of people here refer to “people power” in the Communist countries, the implication being that “it was exactly the same thing, dude!” and since “the same thing” happened elsewhere, that validated the EDSA version. Of course, that was just a matter of seeing what they wanted to see — the big crowds on TV in front of the Berlin Wall, Yeltsin at the barricades, etc. “People power” had little, if anything, to do with it. The course of events might have taken a far different path, for example, had the schedule for an equipment test at a nuclear plant in the Ukraine not been delayed for a couple hours one evening. Or if the stubborn apartheid-defending president of South Africa not had a mild stroke. Or if a couple of border guards in Hungary had not decided to say to hell with it one afternoon.

      And even if “People Power” was so relevant, should its proponents be so enthusiastic to claim its legacy? Most of the former Soviet Union is a crime-ridden economic disaster. There was that small matter of the Balkan War. And of course, there is the questionable value of the outcome of it in this country. And so on.

      Objective analysis of the whole story, people. It really helps to avoid a lot of problems and disappointment.

  6. In America, their peryodistas reflects on the significance in the Flippinos if someone reflects on the significance and fakeousness of the event they are called unpatriotic ….

  7. ricelander says:

    What if Ninoy heeded the warning to delay his homecoming yet and Marcos was not gravely sick?

    • BenK says:

      Are those two separate “what if” propositions or just one?

      As I said before (I think commenting on benign0’s article), the “what ifs” are invidious. They’re interesting as mental exercises, but we are considering them on the basis of our hindsight knowledge of what actually did happen and its results, which affects the assumptions we make about the hypothetical outcomes.

      Which is all just another way of saying, “Who knows? And what difference does it make now, anyway?”

      • ricelander says:

        Would there have been EDSA 1 without the two “what ifs”? Yeah, good mental exercise but it also helps you understand what were truly the crucial events that caused the collapse leading to EDSA. A people wanting to be free?

        First thing I heard the story that Marcos wanted Ninoy to succeed him as President, I was laughing out loud. Insane loyalists I was saying. But it is beginning to make sense. Marcos was so sick, he must have feared death would come anytime. He must have foreseen that his death would trigger a violent collapse in his government. His family would be in grave danger, if for that alone, he had to look for a way of saving the situation. Who could hold the whole thing together? Imelda? Ver? Enrile? Ramos? Cojuangco? He must have looked around and found every one around him as roundly detested as himself. What about Ninoy, his fraternity brother? He seemed to fit the bill.

      • “A people wanting to be free?” REALLY? They were there to be entertained. To witness who would came out the victor. PERIOD.

      • BenK says:

        I’ve heard the same scenario, and it makes a lot of sense. All things considered, Ninoy was the most logical choice from Marcos’ point of view.

        That’s a good post topic, one that would really crack the triumphalist veneer of the Ninoy legacy. I’ll think I’ll take that up later.

    • Kahlil says:

      hey ricelander 🙂

      you know what, i really find that interesting… something like “the man in the high castle” kind of scenario where the allies lost and america divided three ways: one part americans from the old world, one part the japs with their curiosity of american pop culture, and of course germany continuing with their jewish persecution in new york.

      i was thinking about that when i found out about ninoy’s early connection with the npas and his pronouncement of allowing the communist party its legitimate political space in pinas as well as him being a sympathizer of the muslim cause in mindanao. really interesting though if i can find out what his plans were if he became president and if he could succeed. what would he have done with hacienda luisita? could he have transformed the filipino culture from what it was (and still is) to something else? will cory remain a housewife? i wonder what he’d do with kris and noynoy. makes for a good movie actually 🙂

      • ChinoF says:

        You read “Man in the High Castle” (novel of what if HItler won WW2)? Man, you’re a sci-fi nut. I haven’t read it myself though.

        Hmmm, what-if movies like what if Ninoy survived and became president are interesting things to do. Even a novel or comic book story on it might work.

      • Kahlil says:

        try to find a copy man, amazing story… the history and culture side of it just goes way past over my head sometimes though. need to read up on history, er… need to read more!!!

      • UP n grad says:

        Had Ninoy been a Marcos then NoyNoy would be a BongBong, Kris Aquino would be performing on Broadway, there will be another Aquino son and there will be 2 Aquino “little ones” to carry the Aquino bloodline, the Cultural Center would have more Buddhist Temple features and Hacienda Luisita would have been distributed already to the farmers.

        Oooops.. that last one — total fantasy.

      • BenK says:

        Yeah, the problem with “Man In The High Castle”, though, is if you read it sometime after you’ve read William Shirer’s history of the Nazis, you realize how ludicrous that particular “what if” premise is. Hitler was an idiot (really, who gets rejected for art school?), and so were most of his inner circle. Idiots, as in not actually very smart.

    • It was a miscalculation on Ninoy to return to the PHilippines thinking the FlipPinos would mob NAIA. There were thousands and thousands of eyes in NAIA and nobody sawed a thing.

      When Ninoy landed in NAIA and sawed no supporters waiting for him … NINOY COMMITTED SUICIDE. I say suicide because until now the “ifs” and “buts” and facts are not answered until now …

      Marcos also made a grave miscalculation, assuming he was the one who ordered “the people they cannot control” to kill Ninoy.

      For all we know it was a murder made in USA. FLIPPERS CANNOT CONJURE MURDER IN FRONT OF PEOPLE WHO SAW NO ONE AND KILLED WITNESSES AND GUNMEN …. PURE CIA PLOT MADE IN USA.

      Filiinos cannot thoughted of something like that. The coup-de-t’ters (Honsan, Enrile, Ramos) claimed to the coup when they didn’t even have guns and cannons to back them up. They went to DOD to get garand and carbine … NOW WHAT KIND OF FAK-UP COUP IS DAT?

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