Twenty five years ago in 1986, former President Ferdinand Marcos was the most reviled Filipino on the planet. He was the bad guy in a world-renowned story that billed a bunch of people dressed in yellow waving “L”-shaped hand gestures as its main protagonists. Fast forward to today, and a “debate” on whether or not Marcos should be buried as a hero in Fort McKinley rages. The push to make this happen is led by the former President’s son Fedinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr — who is now a Philippine Senator. From being absolutely non-negotiable the prospect of regarding Marcos as a “hero” is now being considered.
Twenty five years ago in 1986 also saw another celebrity, the venerable Jim Paredes, tear up (metaphorically) a document that is famously worth more than its weight in gold — a writ of entitlement to live and work in the richest nation on the planet: a United States Green Card. Paredes was — through his song writing prowess — instrumental in turning a gathering of kibitzers in a main Manila thoroughfare into a “magical” focal point of “Filipino pride” as well as secure the general association of this event to two of the wealthiest feudal clans in the Philippines — the Aquino/Cojuangco extended family. Perhaps caught in the euphoria of what was then a successfully concluded “revolution”, Paredes thought that he no longer saw a Green Card as the valuable ticket to security that it still is. At least that is my armchair psychoanalysis that helps me make sense of such an otherwise insane move. Today, Paredes’s main base of residence is in a comfy home situated smack in the middle of the vast urban sprawl of shopping malls and McMansions that is the Western Suburbs of metropolitan Sydney in Australia.
The last 25 years that Filipinos will be celebrating on the 25th of February is therefore a story with two plots: (1) the steady creeping in of the Filipinos’ renowned collective amnesia, and (2) our a-la Holden Caulfield epiphany that was a quarter of a century in the making.
President Marcos’s transformation from bad-ass dictator into an icon qualified for a hero’s burial summarises the first plot. Jim Paredes takes care of the second plot having come from being someone utterly unable to come to terms with the Truth about Filipinos to one with a remarkably lucid understanding of the fundamental character traits of Filipinos that account for our chronic inability to prosper.
As this piece goes to press, preparations are already being made for the Silver Anniversary celebration of the 1986 EDSA “People Power” “revolution”. The obvious point of this exercise is for people to re-live the experience and re-visit the lofty hopes and aspirations of the Filipino that it had come to represent. Indeed, the sort thinking at work in the lead up to this political fiesta is quite consistent to what Mr Jim Paredes described as what might be the “Filipino archetype”…
The child in us [Pinoys] lives in a mythic, magical world where we expect a handsome prince to save us at the last minute, or that things will get better with the wave of a magic wand, without any need for us to change.
Unfortunately, Filipinos are renowned for our ability to pervert otherwise noble ideas. And like most other things, we managed to turn this one — this “revolution” — into a sad joke. Like Filipinos who, themselves, had increased their numbers into the enormous value-crushing scales we see today, Edsa street “revolutions” had been carbon-copied many times over the last 25 years for specific political ends — each one a copy of the previous copy. And as anyone who’s tried photocopying photocopies could attest to, the copies get progressively paler in comparison to the original.
As if that irreversible degeneration with each iteration of copying weren’t enough, the last major Philippine street revolution was buried by the very woman who started it all — no other than former President and 1986 EDSA “revolution” “hero” Corazon “Cory” Aquino…
In a country peppered by souls still heady and giddy about Fiesta Revolutions of past, the rallying cry in response to an impeachment bid against President Gloria Arroyo that catastrophically failed to pass Congress on 06 Sep 2005 was once again — you guessed it — FIESTA REVOLUTION! Led by no less than Madame Ex-President, former Time Woman of the Year, and Ms 1986 “Revolution” herself — Ms Corazon Aquino, what may now be billed Edsa IV (or Commonwealth Avenue I, as the case may be), promised to be another spectacle of sorts. This time there was no particular heir-to-the-throne around which the fete was organised. If it succeeded in its bid to amass enough warm bodies in the streets to make a statement, it would have marked a new low in the practice of a concept that Filipinos fancy themselves to have invented back in 1986. If it had failed, it will have further served to highlight the utter ridiculousness of how Filipinos conduct their affairs.
And failed miserably it did. Bursts of little street protests sporadically erupted in Manila’s streets in the days following the House dismisal of the impeachment bid, but none even remotely approached the kind of numbers these would-be anarchists crowed in the days leading to Tueday. Each were in fact smaller in number than the equally ridiculous street gathering in Makati on 25 July.
That “ridiculous street gathering in Makati” on the 25th of July in 2005 should already have served as a warning to Cory of how big a joke Philippine street rallies had become. Sunstar.com had an interesting report on that Ayala Avenue street “rally”…
It looked like a huge street party with an interesting mix of characters… Street vendors were out in full force, peddling corn on the cob, boiled bananas, fish balls, deep-fried chicken gizzards on a stick and scoops of ice cream on hamburger buns…. Music and entertainment were another crucial component, keeping the crowds from drifting away. Pop stars crooned on a huge stage and the “Sex Bomb” dancers–a group of young women in tight white tops and blue capri pants–did the classic bump and grind.
The recently-published Schedule of Events that will make up the 25th Anniversary of the 1986 EDSA “People Power” “Revolution” promises a whole circus of activities and exhibits that will surely make it look like a kind of a Great Leap Forward. But in the same way the Chinese people, at some point reflected and regarded the Truth that said “Leap” never happened in their own recent history, we will eventually have to face the Truth ourselves and take stock of options around how best to move forward once the same realisation sinks in.