Inertia: Sustaining the EDSA Movement

No, no, no, Arroyo will not listen… but we will howl nevertheless. In the two years she remains in power, we will howl her in the streets, howl her in the courts, and howl her out of office. We will howl like mad, and make all of government tremble with fear…

I have to admit, it was a new experience. I had only cursory knowledge that there would be an interfaith rally somewhere in Ayala. I heard that the rally would start at 2, or at 4, I didn’t know. It took to glancing at newspapers to ascertain what time: 4. Reaching Ayala at the MRT station, I was again clueless. I found myself in Glorietta, and nowhere near Makati Avenue or the rally. There were kind Samaritans who pointed the way. The sounds of a chopper were the first thing that gave me an indication that it was close. I walked, and turned several directions, till I found myself, with other spectators, facing the march itself.

Let me describe what it was like: there were two marches–one was being taken to the streets by the activists, the youth, the Church, and other active members of the rally; the other one was on the sides, where the spectators eagerly and unconsciously followed the motion of the demonstration, taking pictures with their cellphones and climbing the railings or going the long way round. This, actually, is what is happening in our country now. There is the main demonstration, waged by the most militant groups, in resistance since Day One of Arroyo’s reign, and then there is the muted insurgency within the homes, in the schools, and even in government institutions, where those watching TV or reading newspapers mutter in rage over the new series of offenses by the government. They’re too afraid to take part in the actual march, but they share the same rage.

I belonged to the second batch.I tracked the march, through the railings, round the long route, until I found myself in the middle of an AnakBayan section of the rally.I made my way through the crowd, was sheltered by the Ateneans, and moving with the crowd made my way almost to the front.The rally itself was a half-rally, half-concert, and it was really heartening to see that the youth have made a niche in these demonstrations, and put their own touch to it.Between the one-liner or one-minute-lines of the main EDSA figures–Cory, Oscar Cruz, and even Estrada–were the rap/jazz/rock/folk performances of various groups.

I looked around, and the first thing I thought was: it’s not enough. I was animated at first, but immediately afterwards I thought that it wasn’t enough. The news soon trickled in: the police had tried to block several sectors of the rally–from Northern and Southern Luzon, and across the streets and boulevards–to reduce the numbers. The chopper, which appeared and maintained itself for a few minutes in the air around us, disappeared–apparently, ABS-CBN was blocked off from that section of the rally. And Lozada himself admitted that, even as he spoke, the government had resorted to death threats and attacks on his character. “Can you forgive me of these failures?” he asked the crowd, ever so conscious of his role. The crowd responded with a resounding yes. Sure, he may be a weak man, or no Saint. But the weakness of the character of a messenger does not, and cannot, diminish the character of the message. And then, I knew, in the middle of the rally, what we needed.

As a people, we have long harbored a grudge against Czarina Arroyo. In the government sectors, the Church, the masa, the youth, and even in the military and police, people have been wishing and praying for the end of her reign. In the Blogosphere, everyone is in a fit of rage over Czarina Arroyo’s latest failings–the ZTE, the Spratlys betrayal (she is courting China so badly). But not everyone agrees that she can be overthrown, that the People Power still has power. After all, the Czarina has survived a “masa” rebellion, two military coups, a series of violent demonstrations, multiple impeachment attempts, conspiracies within her ranks, and an election. She got away clean. How could this time be any different?

This is my answer to you. Three points. First, we are easily swept away with the blind ideal of clear and obvious results. We want the demonstrations to immediately force her to resign, as we did before in Marcos’ time, and in Erap’s time. I have said this before, and I will say it again: Not every autocrat is a good man. Marcos answered the First Quarter Storm with Martial Law, and the 1983 mass unrest with snap elections, which he hoped would stem the brewing rebellion. And, in the midst of People Power itself, his supporters tried to knock off the uprising, through separate violent encounters, culminating in a march by the military to EDSA itself.The international community stepped in, pressured Marcos to not lay a hand on these people, and the United States, seeing the writing in the wall, began to back off. (Reagan, supposedly the advocate of a democratic world, supported Marcos until the national consensus began to turn against the dictator–and American interests went where the power was.)

Revolutions are not won by one or two large demonstrations; that was the mistake of the January Uprising (EDSA Dos). We forgot that before 1986, there was a 1983 Movement that eventually snowballed. The military rising was an accidental element. We tend to ignore that. Yes, revolutions are won by the acquiescence of the rulers, but even hardline autocrats also eventually cave to pressure. In that sense, I will admit that Nicholas II believed himself an autocrat who would resist the “heresies” of the liberals and the anarchists, and had no love for the liberal ways; but he eventually formed the Duma to appease growing unrest in Czarist Russia, as Marcos held a snap election to appease the growing unrest here.  Revolutions are won, generally, by a sustained rebellion, in one form or another. It might have been working silently, as in the Civil Rights Movement in America in the 1960s or the Industrial Advancement in Europe in the 19th century, but it was sustained. This was why Castro’s rebellion turned to revolution. Experiencing the failure of an overt attack on a military barracks, he turned his energies to a sustained resistance in the jungles. That was where he won. He suffered. We have to suffer, if we are to win.

Second, why do we keep forgetting that our continued resistance is actually working? No, Gloria’s still there, but we have made inroads. If Trillanes and the Magdalo, inspired by the resistance of the people, did not take to the hotel in Oakwood, would we have been warned of the plot to use the bombing in Davao as pretext for Martial Law? If we had not marched in 2005 amidst the Garcillano scandal, would we have inspired the members of the Supreme Court to trash the calls for “Constitutional Reform” by Arroyo elements? Would we have pressured Arroyo to distance herself from De Venecia when he called for the same “Constitutional Reform?” Would we have inspired elements of Arroyo’s government, as Manuel L. Quezon III relates, to thwart the continued attempts of Arroyo to declare Martial Law, in 2005 and in the overt State of Emergency of 2006? We did not overthrow her in that year, or the other year, or even these first few months, but we certainly brought her enemies to the Senate seats almost unopposed in the 2007 elections.We even shook her political base in the local government and in Congress, as was evidenced by Among Ed.

Are those not results? Even at this very moment, EDSA continues to win the institutions of society, and government. Magdalo was an indication. So is the militancy of Oscar Cruz and Panlilio. The students amassing in the streets in a yearly basis and the impeachments are an indication. The sight of taxi drivers, jeepney drivers, and common vendors watching the Congressional hearings on Garci, and the Senate hearings on ZTE, is well an indication. Yes, some elements of government are well unfazed. Our supposed weapon against future Marcoses, COMELEC, has been compromised. They may be, and probably will be lost. Then again, this is the sad truth, when we “prune” the tree that is our nation, of the rot. It is always painful. We are shamed that many of our elders, these so-called vanguards for the new generation, are corrupting our future, justifying that this is for our own sake. Let us turn to them now, shame them, and reject their offers to be the leaders of their order.Let us shame them, and make a better order, replanting in our children’s minds the EDSA that they forgot.Let us replant in all of us the EDSA that men like Ramos, the Fallen Senators, and the “barons” of Congress and the provinces have conveniently neglected and forgotten.

Third. Time and again, we say that one or another element of society will abandon the other’s uprising. We feel betrayed. We watched with bated breath, and disappointment as the Trillanes revolt was snuffed out, in 2003, then in 2007. We watched, in frustrated anger, as the CBCP rejected calls for a new EDSA, and instead asked for calls of overthrow through legitimate instruments. We took to the streets, to hotels, and to churches, and we raised our hands in victory, and went home. And always, it was the same–in EDSA, EDSA Dos, EDSA Tres, ad infinitum.

My friends, there is a scientific principle that goes like this: “An object that is at rest, stays at rest.” If we refuse to resist, we will condition our bodies to willingly surrender, however rough the violence or however much the abuse reaches a crescendo. At the very least, and fortunately, we are not in a state of rest. We are in a painful transition between rest and motion. Mon Casiple opined that we need momentum to have successful People Power.Well, we had momentum, more than once, and even now we have it.What we do not have is inertia; we had momentum, but we did not sustain it.

Our demonstrations, our protests–our motion in general was focused on anger. This is a volatile, passionate, but scattered emotion. It forms the most fiery basis for rebellions; but it is also easily killed. Lozada, in his speech, warned that “we must not let this demonstration be impelled by anger; when the anger dies, we go home. We must be impelled by a need to serve, and to watch over the excesses of the government.” In short, we must be impelled by our obligations, and not by our tempers.

Our momentum was made and sustained by anger. And so we easily got distracted by other things: the ZTE controversy, the Garci Scandal, Martial Law fears, Cha-Cha, the bombings in Ayala and Batasan. The government knows this–why else do you think they move the media from one headline to another, as if we were living a teleserye? Doubtless our target was indirectly the same, but our energies were spent on the symptoms, rather than the disease itself: a system of government that makes Estradas, Arroyos, and Marcoses possible. We can at least learn.

I am not naïve enough to say that demonstrations will assure Arroyo’s overthrow. It did not force Suharto or Thaksin out. The 1983 rising did not pressure Marcos to resign. But the sustained rebellion had an effect: the two autocrats of Indonesia and Thailand were forced out by the military under the pressure of continued civil disorders. Marcos was forced to hold snap elections when the mounting pressure of the Aquino assassination added to the weight that the International Community brought down on him. No, no, no, Arroyo will not listen, as Pharaoh did not listen to Moses, but we will howl nevertheless. In the two years she remains in power, we will howl her in the streets, howl her in the courts, and howl her out of office. We will howl like mad, and make all of government tremble with fear. We may not have the power to forcibly take her out, but we have the power to pressure the elements of her government to keep her from remaining one day more. If we sustain our EDSA movement, we can be vigilant enough to take hold of her that one last day and try her for crimes against the nation. If we sustain our EDSA movement, we can kill the Arroyo government by electing new, idealistic blood to the Senate, and the House of Representatives (fingers crossed!) and other elements of government.

And why wait so long? The opportunity still remains with us. The United States is too busy internally with their elections, their culture war between Republicans and Democrats, to care. China, Gloria’s much-desired protector, is too busy keeping a clean, respectable front to the international community ahead of the 2008 Olympics. China’s foreign policy has made an about-face away from support for oppressive governments to spearheading their denunciation. So no, I don’t think China will dip its fingers in. Not yet. And so, for once in our lives, we hold the destiny of our nation.

We have ignored the EDSA Movement too long. Beyond the masa dispersals, the high profile exposes and uprisings, and the media coverage, the weight was carried by the priests, the journalists, and student activists. That is why they are killed. To the critics who say that we have to go through legal means, I say this: The EDSA Rebellion is seeking her overthrow both legally and extra-legally. Legally through the Ombudsman, the Courts, and the impeachment complaints. Extra-legally through the streets, and maybe through the military revolts. Don’t those cretins dare say that this is political adventurism in disregard of law, for EDSA works in the streets and in the courts. Men of God are dying to fight for the freedoms these cretins are too delinquent, afraid, or lethargic to take up. Mahiya naman sila.

So we turn finally to the CBCP vote. The news that the Mindanao bishops eventually carried the vote for a more conservative stance gives one with some insight on how the Church is suffering. There, in those far-flung provinces, beyond the coverage of the Manileños or the Visayans who support Arroyo, the insurgencies are at their most violent. Perhaps it was fear for their flocks that prompted the CBCP to hold back. The poor prelates. They had the responsibility to take the helm of the EDSA Movement, it was they whom the late Senator Aquino handed the responsibility of People Power. They couldn’t handle it.

We miss Cardinal Sin and Pope John Paul II, and grind our teeth in frustration at a CBCP whose majority cannot understand that the times call for warriors and not peacemakers. We curse the timidity of these bishops; but the Church has not been asleep. We have Archbishop Oscar Cruz, Fr. Ed Panlilio (please let him remain governor, Lord), and the other militant bishops and priests who have voiced their calls for Czarina Arroyo’s resignation. And we have the priests, the nuns, the clergy who have died under the guns of a merciless army, propelled by a President who no longer fears the retribution of God. She claims that only God can judge her. Oh, she will so be judged.

Inertia, inertia, inertia. I can’t stress this fully enough. We must discipline ourselves to continue to resist, long after the rallies have dwindled and the passion of the latest headlines have died down. We must head to the rallies–for it helps; at the sight of farmers and workers who have marched and labored their way to the big cities, so that their voices can be heard and be united with the students’, we are given a perspective that is not readily seen on a couch watching the latest news unfold on television. Beyond our short attention spans, and even when the demonstrations dwindle to mere hundreds, still we must keep the rebellion in motion. For only by standing in opposition can we not acquiesce to the continued erosion of our nation. To those who are still uncertain, a final line from Our Lord Himself: “if you blow neither hot nor cold I will vomit you from my mouth.”

If you blow neither hot nor cold, the nation will vomit you out.

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Update: On the way home at the MRT station, I saw Pen Medina rush through the doors and almost get crushed… well, thankfully no. We were almost a group when we went home… a community. I’ll probably post more on this first-time experience of militant activism.

Oh, so close, so close.