A Silent Call to the EDSA Generation

History books and heroes carried an EDSA that was about setting things right in the Philippines, and maybe some of them had the right idea, but mostly, the context of that demonstration was misunderstood.

This is an article not to serve the peacemakers, or the warmongers. At the core of this, is an article that sets to explain why both of them are wrong…

It’s been a long while.

This makes for one bold understatement, but for a lack of words, they qualify. It has been months since the last article, and one proposing for a comprehensive reform program. It was ambitious, it seemed appealing, and it was radical at best—mostly, it was appealing because it was radical. Blogging began as an outlet where I could express fitfully and completely ideas, ideologies, and idealisms. Many revolutions, understandably, stem from unexpressed energy, and it appeals most to youth because their energies and potentialities have as yet been tapped. They are also drawn to crusades, and the need to set things to what they seem right.

Two things happened, that set off the long interregnum: one, I got a job which served as a new and more productive outlet for creative expression. I pour heart and soul to any endeavor, and in this literary task I poured heart and soul. Understandably, I lost energy and time for blogging. At the same time, I came face to face with an ideological crisis, which contributed to a deepened writer’s block. It was only recently that I came to realize, and pinpoint why.

First of all, I did not listen to my own advice. Jun Lozada, during the then-impressive Interfaith Rally in Makati, asked the following of the demonstrators: “Please do not let be compelled to resist by anger. After the emotion dies down, the cause dies down”. Momentum, and inertia, is best served through solid foundations. This is the lesson of both EDSA 2 (the February Rebellion) and EDSA 3 (the Mayday Rebellion). Under the rhetoric of “accountability” and “healing”, the protesters wanted revenge. Joseph Estrada, and Ramos in his bid to extend his term, seemed to represent an unrequited national and collective need for vengeance for the excesses of Marcos. Souls, and spirits were crushed in those nightmarish twenty years… no matter what it was for (whether to resist the tide of Communism, restoring peace and order, etc.). History books and heroes carried an EDSA that was about setting things right in the Philippines, and maybe some of them had the right idea, but mostly, the context of that demonstration was misunderstood.

Misunderstood, as we see in EDSA 2. If the demonstrations, the days-long encampment in EDSA shrine, was merely to have justice be delivered (i.e., let law and order take its natural course), then Erap’s concession to have the second envelope opened would be enough. If the protests, the massive defections, and the hue and cry of “People Power”, was to bring about a “peaceful transition”, then the drama would have ended in Estrada’s cession of his power. Instead, it continued on in his arrest, his indictment before the Sandiganbayan, carrying on to the Presidency of Gloria Arroyo, and even in the rebellions (civil and military) and calls for ouster against Arroyo. EDSA 2 was borne out of the anger first felt in the EDSA Revolution. The social-political reform envisioned by EDSA is continually being undone by the “spirit of anger” in that same EDSA.

We wanted to hurt Marcos, the Marcos institution, and the Marcos spirit. We were frustrated by his asylum in Hawaii, the acts of defense of Imelda Marcos, and what we felt as the Marcos degeneracy that continued to propagate in EDSA-generation Philippines. It was not because law and order had not been attained, but because we never felt the “peace of vindication”. We were never able to properly “avenge” the stigma of Martial Law. And we saw that in Estrada and even more chronically, in Gloria Arroyo. We do not want for law to take hold, but for the “wicked to be punished” and for “accountability—where leaders suffer for their excesses”, as well as “the collapse of a corrupt, and decadent system of government”. In short, we wanted vengeance.

This is an article not to serve the peacemakers, or the warmongers. At the core of this, is an article that sets to explain why both of them are wrong. Both began as crusaders, generally drawn from the ranks of the youth, farmers whose lives are threatened, members of the laity and clergy whose flock relies on them for guidance, and maybe some laborers who would petition for a better life. At the wings of these are the militant Left, who are driven by an ideology of anger which they feel feeds into the listless mass, and maybe members of the Army, who have been trained for “controlled violence”, anyway. These crusaders fought in EDSA, and probably took to the ranks in EDSA 2, and maybe even cheered the violence of EDSA 3. When their ideas were crushed, when they could not bring in the change and the “setting right of things”, they lost heart and spirit.

This is why many will argue that “many EDSAs have done nothing to change the country”. This is not only a mark of resignation, but of bitterness. At the same time, many would advocate for “revolution, rebellion, and maybe some civil war”. The passive and open anger. Both of them stem from anger, and the frustration of not having to vent their anger.

I will not go on to defend those who would rather let “law take its natural course”. I remember a post which reacted that to take constitutional and extra-constitutional means to “work in the bank and rob it at the same time”. The context is wrong. As Henry David Thoreau, in Civil Disobedience once said: “If something is taken from another, he will not content himself with airing his grievance. He will do what is necessary to get it back”. That is the natural course. In the Bible, a negligent judge was nagged into letting justice take place. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. explained that injustice will never willfully and voluntarily cede its power—sometimes civil action, and the extra-constitutional means, is the only way to force negotiation. Time is never on the side of the protester or the crusader. The very nature of a crusade is that everything is against it. The strength of a cause does not lie on how strong it is in the outset—not in the numbers of demonstrators, or the support of the military, or the blessing of bishops—but on its moral foundation: by how objectively right it is.

The peacemakers mistake two systems to be one: the one system admittedly has flaws, but on the whole works. We only seek to “debug the programming”, or to “smooth out the wrinkles”, so to speak. The other system is one that is so totally defective as not to work without harming someone. For example, a productive shoe factory based on child labor is a system that is so defective as to need to be overthrown. A restaurant with bad service is a system that needs mere correcting, that is, to train the waiters to be more courteous, efficient, etc.

The “Cha-Cha advocates”, the Federalists, and the growing, silent revolutionaries and rebels all feed on the unexpressed anger of the EDSA generation, the Sixties of the Philippines. The proposal to overhaul COMELEC, embodied in a collective anger against “Garci” and then “Abalos”, has been driven to such extremes as to propose to do away with the Constitutional Commission itself. The COMELEC has “failed” as an institution, it has “hurt” the People, and has “wearied the patience” of the Nation. These are all expressions of anger. So is the clamor for Gloria’s ouster, together with the phrases “Sobra Na, Tama Na”—the same words expressed first in the Marcos era. This is an anger espoused by the warmongers, who want nothing but to express this long-repressed anger. The Government admittedly has committed many sins: jobs and people have been trammeled on by their “power plays”, and more and more those who serve in its roster feel that the people have more utang na loob for them being in position than the other way around. This is not to mention the many journalists, activists, and priests who have disappeared along the way.

But the most important lesson that the Government seems not to be doing anything to alleviate is to sate the “EDSA anger”. President Arroyo’s “I’m sorry” initially defused the growing anger, and the tactic to draw attention away from their “misdemeanors” distracted and redirected public outrage for the time being. The Government seems content that the “national anger” has simmered to inaction, when it is nothing more than an “embittered resignation”, the feeling of despair. This country needs healing more than it needs a “comprehensive program to reform the corrupt and decadent system that has betrayed the EDSA ideals”. It has to let law take its course, in the form of Senate investigation, and the legion of government agencies specifically tasked for that job, and not to influence it.

At the same time, we must admit the fact that injustice will not correct injustice. The protesters are right in their protest, but not in the cause which they truly espouse and clothe in another form. Injustice will not punish injustice—it is not in its nature. As Martin Luther King pointed out, one has to stand out and resist the injustice in whatever way it can. Not for the fruits of getting justice, but because it is the right thing to do. Christ saw the injustice of the people and did not merely preach peace and love—he upturned the markets in the Temple, condemned the hypocrisy of the priests and lawyers (“do as they say, not as they do”), and defied the system to force the latter to crucify Him. The peacemakers will not agree with him (“Do you think I came here to bring peace to the world?… I will set mother against daughter, father against son…”), and most certainly the warmongers will be frustrated with Him for falling short of rebellion (most certainly Judas was one of these hotheads), and in the end when He was crucified the only persons left with Him were the Apostle John, and his mother.

The example of Christ and King is not to go angrily uprooting every institution that fails, but to “righteously protest” the practices that hurt the people. It is not the very system of tax collection, but the tendency to tax exorbitantly for the collectors (or for whose hands the revenue passes to). More importantly, and this is what makes protest almost impossible (ideally, and in practice), the protester must be willing to resist the injustice and at the same time suffer for their resistance. Christ did not protest His arrest, abuse and execution; King advocated that those who marched in protest must be willing to face arrest, in order to bring to light the defects of the system. Again, in the context of the Bible, when Pilate saw that the People wanted blood, (probably out of that anger) he asked Christ (who he probably believed to be innocent), “Aren’t you going to say anything? I can have you killed. I have power of life and death over you.”

Christ’s answer? “You do not have power over me that was not given to you”. In short, Christ was reforming the institution within and without. The system, for all its defects, was ordained and given power by the People it abuses, and by that right they do have legitimacy. But at the same time, the system needs to be reformed from without, as made example of by Christ, which the Romano-Judaean system railroaded (accidentally and incidentally). By the same example, EDSA needs to reform within (through the legislature, the courts, the police, etc.), and without (through the assemblies, the calls for reform, etc.); it also has to go back to the roots of its purpose: not to settle long-standing accounts, but to make a better order, in order for it not to happen again. The only question is: is the system now one that works, and needs only correction (which nevertheless warrants the defiance of a King) or one that needs a comprehensive “overthrow and replace”?

The biggest mistake is to believe that people cannot be saved. Certainly, it is possible that Gloria will not change, or will never change. Nevertheless, we must call for her to do the right thing. Howl her in the streets, howl her with every year until her last year in office, to do the right thing. They can be saved, and whether or not they will ask to be saved we must strive to save them nevertheless.

The wages of sin are not paid for in sin, but in Love. This may seem a tiring thought, as it is very hard to love your enemies, and it is mostly thankless. As I posted before, this act of Love will never redound and be felt by the lover, if he is seeking for the fruits of its sacrifice. The reward of loving is in the act of loving. Christ gave that answer: He did not lead a mass of rebels and overthrow the “tyranny” of the Sanhedrin, or the “imperialist dictatorship” of Rome. Neither did He just shrug and preach peace. He resisted what He knew was wrong, and died. Painfully.

He felt that despair, too, a despair that brings even the staunchest idealists, and Mother Teresa, to the “dark night of the soul”. The God that brought the rain and the sun remains silent in the wake of the genocide of the millions of Jews under the Holocaust, or the third of Cambodia’s population under the Khmer Rouge. He seems to say “suffer to prove your Love”. That’s one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is: He gave the greatest gifts of life, free will, and love, and gave us so many natural things that we accept fully. So why can’t we accept the tragedies? It feels like a tall order, and it is a tall order. Because human nature is averse to great pain, and should be so.

We fight against injustice, and we fight against the tragedies. When Job reprimanded God for letting him suffer so much ignominy when he had been nothing but faithful to Him, and his friends tried to convince him otherwise, God explained the reason to Job and scolded his friends for their errors. It is natural to be angry, just not in the sense that will consume you.

It is so easy to be consumed by anger. Knowing something is defective and out of fear of where it will lead to people you love, you try to set things right in your own way. When that doesn’t work, and can’t work, and in the face of knowing you will fail, that the crusade you know is right will fail, you become angry. At yourself, for failing. At God, for making you so helpless as to fail. At the world, for not understanding.

Stop. Just stop. Anger, and the hatred it builds up, really consumes a person. You are outraged that the person who hurt you seems to live better than you while you claw the ground everyday to vent an insult committed against you, and are miserable for it. Naturally: he’s not consumed by anger, you are. You are angry that for all your efforts, you just can’t seem to change the world, let alone save the people you love. And you cannot trust God for letting things “run its course” because you let it happen before, and you failed and suffered anyway. Do what you can, and if you can do no more, then stop. Crusades don’t win continents in a day; they last for many lifetimes.

The “corrupted” system will not be overhauled in “one giant EDSA”, but in the patient, tiring, almost thankless efforts of its EDSA children. It will not change in one year, or the next year, and it will probably not change for a century. Rome persecuted Christ for more than two centuries, then it was won eventually. We will probably not see reforms come to fruition in our lifetime; cosmic movements are not limited to lifetimes.

Forgiveness and healing, the oft-overlooked and oft-ridiculed Christian virtues, are actually key here. The Interfaith Rally, before it was turned into a “roiling mass of collective anger, then hatred, was meant as an assembly of healing. Prayers for healing. Healing, of course, is not toil to be accomplished in one, two, or even ten years. It’s a lifetime of work, and itself a labor of love. We resist the system!—but not to overthrow—we resist the system to save the people caught within its snares. It’s going to be painful, but we have to accept that we cannot always save or help the people we love, alone, or in some way we know of. Let the world run its course, offer a prayer to God, and live on—not to let go, but to live on.