Thursday, March 1, 2007

A Toast to EDSA

Edsa People Power turned 21 this past week. If it were a man, he'd now be old enough to drink in California. But virtually no one drank a toast to Edsa in the Philippines this year, a sign of popular disenchantment with what was hailed at the time as the most epochal event in Philippine history.
In terms of historic significance, there are probably only two other dates in Philippine history that parallel February 26, 1986 - July 4, 1946 and June 12, 1898. These three events represent historic ends to dark periods of prolonged suffering by the Filipino people.

June 12, 1898 marked the declaration of Philippine independence from 333 years of Spanish colonial rule. July 4, 1946, while celebrated as the day of Philippine independence from American neo-colonial rule, actually marked the day
of liberation from more than four years of Japanese imperial aggression.

February 26, 1986 is and should always be celebrated as the day of liberation from 14 years of the brutal corrupt dictatorship of homegrown despot Ferdinand Marcos.
Why then is February 26, 1986 not held in the same high regard as the other two other historic events?

Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Rina Jimenez-David suggests a reason: “It is difficult, from this remove, to recall exactly those days and nights of February 1986. Not so much the events themselves, as there are enough written records, photos and videos to bring those days back to life. But can we summon again the memories -- the feelings, thoughts, fears, hopes and moods -- that we who lived through those days experienced and wallowed in? It might seem futile, even foolish, to revive the ghosts of EDSA I when its very spirit has these days been mocked and trashed.”

Indeed. It has been a source of personal frustration for me to see that Gen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, one of the most vicious henchmen of Marcos, 2nd only to Col. Rolando Abadilla in the leadership of the dreaded Military Intelligence Support Group (MISG) responsible for the torture and murder of hundreds of activists during the martial law era, was never prosecuted for his crimes against humanity. Incredibly, he was promoted to chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), elected senator in 2001, ran for president in 2005, and is running for senator again this year.

Of the thousands who committed vicious crimes against the Filipino people during the Marcos years, was anyone prosecuted and punished? Did anyone go to jail for plundering the Philippine economy during the Marcos dictatorship? None. So what is so different from what happened after June 12, 1898 and after July 4, 1946?

When Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo declared Philippine independence from Spain on June 12, 1898, he was surrounded by dozens of Filipino ilustrados he appointed to draft the Philippine Constitution in the Malolos Congress. The constitution they crafted was intended to show the Americans that Filipinos were fully capable of self-government.

But, as historian Teodoro Agoncillo noted, this group “deserted Aguinaldo even before hostilities broke out with the United States and enthusiastically indicated to the Schurman Commission their desire to collaborate with and serve in the autonomous government proposed by the Americans. The forces of “conciliation” led by Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, Cayetano Arellano, Felipe Buencamino, and Benito Legarda testified before the Schurman Commission that the Filipinos “were not capable of independent government.”

When the Japanese imperial forces occupied the Philippines in 1942, they installed a puppet government to help them rule the Philippines. These puppets included Jose B. Laurel, who was appointed president, Manuel Roxas (a cabinet member), and Gen. Jorge Vargas, chair of the Executive Commission. For their
collaboration, the Japanese showered them with the best food (see Hernando Abaya’s "Betrayal in the Philippines" for a sample of the regular menu in MalacaƱang served to the Laurels), luxuries and the finest accommodations, while the people suffered under harsh Japanese rule. Laurel’s sons were even sent to Japan to study.

Most of the members of the Philippine Congress collaborated with the Japanese as well and were also compensated for their efforts. When the Japanese were driven out of the Philippines by the Filipino guerillas and the American allied forces, these collaborators immediately switched allegiance to the Americans and proclaimed that they were only pretending to collaborate but were actually patriots.

The US government favored Roxas as its candidate in the 1946 presidential elections and he was dutifully elected. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the commanding general of the allied forces, wanted the collaborationist Philippine Congress convened to pass laws that would benefit US businesses but the first act of the Congress was to reward its members with three years of back pay.

After Roxas was elected president, one of his first acts was to issue a general pardon to all those who collaborated with the Japanese, which just happened to include him.

Despite the disappointments following the American suppression of Philippine independence after Aguinaldo’s declaration, it cannot be denied that there was progress under American rule compared to the Spanish masters. The Americans offered universal public education which allowed for people to advance regardless of their previous caste. While anything was better than what the Filipino people endured during the Japanese occupation, there was substantial progress in the Philippines in the post-war years.

Despite the bitter letdown that people feel following the overthrow of Marcos, with President Cory Aquino’s disappointing restoration of the oligarchy to its prior status, it must be admitted that there was progress, too, during her tenure in terms of human rights and economic opportunity.
Whatever criticisms there may be of the present Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration, it cannot be denied either that the economy has improved so that much less of the people’s money is used to pay off the interest on the foreign debt.

Instead of paying 70 pesos to every dollar borrowed from the International Monetary Fund, the people now pay 49 pesos, so more can be used for infrastructure development.

But Filipinos want immediate glowing results, apparently unwilling to take the long view. Many want the country to be modeled after China, but let us consider that China has been around for more than 3,000 years while the Philippines is a relatively young republic.

To inspire his people in 1945, Chairman Mao told the story of the Foolish Old Man who lived in a house with a view blocked by two great peaks. He called his sons to join him to dig up the two mountains. While they were digging, a Wise Old Man saw them and told them they were silly because it was impossible to remove the two huge mountains.

Undeterred, the Foolish Old Man replied, "When I die, my sons will carry on; when they die, there will be my grandsons and then their sons and grandsons, and so on to infinity. High as they are, the mountains cannot grow any higher and with every bit we dig, they will be that much lower. Why can't we clear them away?"

Mao's point was that change takes time but it will happen. Perhaps we all need to be foolish old men. Or perhaps we should just scale down our expectations and follow Oscar show host Ellen deGeneres' advice: "aim lower." With lower expectations, we just might appreciate February 26, 1986 more.

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