By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Often it’s difficult to come to terms with the kind of people we Filipinos are, the kind of collective memory we have, and how we are able to forgive and forget so easily. Oh but how we love! How immensely capable we are of loving, and how intensely we love — almost with the innocence of young children loving their favorite toy or their first puppy; and with the depth and sincerity of a poet writing their beloved. And as we love, we hurt ourselves because we forget that those we love were not perfect, and we dismiss the pain that never leaves.
Take how the Noynoy Aquino government has packaged the commemorative activities for the 25th anniversary of the Edsa People Power uprising. I can understand how Noynoy can support and implement proposals to showcase Cory Aquino as the greatest symbol of democracy — she was, after all, his own mother — but to do so at the expense of paying tribute to the real heroes of Edsa is shameful.
I can’t help but be upset by the commentaries made by radio and TV hosts when they deliver their reports about the Edsa People Power uprising. They keep saying that it was the likes of Cory, Fidel Ramos, Juan Ponce Enrile, patriotic soldiers and then suddenly activist members of the middle and upper class who brought back democracy to the Philippines; that it was because of their efforts that we enjoy the freedom we enjoy today.
By all means, pay tribute to Cory, but I wish they would exercise restraint. She was not a saint, and she hardly made good on the promises to the Filipino people to restore democracy and uplift their economic welfare. As for Fidel Ramos and Juan Ponce Enrile, who are they again in this day and age and what have they done for Filipinos after Edsa? (Okay, thanks Ramos for the iodized Fidel salt and Enrile for those amusing “Happy ka” ads during the May 10 campaign period).
All the while I kept thinking: What, they were the ones who really kicked out Marcos? The last decade before Marcos was ousted, it was the national democratic movement that fought the hardest and the Filipino people supported the creation of a new liberation movement, one that continues today. And to think that the martyrs of the movement, the hundreds of nameless civilians who laid down their lives in the struggle against Marcos; and the hundreds more victims of human-rights violations of the dictatorship have yet to receive the tribute and indemnification they deserve!
And what kind of democracy is the media, the government talking about? What kind of freedom?
Re-establishing the Senate and the Congress? Two institutions that have passed very few or little laws that ensured that the quality of life of Filipinos improve? And are we free from poverty? When the Marcos dictatorship fell, the money and corporations they sequestered were taken back by the Aquino government and then turned over to the likes of the Lopezes, the Cojuangcos, the Ayala-Zobels and tycoons like Tan and Sy once more had the freedom to develop and expand their monopolies?
Now Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is in the senate and Imelda is still getting invited to fashion shows and gallery exhibit launches. Now, besides the list of victims of the dictatorship there’s another list: that of victims of the extrajudicial killings of the administrations that came after it.
So who are the real heroes of Edsa? The workers, the urban poor, the farmers, the members of the basic sectors who flooded the streets in the waning days of the Marcos dictatorship and demanded that Marcos step down. They are the real heroes of Edsa, the poor and working people and their organized ranks who fought the police, the military, Malacañang and their supporters in the White House in Washington DC for almost two decades prior to the popular uprising. They are the ones who deserve tributes; they are the ones who should be thanked.
Tragically, they are also the ones who most suffer the betrayal of the ideals of Edsa. Yellow is not the true color of courage, and it never will be. It is the color of the ruling elite and its pretensions of embracing the poor. It is the color of compromise for the sake of political expediency, the color of promises broken.
The lessons of Edsa are not lost, but I’m not sure that these lessons are the same for everyone. I don’t think not all of those who were actually in Edsa remember the same lessons; the same way that we, now in 2011, are not talking about the same kind of freedom, the same kind of democracy. The Philippines remains a nation where those who toil continue to starve, and to demand justice is to risk getting a bullet in the head.
While we love, we must not be blind. And as we move forward, we must not neglect to look back because we always risk losing our way. As a nation and as a people, we still have to grow in political and cultural maturity. We are too sentimental and too compassionate; we forget too easily (or we forgive too much: either way, we suffer). But then again, maybe it will be like what Dumbledore told Harry Potter (and what supposedly, inevitably will save the latter in his final confrontation with Voldemort): it will be love that will save us in the end. And mercy will replace forgetting; and a deep sense of justice will hold back the temptation to simply forgive and then embrace.
We can learn to forgive, but not at the expense of justice. Justice comes first.
Even as we continue as a people to love and often foolishly love those who even hurt us in one way or another (and the pain survives through generations, birthing more hurt in various forms), maybe we will learn to open our eyes and genuinely see without ignoring the flaws and weaknesses of the beloved. And only then can we begin to love and love intelligently, giving tribute to those who truly deserve it, and eschewing the false idols, the beloveds who gave us pain more than salvation and illusions easily dispelled. Maybe then we can come to terms with our history, with ourselves, and what we want for this country.