Tomorrow is the 34th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution that threw out Ferdinand Marcos and ended his 14-year dictatorship. Do you feel the thrill and tingle of remembering how over two million Filipino civilians led by Jaime Cardinal Sin staged a peaceful protest to oust Marcos, from February 22–25, 1986, on the Epifanio de los Santos highway? When the military from nearby General Headquarters, Camp Emilio Aguinaldo, led by then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Chief of Staff General Fidel Ramos joined the throngs, it happened so fast — Marcos and his family and cronies were flown off to Hawaii by US military helicopters.
But the glory of the EDSA Revolution seems to be fading fast. Fewer and fewer Filipinos remember the shining moment of victory over the voracious “conjugal dictatorship” that exacted lives and rights as tithes to the self-appointed royalty aside from money and property they liberally plundered as theirs by absolute and unquestioned ascendancy.
Is it just a matter of demographics that recollections and the attendant esteem of the EDSA feat are waning? Interpolating from the census charts, and assuming continued proportional birth and death rates to today, roughly about 70% of 109.5 million Filipinos (aged 0–44 years old) now were not yet born in 1986 or were too young then. How can these young people remember? They cannot. But why aren’t the 30% adults who experienced martial law excited about this glorious victory of democracy won by their generation?
The only ones who seem to remember are the artists and the writers — memories of a passion will always live in their hearts. In the years after EDSA, a movie, play or documentary has been written (40+ counted) for almost every year of the anniversary, perchance to remind all of the heroism of the Filipinos on EDSA, and the vow forever in the psyche of this proud people that there will be no succeeding dictator after Marcos. Never again!
Martial-law themed literary and visual arts works have been written, directed and acted by known Filipino artists like the late Lino Brocka (Orapronobis, 1989; Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim, 1984; and Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag, 1975); Mike de Leon (Sister Stella L, 1984; Batch ’81, 1982); Chito Roño (Eskapo, 1995, and Dekada ’70, 2002), and GMA channel’s documentaries by Kara David (“1081”, 2003), among others. These center on the poignant sublimation of helpless victims of the violence dealt by power-crazed executors and executionists of the dictator and his court.
Of course, character studies of the villains is strong broth to stew them as they deserve — for hurting and killing, cheating and lying to the Filipino people. Proper perspective and perception of martial law and its operators must be established, for the sake of truthful history.
“Perception is real, but the truth is not,” Imelda Marcos said in The Kingmaker, the 2019 documentary by American writer/photographer Lauren Greenfield (The Queen of Versailles, 2012) and shown in special screenings for limited (ticketed) audiences at the Cultural Center of the Philippines at end January and after the February 14 Valentine’s Day (interrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak). The docu seems to have insinuated itself to be the tandem piece for this year’s EDSA anniversary tomorrow, February 25.
In the clever style of cinéma vérité, Imelda Marcos’s hyperboles on ideals and principles were juxtaposed with lurid stories of torture victims of martial law as quick swings of the camera detailed her vanity and ostentation. Greenfield has mercilessly sliced to size former First Lady Imelda for her shamefaced, confused metaphors — whittling her down to perceptions more accurate to her role in her husband’s martial law.
Why did Imelda agree to be treated thus by a foreign documentarist? Some who might think she does not have enough “up there” will probably say “she’s been had,” serves her right. But Imelda has proven herself street-smart, and has the money to engage PR strategists who would have said that negative publicity, as The Kingmaker might be classified, has great advantages for keeping in the consciousness of the common people, who would admire her for her generosity in literally throwing out cash to the poor. “Give me some money to give away,” she says to her maid, who hands her a wad of bills to give to street children. “There were no beggars in my time,” she says on camera.
“Keep in view,” professors of Marketing in the MBA course would exhort. When Ferdinand Marcos died in Hawaii in 1989, he was brought back to the Philippines in 1993 to lie in state in his native province, Ilocos Norte, literally still “in view” and in the consciousness of the Filipinos. In the pomp and ceremony of his extended wake (23 years!) his revered “presence” (how can you disrespect the dead?) helped much for the re-integration of the Marcos family and cronies into the politics and society.
And Imelda, with children Imee and Bongbong played rigodon (take-over roles) for one another in top politics of Ilocos Norte and Leyte (Imelda’s province), until Imee and then Bongbong in their respective times, reached being Senator and Representative. Ferdinand Marcos was given a hero’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani by President Rodrigo Duterte in November 2016.
And history books did not tell the true story of the 1986 EDSA Revolution. In a distressing scene in The Kingmaker, high school students were asked, “What do you know about martial law (of Marcos)?” “It was good for the Philippines,” one student said. “It was peaceful,” another said. Not one student stood up to say there was no freedom for the people.
At the wrap-up open discussion at the CCP lobby after The Kingmaker, two of the torture victims featured and interviewed in the docu were on the panel: Etta Rosales, Chair of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, and Judy Taguiwalo, unconfirmed Secretary of Social Welfare and Development in 2017. From the floor, several similar questions were asked why there is no groundswell for collective action to address and stop the “escalating movement towards a repeat of the Marcos dictatorship,” in the “recent disturbing actions of the Rodrigo Duterte administration.” Both Rosales and Taguiwalo identified and expounded on the recent issues of the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA); the abrogation of the “onerous” contracts of the water concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad; and the pending petition for quo warranto revocation of the ABS-CBN franchise, with the gag rule on the sub judice case up at the Supreme Court.
“Let us hear from the millennials and the Generation Z,” the CCP Moderator of the post-movie discussion repeatedly asked at every opportunity. The Gen Z students who were brought in by their millennial teachers were reticent and seemed unsure of what to say. A young lady who declared herself to be a millennial jolted many in the audience when she said something like, “it all depends on how it affects me,” referring to the political-economic issues discussed by the older ones in the group. Another millennial said that they would be concerned within the radius of family and close friends.
Were you not outraged, a man from the boomer generation asked the huddled group of young ones on the right facing the podium. A group of senior citizens on the left were appalled at the apathy and indifference of the young, who, admitted they came for the show — the “art,” they said.
“Sometimes it helps that you are not taken too seriously,” Imelda said in one part of the documentary. Aye, the glory of the EDSA People Power Revolution has indeed faded…
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.