History Will Teach Us Something

I was one of the  two million Filipinos who trooped to EDSA 30 years ago. This is why I’ve been meaning to look for an incisive yet succinct way of helping my children understand and appreciate it on its 30th anniversary. Without a doubt, the surreal euphoria that followed February 25, 1986 has since worn off. In its place is a mixed feeling of pride, gratitude, and disillusion. Three popular OPM compositions capture these moods without fail. “Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo” continues to resonate with me 30 years after. The legacy of non-violent political revolt is incontrovertibly a source of pride and gratitude for many Filipinos. “Tuloy ang Ikot ng Mundo” and “Kumusta Na?” however, temper the latter and cut down EDSA to size. These two songs remind me of Hegel’s thesis and anti-thesis as well as the many opportunities we squandered as a nation after EDSA. Nonetheless, all three fall short in terms of providing a true perspective 30 years after.

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Thankfully, Randy David’s recent column entitled “The Battlefield of Memory” offers a thought-provoking reflection  on EDSA. More to the point, it provides an instructive perspective as it presents no less than 5 competing versions of EDSA. These versions are presented in the context of Milan Kundera’s insight occasioned by the end of World War I. To wit: “hatreds withdraw to the interior of nations…the goal of the fight is no longer the future…but the past, the new war will play out only on the battlefield of memory.”

One version of EDSA that is competing in our battlefield of memory is the reformist military version which regards  EDSA as essentially the culmination of their fraternal struggle to free up the military from being used by a corrupt regime to perpetuate itself in power. Those who subscribe to this version assert that their faled coup d’etat against  Marcos was what gave Cardinal Sin, the church and civil society the opportunity to amass at  EDSA.

There is the version of the church in which Cardinal Sin mobilized the Catholic faithful through priests, nuns and seminarians to come to the defense of Enrile and Ramos who were holed up in Camp Aguinaldo to avert bloodshed. The resulting scenario where rosaries, flowers and statues of the Virgin Mother literally  overpowered the tanks and the choppers sent by Marcos and Ver “was nothing short of a miracle.”

The third version is that of the civil society which made EDSA happen through a combination of the organized groups led by the left and the ordinary middle class Filipinos who were moved to  support both Cardinal Sin and the group of Enrile and Ramos. The former led a protracted campaign that started even before Martial Law was declared. The latter could be said to have awakened as a result of the former’s organized agitation even if  they were strangely absent in EDSA by choice.

And there is the version of the Americans which saw EDSA as a political turning point that might destabilize the Philippines and therefore risk their political interest in the Asia-Pacific region. Hence, their offer first to fly Marcos and his supporters to Clark Air Base and eventually to exile them to Hawaii to avoid violence and political unrest.

It is interesting to note that these 4 competing versions collectively complement each other. Together, they remind me of an insight once offered by the late Dr Ramon Reyes of the Ateneo. In his book entitled The Ground and Norm of Morality, Dr Reyes reflects that as mankind marches though history, the continuing dialogue among individuals and groups allow it to widen and deepen its understanding of what is true and what is good. No one person could possibly monopolize this. The moral standpoint of humanity has evolved and continues to evolve precisely because of this continuing dialogue among individuals and groups. At the heart of this continuing dialogue is our conscience which he asserts is the ground and norm of all morality.

 The fifth version is where Randy David’s reflection becomes a call to action. This is the version of Bongbong Marcos who is currently running for vice president According to David, Marcos is “banking on the power of amnesia not just to redeem his father’s name, but, ultimately, to recover the billions in bank accounts and properties that the Philippine government has seized from his family. He might yet succeed – if we fail to make memory speak”

The battlefield of memory is where Filipinos are challenged to take stock of the 5 competing versions of EDSA and call on their conscience to come to grips with what really happened at the intersection of Ortigas Avenue and EDSA. It is by no means an easy task. David has written separately on this in his past columns over the years. Unlike the Germans  who have gone to great lengths to right the wrongs of the past by prosecuting and punishing those responsible for the genocide that was Auschwitz, we, as a people, have failed to send the Marcoses along with their cronies to jail. Not only have we allowed them to return home, we have allowed them to return to power and reclaim their space in high society pages. Worse, quite a number of the leaders who came after Cory led political lives that seem to suggest that what Marcos and his cronies did could not be helped once you assume power. Consider both the Erap presidency and the Arroyo presidency. For that matter, consider how Binay evolved from a human rights lawyer to a contemporary personification of the very evil he helped overthrow. The prosecution and punishment of the Marcoses and their cronies should have happened right after EDSA. Sadly, as David pointed out to this blogger, “the series of coups that unfolded soon after (Cory) took power made it difficult to pursue such a policy. Political consolidation became Cory’s first priority. Then Ramos and Erap became president and that’s when the Marcoses and their cronies decided it was safe to come home.”

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 In the song “History Will Teach Us Nothing” Sting eloquently sings about the failure of history to teach humanity anything. He writes: “I once asked my history teacher how we were expected to learn anything from his subject when it seemed to be nothing but the monotonous exploits and sordid succession of robber barons devoid of any admirable human qualities. I failed history.” (Lyrics by Sting, p. 124) After reading Randy David’s “Battlefield of Memory” I think I would have to disagree with Sting. History does teach us something. It teaches us that there is such a thing as an obligation and a duty to remember and to never forget. Because George Santayana is correct. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I hope and pray that my fellow Filipinos  remember EDSA when they head for the voting precints this May.