March 05, 2006
THE ILOCOS TIMES - OPINION

IN-DEPTH (2)
Juan L. Mercado

A people scrubbed of memory

“The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory”, a historian once wrote. Has that come to pass here?

As People Power One’s 20th anniversary approaches, the “fashion” is to denigrate the massive turnout of unarmed citizens that ended a 14-year dictatorship.

“We made headway in preventing a future dictator from reemerging in the 1987 Constitution”, University of the Philippines sociologist Randy David notes. “But we’re far from eliminating those conditions that make strongman rule a seductive alternative”

There are, of course, scoffers. The “five percent revolution” Ferdinand Marcos Jr. sneers. That’s from a man convicted for tax evasion under a kleptocracy.

Bongbong clones our communists. Heirs of a failed ideology, Reds fancy themselves as “vanguard of the masses”. But when people revolted, they huddled in safehouses. Today, they’d shuck off, via dolled-up fronts, their stigma as People Power “orphans”. Their hostility to revolutions, not tailored to Maoist specs, remains paranoid

Responding to Jaime Cardinal Sin’s call, citizens massed and saved martial law bouncer Juan Ponce Enrile from ending up like Mussolini. He fled when found plotting Marcos’ ouster. In the 2004 campaign, Enrile “apologized” to Ilocano voters for People Power. He forgot?

On a Chile state visit, Joseph Estrada summed up crony preference for amnesia “Ugly parts of our country, like martial law, should be forgotten”. Ang mga pangit at nakalipas should not be commemorated”. “The shonky ex-movie star Joseph Estrada” was ousted by People Power Two, the Australian Financial Review wrote later.

Historian Horacio de la Costa, SJ, once observed that our history is one of defeats: from the fall of Tirad Pass to the surrender at Bataan and Corregidor. Yet, we commemorate these mga pangit at nakalipas.

We err when we consider People Power as one event, however shattering. It is, in fact, a long process by an empowered people, recasting institutions, despite bitter resistance by an avaricious elite.

So, what have these congenital scoffers, and their new associates, overlooked?

We are a people of short memories, our critics insist. Surveys report that less than ten percent of students today know Senator Benigno Aquino, much less what he was killed for. The average TV fan can spit out details about “Wowowee” and celebrities. But there’s a “black hole” insofar as torture, salvaging, kleptocracy of the Marcos regime are concerned.

Yet, “all of us must open our hearts to human memory,” Nobel laureate Eli Weisel insisted at the Auschwitz death camp memorial rites. “I do not want my past to become the future of my children.

Amnesia blocks recall of what freedom entails. Few recall it was ‘1984’ for us before People Power.

BBC commentator George Orwell wrote his way into the dictionary with “1984”. His chilling mid-century novel on dictatorship depicted a country where citizens thrust into “memory holes” anything that contradicted the dictator’s whims.

In a country without memories, wrong became right; falsehood the truth, slavery freedom. “Martial law was the democratic period in our history,” Imelda Marcos says.

Thus, a US senator sneered: “The Philippines is a nation of 60 million cowards and two SOBs.” Then, Corazon Aquino and a handful started to march—and we learned that courage is contagious.

“People Power”, the Guardian notes, is “a post-modern coup d ‘etat.” Its manifestations elsewhere are instructive.

Sorry to rain on our parade. But we didn’t invent People Power. Non-violent protests go way back. In 1930, India’s Mahatma Gandhi led thousands to Dandi’s seashore in peaceful protest against the salt tax.

In the mid-80s, TV interlocked with satellites. These brought images of Filipinos with rosaries and flowers, blocking tanks, into living rooms the world over. Televised evening news foreshadowed that trend, when it shoved the Vietnam War into American homes. It now does that with the Iraq conflict.

People Power rippled out to South Korea, Chile, Poland, Indonesia, Thailand. Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Revolution” and the Berlin Wall followed in 1989. The Soviet Union’s collapse followed.

At Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the military brutally crushed the seven-week-long pro-democracy protest. Filipino communists, like Jose Maria Sison and Crispin Beltran, cheered the bloodbath.

By 2003, the “Rose Revolution” rocked Georgia. The “Orange Revolution” freed Ukraine last year. Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution” drove out Syrian occupiers.

Ecuador cloned our noise-barrage against Marcos and sent its president packing. In Mexico, 1.2 million people silently marching forced President Vicente Fox to scrub fake charges against his opponent. Mass protests yanked out presidents in Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Haiti.

But not all People Power golpes have happy endings.

The Uzbekistan revolt, over rigged polls, was brutally crushed. In Zimbabwe—where inflation rages at 127 percent and 4.8 million starve—people power “failed to ignite,” Christian Science Monitor reports. Why? Because there was no credible leader.

We saw that here too. People ignored Erap when he tried to incite EDSA 3 and 4. Filipinos will risk all for a cause, but not for a souse.

People Power remains democracy’s weapon of last resort. “Those who answer its call,” David writes, “must work hard to prepare the ground” through good governance.

(E-mail: juan_mercado@pacific.net.ph)

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OPINION

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