Conversations about Edsa and Marcos

Even if it were not election season, this would have been a good time to reflect and talk about the 1986 Edsa People Power revolution, its meaning and implications for today’s Philippines. After all, just last Thursday, we celebrated 30 years of that momentous event in our history. With what seems to be the electoral strength of Bongbong Marcos, a culmination of the return to power of the Marcos family, it is even more imperative to have these conversations. 

The last two weeks, in the run up to the 30th anniversary of the Edsa revolt and even as things have heated up in the election campaign, my conversations have become more intense even as I explore different ways to have effective discussions.

Most of my students are millennials, with a majority of them born after the Edsa revolution. The first challenge I have in my conversations with them is how to bring them back to the state of our rights during the Marcos dictatorship. Those great freedoms, as I call them—free expression, free press, freedom to associate, freedom to travel, freedom from illegal detention and torture, and freedom to choose our own political convictions—are taken for granted now. It’s difficult, even for me, 30 years later, to imagine that once we lost those freedoms.

I have discovered that the most effective way to have a conversation about Edsa and the Marcos dictatorship and why we must never again repeat the latter experience is through story telling. Thus I always tell my students my own experience of martial law and my personal Edsa experience. 

I tell them how I woke up early morning of Sept. 23, 1972 to hear my parents whispering that martial law had been proclaimed. Only years later did I find out that my father had assisted student activists to escape arrest on that day by giving them sanctuary in what is now our ancestral home.

I tell them of my direct encounter with the Marcos government when I led relief efforts conducted by my Jesuit high school, Xavier University, for evacuees from the 1974-76 war between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front.

I share with them the return of student activism in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, my small part as a philosophy teacher and formator/spiritual director in guiding students in Xavier University and Ateneo de Manila who were navigating difficult political choices from 1981-85, and my own attraction to armed struggle and how that was resolved after seeing some people I know in the movement being tortured and killed during the purges of the mid-1980s. I always end talking about this phase of my life with how I ended up in law school, convinced that my weapon against the dictatorship and against any form of human rights violations will be the word and not the sword.

I tell them about what exactly I did on Edsa, about the UP Law Liberation Forces, about being in Malacañang as Marcos and his family departed, and how my last memory was that of the looting and hearing the voice of Lean Alejandro saying on radio that not much will change with the change of regime that was happening.

In my conversations with my students, I recommend to them several books (in fact, I give them bonuses if they read at least one of them) and ask them to go to two important museums.

I suggest that they read “The Unusual Journey of Edgar Jopson”—Benjamin Pimentel’s biography of Edgar Jopson, a classic story of a moderate being radicalized, to understand why one of the most destructive consequences of the dictatorship was to lose leaders like Edjop and later on Lean Alejandro. Although assassinated after Edsa, Lean was killed in the spirit of the messianic complex the military still harbored to save the country from communists.

I also recommend “Subversive Lives” which provides riveting, both sad and inspiring, stories of the Quimpo siblings who fought the Marcos dictatorship and eventually their own comrades. This book is a testimony to a family’s nobility and patriotism. I know for a fact that there are several families like the Quimpos. 

Bantayog ng Mga Bayani’s latest book “Nang Mamatay ng Dahil sa Iyo” is a must-read. The book shares stories of those martyred during the Marcos regime as well as those who were heroes in the resistance even if they were able to survive and saw the dictatorship fall during the Edsa revolution.

For my Mindanawon students, and those who are interested in knowing what was happening in the rest of the Philippines, the book “O Susana,”, just published by Ateneo de Davao University, tells interesting stories of how a few good men and women in Davao City kept hope alive during dark times.

I am happy that one of the authors in “Oh Susanna” is my uncle Herminio La Viña. I would not be thinking and believing the way I do now, especially about a faith that must do justice and that must serve the poor, without the influence of Tito Emy.

I also look forward to reading Raissa Robles’ latest book “Marcos Martial Law: Never Again.” I suspect there is old and new material in there but I am sure the eyes are fresh and we will learn something new.

Finally, there are two museums that I encourage my students to visit. 

One is the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani. I frequently bring my constitutional law classes to this great place where they can contemplate on the names in the wall of memory and also see for themselves various exhibits that portrayed the excesses of the Marcos regime.

The other museum, and I hope it will extend to the next few weeks, is the Edsa 30 Experiential Museum hosted currently in Camp Aquinaldo. My family was able to experience this museum last Thursday and definitely it was a powerful experience. The  museum makes us peek into the famous parties of Imelda Marcos attended by high society, provides a ring side view of how political prisoners were tortured during that time, has a moving portrayal of the disappeared and how their children looked for them, gives eyewitness accounts of the deaths of Edgar Jopson, Lorena Barros, Evelio Javier, and Macling Dulag which ends with the showing of raw footage of the last minutes of Ninoy Aquino as he was escorted out of the plane to die in the Naia tarmac. The experience of course ends with the triumph in Edsa.

Did the Filipino people win in Edsa? Yes. I paraphrase words posted by the author Candy Gourlay in Facebook: For the first time, many in my generation experienced hope.

Was that victory final and decisive? Definitely not. The fight against corruption and the struggle against poverty and for social justice, as well as sustainable development are unfinished. And yes, even who prevails in the memory of our country is uncertain. 

The elections on May 9, 2016 will be decisive for this last battle and could be significant also for what remains to be done on corruption, poverty, social justice and sustainable development.

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Topics: Dean Tony La Viña , Conversations about Edsa and Marcos , Edsa People Power revolution
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