My memory may not be as good as it was, but there just are events in my life I’ll never forget, and one of them is Edsa. No one can take that experience away from me or devalue it in any way without hearing from me.
I was blessed by history to have been one among the multitude who anxiously seized that stretch of Edsa pavement for four days of revolution by prayer and camaraderie. Every day I walked to Edsa from my little condominium home in Xavier Street and back, to refresh for my part in the rising against the dictator. I was 46 years young.
A mere six years back, my marriage of 20 years had ended. I had just begun writing for a weekly magazine on women who made life-changing decisions for themselves. My next subject, only my fourth, would have been Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara.
A cousin who had arranged the interview called to reset the appointment. That gave credence to the rumor that Lupita’s brother Ninoy was returning, indeed, from American exile. In fact, he arrived on the day of the interview; he arrived to his own assassination.
Consequently or not, the magazine axed my budding series and career. I never wrote regularly again—until this column.
I wept over the assassination with others who bore the same un-acted-upon guilt all those seven years I knew Ninoy had been suffering in detention. His bloodied remains, kept in that state until his burial for all to remember, had haunted my memory.
Edsa was my—our—redemption.
Within the year of Edsa, I flew to the US for my daughter’s graduation, at Boston University, and brought with me as much Edsa paraphernalia as I could carry. Boston was the Aquinos’ home in exile. It was a proud moment to be a Filipino. Strangers came up to congratulate me just for being one.
That was 30 years ago. Cory, Ninoy’s widow, the president installed by the Edsa revolt, fought off seven coups mounted by opportunistic patriots who had sided with the dictator, then broke with him and joined the Edsa revolutionaries, then broke with them, too. Simply, they wanted power for themselves.
Cory’s death, like Ninoy’s, brought us together again to elect her only son, Noynoy, who began to put big-fish plunderers to jail and to steer us back on the righteous path. But he, too, has had to battle coups—coups that came in other forms, the most insidious aimed at perverting the powerful moral story of Edsa in order to bring Edsa’s original enemy back to power.
The perversion has, in fact, crept into schoolbooks and other texts, which in the first place had little to offer in the way of truth about Edsa.
In the center of this insidious campaign are the Marcoses and their cronies themselves. They have managed to hold on to much of their plundered loot and now hope to have it for keeps, if not add yet to it. But the Edsa spirit lives, as evidenced by new and vigorous efforts inspired by it.
I’m particularly consoled, if not reassured, by the likes of the respected journalist Raissa Robles, who recently had a soft launch of her book about those years. The truth at last!
My husband and I arrived as Raissa was being interviewed by the broadcast talk-show host Karen Davila. She promised to have Raissa on her early morning show, the same show on which she featured Ferdinand Marcos Jr.—alone. How I wished he and Raissa had been on together; it would have been a decisive battle between lies and documented truth.
At the soft launch, a victim testified and demonstrated how a simple battlefield phone came handy for torture during martial law. The devise sent 100 volts or more (110 power households in the US) through his body. The victim, only 19 at the time, still counted himself among the lucky ones: he somehow knew he was not among those picked to be tortured to death.
From the audience a Muslim woman stood up to testify, weeping, that her mother, a princess in Mindanao, had been butchered.
It is good to remember our history with all its ugliness and pain, not gloss over it, or worse, call those years as the best the nation has ever lived through. Please!
On Edsa Victory Day, still in our patriotic mood, we came as invited guests to Ballet Manila’s presentation of “Rebel,” supposedly an offering for the commemoration—although we had been warned by the British choreographer that it had been inspired by the legend of “Spartacus,” and was not to be a taken as a lesson in history.
Spartacus, pictured in my memory as Kirk Douglas, leads a revolt of slaves against a roman emperor. At the ballet, I looked up and down, here and yonder, in vain, for something to justify taking artistic liberties with our contemporary history at such a critical time. I gasped in disbelief as Ninoy stabs Juan de la Cruz and kills him. But the choreographer wasn’t done yet. The ghost of Juan de la Cruz rises to gun Ninoy down, and the Marcoses, hands unsoiled, disappear from the stage, unceremoniously.
As a final triumph of the now vindicated Filipino nation, the ghost of Juan sits on the throne, not Cory.
The ballet, in other words, tries to save itself with a savory ending—after poisoning everything else. Art, indeed, can be the most insidious way of perpetuating a lie. “Artistic license,” a friend said of “Rebel.” She further tried to console me by saying, “Ballet has a small audience, anyway.”
And so we go on, into these crucial times, ignoring our own little contributions to the distortion of history and the truth.
A dear old friend I truly respect, his face red with exasperation, had just seen the latest polls, which could take us back to the dark years of cronyism and plunder, thanks to the twisting of history.
“Am I glad,” he said, “I’m an old man. I’m not going to live through that again.”