Every year my husband and I always try to take part in commemorations of the Edsa People Power revolution of 1986. But we seem increasingly at a loss which commemoration to attend and which to avoid.
Under governments either unfriendly to the Aquinos or friendly to the Marcoses, Edsa has become in some cases merely a token, if not altogether fraudulent observance. Both anti-Aquino and pro-Marcos—in fact a Marcos devotee—the President has more than enough excuse to boycott it. Declaring it a holiday yet not taking a part in it is his own way of mocking Edsa.
Duterte and his allies are exactly the people that the warriors of Edsa drove away, and they’re back with a vengeance, back in power, unrepentant and unpunished. Ferdinand Marcos’ burial as a hero under this regime says it all. Meantime, opposition leaders and followers cannot seem to come together, possibly demoralized by the defeat of their senatorial candidates in the last election. They could not even muster a shadow of the crowd for even one day for this year’s 34th anniversary.
Adding to our confusion, the commemoration happened in different, although relevant, places—Mendiola, Edsa shrine, the campuses—over four days, the duration of the original revolution. It was also unclear which groups were behind what. We decided to take our cue from friends in Aware, an association of women fighting for social reform. On the 25th, we went to the Edsa shrine to attend Mass, driven in a yellow-ribboned car by a pilot with a yellow-ribboned little ponytail.
There are many memorable Edsa songs I know, but for me it is “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” that captured the spirit of the time, the song that filled the air with hope in anticipation of a returning hero—Ninoy. After his assassination, yellow became the color of protest; indeed, it was the dominant color at Edsa. Today the symbol has become so successfully derided by trolls and pro-Marcos agents that many of those who at one time held it proudly, even wore it, are reluctant to do so in fear of the consequences at the hands of this regime and its aggressive agents and followers. At any rate, at Mass the color shone dominantly and bravely.
Outside the shrine were groups of protesters with serious grievances, and inside were familiar faces from Edsa who have carried on its cause through the years. There were hopes Leni Robredo would attend, despite the loss of her mother, whose remains lay in state in their native Naga City; if not her, some members of the opposition, but none came.
In desperation, I wished 64-year-old Bishop Broderick Pabillo would celebrate Mass. He is, after all, one of the few outspoken critics of Duterte’s war on drugs and new, though only temporary, replacement of the timid Cardinal Luis Tagle as head of the Manila archdiocese. Apparently, according to Fr. Lazaro Abaco, caretaker of the shrine (2015-2021), a Tagle appointee himself, Bishop Pabillo was not invited.
When I saw Fathers Robert, Flavi and Bert in the vests of cocelebrants, my Edsa spirit began to lift again. But as their singular persecution by the regime for their resistance to evil and injustice, they were not even introduced, let alone allowed to speak.
It was clearly Father Lazaro’s show. The altar looked festive with wreaths and bouquets in bright protest yellow. Otherwise, listening to his homily, I might have forgotten exactly what it was we were commemorating—moral courage.
He went on and on, rather, about peace, and his homily was followed by a dance presentation by ladies wearing pastel-colored native attires, one of them holding a statue of Our Lady Queen of Peace. Bracelets of beads in nine colors of peace, including yellow, were distributed; Father Lazaro explained its context, which for all its simplicity was lost on me, and led us all to pray, again for peace, on his abbreviated rosary.
Act of defiance
Just the night before, our friend Fr. Tito Caluag sent me a video of the massive march of young people sympathetic to the cause of ABS-CBN and in defense of freedom of expression in general and in particular their own right to choose where to get their news and information and entertainment.
Feeling frustrated and bitin, our group proceeded to the Freedom Monument in White Plains, hoping there to find something bravely relevant. Policemen lined both sides of the long wide street and seemed to outnumber whatever protest crowd there was. We were told no permit for any rally was granted, which explained the absence of a stage.
On the way home, I kept thinking about the homily of peace, passive, typically Catholic peace, out of place at a time when our democratic rights and freedoms are again under relentless attack. Peace, when threatened, is often achieved by showing a readiness to fight. Nations, in fact, arm themselves to show strength and capability to defend themselves against would-be invaders. Freedom is fought and died for; such is the price of peace. Edsa was not about peace, although it was by the grace of God peaceful, and mercifully so. It was an act of defiance by a nation who had had enough. More than outrage it was about the readiness to risk everything, even life, to give our children a better life, a life in freedom and prosperity. Edsa was about courage, and courage it is, in all its infectious viral quality, that is called for once again.