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23 Years After EDSA: A Reflection

We were exiles in our land — we, Filipinos, who are at home only in freedom — when Marcos destroyed the Republic fourteen years ago. Through courage and unity, through the power of the people, we are home again.

Twenty-three years ago tomorrow, President Corazon Aquino delivered these words of great hope and passion upon assuming the Philippines presidency in the wake of the 1986 People Power Revolution. The peaceful overthrow of the great tyrant, Ferdinand E. Marcos, sparked international curiosity and admiration. Oppressed peoples all over the world felt some of that same hope coursing through Filipino veins. When Aquino addressed a joint session of the United States Congress, the lawmakers, many clad in Aquino’s signature yellow, gave her a raucous ovation. TIME Magazine even named her 1986’s Person of the Year, writing that:

Whatever else happens in her rule, Aquino has already given her country a bright, and inviolate, memory. More important, she has also resuscitated its sense of identity and pride…. in February [1986], for a few extraordinary moments, the people of the Philippines proved their bravery to the world, and to themselves.

Twenty-three years later, EDSA One seems to be a distant memory. The great hope felt during that time is woefully absent from our hearts. The only stories found in international publications concerning the Philippines are about corruption, poverty, or Manny Pacquiao. The Philippines has once again been relegated to one of the “dustier corridors” of human consciousness.

Part of the blame lies with us. It seems that, caught up in the commotion of liberty and justice, we began to see freedom as an end rather than a means. After fifteen years of despotic rule, we were so enamored with our newfound freedom that we did not mind the responsibilities that freedom entails. Thus, the Philippines finds itself in an awkward adolescent phase, struggling to realize the potential instilled in itself by its rebirth twenty-three years ago. Once, a Filipino of great promise delivered this bold proclamation upon assuming a position of great power:

This nation can be great again. This I have said over and over…. This is your dream and mine. By your choice you have committed yourselves to it.

This proclamation came from none other than Marcos during his First Inaugural Address in 1965. Perhaps the biggest regret about Marcos should not be the wrongs he committed, but rather the good he could have done but did not. Before his Kurtzian transformation, Marcos seemed to possess the vision and sense of action that could have made the Philippines a premier Asian nation. That Marcos was consumed fully and totally by the heart of darkness is a sayang that stands alone in modern Philippine history.

In that same speech, Marcos claimed that the Filipino “had lost his soul.” This seems to be a thought shared by many – even Jose Rizal once said the Filipinos were “a people without a soul.” Yet truly, the Filipino does have a soul. It is a soul carved not from divine grace, but from oppression, disappointment, and injustice; it is a hearty soul, built to withstand the misfortunes so often thrown at it. It is a soul that makes the Filipino cynical by nature, but unquestionably durable; it is a soul that possesses infinite promise. With a tool as powerful as the Filipino soul at our disposal, we must take it upon ourselves to fulfill the greatness inherent in our nation and its people.

At the end of that First Inaugural Address, Marcos tasked the nation with this:

We must renew the vision of greatness for our country…. This is a vision that all of you share for our country’s future. It is a vision, which can, and should, engage the energies of the nation…. We must harness the wills and the hearts of all our people. We must find the secret chords, which turn ordinary men into heroes, mediocre fighters into champions…. Not one hero alone do I ask from you – but many; nay all, I ask all of you to be heroes of our nation…. Come then, let us march together towards the dream of greatness.

Thus is the challenge. Let us revive and fulfill this vision that Marcos identified, then subsequently destroyed. Only then will the legacy of the People Power Revolution be solidified– for then, the Filipino will truly be worthy of his freedom and his soul.

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