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A postscript to EDSA

Gabbi Garcia and Khalil Ramos for Scout x Globe

Thirty-four years ago, Filipinos woke up to Feb. 26 jubilant over the fact that a dictatorship had been finally overthrown. Even the headlines on the papers couldn’t keep the sigh of relief, with the Inquirer bearing the banner story “It’s all over; Marcos flees!”

Feb. 26 promised a new beginning to the millions who marched to EDSA after those four historic days we now own as the People Power uprising. Yet, decades later, waking up to Feb. 26 now feels like a hard slap of reality.

Did something go wrong in EDSA? Are we really that forgetful of our history as a nation?

Those four days have been reduced to a single state-sanctioned holiday every Feb. 25. While protests from various groups mark that day, waking up to Feb. 26 only coldly reminds you that the world goes on. The Marcoses are quickly making their way back to power under a president who seems more than eager to follow the late dictator’s footsteps. And yes, that president is still the president, despite the loud calls for his resignation. 

Did something go wrong in EDSA? Are we really that forgetful of our history as a nation?

For the thousands of us who marched to Mendiola yesterday, however, commemorating the People Power uprising is not merely an act of remembering the victory of the people against a fascist dictatorship.

We never forgot, but we also have to grapple with the fact that so many things were left unchanged after EDSA. If fascism was able to creep back, then it must have never left in the first place—and therefore, the struggle for human rights, genuine democracy and social justice is far from over.

A tyrannical revival

“Ang February 25, 1986 ay nakapagpatalsik sa diktadura pero hindi lubus-lubusang nakamit ang tagumpay ng mamamayang Pilipino,” Danilo Dela Fuente tells me on the sidelines of the protest.

Ka Dan, as we fondly call him, is already in his 70s, his hair almost completely white. When the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law on Sept.21, 1972, Ka Dan was already a student activist at the then-Philippine College of Commerce as a member of the Kabataan Makabayan. He later became a labor organizer.

Feb. 25 is a memorable day for Ka Dan: It was on that day that he, along with seven other organizers, was arrested by the Philippine Constabulary following a raid in 1982. Ka Dan would endure various forms of excruciating physical and psychological torture before finally seeing daylight on Feb. 25, 1986 as the Marcoses fled the country exactly four years after his arrest. 

The torture he endured—along with his old age—didn’t seem much of a bother for Ka Dan, as he marched to Mendiola along with thousands of activists young and old, including his fellow former political detainees from the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto or Selda.

EDSA might have failed on its promise of a new beginning at one point or another in allowing the full return of another fascist dictatorship, but its legacy remains in the continuing struggle for human rights, democracy and justice. 

For them, the threats of arrests, abductions and tortures of activists that were commonplace during Martial Law never went away, and under Duterte, Ka Dan is seeing their worsening continuation.

“Nagpapatuloy ang paninikil at pagsuheto sa mga aktibista na tulad naming noon at hanggang sa ngayon. Hinuhuli, tino-torture ang mga aktibista ngayon na katulad namin ‘nung panahon nang napatalsik ang diktadura,” Ka Dan explained.

For human rights group Karapatan, Duterte is ripping pages from the Marcosian playbook by using legal offensives such as trumped-up charges against critics “in an attempt to silence their dissent against Duterte’s fascist pronouncements.” As of December 2019, Karapatan has documented at least 604 political prisoners in the country, with 362 of them arrested under Duterte’s term.

Duterte’s crackdown on his critics has spared no one, from the vice president herself to senators, to elderly nuns, to sickly peace consultants—and young human rights defenders are not safe from the state’s fascist attacks.

Speaking before the crowd in Mendiola, Kabataan Partylist Representative Sarah Jane Elago notes that the activists unjustly arrested in Tacloban City, Leyte following the raids in their officers are mostly youth leaders and young human rights activists.

She slammed the arrests, demanding: “Ang mga nasa kulungan ay hindi po dapat ang mga kritiko o ang lahat ng mga gumagamit ng kanilang pulitikal na karapatan at ng kanilang civil rights para magpahayag ng kanilang mga hinaing kung ‘di ang dapat nasa likod ng rehas ay ang mga abuso sa kapangyarihan. 

Hope in the continuing struggle

2020 marks 50 years since the series of student protests against the Marcos regime now known as the First Quarter Storm of 1970.  Former student activists and playwright Bonifacio Ilagan—who was also detained and tortured under martial law—recounts, “[Ang First Quarter Storm] ay isang panahon ng pinanindigan ng mga kabataan ang isang bagong tuklas na simbolo ng pagbabago.” He urged the Filipino youth to continue the legacy of the First Quarter Storm’s militant struggle for social change.

Elago explained that Filipino youth do not forget their history and are drawing upon its lessons to face the challenges of resisting another tyrant and dictatorship.

Read more: Let’s remember Martial Law for Imee Marcos

“Kaya naririto po ang representasyon ng kabataan hindi lamang sabihin na hindi tayo aatras at hindi tayo bibitiw sa pagpapalakas ng boses ng kabataan sa loob ng Kongreso kung ‘di dapat nating iparinig sa buong bayan, sa buong kapuluan, at sa lahat ng umaabuso sa kanilang kapangyarihan na tayo ay hindi papayag na magpatuloy ang inhustisya sa ating bayan at tayo ay handang lumaban, tayo handang kamtin ang ating pagiging pag-asa ng bayan, at tayo ay handang lumaban para sa ating mga karapatan at para sa mas magandang kinabukasan,” Elago called on the youth.

“[Ang First Quarter Storm] ay isang panahon ng pinanindigan ng mga kabataan ang isang bagong tuklas na simbolo ng pagbabago.”

The hope of a truly democratic, just, and humane society might not have been achieved by the People Power uprising 34 years ago, and its memory and legacy have been appropriated or discredited by certain families and individuals over the years.

The victory of the People Power uprising is a victory of the Filipino people and the Filipino people alone. Overthrowing one of the most corrupt and brutal regimes in Philippine history is its greatest legacy. But for those who lived through the dark days of dictatorship then and to those of us living under a new one in present time, taking the line of resistance is urgent and relevant now more than ever.

Read more: Imelda Marcos docu ‘The Kingmaker’ is premiering in the Philippines soon

EDSA might have failed on its promise of a new beginning at one point or another in allowing the full return of another fascist dictatorship, but its legacy remains in the continuing struggle for human rights, democracy and justice. 

For human rights workers such as myself, the work is often dangerous. A lot of our colleagues have been arrested or gunned down in broad daylight; the threat of arrests or even death looms over us as the regime further attempts to consolidate its power and to crackdown on dissent.

Read more: The future belongs to the revolution

Nonetheless, there is hope in the continuing struggle—not only hope that all dictators are bound to fall, but ultimately  hope of creating a better world for the people. Imagining a better tomorrow is possible, and we have a world to win.

Photos by Philip Jamilla

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