When an old friend emailed me a TikTok video of my 17-year-old self passionately explaining why we had to oust the Philippine president in 2001, I was amused. I shared the video with my family and shrugged it off, until I learned it had gone viral, with hundreds of commentors wondering who the girl in the bucket hat was. I was shocked and slightly terrified of being identified. I’m not on social media, and suddenly I was in a viral video from a news clip taken over 20 years ago.
I hoped the social media news cycle would run its course with no one recognizing me. I barely recognized the person in that video – so amped up and solid in her convictions – and I was bewildered by the prospect of being a poster child of the revolution. But I realized that no amount of reticence could keep me from helping shed light on how a young person like me discovered political activism, lost faith, and years later, has come to understand the importance of continuing to fight against corruption, tyranny, and history repeating itself.
To anyone wondering who I am and where I am now: I am a writer living in the US. I had admittedly lost touch with my roots until this video surfaced – a reminder of the best of who we are, and who we can still aspire to become.
The birth of awareness
I grew up in Cebu, not realizing how I was so far removed from the heartbeat of the nation until I moved to Manila for college. President Estrada had been in power just two years, but already the corruption claims against him were mounting. I was only vaguely aware of the headlines, much less the details of the court proceedings against him. That is, until I met Juan*.
Juan was so deeply aware of national politics. He was passionate and unbridled in his political views. He dreamt of becoming president one day. Our conversations served as my introduction to politics, a topic I found fascinating for its volatility and fanfare.
I started subscribing to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which I read voraciously. If I didn’t have time to read the paper, I would read it the next day, just as thoroughly as the latest paper. “Why do you bother reading old news?,” my roommates would ask me. I said I had to know if I missed something. Sometimes I would read five dailies in one sitting, cover to cover.
The birth and death of ideals
The call to civil disobedience happened at 9 pm on January 17, 2001. I was in my room, studying for a Math mid-term. My phone beeped every few seconds with indignant calls to action, urging the public to join in a noise barrage, and to march to the EDSA Shrine. In a matter of hours, radio announcements, text messages, emails, and sympathetic TV programs called for the Filipino people to “restage the EDSA Revolution!” “Let the people’s voice be heard!” “Long live People Power!” The propaganda – so immediate, so forceful, so logical – appealed to my newfound political sensibilities. “I can’t sit here and study for a stupid math exam while history is unfolding!” I shrieked to my roommates. I was properly outraged and took to the streets.
I have told people that my passions have never been as ignited as they were then, that I have not had any other experience where I was caught in the same upward swell as hundreds of thousands of people, surging towards a focal point where something explosive was about to happen.
I tried to be as useful as possible, to have a sense of purpose. There wasn’t much to do besides show up. Once, I volunteered to hand out sandwiches and canned goods. Mostly, my voice was drowned out by the blare of sound systems, and I was a tiny figure in a body of two million people.
When Estrada finally stepped down at dawn on the third day, I cheered with the crowd on EDSA. I had been there the entire time, exhausted and exhilarated.
Years later, I wondered if it was an egotistical drive that led me to participate in the EDSA II Revolution. I believed I was involved in making history, that I was affecting positive change in my country. But there was always a sense that we didn’t move forward the democracy in overthrowing a duly elected president by mass uprising. I wondered if we were fostering a culture of expediency by forcefully removing someone in power we were unhappy with. Over the years, there have been more cases of rampant corruption against succeeding presidents, followed by a furor of student rallies, propaganda jingles, and official statements from the Catholic Church. Had anything really changed?
Two years after graduation, I left the Philippines. Up until the day I got on a plane for New York, I read the news religiously. As I flew away from Manila, with nothing but two suitcases and romantic notions of life abroad, my investment in Philippine politics began to slip away.
I was in my Brooklyn apartment when I read the news of Estrada’s conviction, six years after EDSA II. The headline on Inquirer’s website – Erap Guilty! – brought back something I hadn’t felt since those heady days in the streets. I felt that my past political activism was vindicated.
Unfortunately, that feeling was short-lived when Erap was granted a full pardon just over a month later. I was so saddened by this news; it hit me in the gut, twisted me inside and left me bitter and hopeless. For the first time since I left the Philippines, I seriously considered never returning.
Coming full circle
In over 15 years of living in the US, I will own up to being a Filipino citizen only by dual passport. I stopped reading Philippine news, I stopped having political conversations with friends back home, and I never voted in a Philippine election. But all that changes this year – in October 2021, one of my best friends living in London urged me to register to vote, explaining how crucial this upcoming presidential election is to the future of our country. I made it to the Philippine consulate on Fifth Avenue one day before overseas registration closed. I waited in line for an hour outside in the early autumn chill, and when I sat down to register, the consulate official chided me for never having voted. As removed as I had become from my motherland, I understood the need to act now. I have begun reading Philippine news again, and I am committed to placing my vote in the May elections.
When the EDSA Dos video went viral, I was concerned that something I said and did from half a lifetime ago would affect the life I’ve built for myself halfway around the world. I hoped no one would recognize me. Now I hope to recognize even a fraction of my 17-year-old self in who I am today. – Rappler.com
Janine Yu lives in the US as a writer.
*Name changed for privacy