EDSA People Power Revolution

[OPINION] Is the spirit of EDSA still alive?

Jayeel Cornelio

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[OPINION] Is the spirit of EDSA still alive?
Reimagining EDSA today must also be forward-looking. While we continue to say 'never forget,' we should also ask, 'what now?'

Is the spirit of EDSA still alive? Does anyone even care? 

These are questions that matter to me, both as an educator and as a Filipino who grew up in the 1990s.

In the school where I spent my formative years, I was exposed to novels and documentaries about the Martial Law. One documentary that was repeatedly shown to us was Batas Militar, which thankfully is still available on YouTube. 

For those who haven’t seen it, please do so and learn about Oplan Sagittarius and the Rolex 12. The documentary begins with a quote from the dictator himself: “Don’t you think that two terms is enough for any man?” We all know that it did not age well.

The questions above also matter to civil society. 

This year, February 25 is no longer a holiday. And yet groups like Buhay ang Edsa are not backing down. For Kiko Aquino Dee, a grandson of Cory and Ninoy, “it is clear that there is an effort to set EDSA aside, and that’s something we stand against.”

Obviously, EDSA still matters to some of us. But does it to everyone else?

Spirit and commemoration

There are, I think, two ways to answer this important question.

The first is by getting a sense of what people really feel.

On the one hand, we have evidence to believe that EDSA still matters. An SWS survey released last year shows exactly that. 

It turns out that 61% of Filipinos still believe that the “spirit of the EDSA People Power Revolution is alive.” (Only 37% think otherwise.)

And commemorating EDSA remains important, says 57% of Filipinos. (By contrast, less than half of the population – 42% – are not convinced.)

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So based on these two variables, the spirit of EDSA remains alive for most of us.

The picture, however, is incomplete. EDSA’s significance can only make sense relative to what people think of the dictator and his martial law. Here the situation becomes complicated.

Over the years, SWS has administered surveys to document people’s changing attitudes towards Marcos, Sr.

In 1986, 52% of Filipinos were convinced that the man was a thief. This figure dropped to 48% in 1995, 38% in 2016, before reaching 19% in 2022.

Similarly, the number of people who agreed that he was a brutal president declined in the same period: 45% in 1986, 39% in 1995, 41% in 2016, and then 23% in 2022.

This decline was accompanied by an increasingly favorable view of the dictator. In 1986, only 42% felt that he was patriotic. By 2022, 65% of Filipinos already did.

In 1986, only 39% of Filipinos thought that he was a defender of the poor and oppressed. But this changed by 2022, with 59% convinced that he was.

This context puts into perspective many things: why the political influence of EDSA and the people associated with it has declined over the years, why the dictator was successfully laid to rest at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and why BBM’s repetitive rhetoric about unity and moving on worked.

Not zero-sum game

The picture that then emerges is seemingly contradictory. 

Yes, majority of Filipinos continue to value EDSA. But majority also reject one of its core tenets, that the former dictator was evil.

In other words, for many Filipinos, it may not necessarily be a zero-sum game to—at the very least—acknowledge both EDSA and the accomplishments of the former dictator.

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How can this be explained? 

One possible explanation is that people are (simply) disappointed. What this means is that majority of Filipinos do not necessarily deny the merits of EDSA as a transformative moment in our history. But they are at the same time disappointed with what has taken shape over the years.

There’s evidence for this. The recent survey administered by SWS shows that only 19% of Filipinos feel that most of EDSA’s promises were fulfilled. By contrast, for 47% of Filipinos, only a few were fulfilled. And almost none, according to 28%.

This situation has rendered many of us to be defensive, and understandably so. For me, our democratic project and collective aspiration remain incomplete. But I cannot deny either that people’s aspirations back in the day remain elusive.  

As Inquirer’s editorial in 2022 puts it, “the euphoria of chasing away a dictator to US exile and getting back democratic space has given way to skepticism, even despair.” It then goes on to spell out the troubles that continue to haunt the everyday Filipino: a weak economy, political dynasties, and state-perpetrated violence.

Capacity to aspire

This of course leads us to an inescapable question: Why then do majority of Filipinos still believe that the spirit of EDSA remains alive?

I think it’s because EDSA carries multiple meanings, beyond what took place in 1986.

Divine justice, for example. Many Filipinos continue to associate EDSA with miracle, a moment that could not have happened if there was no divine intervention. I know Catholics in civil society still think of EDSA as a moment of grace, and a reminder that this country can only be reliant on divine intervention to make things right.

EDSA also symbolizes solidarity, the capacity of people to come together and demand accountability. Anger imbued the generation that went through the dictatorship. But anger is still present today, and it comes to the surface every time we want accountability from our leaders over issues that matter to us. 

EDSA made it possible to express our anger collectively.

Finally, I think many Filipinos, whether we admit it or not, still hold on to what EDSA offered: hope that the future could be better. To be fair, I acknowledge that EDSA has become increasingly unfashionable to defend, what with all the vitriol on social media. But the fact that people are disappointed means that there have been things to be disappointed about. 

Divine justice, solidarity, and hope. These three come together as a schema of aspirations. 

What this means is that EDSA is not only the public capacity to resist. It’s also about people’s capacity to aspire.

Without downplaying the pivotal moment that was the 1986 Revolution and the many sufferings that led to it, reimagining EDSA today must also be forward-looking. 

While we continue to say “never forget”, we should also ask, “what now?” As an educator, I know that it’s questions like this that make the lessons of history come alive. – Rappler.com

Jayeel Cornelio, PhD is currently based at the Center for Asian Democracy at the University of Louisville where he is working on his new book project on religion and public life. He is on sabbatical from the Ateneo de Manila University where he holds the Francis E Reilly, SJ Professorial Chair. Follow him on X @jayeel_cornelio.

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  1. ET

    Thanks to Jayeel Cornelio for his amusing and inspiring article on the EDSA spirit. “Divine justice, solidarity, and hope” are confronted by divine injustice (or at least “cosmic” injustice), disunity of our People, and the powers of Corruption, Repression, and Disinformation. If the first group wins over the second group, then the Spirit of EDSA will still be alive and reinvigorated; otherwise, the Spirit of EDSA will soon die due to socio-psychological and supernatural causes.

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