Some might choose to comment on what they believe is the unfulfilled promise of EDSA, whose anniversary we celebrated yesterday. Seventeen years of post-Marcos democracy has seen fluctuating fortunes, small gains in democratic governance, little improvement in the equitable distribution of wealth and political power. One criticism of People Power is that it simply restored the pre-Marcos elites to their political positions. The same challenges of 1986 remain the challenges to face today: eradicating poverty, ensuring the accountability of government.
I choose to hold optimism. The post-EDSA years have seen that traditional elite slowly challenged by a revitalized and enlightened society, from different sectors and walks of life, our democratic space slowly secured through their efforts (though great strides remain, as we shall see as the midterm elections draw closer). Innovations in technology, methodology, and ideas have given citizens increasingly powerful means to air their voices, hold their leaders to account, and participate in the public arena. Through this the past 27 years have seen People Power adapted and replicated, to varying degrees of success, around the world, of late in the volatile Middle East (and their story is still playing out).
In 1986 we had been given another chance at democracy. In the 27 years since, whenever history granted us another opportunity to test our commitment to freedom and democracy, we have proven ourselves ably: in every election, in EDSA Dos; in our wariness towards Charter Change-driven term extensions; when the vagueness and overreach of the Cybercrime Bill threatened to chill free speech. There is no question anymore regarding the Filipino’s heroism for democracy when the shadow of authoritarianism threatens. But what about heroism while in the light of freedom? Where is the courage to sustain democracy in its true greatest test: sustainability?
The miracle of EDSA is not merely that we unseated the dictator, but that we found the courage to come to the aid of others, when called by Jaime Cardinal Sin, in our nation’s hour of need–even if we didn’t know for certain that the tanks would crush us, or that the soldiers would shoot. By the grace of God and the compassion of those soldiers, we survived and overcame, without need of a bloodbath.
If we have yet to win our age-old battle against poverty and systematic injustice; if we feel that the promise of EDSA remains unfulfilled, it’s not ny failure of EDSA’s: we have yet to fully apply that same courage on the streets, or before the ballot boxes, to the everyday challenges of Philippine political life. The late Cory Aquino spoke of how EDSA and hope for Philippine democracy lay in each other, as partners in development, accountability, justice, and peace. Sometimes, I see more acrimony than amity in politics, lately in the Senate and during electoral campaigns: we have yet to fully achieve EDSA’s compassion.
In fact, perhaps it’s time we spoke not of the promise of EDSA, fulfilled or unfulfilled, but a promise to EDSA, with a citizen’s responsibility to fulfill. We have to rebuild that sense of citizenship, of civic pride and participation, that we often see in extraordinary political times, but rarely in normal times. We should see as equally heroic the prosaic tasks of citizenship, in political, economic, social, environmental terms. Not only are we called to elect leaders of integrity and capability, but also to engage them with our interest and concerns; to call them to account (not in the adversarial, accusatory fashion we are too familiar with, if they haven’t broken the law or faith with the electorate, but in a constructive, forward-looking attitude) and work with them to solve the small challenges of democracy in our own barangay or municipality. And as we linked arms in EDSA, can we not link arms in ordinary times, to face tests like global warming, or social accountability, or inclusive development that lifts the poorest with the rest of us?
EDSA is a major avenue in Metro Manila, but its spirit is closer to the streets and alleys that run near our homes. A parable of Christ speaks of faithfulness in the small things. Democracy also calls from us the same attention to detail. Those who gave their lives for our freedom deserve no less from us, that we live their great courage in the small moments of our democratic lives. This is what we ought to celebrate. This is the promise we owe to EDSA.