Countless editorials and newpaper columns and whole forests of pulp and barrels of ink have been used in bewailing the lost promise of EDSA. The betrayal was subtle at the start, and began with the very symbol of the peaceful revolt, Cory Aquino. Having been swept into the presidency by people power, she lost no time in restoring the old oligarchic landscape and giving back to her friends, cronies and others of her class the power, wealth and privilege taken away by Marcos.
The aspirational middle class cheered her on, while the masses cautiously looked forward to a more equitable regime. All the rights words were being said and Cory certainly looked the part: heroic, sincere, prayerful and seemingly self-effacing. She made a significant worldwide impression, was met with a standing ovation when she spoke before the U.S. Congress and was Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 1986 (I still have a copy of the issue hidden somewhere). Cory was a global personage at a time before the worldwide web came to dominate the dissemination of information. She was already a symbol of hope and change when Barack Obama was an unknown community organizer in Chicago’s South Side.
This lovefest came to an abrupt end, and Cory revealed her true colors less than a year into office, with the Mendiola massacre. Farmers seeking some form of redress for centuries-old grievances were gunned down when they tried to bring their pleas to Cory. So much for managing expectations. It was all downhill from there.
Our disillusionment with people power continues to this day. President Arroyo now conveniently downplays the EDSA ideal in bringing about political change, saying that the world “would no longer forgive an EDSA 3 but instead condemn the Philippines as a country whose political system is hopelessly unstable.” What cheek, as the Brits would say, considering she profited most handsomely from people power. And saddled us with a government literally wallowing in corruption. If she were a truthful person, she would admit that what the world would not tolerate is another Gloria Arroyo.
Now she tells us that we can once more rise to the occasion and rely on the “boldness” of EDSA in facing the challenges of the global financial meltdown, blah, blah, blah (I’ve always wanted to use “blah, blah, blah” but never had a chance until now).
This is how debased the idea of EDSA has become. People power is now a cheap political gimmick, available to anyone with the will and wherewithal to organize a mob. Anyone facing removal from office for stealing from public coffers can call for people power and hole up with supporters in his office to wait out events. We can ask the good mayor of Makati how it’s done.
People power has become the political equivalent of snake oil, a quick-fix, cure-all for whatever ails the body politic. And peddled by thoroughly disreputable characters. No wonder it has lost all meaning for us and the so-called spirit of EDSA is a mere abstraction to the generation that came after it.