EDSA Dos: 15 years later

This week, the state and our “national leaders” conveniently and cynically forgot. And so let’s remember and never forget EDSA Dos (Jan. 16-20, 2001).

My elder sister and younger brother were too young when EDSA 1 happened, and my mother sent us packing to Bulacan during those days in 1986 for fear that the dictator might do something awful in Metro Manila. And so when in January 2001, a Senate vote to block evidence in President Estrada’s historic impeachment trial finally ignited the second people’s uprising, I was there.

I was there not just as a participant. Together with Laarni, Gerry, Ina, Jang, and other fellow activist propagandists, we helped dub the indignation rally at the EDSA Shrine as EDSA Dos. Our team helped mount the Bayan program in the late afternoon, and had the honor of being an emcee almost every day.

When Nora Aunor decided to come out during one of those fateful days and to call on Estrada to resign, we helped organize a press conference at the Bayan office in Quezon City. Later that day, the superstar made a grand entrance at EDSA, flanked not by traditional politicians but by peasant leader Rafael Mariano and trade unionist (and her fellow Bicolano) Crispin Beltran. The crowds erupted in jubilation.

When the march from EDSA Shrine to Mendiola pushed thru despite pleas to just remain and witness Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s oath-taking, I was on board a jeep carrying freshly made “Resign!” flaglettes and back-up Bayan flags – en route from the Bayan office to anywhere where we could catch up with the march. We almost didn’t make it. The march was already approaching Nagtahan when we caught up with the huge march.

Knowing that a handful of Estrada loyalists were positioned on Mendiola Bridge, the marchers led by Bayan and Kangkong Brigade split into two. One would approach Mendiola from Legarda, while the other would go through a longer route, through sidestreets until it reached Claro M. Recto. People came out of their houses to cheer us, and to give water and food. The streets shook as marchers repeatedly thundered: “Ayan na, ayan na, ayan na ang sambayanan!”. I was lucky to be aboard the main truck that had the sound system, helping lead marchers in the chanting.

The small number of Estrada loyalists pelted stones at the marchers when they saw the two front lines of the march at Recto and Legarda. But it took only a few minutes for them to realize that they couldn’t fight tens of thousands of people approaching Mendiola.

It was unforgetable: The merging of the two front lines, the entry into Mendiola and the setting aside of barbed wires. We proclaimed victory as we reached the historic and symbolic bridge that separated the presidency and the people. It was a preview of how our people could, in the future, encircle and lay siege at the palace and win a full-scale revolution.

At around noon, Estrada Resign Movement’s Fr. Joe Dizon announced to cheers that Estrada had fled the palace. He also announced that Arroyo had taken her oath as the new president. Bayan Muna’s Satur Ocampo would soon speak and urge the people that the battle wasn’t over because Estrada had to be prosecuted for the crimes that agitated people into launching EDSA Dos.

Fast forward to 2016 or 15 years later: No national celebration and no sense of jubilation. Why?

Estrada has made a political comeback as mayor of Manila and one of the country’s political kingpins. Yes, he was convicted for plunder but he was soon pardoned by his successor Arroyo. The pardon allowed his political rehabilitation.

Arroyo is on “hospital arrest.” And her own successor BS Aquino has failed to propel the trials against her, even after leading the impeachment and removal of the Supreme Court chief justice for allegedly being a stumbling block to the litigations.

The scion of the dictator ousted in EDSA 1 is running for vice president, while his mother is back in Congress and his sister holds fort as a provincial governor. The failure to prosecute and punish them – even under two President Aquinos – has allowed the Marcoses to shamelessly mount their own daring comeback.

I am as disappointed as many others that the promises and potentials of EDSA 1 and EDSA Dos were largely foiled and failed by the new leaders that replaced those that Filipinos threw out.

But the important lesson is that, uprisings can only do so much. Yes, an EDSA can oust unwanted leaders, but we now know more is needed to bring about real, radical, and lasting change. An EDSA cannot change the most rotten system we have long wanted to replace.

Just imagine: 15 years, two presidential elections, and three midterm polls have passed since EDSA Dos. Maybe the heroes we are waiting for are not in the candidates for 18,000 positions or the tried and tired political dynasties.

Those heroes may just be waiting to awaken from the fantasy-cum-nightmare of trusting, quick-fix solutions, fake and made-up saviors,  and deceptive slogans.

I’m disappointed but not cynical. My realization and my source of hope? We the people are the heroes we are waiting for so we can bring about national freedom and democracy to our land: agrarian reform, industrialization, the abolition of political dynasties and private armies, social services, and safety nets, and more.

But first, we must remember and never forget.

(Note: This piece is lovingly dedicated to the memory of Fr. Joe Dizon, a mainstay, leader and chaplain of the Parliament of the Streets. I’m humbled to have known him and worked with and for him, until his last campaign – the fight against pork barrel in 2012-2013.)