It wasn’t really sudden, and his having the EDSA Revolution commemorated in Cebu last year, since he was obviously afraid of demonstrations against him in Manila, presaged it. President Benigno S. Aquino has finally killed the commemoration of EDSA, and its spirit.
This year’s Feb 25 is the first time ever after 1986 that EDSA’s spirit of freedom, and the idea of power of the people, were totally denied. Entry to EDSA from Santolan to Shaw was closed the whole day starting midnight, purportedly for the EDSA parade but obviously to block demonstrators from approaching the freedom shrine and chapel where President Aquino would be – for a rushed 10 minutes. A police official barked to a reporter asking why the demonstrators were blocked, not just by trucks but 40-footer container vans: “EDSA shrine isn’t a freedom park!”
Except for a police-military stupid parade, the police did its work well: EDSA was eerily empty of people, in sharp contrast to previous years. How could there be a commemoration of people power when people were barred from EDSA?
Even the dictator Marcos shunned the idea of a forcible dispersion of the crowd in EDSA in 1986 that could have allowed his loyal troops’ tank column to move to Camp Crame and massacre the mutineers. President Joseph Estrada, who wasn’t a fan of People Power either, didn’t lift a finger against demonstrations against him at EDSA for four days in January 2001, which prodded the Armed Forces to withdraw their support for his presidency, leading to EDSA Dos.
I remember Archbishop Socrates Villegas, then rector of the EDSA shrine in 2001, appealing to President Arroyo to clear the area of pro-Erap demonstrators, whom he said were even pissing at the shrine’s walls, creating a horrible stink. Arroyo didn’t. The mob of demonstrators increased after a huge INC contingent joined in and marched on to Malacanang to nearly topple the new president in what’s been called EDSA Tres. Maybe it was a big error on her part. Still, she kept loyal to the spirit of EDSA, the spirit of freedom of expression.
Certainly not this president, who obviously was deathly afraid of the rallies that he ordered EDSA closed from midnight. He hastily put the wreath on the EDSA shrine, rushed his speech at the chapel and went hurriedly home. The demonstrators were livid, since they were told that as has been done in all past EDSA events, they could approach the shrine, just as long as they didn’t forcibly occupy it.
Instead of commemorating EDSA, Filipinos in Metro Manila were cursing this government for the horrendous traffic created upon the orders of the MMDA. I have never seen a posting on Facebook such as this angry one: “ISANG MALAKING P——–AMO SA P——-NANG HAYOP NA NAG-ISIP NA ISARA ANG BUONG EDSA HABANG RUSH HOUR P——INAMO HAYOP KA MAMAMATAY KA NA G—O PAKYU.” There were so many posts and TV interviews of the same angry tenor.
Under this President, rather than a day of celebrating freedom, Feb 25 became a day of outrage, from the lofty kind protesting the suppression of freedom of assembly to the more mundane one angry at being imprisoned in traffic the whole day.
In his speech he said the image of EDSA “that has been branded in our national consciousness consists of nuns on their knees, people handing to soldiers rosaries and flowers, human chains to stop the tanks.”
The irony was lost on him, as usual. The image of EDSA celebration under his regime branded in the Filipino mind now is a phalanx of policemen and military men, arms linked, marching like robots before him. The warm bodies for Aquino’s EDSA celebration were mostly government personnel who could be ordered to participate —the police and military.
A military official explained that the gimmick was intended to dispel speculation in recent weeks that as a result of the Mamasapano massacre, policemen and military personnel despised each other. Why should the military and the police use our EDSA celebration of a historic unshackling of a dictator’s chains for their internal information campaign? Was it that serious that both services have started to blame their commander-in-chief? Did Aquino specifically order them to march without any weapons, afraid they would turn these on him?
A smart president could have pulled off a propaganda coup by having former President Fidel Ramos, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile (given furlough just for the event, perhaps), Senator Gregorio Honasan and other leaders of the EDSA revolt join him in the ritual of offering the wreath at the Freedom Shrine. But not even Cory’s brother Jose Cojuangco and brother-in-law Agapito (“Butz” Aquino, who led the first bold demonstrators in front of Camp Crame) were invited to the event. Those who attended the mass at EDSA were conspicuously mostly Cabinet members and the military brass.
Fidel Ramos even commemorated EDSA by hurling the most vicious vitriol against Aquino I’ve heard from him: “Move on ba, kamo? Tuwid na daan ba, kamo? [Did you say ‘move on?’ Did you say ‘straight path?’] The road to hell is straight,” he told reporters. It was the first time in 29 years that a hero of the People Power Revolution, former President Ramos, shunned the EDSA celebration, quite obviously enraged by Aquino.
“We should clean up society,” Ramos said, by which he obviously meant “the country.” “Not only Mamasapano, but also the [Disbursement Acceleration Program] and [Priority Development Assistance Fund],” two of the corruption issues that have hounded the Aquino administration’s “straight path” policy.
“Yung sinasabing daan na matuwid ay baluktot na ngayon [The so-called straight path has become crooked,” Ramos said. He growled: “The people have been left out. It’s only the yellow army that is taking advantage of the situation.”
I am often amazed at history’s ironies. Wasn’t Cory the “saint” of democracy, the figure towering over EDSA? Yet his son Benigno 3rd the other day finally buried the idea of commemorating EDSA.