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February 27, 2018

The EDSA 86 People Power celebration has come and gone uneventfully as usual. The celebratory mood is gone for good, no doubt; well, for all intents and purposes, it was, since many years ago. But many understandably still remain nostalgic of the four-day event. After all, it was then regarded as one of the highest points and proudest moments of the Philippines as a nation and the Filipinos as a people. That the world even stood up in applause and in awe was truly something. EDSA was undeniably a grand spectacle, a sight to behold, a sea of people as far as one could see, hundreds of thousands of them or probably millions; it was people power in all its majesty. So, how such a monumental event which forced the dictator, President Ferdinand Marcos, out of office in disgrace could ever lose its meaning and relevance to present-day Filipinos, it baffles them much. Worse, not only is the festiveness gone, an atmosphere of meaninglessness seems to have replaced it since. Last year, the crowd was so sparse and lifeless, (until, of course, Jim Paredes took center stage) it could be even sparser and more lifeless this year. It is merely all a matter of compulsion now, to serve a historical narrative, or so it feels.

How did it come to this? The Yellows, the torchbearer of the EDSA narrative, of course, are mostly blaming “revisionism” supposedly being funded by the Marcos’ plundered billions. How so-called revisionism could flip over so swiftly a narrative created and nurtured since 1986, with all the aid of government, mass media, educational system, and all combined anti-Marcos forces, is, however, curious. Such a wide, wide head start, all of three decades, gone in no time at all?

The EDSA narrative in broad strokes could be summarized like this:

Once upon a time, an evil villain, Ferdinand Marcos, came to rule the land, the Philippines. After being President for eight long years plundering the treasury of the land, he craved for much more. So, he declared Martial law near the end of his term to hold on to power and be able to ransack the treasury for more years to come, his alibi, the communist insurgency problem. He then turned himself into a dictator and presided over the Dark Years of Martial law. From these dark years of cruel repression and insatiable greed emerged a hero, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. The brave hero, Ninoy, led the fight against Marcos, who by then had teamed up with his wife, Imelda, who was just as wicked. To stop Ninoy, the evil duo had him jailed on trumped up charges. In jail, however, Ninoy could still not be cowed and silenced. Thus, Ferdinand and Imelda, exiled him to America. After sometime, Ninoy realized that he could not turn his back on his people. Undaunted by the wrath of Marcos and Imelda, he decided to return to his land to free his people from repression and heinous rule. On his return, on orders of Marcos, Ninoy  was shot dead by his escort soldiers, in a brazen display of wickedness, right upon his arrival, in broad daylight, right at the airport tarmac. It came to be the start of the regime’s downfall. Millions attended the funeral to hail Ninoy and show their anger on Marcos. Soon after, massive protest rallies became regular fare. Marcos, to appease growing discontent, before long announced a snap election to prove that he had the support of the Filipinos. He met his challenger in the hero’s wife, Cory. All the good Filipinos rallied around her to defeat Marcos and his minions. Cory won the election despite massive cheating but Marcos would not concede and vacate office. Thus, the people, drawing inspiration from Ninoy’s brutal death in the hands of Marcos, protested for days on end. Protests grew and grew until finally it culminated in millions of people converging for days at EDSA to demand the ouster of the evil leader. Marcos got so scared of his own people, he packed up in a hurry and escaped with his family to Hawaii. And the Filipinos, after years of brutal repression, finally regained their long-lost freedom, thanks to the great courage of Ninoy and Cory.

This is the EDSA narrative, the fount of inspiration for the yearly celebration. Could anyone find a better real life good-versus-evil story, the good triumphing in the end and the bad guy scampering away in fear, tail between his legs? EDSA 86 was thus altogether celebrated as the triumph of good over evil, of Ninoy and Cory over Marcos, of freedom over repression, of democracy over dictatorship, of the Filipino people over the corrupt government…. Ahh, such a picture perfect narrative.

Until this alternative version began taking shape:

No, Marcos was not the evil ruler he was painted to be. In fact he was a good ruler, even perhaps the greatest President the Philippines ever had. He declared Martial law in 1972 and assumed dictatorial powers to contain a fast-growing communist movement and to implement sweeping changes. He presided over a massive infrastructure development program and pressed for far-reaching economic and political reforms, many painful. In so doing, he created many enemies. Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino, his main political nemesis, was jailed for conniving with and supporting the communists to oust the government. It was his dream to be President after Marcos.  After several years in prison, he was allowed out of jail for medical treatment of a heart problem in America. While there, he rekindled his opposition to Marcos. Learning that Marcos was in serious medical condition, he came back to the Philippines. At the airport, he was shot and killed by a lone gunman. Many people were convinced that Marcos was the mastermind. But he was not; Marcos had in fact been seriously ill all that time. Ensuing social unrest due to the murder forced him to hold elections. Cory, Ninoy’s wife, ran against him. Marcos won by a small margin but the opposition charged election cheating. Massive protests and boycotts funded by his enemies were launched soon after. Two of his most trusted men, Juan Ponce Enrile and General Fidel Ramos, traitors both, later launched a mutiny. Cory and various forces aligned with the opposition quickly joined them. EDSA filled up with hundreds of thousands of people. More of the state forces defected. To avoid bloodshed, Marcos decided to leave Malacañang and head north to home province Ilocos Norte. But he was flown out on a helicopter to Hawaii instead.

There. Which version is true? As in any event, there are always two sides–or even several– sides of the story. Right now there are just two main contending perspectives: the victors’ EDSA version and the losing side’s version. Sometime in the future, when a younger, dispassionate set of historians gets down to write this part of history, perhaps they would be reconciled. Right now, that looks impossible. As it is, those championing the original narrative are so infuriated that the latter conflicting version, for some reason, is gaining more traction. They lay the blame on a curious mix of culprits: a supposed well-funded Marcos propaganda machine trying to revise the past, gullible youths who can’t differentiate truth from fake news, apathetic parents for not guiding their children to the right information, negligent educators for not teaching correct history, paid trolls on social media for not knowing any better, the people themselves for historical amnesia, and so on and so forth.  They are not taking this sitting down.  They are presently racing to erect museums, hold as many talks and forums as possible, write as many books,  make as many  films and documentaries, compose songs,  create comics, art, theater plays, all in defense of their narrative.  They are all over the media too bashing any and all contrarians.  Well, truth is its own defense, don’t they say?

But, really now, the first narrative needs improvement. There is, for instance, one fatal fault that badly needs fixing, if it could be fixed at all. It lies in the assassination.

As an integral piece of the narrative, the murder of Ninoy in the hands of an assassin on orders of Marcos is a key part. It is, in fact, central to the story. It gives climax to Ninoy’s greatness, his death in the hands of his archenemy the completion of his heroism. Correspondingly, it highlights Marcos’ utter depravity, Ninoy’s murder on his orders the pits of his villainy. At the same time, as it is the real trigger to Marcos’ downfall, when everything starts collapsing under his feet, finally culminating in the EDSA People Power Revolt, this episode is truly integral. It must thus stay intact.

Problem is, damn it, it looks like Marcos was really innocent! All these years and nothing at all to show for proof? Indeed, of all the cocksure, angry accusers, not one it seems is left standing still confidently pointing to Marcos as the main man to hang. They all have stopped at some point. Even the Aquinos. Well, except in some roundabout way: “he (Marcos) created the conditions for it to happen”, in the words of Noynoy, the victim’s son.

Now, if he was not the mastermind,what do we make of Ninoy’s death? And to a larger extent, because his murder precipitated it, of EDSA People Power? Like it or not, the whole drama rises—or falls— on the fierce and bitter rivalry between Ninoy and Marcos, its climax being the assassination of Ninoy with Marcos as the mastermind. The waves of upheavals that follow, cresting one last time as the EDSA uprising, are all composite part of it. If Marcos is not the mastermind, the entire story crashes down! If this were fiction, it is poor, shoddy writing. Imagine that the real instigator were, say, the CIA, or Danding Cojuangco, as some people were alleging. Or, just some nut.

Defenders of the narrative assert that it does not matter who killed Ninoy; what is important, they contend, is that Ninoy’s death resulted in the overthrow of Marcos and the return of democracy. Really?  On the contrary, it matters a whole lot.  See, a narrative must be smooth, authentic, intelligible, and believable, not one tangled in some incoherent, disjointed, impossible flow of causation and events. The latter kind is sure to get rejected and abandoned.   If Marcos was not it, what does one make of the story, indeed?  For example,  there were broad hints that Ninoy was intently killed to create unrest and through it force Marcos out of power and restore democracy. Or,  that Ninoy was bumped off for some other reasons, but everything took totally unexpected, if favorable, turns.  Surely, any such alternate scenario will force a radical revision of the story line,  the narrative will have to be rewritten.

Of course, if Marcos was truly innocent, the implications are eminently damning. It means that he was all along a victim of wrong accusations, that all the rage and condemnation, all that fire and brimstone,  fiercely rained on him by his accusers as the murderer, were gravely undeserved.  This is the part that his enemies  would  certainly want to gloss over forever.  It could likely be the reason too why the wife and the son of the victim, Cory and Noynoy, who both became Presidents, never lifted a finger despite the clamor to initiate a re-investigation of the case to find out who really was the brains. It surely serves the narrative better to at least preserve the doubt than remove it all.  Remove it all and Marcos becomes the martyr!  It must be haunting them too.  It is axiomatic that wrong accusations ultimately damn the accuser and exalt the accused.

So, what do we make of EDSA and the millions that gathered there?  The biggest assembly ever of the dazed and confused?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. John Christian Canda permalink
    February 27, 2018 11:13 am

    Thank you very much indeed for the wonderful article! If the EDSA 1986 Story has two or several sides, so does the EDSA 2001 Story. There is another side to that story which says that Mr. Estrada was a victim of a combined conspiracy by ecclesiastics, big businessmen, pro-Aquino and pro-Ramos peoples, and the Left.

  2. John Christian Canda permalink
    March 17, 2018 11:40 pm

    The Philippine Election
    and Constitutional Crisis

  3. John Christian Canda permalink
    January 15, 2019 11:03 pm

    If there is historical revisionism, there is also a deconstructive reading of history, which leads serious students of history to question the official version of romanticised historical events, like the February 1986 EDSA “revolution”.

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