ALEX MAGNO: OUR EDSA

MANILA, February 7, 2004 (STAR) FIRST PERSON By Alex Magno - Among the several hats I wear is that of commissioner of the Edsa People Power Commission (EPPC). It is an unsalaried but rewarding job: one I understand as protecting a vision rather than a memory.

The EPPC is such a miniscule body that, the other year, the gods of the national budget completely forgot to appropriate money for its operations. This year, we will be working with a fantastic sum of P3 million. The major portion of that sum will be consumed for the commemoration of the 1986 Edsa Revolution.

This time of he year, the EPPC is busiest. From February 22 to 25, we will be celebrating the 18th anniversary of that glorious uprising that stunned the world. Our Edsa is now a debutante.

Since I joined the EPPC, the commission has been reinventing the commemoration. Instead of focusing on literal events on Edsa (including, if you recall, those re-enactments involving the "major players"), the EPPC has been trying to emphasize the living legacy of people power.

That effort is best conveyed by the People Power People project of the Benigno Aquino Foundation at the initiative of former president Corazon Aquino. This project chooses the finest examples of individuals, people’s organizations, cooperatives and local government units nationwide who give flesh and life to the ideal of popular empowerment.

The EPPC, which on occasion receives no money government, works very closely with the Benigno Aquino Foundation and the Spirit of Edsa Foundation. Both are endowed from the private sector.

It is not easy communicating the idea that our Edsa is about using freedom responsibly and using the democratic space to initiate improvements in our lives.

It is not easy communicating the idea that the spirit of Edsa is about cultivating an attitude of shared responsibility for the national fate, building from wherever we stand, evolving networks of cooperation and unity, achieving collective power from individual competence.

There are orthodox views – many of which are essentially contradictory to the spirit of people power.

The media, by its nature event-focused, prefers to see the usual tableau at the Edsa Shrine: people massing, speeches delivered, banners waved. The provide stuff that is good for the cameras, soundbites that might be replayed by television and radio.

When there are less people massed on Edsa, the usual media line is that "the spirit of Edsa is fading". That particular media expectation has created pressure for government to artificially mass people on Edsa during anniversaries, tasking local governments with busing people to the rally site. There, the hapless victims of forced mobilization – usually government personnel – mill around eating corn, straining to hear the speeches from the Shrine, and basically waiting to be bused home.

Last year, when the EPPC made a dramatic departure away from the Shrine-centered commemoration and put emphasis on the People Power People aspect (also because we had no budget for an extravaganza), we got bashed.

Former president Fidel Ramos materialized at the People Power Monument for the usual "salubungan" and, well, found nobody. He was fuming mad – mainly along the orthodox line that if no people were collected at the site of the uprising, the glorious event was being neglected.

It took some effort on the part of the commissioners to explain that the EPPC is trying to convey the idea that the real site of the Edsa Revolution is in our people’s hearts.

This time around, the ever-practical MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando is pleading with the EPPC to keep Edsa clear on the day of the commemoration. We promised to confine the commemoration at the site to a devout Mass and distribute all other activities nationwide.

Edsa, the road, is such a vital and sensitive thoroughfare.

Last January 20, when a noontime Mass was held to commemorate Edsa 2, the big uprising’s little brother, about 200 callous and fanatical members of the Maoist group Bayan Muna conducted an authorized march from Cubao to lay siege on the Shrine and produce a narcissistic media event. They tied up traffic flow all around and made life miserable for millions.

Most of the commissioners were victims of this act of political arrogance by leftists who take every occasion to chant slogans in the streets and denounce every political leader for "betraying" the spirit of Edsa. It will probably take ages to convince these ideological cretins that leaders can never betray people power. Only the people can conceivably betray people power through acts of omission.

I was one of the victims of the arrogance of the Maoists. On that day, it took me over two hours to traverse that short segment of Edsa from North Avenue to the Ortigas junction. Consequently, I missed the Mass I had looked forward to celebrating. I nearly missed the luncheon meeting hosted immediately after the Mass by Bishop Soc for the EPPC.

Because of the snarled traffic, Cory Aquino herself came late for the Mass. The economy lost millions of wasted man-hours only because a small clutch of fanatical leftists decided to inflict themselves on our peace by marching a riotous mob on the Shrine.

They will surely try to pull that trick again on February 25.

By insisting on doing so, they stand in the way of our people’s fuller understanding of the meaning of our Edsa. The uprising was intended to topple a dictatorship, of course. But its larger historical importance lies in our people taking responsibility for our lives and our collective fate.

If there will be any major massing of people on February 25, that will happen at the Baseco compound. There, tens of thousands of concerned Filipinos will gather to help the victims of that horrible fire rebuild their homes and rediscover their lives. The effort will be led by the Couples for Christ.

In the evening, the weary builders of lives and weavers of hope will gather for an open air concert at the Smokey Mountain. What was once the symbol of grinding poverty should now aptly become a monument to the heroic effort of a unified people to build firm foundations for our collective prosperity.

The leftists are invited to join us there, of course. Instead of spewing slander, disrupting traffic and confusing the issues, they might do better helping the least among us rediscover hopefulness.

That is how our Edsa should be.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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