It’s in the Filipino DNA in truth; this attraction to mass movements and communal action. On much smaller scales we see it during fiestas; the annual Black Nazarene fiesta in Quiapo. There millions of Filipinos throng the streets in celebration. It’s found in preparations months in advance, saving, scrimping and getting for town fiestas. We love a good party, we love to celebrate en masse. We are a communal people.
It was this spirit that was captured so perfectly in EDSA I: Four days where the religious and the secular were one in goal and spirit. To the streets some people brought their iconography, their rosaries, their faith in God. For the nuns and the faithful who stood before guns and tanks, it was their shield. For others who did the same, love of country acted the same. All brought their faith in country and each other. They shared that spirit, and were strengthened by it. It helped overcome fear and steady a people in their purpose.
Writers like Anding Roces called it our fiesta revolution; because there was a communal sense of experience. Instead of consecrating the rites and rituals of faith and expression to an icon, the icons were along for the ride. They were another expression of the feeling that circulated through the streets that day.
What was above was the Filipinas of our heroes. What was within was the Filipino we’ve always wanted to become. What we congregated to recognize was the opportunity to become, to create and to find a new dream, a reborn hope.
There is one thing I will always remembering hearing about EDSA growing up: What was beautiful was not the four days, it was the fifth. And unlike that old joke that God rested on the seventh day, after creating opportunity with four days of labor, Filipinos on the fifth day did go back to the streets. To clean. For those who saw it, yes the four days were beautiful, the fifth day was a miracle.
This is the forgotten side of EDSA. Not the four days of togetherness in the brotherhood of Filipino. We’ve been trying to find that at every turn. It was the fifth day, when Filipinos tried to start rebuilding, that we must remember. That we have to recapture. The first four days were about creating opportunity, the fifth day was about nation-building.
The tragedy, as so many say, about EDSA is that we are forever chasing it’s ephemeral feeling. If anything, one of the things that has undermined EDSA I are attempts later on to recapture lightning in a bottle. With EDSA II and III, we went to the well one too many times. We keep trying to recreate the utterly unique. The more we reach for it, the more it slips through our fingers. In the process, the more we lose and the more opportunities pass us by. We’ve grown up thinking that EDSA I is what has to be recaptured: That feeling of togetherness needed to depose a dictator and create chances for greatness.
In truth, what we should remember is that fifth day. When Filipinos came together to clean up dirty streets, to sweep away the dirt and filth and trash. In other words, the detritus of a revolution and the leavings of a dictatorship.
We cleaned up the streets. But forgot to finish the job. We missed what was left behind when the heads of government took flight. Remnants of the system remained, echoes and ghosts capable of wrecking havoc. The cronies survived. And eventually, they came out of the woodwork and returned to prominence; in some cases, they never left the spotlight.
The clean up should have continued on the sixth day and beyond. And it should have been comprehensive. Rebuilding cannot be half-assed. It was to be as comprehensive as the revolution itself; else a country misses that chance to move forward. The brilliant thing is we still have that opportunity. We haven’t frittered away our chances to truly rebuild, to truly recapture the essence and spirit of EDSA. In a sense, that is a testiment to the resilience of our people. We survived Spain and America, fought the Japanese, and died doing so. We remain, albeit slightly rudderless and wayward. Our history and its lessons somewhat forgotten. Our identity slightly damaged. But, we remain.
While we have made gains in areas, we can do so much more. We have the freedom to express ideas, to change the system and make sure that gains felt by some, are felt by all. EDSA was the People Power revolution. The importance of power is remembered by some, the people remain forgotten. We have to retrace our steps, in a sense. To re-anchor ourselves to our history. To remember, that no matter the background, the creed, the color, we are Filipinos. With all the inconsistencies and potential that entails. That was the dream of our heroes in the 19th century, in the dark days of the Occupation and during the fall of Martial Law: To be free Filipinos. We’ve somewhat lost that sense from our day to day lives; we’ve forgotten that rebuilding takes steps and has no shortcuts. It takes time, it takes cleansing and it takes remembering.
For that’s the true lesson of EDSA 25 years after; the forgotten lesson. Not that a people can rise up and reclaim a country. But that people can, together, clean up a nation.