What I think about when I think about EDSA

What I think about when I think about EDSA

I don’t think of yellow ribbons or People Power. I don’t even think of Marcos.

Thirty years ago, people joined forces to oust Ferdinand Marcos and his dictatorship. Today, we remember the revolution and learn how we can face our own helplessness.  |  Art by Elle Shivers

When I think of EDSA, I don’t think of yellow ribbons or people power. I don’t think of people giving flowers to soldiers, or the Mary, Queen of Peace shrine, or democracy. I don’t even think of Marcos.

Instead, when I think of EDSA, I think of migraines — long lines of traffic spilling onto NLEX to greet any provincial passersby. I think of people lining up along the pathways to catch the MRT. I think of disheveled citizens who sleep under overpasses and EDSA islets. I think of musty tunnels and feeling like every day could be my last, with PUVs and private vehicles snaking in and out lanes in haphazard fashion.

This is the EDSA I’m familiar with. I’ll admit it’s not too pretty, nor is it as patriotic. Instead, the EDSA I know is one cursed by its citizens — a symbol of hope turned into a mark of disdain.

I understand it might have meant something else not too long ago. I was six years old when I had my first taste: we were huddled in front of our TV set as it showed shots of people rallying interspersed with shots of Erap Estrada. They were holding “ERAP RESIGN” picket signs, and when I asked who Erap was, I quickly drew up my own when mother said he stole from the people.

But I was young and impressionable. I couldn’t grasp it then; more so when we watched an EDSA I commemoration video during a class field trip. I operated on childlike morality when it came to the significance of such events: Erap stole, Marcos killed. They did bad guy stuff, so they had to be removed from power.

This is a problem we face when it comes to the EDSA issue. We were born after everything happened, or at least too young to understand it. We had to rely on secondhand accounts or the people who were there. I cannot, for instance, feel the same way about EDSA as my professor, who in a fit of frustration walked to Mary, Queen of Peace during the second People Power Revolution. I cannot feel the same way about EDSA as a friend’s mother did, who grew up during the martial law era.

For some, it might feel like an intrusion — an endless game of fitting oneself into a scheme of things we were never really part of. But before we concede the idea that it plays no big role in our lives, the question stares us hard in the face: What is the significance of EDSA?

It’s easier to feel something’s importance when you’ve actually been through it. But for some, the gap is so huge that they’ve only heard of martial law through history books. It’s hard to feel the burden of a bygone era when you’re constantly swamped with present issues: poverty, job scarcity, public systems that never seem to get any better. It’s hard to feel patriotic in a country that makes it hard to be.

I sometimes wonder if this is why we’ve seen a resurgence of Marcos apologists. Without the added weight of experience, and loaded with unhealthy doses of cynicism, we hold onto whatever gives us meaning. Even if it comes in the form of a dictator, even if it costs us our freedom. In another time, I think I would’ve been an apologist myself ­— I had, after all, relatives and loved ones who spoke highly of the martial law era. They said it was a time when Filipinos were more disciplined, more nationalistic — a far cry from the lenience of this day and age, shown in the littered streets and reckless drivers of EDSA today.

When I think of EDSA, I think of how easy it is to discount it; when you cannot feel its effects, when its after-years seem like such a far cry from its hopeful ideals. But then I look back at my professor, my friend’s mother — I look back at the victims, the historians, the authors and the people who never walked out alive.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of EDSA One. In the three decades since that we have celebrated it, we have often been called to take a look at its significance in our lives: young and old; before, during, and after.

For some, it might feel like an intrusion — an endless game of fitting oneself into a scheme of things we were never really part of. But before we concede the idea that it plays no big role in our lives, the question stares us hard in the face: What is the significance of EDSA?

Thirty years ago, the people of that generation faced a sense of helplessness — similar in some ways to what we feel today. Victims of uncontrollable circumstances, embodied in the figure of one Ferdinand Marcos. With decades of national control, it seemed like there was no way to topple the dictator. But they did, despite the odds. They did when they didn’t expect to.

So, as I am mired by my own problems, I remember. And when I think of EDSA, I no longer despair, but hope.

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