The cab driver and I sat in stunned silence, the air between us heavy with disgust and dismay, as the lady on the radio recounted how she had – on several occasions – delivered large sums of money to lawmakers in their Senate offices, or to their homes. Sometimes (for sums of one or two million pesos only, she would use her handbag; others times, for amounts up to eleven million, she would use a carry-on bag with wheels. Her bad back couldn’t handle the weight of the cash, she said.
Ruby Tuason’s testimony before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee in the long-drawn out pork barrel scam was on everyone’s agenda on the morning of February 13, 2014, and for once, I was thankful to be stuck in rush-hour traffic. I wanted to hear what she had to say, no matter that it made me balk, or how – to my already frayed “life in the Philippines” sensibilities – each word sounded like nails down a chalkboard.
I realized the driver was asking me a question, so I tuned the testimony out for a bit, to tune in to his query. It was half-question, half-thought-spoken-out-loud: “Ma’am, ano kaya ang itsura ng ganoon kadaming pera? Hindi ko maisip, Ma’am. (Ma’am, I wonder what that much money looks like? I cannot even imagine it, Ma’am.)” He could not visualize it, and neither could I; for I, like the cabbie, belong to the class that – on these islands – works hard for their meager amounts of money. Way, way too hard; for way, way too little.
Neither of us could imagine what millions in cold, hard cash would look like; nor could we fathom the incredible lack of soul, conscience, and shred of humanity in the people who thought it “ok” to steal these millions from their fellow-Filipinos. After all, a kickback comes from money allocated for projects, which in turn comes from the country’s coffers, which we all know comes from the people’s taxes paid from very, very hard work; for very, very little recompense.
Despicable. Utterly so.
EDSA? What EDSA?
As the cab neared my place of work, we drove by some EDSA anniversary flyer or other, pasted to an electric post (presumably to stay there until weathering takes its natural course). On the 25th of February, 2014, it will be the 28th anniversary of the People Power movement that took place on EDSA, to oust the overstaying dictator, and thrust the hapless housewife into the highest seat in the land. It was the movement that catapulted the Philippines to global political and socio-cultural fame. It was the movement that the annals of history will forever remember as the peaceful revolution of the masses that, in 1986, restored democracy in the Philippines. It was the movement that united a nation, across all socio-economic barriers; regardless of class; and despite political and religious beliefs towards a common and noble goal.
Yet in that cab, it was the movement that made me just about snort in derision.
Where is the EDSA spirit now? What happened to all that hope and promise?
Punk’s not dead. Is the spirit of EDSA?
The Ghost of EDSA past came to haunt me, as I recalled a time that was charged with the certainty of a better tomorrow, and of a bright future for our country – finally.
Let’s throwback to 1983; to the revolution’s first birth pangs. Ninoy Aquino’s return to the country after several years in exile was as highly anticipated as it was dreaded. People feared for his life, yet no one expected the end to come so quickly. He had barely stepped onto the soil of his native land when shots rang out, finding their mark in Ninoy. His lifeless body was unceremoniously and hurriedly tossed into a waiting security van seconds thereafter. Video footage left people in shock; stunned by the brazenness of it all.
Shock turned into mourning, which later morphed into outrage, as the icon of long-overdue change lay dead in a coffin – his face, disfigured by the assassin’s bullet and purposely left un-retouched. The people’s sentiments began to simmer; then seethe.
Yet for two more years after his death, democracy lay dead in the tomb. And on the third year, she rose again.
It was 1986 and I was a young punk in my senior year of high school; sporting asymmetrical hair, fishnets, studs and boots long before these were integrated into Manila’s stream of fashion consciousness.
Under pressure from Uncle Sam and from an increasingly disgruntled Filipino populace to prove the legitimacy of his 20-year-rule, President Marcos called for a snap election, one year before the duly scheduled elections.
The results declared Marcos victorious, to cries of “FOUL!” all across the land.
People took to the streets on February 22, 1986; EDSA was the melting pot of all collective woes, anger, and frustration. Generals, once loyal to the strongman, defected; and with them, their men in uniform. Clergy men and women bore crosses and prayed rosaries; while intellectuals and artists gave speeches, sang songs, wrote essays extolling the virtues of nationalism and love for country.
Three days, the clamor continued, until he who sat on his high wall had a great and decisive fall. Marcos, along with his family, relinquished power and fled in exile to Hawaiian shores. The people were jubilant; a sea of yellow frenzy.
Ninoy’s widow Corazon was sworn into office as the country’s first female president. Hope seemed to spring eternal, despite her self-confessed lack of experience in any shape, form, or fashion to fulfill the highest call in the land.
The future seemed as bright as the shade of canary yellow which had become the colour of the new movement.
Twenty eight years since, I am that much older, and I am still a punk. Punk’s not dead, I can say with conviction. But what of the spirit of EDSA? Where has it all gone? Forgotten, perhaps, like the crimes of the former ousted politician who yet again holds a seat in government. Is the spirit of EDSA, like punk, alive still?
I am not as convinced.
The Ghost of EDSA Present must be sitting in a dark corner somewhere, bawling.
Pork, rice, and unbridled greed
Since the storied People’s Power Movement took place on EDSA 28 years ago, much has happened to make me question if the legacy still lives.
Pork and rice, for instance. I refer, of course, not to our favorite mouth-watering fare, but to the notorious billion peso pork barrel scam, and to the infamous billion peso “David Tan” rice smuggling scandal. Pork and rice: a meal prepared by unbridled greed, at the expense of the Filipino people. These are but two examples in a whole gamut of them.
Where do we, the people, factor into the recipe? I am no scholar on the matter, but it would seem that we have played the role of the “powerless and clueless” very, very well. In complete anti-thesis to the vigilance and initiative of “People Power.”
We cannot live off one spectacular moment in time, and then slip back into our oblivious, routinary existence.
We are too forgiving, and far too forgetful. We elect the same-old-same-old into office; blinded by smooth talking and lofty ideals, or bought by crispy bills.
The plight of our country, and I am sorry to say it, is pitiful. All these reports on the “economic recovery” that we are supposedly enjoying have yet to translate to concrete terms, for the good of the common man and woman; such as the taxi driver and myself.
“AKO” ay Pilipino
Where do we begin to unravel the hopelessly tangled knot of a country we have become?
It all starts with the part you and I play in the knot.
What can I do to make it better, one person at a time? I am not talking of the empty nationalism we all-too-often see; the kind that gets their underwear in a bunch and goes all ballistic on social media when someone says something nasty about the Philippines or a Filipino, yet thinks nothing of tossing their litter onto the streets of an already dirty metro. Folks, there is a reason we have been likened to the gates of hell, and you would have to be blind, living under a rock, or in absolute denial not to see it. So instead of expending effort railing against those who point out the truth, let’s do what we can to fix it.
I am referring to the nationalism that takes ACTIVE RESPONSIBILITY for our own actions in the country we claim to love so very much. Littering. Driving like a moron. Paying off the cop who catches you for driving like a moron. Refusing to fall in line and shoving your way into the bus or the railway transit. Not paying your employees fair wages for their labour. Not paying on time. Not paying them at all. Treating your helpers like slaves, instead of workers with dignity. Putting-up with all the garbage (literal and figurative) the government passes off as good service. Electing former criminals into office. The list of areas in which we all fall short goes on and on.
Time to set the cogs into motion, and bring about a true revolution in our country; the kind of revolution that begins with self: “AKO.” It begins with self and ripples all across the land into something more solid than the mere memory of a fantastic 3-day event in our history.
Ninoy said that the “Filipino is worth dying for.” Is he or she also worth living for? Can we live our individual lives in a manner worthwhile and worthy of the price that many a bygone hero and heroine have paid?
I would like to believe that the answer is a resounding “YES.” So would the cab driver, I am guessing. As would the Ghost of EDSA Future, I am certain.