I have gone to protest rallies only twice in my life.
The first time was in 2001. I was 17 years old, in my third year at the University of the Philippines. I had not had the opportunity to vote in the recent election, having been too young. Yet President Joseph “Erap” Estrada in his two years had attempted to bury the disgraced deceased dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, then committed flagrant corruption. At that point, he was in the midst of impeachment hearings, but with senators voting not to open a second envelope of evidence against him it looked like he was about to get away with impunity.
We weren’t about to let that happen. And so I trooped with my batchmates and other fellow students from Diliman on foot to the EDSA Shrine to join what would be dubbed as People Power 2 or EDSA Dos. That evening, my parents, sister, and I rejoined the rally. The next day, Erap resigned and his vice-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn in to replace him.
This rally was an object lesson to me about the power of peaceful uprisings, a gift that the Filipino people had shown the world was possible during the first EDSA People Power.
(Of course, several years hence we see that Arroyo was in her own way corrupt. Politics is dirty business, after all.)
The second time I joined a protest rally was last Wednesday, fittingly on Bonifacio Day commemorating the birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio, a national hero who led the revolution against Spanish oppression. I am now 33 years old, university a distant memory. I’ve had opportunity to vote in three presidential elections. The last one was the most contentious and most toxic one, given the extremist rhetoric of the man who was eventually elected president, Rodrigo Duterte. I have since distanced myself from friends who supported him, given his favoring of summary executions and his unholy alliance with Ferdinang “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. who lost the vice-presidential election to Leni Robredo.
This rally was not a call to oust Duterte; rather, it protested his collusion with attempts to rehabilitate the Marcos name and image, revise history, and depict the Marcos dictatorship as the golden years of this country. The end result the Marcoses seek is their return to the highest seat of power in the land so they can rule with impunity once more.
Truth be told, I found it bittersweet that those who had once been student activists back in the 70’s to 80’s were now saying they were passing the torch of resistance on to the millennials. “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” it is said — and apparently we have not been vigilant enough with the Marcoses once again knocking on the doors of Malacanang.
The first rally I went to, I was the age of those who now populated the second rally. I’m still what they call a “millennial” albeit one of the older ones. (Market segmentation would call me an “aging millennial”.) Still young enough to rock a funny sign that formed part of news coverage montages about youth involvement in the rallies, but old enough to remember the decades of recovery and unrest that followed after toppling Martial Law.
I grew up enjoying the human freedoms and rights enshrined in the 1987 Constitution, which was crafted as a safeguard against dictatorship. Yet now we’re on the precipice of losing those once again because the propaganda goes, “EDSA wasn’t effective in changing Philippine society so maybe we should just go back to the Marcoses.”
I attended the rally because I still believe in the legitimacy of People Power in deposing a dictator. Whatever happened in the years after, the freedoms and rights that People Power returned to us must be defended. Oppression must be resisted.
I just can’t believe we’re still rallying against this shit.