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March 3, 2014

Irony of Ironies: EDSA in Cebu

I was only five years old when the People Power Revolt at EDSA happened, so in writing this, I do not have the benefit of memory. But like many in my generation, I have been versed in the circumstances surrounding Power Power and its ideals through the numerous articles, commentaries, personal accounts, and history books written by those who have lived to tell the tale. In three words, the essence of the victory obtained at EDSA is this: emancipation from oppression.

This year, the commemoration of the People Power Revolt at EDSA was done in Cebu at the Cebu Provincial Capitol. It was attended by no less than the President, surrounded by his Cabinet Secretaries, the Governor, the Vice Governor, and other officials.

As I leafed through the next day’s newspapers, which were awash with photos of the event and of the aforementioned officials who proudly took their place at the pedestal of the Capitol, while waving the “Liberal” sign at the crowd, I was struck by a great sense of irony.

I may have no memory of the People Power Revolt at EDSA, but I remember quite well the series of events that unfurled a little over a year ago at exactly the same place where the President and his company had just commemorated and extolled the people’s victory over oppression. After all, as a Cebuano, how could I forget the moment when, for the very first time in its glorious history, Cebu was unceremoniously stripped of its validly elected Governor? And what a heavy hand it was that descended upon Cebu to deliver the message: We are taking over. Commentators observed that Cebu had never before seen such overwhelming presence of armed police, or prevention of public entry at the Capitol, or the forcible shutting down of media outlets, not even during martial law.


The stand off between the PNP and the people of Cebu

In the early days of 1986, the people took to the streets to protest the government’s heavy hand in suppressing the most basic freedoms of the citizenry. In the latter part of 2012, and again in early 2013, Cebuanos marched to the Capitol in the thousands to protest against the unseating of their Governor. “Stand Up, Cebu!”, was their battlecry against the suppression of the people’s paramount freedom in this democracythe right to choose our leaders.

At the height of the standoff at the Capitol, the general at the helm was quoted as saying that the heavy presence of the police and its prevention of public entry into the Capitol was to avoid “people power”. The general later reasoned that he was acting under the orders of his bosses. How utterly ironic then that a little over a year later, at the very same Capitol grounds where every effort was exerted to avoid people power, that the People Power Revolt was celebrated, commemorated, and extolled by the very same individuals who had suppressed it the year before, but had, quite obviously, benefited from its suppression.


The Police barricade the Cebu Provincial Capitol.

Everywhere that the national government had forced its hand against government officials who apparently do not tread the same road as the ruling party, the justification has always been that this is necessary and pursuant to this administration’s highest ideal“Daang Matuwid”.  However, paving the way for this straight and narrow path has proven to be highly exclusionary of those who do not wear yellow shirts, so to speak; and painfully selective towards the prosecution and/or persecution of perceived culprits of corruption especially if they are members of the opposition.

Journalist Allan Sloan wrote recently that “Great sound bites often make for bad policy, because things that seem wonderful and simple in the abstract frequently turn out to be hideously complicated when you try to apply them in real life.”  Sloan’s comments were directed at a federal rule of the United States Government that is apparently doomed for failure. He might as well have written about Daang Matuwid. While Daang Matuwid’s vision may be aspirational and its origins anchored on the People Power Revolt’s ideals of freedom from oppression (from an abusive government, from corruption, from poverty, and the like), at present day, the purveyors of these ideals who occupy their place high up on the pedestal and wave their “L” signs at the cheering crowds below apparently do not practice what they preach.


Photo credit: Stand Up, Cebu

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