Twenty-nine years ago was a memory of people massing on the avenue to protect the military defying a dictator, there on the stretch between two camps. A few blocks away was where a new woman president was installed leader of a revolutionary government, in the Club Filipino befitting the aura of the elite and of people making history.
Today there was a different kind of celebration, wistful, bittersweet, reminiscing of time lost and what could have been. The traffic outside was unbearable and some people came late to the book party held in the grand parquet hall named after Corazon Aquino, where once we captured her image in a yellow dress swearing on the Bible to lead the country for good.
That night, as the chandeliers and the television lights glittered in the room, people in their cars cursed the traffic, and the government, and just about everything else this damn country can’t live up to. The narrative has gone of course.
We listened to the speech of a man named Fidel Ramos, also known as Eddie, wearing a casual sporty outfit and a baseball hat. In many previous years this is what he’d do to re-enact the event when he, a top military leader, broke ranks on the specter of a people’s uprising, along with the defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile.
There was Cory, and Eddie, and Johnny then. They were the characters of a political fairy tale in a bright shining moment that kicked out – how miraculous it seemed then – a formidable but ailing authoritarian leader named Marcos.
Eddie was feeling sore in his speech, a bit combative, regretful that it wasn’t the same anymore. For the first time, he said, he missed the salubungan – the symbolic gesture of the coming together of the military and the civilians, ‘the sharing and daring Filipinos who in their own little way passed on the baton.’ On Facebook, it’s the sharing of feeds on the horrendous jam outside that symbolized, in its own way, the ennui of a country broken of past hopes.
Perhaps this may have to be the end of an era. Eddie’s criticism of the current government does not sit well with the son of Cory, the president on the tail end of his term, who on his mother’s birthday exactly a month before saw the painful unraveling of his leadership. What would Cory have said to all this? It was because of her death to cancer that her lackluster son rose to political prominence at the right juncture for the elections, in keeping with a family heritage stamped on the fate of the Filipinos.
So began the rebirthing of the Aquinos, the christening of Benigno Aquino III to PNoy (short for President Noynoy) – who rode on a popularity crest not seen since post-Marcos and that came crashing down in nightmarish speed just now. Under the son’s watch, 44 of his men were killed in a botched operation in central Mindanao supposedly planned by his chief of national police, Alan Purisima, who happened to be his bosom buddy, his gun sport-shooting partner in crime.
When the police chief announced his resignation on live television almost two weeks later, discomfited in his barong tagalog, no longer wearing the uniform with stars on his shoulders, the backdrop on screen was a swimming pool in his home, which somehow characterized a taste for decadence rather than humility.
His move had come belatedly, for he had already been suspended but refused to step down, unwilling to leave the luxury of his ‘white house’ in camp, even after court allegations of improper gains. It was his rope tied to Cory’s son that might, or could, pull down the shattering pieces of a national tragedy.
The Senate hearing investigating the dramatic events in Mindanao wound up on the eve of the EDSA celebration, also made live for the nation to see and hear the many questions, tears, frustrations, accusations, and the stark bigotry of politicians. Watching the crop of generals was nowhere near those who served in the days of Cory, who should have taught her son that – despite her mistrust of the military – she learned the hard way of becoming commander-in-chief, to bring the military back to the barracks.
On the night of the party, February 25 this year, Eddie had to bring up – in parallel – the story of his former trusted aide-de-camp, Avelino “Sonny” Razon Jr., who had also been chief of the national police. Razon has been in jail for a year-and-a-half, on malversation cases and denied bail. In the jailhouse, there’s an arrow that leads to ‘Senators’ on the left and another on the right for the ‘Generals.’
Eddie’s aide is there, ironically in a cell he had built to standard when he was the chief in Camp Crame, where the outbreak of the historical revolution had started in 1986. As soon as the court issued the charges against him, he turned himself in, unafraid and confident of his innocence, thinking it was going to be as easy as running a one hundred-meter dash.
But the court wouldn’t hear his plea that the irregular contracts were done before he had sat in office, and the quick run he was ready for was turning into a demoralizing marathon. Eddie had asked authorities to give his former aide a six-day liberty pass for the sake of the people-power anniversary. Not granted. To the Senators and Generals behind bars, they were part of the showcase of Cory’s son in his crusade against corruption.
The biggest catch among the senators allegedly involved in a pork barrel scam is 91-year old Johnny, held especially in the camp hospital and who at past midnight, long after the book party at Club Filipino was over, fell ill with pneumonia. Eddie went to visit him.
Retreating from the EDSA celebration that people will remember for the traffic and nothing more than that, a throng of police that had stood guard earlier for the program were huddled and relaxed by the roadside eating their packed Styrofoam dinner, their grayish blue uniform melding with the night.
Twenty-nine years ago, once upon a time, there was Cory, Eddie, and Johnny, and they changed history.
Criselda Yabes is the author of "Below the Crying Mountain" set in the rebellion of the 1970s in the south. It won the UP Centennial Literary Prize in 2008 and was nominated for the Man Asian Prize in 2010. She is currently based in Manila.
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Zamboanga Siege: The Fire This Time
October 2, 2013
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December 13, 2013
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Sen. Grace Poe, Reluctant ‘Presidentiable’
January 20, 2015
Will non-nonsense Senator Grace Poe be the political giant killer in 2016?
Op-Ed: Mr. President, Feel For The Fallen
January 29, 2015
After the slaughter of 44 police commandos in central Mindanao, President Aquino seemed like a cold automaton impatient to move on.