Then and now
By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Then the problem was Ferdinand Marcos. Some 14 years of dictatorial rule—and a previous seven years of bad one—had devastated the country beyond belief. The country lost its possessions, not least its forests and seas. The country lost its freedom, not least its tenets of democracy which, however ragged, had survived the ravaging of time and tide since the Japanese Occupation (and the covert American one). The country lost its moorings, the venal and murderous being rewarded with rank and promotion and the honest and defiant being punished with death or incarceration.
And the country was fast losing its hope. Marcos had ruled for so long he seemed destined to rule forever. Nothing God or man had done could dislodge him from a position he clung on to like a leech. Not revolution, not conspiracies, not even lupus. His enemies were dying like flies, felled by execution, harassment, and apoplexy, the last at the very sight and sound of him, which were not easy to avoid given that he loomed all over television like Big Brother.
But time is not just cruel, it is also just. Look at Marcos now. Once feared and obeyed without question, all that’s left of him is a stony face in Agoo, crying tears of blood.
Now the problem is Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. After almost 10 years of tyrannical rule—since May 2004 a completely illegitimate one—the country has been devastated beyond belief. The country has been looted exceptionally fiercely, even things nailed to the floor have been ripped off, and the future generations left to pay for loans which Arroyo incurred more than Fidel Ramos and Erap (Joseph Estrada’s nickname) combined. The country has lost its freedom, the theory being thwarted by the practice, any attempt to show perfidy being met with force or executive privilege. The country has lost all sense of right and wrong, the whistleblowers set upon by the Furies and their kidnappers drowning in gold and silver—nearly literally in the case of Mike Defensor.
And the country has been fast losing hope. Arroyo has ruled for so long she seems destined to rule forever. Nothing God or man has done can seem to dislodge her from a position she has clung on to like a leech. Not plots, not marches, not even Vicky Belo (or whoever it was that planted those implants). Her enemies are dying like flies, felled by execution (the political activists), harassment (Noble), and apoplexy at the sight of her (poor Josie Lichauco, she never lived to see the modern-day Medusa go).
Time won’t just be cruel, it will be just as well. The minute—no, the second—Arroyo steps out of Malacañang, she will go from 10 feet tall to, well, you guessed it. But don’t be too sure that will be soon. There’s always the failure of elections.
Then, the hope was Cory. Like Frodo, like Arthur, like Obama, she was the unlikeliest person to offer it. But thrust into the role by history, or destiny, or Providence (take your pick), she rose to the challenge carrying the banners aloft and leading the charge against Marcos’s hordes. The end of Marcos came in the form of an election, which turned out to be an Edsa masquerading as an election. The Edsa revolt came long before the massing of people at the camps to defend the beleaguered military mutineers.
It came in the form of an eruption not unlike the eruption of volcanoes, in the magma of fury against a regime roistered by the boiling temperature of a glimpse of a new life. It came in the form of folk from all walks of life coming together to help, as people spontaneously come together to help during floods and earthquakes and when a neighbor needs to pitch tent, or hut elsewhere. It came in the form of the eruption of voluntarism and idealism and high-mindedness, in a people learning once again to sing the songs of freedom and dream the impossible dream.
Now, the hope is, well, it was Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III sometime in August or September last year. I can only hope it can be so again.
Like Frodo, like Obama, like Cory, Noynoy was the unlikeliest bearer of the torch. But thrust by history, or destiny, or Providence, he accepted the challenge. Inexplicably, the story stopped there. He hasn’t exactly carried the banners aloft and led the charge against Macapagal’s hordes. The end of Arroyo should have come in the form of an Edsa masquerading as an election, in a campaign or project that went far beyond the mundane one of simply making a president, in a struggle or quest that stoked the fires longing for liberation and the power to accomplish it.
The people, rich and poor, strong and weak, young and old, did not repose their trust in Noynoy—and you cannot get as clear a mandate as his early ratings—just so he could become just another candidate in just another election making just another campaign pitch.
The eruption, not unlike the ones volcanoes produce from the colliding rocks of seething outrage against rottenness and soaring spirits from the glimpse of what could be, has not come. It has not come in the form of harnessing the spirit of voluntarism that was there at the beginning of things, folk from all walks of life coming together, without thought of pay, or reward, or recognition, joining a struggle that only incidentally had to do with elections. It has not come in the form of a lament about a land in the throes of despair, “bayan ko binihag ka, nasadlak sa dusa,” and the sighing or regurgitation of a hope the impossible might be possible. It has not come in the form of every tree, every post, every wall, every street sign, every building, every alley, every heart, every mind, every soul flying or brandishing a yellow ribbon, enough to gladden the beholder, enough to make him ask of the world, “Nakaligo ka na ba sa dagat ng dilaw?”
Then, Edsa saw the light of victory.
Now, Edsa isn’t even seen.