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No, I wasn’t in EDSA when it all happened seven years ago. That was January 18, 2001: I was a third-year high school student at Baguio City National High School. After classes were dismissed at 2:30 PM, me and a few friends hopped on over to the UP Baguio campus and joined the protest. I rallied ober da bakod: I gave up a game of CounterStrike and gave mettle, testicle and principle to join the people in what was then tagged as a “revolution.” For that time, I was an honorary “Iskolar ng Bayan.”
Along with the UP students who walked out of their class, we marched down Harrison Road, up to Session Road, and stayed at Malcolm Square for a while. We went back to UP for as long as it took for Joseph Estrada to get on his boat at the Pasig River and row off into the sunset.
In a way, I powered EDSA II.
EDSA II was everything an EDSA should not be: it was a concert, it was a backlash sponsored by elites, it was a mobocracy disguised as revolution, it was the insurrection that damaged our democratic institutions for years to come. But I didn’t see that when I joined the pro-EDSA rallies here seven years back. I fought for something more important than deposing a corrupt President: I fought for my future. I fought for a future that was supposed to be decided by exposing the errors and excesses of Estrada’s administration, by opening the second manila envelope, by going out there demanding change. I fought for a brighter future: brighter than the smile in Tessie Oreta’s face when she danced that little jig that nailed the door shut for a legal way to get rid of Erap.
The future doesn’t seem so bright anymore than I imagined back then. Seven years into that future, there seems to be a good reason for us to go back to EDSA and oust Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Gloria was not only the Constitutional successor of Estrada: she was, whether we like it or not, the symbol of EDSA II. But as much as I’d like to say that she betrayed EDSA and became a symbol of something else, it doesn’t work that way anymore.
EDSA – like democracy and freedom – is a perspective. It’s not just that major thoroughfare usually associated with traffic and red banners. EDSA is not a noun that denotes an avenue named after a great journalist and a great hero, nor is it a verb that denotes the uniquely Filipino way of deposing a President. EDSA represents our hope for a better future: the reason why the Filipino went to EDSA three times is not because of the desire to depose a President or the desire to see Nora Aunor in person, but the desire for change. It is the perspective framed by hope. That there’s something better out there for us. That we will fight for that future, and we have a big road to do it in.
Do I regret “powering” EDSA II? I should: after all, if it weren’t for me joining that chorus of ousting Erap, we would perhaps be in better straits right now. But at the same time, I don’t: I joined EDSA II because I believed that I deserved something better. I fought for what was my future then, and today’s here-and-now. Granted that I didn’t know what was at store for me when I wrote my own history, but at the very least, I took a stand. I have something to tell my children in the future: that I gambled on EDSA II for the hope for a better future.
No, you won’t see me in the streets rallying for a President’s ouster anytime soon. Too many people look at EDSA from a different perspective, and there are as many interpretations of the “EDSA Spirit” as there are vehicles traversing EDSA on any given day. But if EDSA is called in the hope of a better future – if we are all called to EDSA to demand the democracy that is rightfully ours – I will see you there.
But what we need is more than just a road. We need more than just an alternative President. We need perspective. The spirit of EDSA resides not in the politicians, not in the celebrities, not in the styrofoam containers of free food. We, the people, are EDSA.
Seven years ago, I didn’t just join EDSA. I was EDSA.