back when edsa happened

Photo mine.

I was too young to fully grasp the gravity of what was really happening, but I was old enough to understand something was going on.

I was eight years old. It was 1986. I wasn't sure what all the commotion about but I was happy that school was canceled for several days. All I understood at that time was that the whole nation was divided about Marcos and Cory. As a kid I always thought of President Marcos as a nice guy; my grandfather sorta knew him. And there was this nice lady named Cory who was running for president against him.

All I knew as a child about Cory was that she was the widow of Ninoy, the guy who they said was shot by Marcos' guys a few years earlier (I didn't quite get it then but I saw videos of his bloody body in the news; he was shot in the head and the bullet exited through his chin, my classmate told me). And she always wore yellow, Ninoy's signature color. And that the First Lady looked down on her for her umanicured fingernails (I even remember a cleverly laid-out magazine spread showing a photo of a smirking Imelda beside a shot of a smiling Cory holding up her hands to show her nails). Everybody seemed to like her, so i decided that I liked her as well.

A lot of people seemed to start hating Marcos. Before school got canceled, it was fashionable for kids to ask each other "Are you for Marcos or for Cory?," even if we didn't quite know what the heck we were talking about. I assumed that because he was the current president I was supposed to be for him, so without thinking I had answered, "Marcos". That was when my young activist friends educated me about his evils. I heard that he stole a lot of money and had a lot of people killed. Exactly how and why he did that, I didn't know how or why. I just started seeing him as evil incarnate, and out of peer pressure, I switched my vote to Cory.

There was Marcos-Tolentino, red and blue, on one side.
Cory-Doy, yellow and green on the other.

It was that time that I heard terms like "snap elections"and "democracy".

Songs like "Magkaisa", "Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo" and "Bayan Ko" floated about, even until the next few years.

Yellow was the color of the day.

I didn't exactly know why we didn't have classes, but as the adults at home were glued to the news, I knew there were crowds in the streets, and tanks and soldiers. And nuns. June Keithley kept us constantly updated on Channel 4.

My mom participated in some of the crowd activity. I heard later that she had a serving of tear gas.

As for my dad, i didn't see him for days. He was in the military and worked in the Department of National Defense. I learned later that he was one of the first RAM boys, or those men in the Reform the Armed Forces Movement - rebels in the eyes of the administration, heroes to everyone else (At that particular time, it was a good thing to be in the opposition, that was Cory's side). My Dad was detained by his work for days at Camp Aguinaldo with Defense Minister Enrile (back then, they were called "minister" instead of "secretary"), General Ramos and a number of military men.

After a few days of Papa's absence from home, Mama gathered some of his shirts and stuff in a plastic bag and walked to the Camp Aguinaldo main gate (the house where we used to live was in a village just beside Camp Aguinaldo, it must have been one or two kilometers' walk). The gate was barred, enforced and heavily guarded; people were having a ruckus just outside. Mama went up to the gate with her plastic bag (she was never intimidated by soldiers, she grew up seeing them since my grandfather was a general) and slung it over to the top of the bars, where Papa was perched waiting for her delivery.

I would have considered that real sweet, except that only I learned about it after they were already separated, so there.

During this whole historic going-on, Papa dropped by the house briefly once; he just had to grab some stuff and then return to work immediately. I missed him a lot so I greeted him with a hug, but I pulled away as soon as I realized he stank from days without a shower. He showed us the Philippine flag patches that they wore on their arms: on the sleeve of his thick, rough uniform was a square of sturdy fabric with a print of the flag, red side up (It wasn't sewn on; it was held by four safety pins). And then he was off again, gone for another while. I wondered if I was wrong to worry if he could die in all that. Well, he didn't - it was a peaceful revolution, after all. He came home after a few more days, smelling worse.

After the whole revolution was over, my aunt showed me Papa's name in the newspaper, saying, "Do you know, your dad's a hero!"

By the way - Papa has numerous People Power souvenirs, a lot of them more interesting than stuff in most people's collections. He not only has button pins, Cory-Doy campaign merchandise, coffee table books and People Power comics. He was keen to make himself a photocopy of the yellow pad Enrile and Ramos used as a sign-up sheet (Papa's name was signed right there on the first page). He had the button pins and paraphernalia that RAM boys used; he also kept those flag fabric-patches that he wore, as well as the safety pins. He even has an Enrile-autographed book, and shrapnel from the scene.His souvenirs were later useful for me in high school when our class put together a People Power memorabilia exhibit for Social Studies.

Newsmen kept tabs on Enrile, Ramos and the RAM boys at that time that they were standing off against Marcos. On television were clips of uniformed men with large guns on the roof of the buildings of the Department of National Defense and AFP Headquarters in Aguinaldo. The likes of Gringo Honasan, Red Kapunan and Tiger Tecson became celebrities.

There is this clip that became iconic and popular, and has been used for documentaries on the Edsa Revolution: Enrile was on the telephone with Marcos one evening, surrounded by soldiers and media men. In a precise but emphatic manner, like a scene in a movie, he said, "Mr. President, your time is up." My dad happened to be in that very room and witnessed - participated in - that actual event.

As we were all committed to our TV set, keeping updated, we pretty soon saw images of kids and nuns giving flowers to soldiers on Edsa, rioters vandalizing paintings in Malacanang. It was utter anarchy, but there was a whole sense of happiness going on. News reporters and TV personalities weeping and hugging each other.

My brother and I, young as we were, made an appearance at Edsa too, with my mom, her friends and some relatives. I didn't even know what was going on, it just seemed real big; I didn't even know it was important, or historical. I have a vague recollection of things, which includes a memory of Cardinal Sin making a speech and a mass of yellow balloons. Street vendors were selling yellow button pins, yellow ribbons and headbands, yellow Cory shirts, Ninoy shirts that said "Hindi ka nag-iisa", Cory dolls, Cory everything. I took home a little Cory rag doll - which looked nothing like her, but you knew it was her because of the yellow dress, the curly black yarn for hair and the looped-wire glasses.

I caught a tiny glimpse of the real Cory by the way, at the PMA graduation in Baguio a few weeks later - a little yellow speck behind a waving yellow flag. Everyone seemed so happy at that time, like it was a massive national celebration.

And oh, I had some photos taken with Gringo, who was then a hero (but was later a national nuisance, and then a fugitive, and then a Senator, and then a wanted man again).

The following schoolyear, students had new details to memorize for Philippine History class - names, dates and events in relation to the People Power Revolution. Details that were apparently immensely important enough for publishing houses to produce updated textbooks immediately for the next semester.

The Philippines made world headlines for awhile for People Power, the peaceful revolution, as well as for the goings-on that led up to it.

February 25 became a new Philippine holiday.

Cory became the first woman president in the world. She became Time Magazine's Person of the Year. She brought back democracy, they say; she gave a fresh start for the Filipinos.

In a while, the Cory magic seemed to fade. People were verbally bashing her left and right, there were numerous coups, fiery oppositions and counter-cases for libel. The image of Cory the hero seemed to have disintegrated into Cory the intellectually-challenged housewife. I then wondered what made people change their minds about someone they previously venerated, why and how someone so adored became someone so widely hated. I thought maybe it was partially her annoying youngest daughter who suddenly became an actress who couldn't act.

Of course, years and other presidents later, I came to understand.

The magic was reignited last August 2009 when she came to rest, and people forgave her her wrongs. Yellow flooded the streets again, yellow ribbons were ubiquitous - I found it fascinating that designers coincidentally decided that yellow was the color of the year (even before her death). People brought out their "Edsa" stories and souvenirs, "Magkaisa" was again given airplay. The whole country was once more glued to their television screens to witness a common event - this time, it was Madam Cory's funeral. From the glorious sendoff the citizens gave her, it is clear she will always be a symbol of freedom in this country, despite all the bad memories she left us with.

Photo mine. Taken at Cory and Ninoy's site at Manila Memorial Park.

On the 24th anniversary of People Power, i find myself not really caring. Perhaps I was too young when it happened so I don't ever get emotional about it. I just saw Ramos and some personalities walk arm-in-arm, Edsa style, toward the People Power monument. I've been watching studio-23 telecasts of A Dangerous Life, an HBO miniseries on the Edsa Revolution and the events leading up to it (It's boring, but informative. But i heard it's more fictional than factual, so I take it with a bit of salt). I suppose that next year, the 25th Anniversary, there will be a huge celebration coinciding with the release of a compilation album and the opening of several exhibits.
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