I’ve been out of the literary and academic establishment since 2008, and save for finally finishing my M.A. Degree in 2013, and now imagining that I would like to work on a PhD., have steered clear of its trappings and requirements.
I did not go without the requisite kicking and screaming, as I always thought of a career in teaching and writing. But what has become clear since is that I also needed to let go of my romance with the establishment, in order to actually know of the freedoms that Angela holds dear, that one that allows her to live up EDSA 1986, the only EDSA that matters really, despite Dos and Tres.
Because I watched Dos happen and was a part of it too, walking to EDSA from UP Diliman where I lived, and then home to Mandaluyong from EDSA on most days. The four days of EDSA Dos, from January 17 to 20 in 2001, was like watching a sadder version of EDSA 1986. From a distance, I thought it was pretty fantastic that in the beginning who I saw up on that stage were the Teddy Casiños and Ruth Cervanteses of this world, militants as they were. Of course soon enough that stage was being taken over by the grand display that was GMA taking Erap’s place. And I was right there, close to that stage when they played “Handog ng Pilipino Sa Mundo” after GMA took her oath, and I remember thinking: hmmmm… what pagbabago were we talking about exactly?
The rest is history of course, as history has judged EDSA Dos to have been nothing more but a changing of the guards, one that had us making a choice against one womanizing gambler of a President, in favor of a member of old oligarchical politics who stayed far longer than she promised and declared her own version of Martial Law to boot.
It was really a mishandled EDSA, I thought, one that revealed how little we had learned from EDSA 1986, where people power – the people taking a stand against a dictator, against the repression and oppression of one regime – was what dictated how the event unfolded, which is to have the hero’s wife at the helm of a new government, never mind that we did not know if she was equipped to handle it. EDSA Dos was about us deciding to put our foot down against Erap, yes, but we weren’t quite united about why we were angry, and as such it was easy to pull that rug from under us and let GMA and her ilk take hold of the power, a power we could have wielded were we more informed about how things could turn out, how we must take control of the situation as a collective.
Yet it is no surprise that disunity might be our biggest enemy, uncertain as we have become about the real enemies of nation since, the specter of Martial Law becoming the rhyme and reason for our sense of nation. It is clear that we will not stand for any form of repression, and that we will always choose freedom, but we do not know what to do with this freedom that we wield. Too often I find that we invoke the right to free speech and expression only when it is so obviously being snatched from us, and not any moment sooner.
What I’ve learned since EDSA 1986, and because of it, is that repression happens in the most innocent of instances. When the self-proclaimed elders of any artistic community assert their right to silence the younger artist, when the institutions that stand for liberal thought and free speech become weighed down by rules and regulations and propriety. When the independent critics and writers lose their jobs because they insist on thinking a certain way, or demand answers to questions no one asks.
When you get a call from an acquaintance asking you about the last story you wrote, and if there’s one more coming up, if you could please not publish that? because the mother of someone whose work you critiqued was brought to the hospital after reading your review, and that apparently now falls on your shoulders. When you are told that you are inciting rebellion because you started asking questions about your contractual employment as university faculty. When a transnational magazine will publish an ill-informed badly-written assessment of your body of work and pass it off as intelligent, even when it’s nothing but a deliberate hit.
Until you get to a day when a friend calls you to say: you need a slogan and I know exactly what: “Katrina Stuart Santiago! Walang sinasanto!” and you both LOL. And when you wake up one day and your Kuya, who has built you a blog, says he has the best tagline for it: radikalchick.com: eating sacred cows for breakfast.
Here in my world, where I am reminded often of how un-free I am to think and write on the tangents that I choose, EDSA 1986 is not something I feel confident enough to talk about. Here in my world though, the crises and the struggles that led to EDSA 1986, actually live on. ***