Monday ∗ 21 Mar 2011

Revisiting EDSA ’86, failing the revolution

The failure happens first on the level of being disallowed to take photos in the Ayala Museum, something that’s even stranger when the exhibit is purportedly about people power, and yet the people aren’t allowed to take photos anywhere in that museum, a reminder really of why I’ve stopped going there.

It took an exhibit like Revolution Revisited (Ayala Museum, Makati City now up at on a mall and campus tour) by photographer Kim Komenich to make me step foot in this museum again; it is also an exhibit that I can barely be happy about. Komenich’s curatorial note attached to the exhibit is a failure in itself, a re-writing of history from an obviously removed perspective, one that has stuck to a narrative of EDSA 1986 that has since become highly questionable, if not proven false.

Two of the more glaring things: many factors informed the people’s march to the streets on February 22 to 25 1986. There was the cheating in the snap elections, the only one that Komenich acknowledges, but also: the civil disobedience campaign that had Cory and the people going up against the oligarchies and capitalists, the military defection of Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel Ramos even when that was filled with too many silences still, and the truth that since Ninoy’s funeral march the people had gained an amount of courage that just kept on growing, through the Cory campaign, then the snap elections and poll watching, fearlessly ignoring the possibility of being picked up by the ever-watchful Marcos military.

Another glaring historical mistake was the assertion that February 25 1986 was the birth of what Komenich calls “the people power phenomenon.” What of tanks being stopped on February 23? What of people welcoming defiant soldiers who refused to disperse the crowds on February 24? What of artists and celebrities coming out to the streets and providing entertainment through the wee hours of February 23 to February 25?

I cringe at the idea that the 25th was the one day that gave birth to people power. I dare argue that its birth happened when people showed literally the kind of power they hold collectively, not when the dictator and his family began packing their things to leave Malacañang. I daresay that people power was born when people joined Cory’s civil disobedience campaign and literally refused to buy San Miguel and Nestle products, emptied Rustan’s of its shoppers, closed down banks, deemed the economy unstable. These were the same people who thought to, who knew to, stop tanks at EDSA. They proved people power then.

Komenich’s reading of EDSA ‘86 to be about cheating in the snap elections and the Marcos dictatorship ultimately just allowed it to revolve around the Cory-Marcos dichotomy, which wasn’t all that those four days was about. This reading of EDSA ’86 actually set this exhibit up for failure.

Which is not to say that it didn’t try to speak of the people, too; except that the way it did only begged the question: but in what light? The exhibit begins with photos of the every man pre-EDSA ‘86: a farmer with a carabao in the fields, a woman carrying a new born baby surrounded by even more of her children, a malnourished boy looking out onto the world. Then Revolution Revisited goes back and forth, from a photo of Cory Aquino’s proclamation rally and the aforementioned every Pinoy in 1986, to 1983 onwards with photos of Lean Alejandro, Evelio Javier, Ninoy Aquino and the snap elections. What was more surprising to me than the fact that our local photographers have their own versions of these photos, is the fact that of the four days of EDSA, what this exhibit had was only three days — three days! There were no photos of Day 3, February 24 1986, unless my turning around and going back to look for even just one photo was a failure in curation.

Day Three of course was a crucial time of defections and false alarms, people jumping and celebrating, government stations being taken over, as well as the threat of Marines in Camp Aguinaldo poised to shoot at Crame. Its absence in a revisiting of EDSA ’86 just seemed like a huge dark gaping hole.

Meanwhile, the stretch of colored photos at the end of this black and white exhibit  highlighted even more the distance of the power players from the people who made EDSA happen. That these personalities were allowed to speak about EDSA seems like the most redundant of things: we know what presidential daughter, now sister, Pinky Aquino-Abelleda, as well as Fidel Ramos, Juan Ponce Enrile and the rich of this country, would say about EDSA ‘86: they’ve been saying it the past 25 years.

And then there is this: these personalities are already the ones who contribute to a mainstream narrative that speaks of EDSA ’86 on the superficial level of unity and the general notion of change. They are also part of the oligarchies and powers that Cory had set out to fight through the civil disobedience campaign. Pray tell why would I want a businessman and capitalist to talk to me about EDSA ’86?

Ah, but Revolution Revisited also lets the faces of the every Pinoy in the beginning of the exhibit to speak at this point. Their photos are taken within the same contexts as before, reminding us that the farmer is still a farmer, the impoverished mother is still such, except that it’s been 25 years. Yes, nothing has changed for them, and this they also say in so many words. The malnourished boy has since died, and his family is still as poor as they were in ’86.

Thus this exhibit ends with the heaviest of feelings about EDSA ’86, highlighting the idea that it has led to nothing, that it was to a certain extent pointless. To have ended with the impoverished and the constancy of their conditions is to forget that EDSA ‘86 was a promise of possibility. That the poor are still such, that the conditions have stayed the same, is the fault of those big personalities who were in power yet have failed to truly affect change. It is not the failure of EDSA ‘86, or of people power at all.

Revolution Revisited in this form is thus just a reminder of the fact that Komenich’s  perspective is that of someone who might have lived with us in those four days of EDSA, and who might think himself one with us. But ultimately this exhibit is reminder that he is just a foreigner who fails tremendously to see and celebrate EDSA ’86 for what it was then, and what it should be about now: a time when the greatness of a people was proven by their collective ability to be fearless and courageous in the face of possible death.

This exhibit’s revisiting of EDSA 1986 fails the people power revolution; as such it also ultimately fails all of us.

Revolution Revisited ran until March 5 2011 at the Ayala Museum, Makati Avenue corner Dela Rosa St., Makati City, and is now on a mall and campus tour.

 

EDSA 1986 historical facts from reading Chronology of a Revolution by Angela Stuart-Santiago. All of it is up at EDSARevolution.com.

Posted in: arteng biswal, arts and culture, bayan, gobyerno, komentaryo, litrato, media, review

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