It came to me on the evening of February 21: why not “live” tweet the events of the EDSA People Power Revolution of 1986 as it happened?
How hard could it be, I thought. I remember one year when the now defunct (but quite missed!) communications office of the previous government, which had Manolo Quezon in charge of history, actually sought to “live” tweet EDSA 1986, too. Besides, the original chronology of EDSA’s four days by Angela Stuart-Santiago is online (www.edsarevolution.com). All I had to do was sit and schedule tweets by the hour or minute, as the chronology unfold.
Sure the 140-character per tweet limit would take getting used to, but it was a challenge worth taking on if it meant getting a new audience “reading” about EDSA, albeit through a different medium, in a different way.
Having to go through this original chronology (an updated one was published in the book EDSA Uno in 2012) with the seriousness that cutting it up into 140-character tweets requires, I found myself getting teary-eyed in parts that didn’t used to get to me. When you read a book after all, it is one leisurely exercise of going from one page to the next, re-creating the narrative as it unfolds in your head.
Meanwhile, this exercise of tweeting the four days of EDSA1986 meant taking one sentence, sometimes one phrase, typing that on Twitter, and trimming, editing, paraphrasing it down to 140 characters without losing the spirit of the original sentence. It meant planning ahead in terms of scheduling tweets, making sure events and conversations happening at the same time will make sense even if these overlap on the Twitter feed.
As such there was a different process of making sense of the multifarious, multi-layered narratives that make up the four days of EDSA, and while it must have been different for those who were watching it unfold on Twitter, it was quite a fulfilling process for someone like me, Martial Law baby, who grew up with his material, but who now realizes that there is always value in sitting down to read. Read new things yes, but also read history in a new light.
Focused as I was on making sure that the different conversations could be followed easily regardless of overlaps, I found myself becoming most invested in the conversations among the reformist soldiers led by then Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile and Vice Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos.
It wasn’t that I did not know of the role they played in EDSA1986 before; it’s that this time I was being made to look at the lesser known personalities. The people who surrounded Enrile and Ramos for example, from then Col. Gregorio Honasan to Col. Eduardo Kapunan, from Maj. Avelino Razon to Col. Jose Almonte. To the lesser known military men, from Col. Braulio Balbas who led the 1st Provisional Tactical Brigade and who refused to hurt civilians, to Gen. Artemio Tadiar, Commander of the Philippine Marines who was just as hesitant, from Col. Antonio Sotelo of the 15th Strike Wing of the Philippine Air Force, to Commodore Tagumpay Jardiniano, Chief of the Naval Defense Force.
Even those unnamed pilots at Villamor Air Base who got out of the helicopters upon being told by rebel forces flying overhead that had orders to destroy the aircrafts. The reply of the unnamed pilot: “Come and get it.”
Too, this time around, I finally got a sense of how scared even the reformist soldiers were, especially in the beginning when it was clear that the dictator Marcos still had the armed forces on his side, and the people had yet to come out to EDSA. It could also be a function of age, the realization of the gravity of their decision to defect from a dictator, and how important that still is as a historical moment for nation, outside of and beyond who these officers became after EDSA.
Because on those four days, they were heroes. No ifs and buts. And when we talk about EDSA1986, that should not be forgotten.
But also, it is clearer to me now that the people, without a leader, without a spokesperson, without one organization holding court, was deciding on its own about where to go, what to do, how to make the exercise of disobedience less fearful, more empowering.
Contrary to most timelines built by mainstream media, and the EDSA story of the Church, Jaime Cardinal Sin was not the first person to call on people to go to EDSA.
By the early evening of February 22, news of the defection was already spreading, a function of the families of the reformists calling people, including members of the media, informing them of the defection. At 8:30PM, a suggestion is made to Ming Ramos to have people at Camp Aguinaldo; by 10:00, Butz Aquino went to the camp and then went on radio calling on people to prevent bloodshed. By 11:00 the number of people meeting with Butz in Isetann Cubao was consistently growing; close to midnight, marching to Camp Aguinaldo, they were at 10,000. By the time they arrived at the camps, the estimates were at 20,000 to 30,000.
Cardinal Sin only went on radio close to midnight, calling on people to support Enrile and Ramos, and to fill the streets to prevent bloodshed. At that point people were actually already out there, doing exactly that.
And even more people would go out to the streets, knowing very little really about what was going on, but also knowing just enough. The civilians who informed buses and vehicles on Ortigas that tanks were coming, those crowds that decided to build barricades of cars and buses and then their bodies; those who stopped the tanks with prayers and singing and tears, those that went where reinforcements were needed; those that brought food.
EDSA1986 reminds that at the most critical time, when we most need to, we can and will rise to the occasion of nation. And we will do so with no leaders, no spokespersons, no personalities. We will do so based on issues. We will do so because we have taken the time and energy to assess the state of nation, and we will agree that we will not stand for it, not anymore. And we will do so because we are done being afraid.
If only for hope, one is glad to re-read EDSA1986 again. And again. ***
Published in The Manila Times, 26 February 2017.