For the people and governments of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and the rest who aim to follow suit, as a Filipino but not representing the Philippines, I want to give an unsolicited advice: Democracy is not always the answer. But if you choose it, please keep in mind that it is not the end; it is only one of the many means towards progress and development. I hope that it will not take you 25 years to see the change you fought for.
Here is the reason why…
25 February 1986, the Philippines was at the stage of the international community and the whole world celebrated with the Filipinos as they bravely, yet peacefully, toppled a dictator of martial law for 2 decades. Yellow confetti brightened the sky, nuns offered roses to soldiers, tanks served as stages of pride and glory, and the whole population embraced democracy (even those who cannot define it). It is that day when hopes were raised and plans were sketched.
But hopes remained floating over the skies and plans remained on papers. After 25 years, after 4 democratically-elected presidents, after 2 more people power, I look around and search for the signs of that peaceful revolution we are so proud of. I want to ask my fellow countrymen, our leaders, myself, “Are we better off today than 25 years ago?”
Or we merely rotated on the same place?
I was only 2 then and I’m glad that I was not able to experience yet the euphoric atmosphere of that day. I’m glad that I cannot relate to fallen hopes and unrealized plans.
I tell everyone that Filipinos would rather starve than be suppressed of their freedom of expression. Yes, we have the democracy we fought for. The power remains in the people’s hands. We can impeach a president. We can morally condemn bureaucrats and contribute to their guilt until they commit suicide. We can make fun of politicians and portray them as greedy caricatures. We can vandalize national roads with our political opinions. But, is this the kind of power we want?
Millions of farmers cannot feed their families. Millions of children cannot go to school. Millions are dying of curable diseases. Millions are informal settlers in the shrinking space of the city. Millions are leaving the country, leaving their families, and risking everything for a better future. With all these, I want to ask the people I meet everyday, those I pass through when I go to work, I queue with in stores, “Does power really rest on our hands”?
Filipinos are fascinated by ideas; ideas feed our spirits. Whenever Manny Pacquiao wins a fight or Charice Pempengco sings with Hollywood singers, we feel proud as Filipinos. We elected a charismatic leader because we want to relive the spirit of people power, led by his mother and former President Corazon Aquino, that once united us. It is ideology that binds us a nation, but I see it as an ideology poor in action, in real change, in substance.
That day of 25 February 1986 has long been gone but we continue to celebrate it every year. We celebrate the idea that we took the attention of the world with our peaceful revolution, we hear inspiring speeches (even the repetitive sort), we pray as one, then we go home feeling proud as Filipinos. Then we leave them as they are–ideas, speeches, prayers. And tomorrow, the farmers, the children, diseases, informal settlers–we also leave them as they are.
25 years from now, I do not want to see a country proud because of a boxer or a singer. I do not want to see a country proud because we have the highest remittances from overseas workers. I want to see a country proud because, finally, we realized the hopes thrown along the yellow confetti and plans written on a linen paper. I want to see a country still fascinated by ideas yet moving forward and celebrating with actions.
Today, I celebrate with the rest of the Philippines for the 25th anniversary of our first peaceful revolution.
Today, I also weep for the 25 years of lost opportunities.