By Ivy Liza F. Mendoza
I know exactly when I became a student of life. It was on a Sunday. It was Aug. 21, 1983. I was 17.
We had just finished lunch and were glued to the vaudeville that was GMA Supershow, watching Kuya Germs dumping cans of Birch Tree and Nissin biscuits into the arms of his clueless guests. Then a newsflash, short but disquieting. Ninoy Aquino was shot. At the tarmac of the Manila International Airport. No clear details followed.
My parents were visibly shocked. They briefly exchanged comments about what they just heard. I was indifferent because I did not know who Ninoy Aquino really was.
The next day, I stepped onto a campus where both grief and wrath were palpable. UP Diliman was awash in rumors—and the colors red and black. Students naturally gravitated toward the AS (Arts and Science) steps of the Palma Hall, trying to make sense of what had just happened and its implications on the society that had been under a dictatorial rule for 18 years running. Shortly, a huge rally was underway to denounce the assassination of Benigno S. Aquino Jr., former senator and the staunchest political rival of Ferdinand E. Marcos who was inarguably the most abhorred person in the Diliman Republic. Aquino was coming back from Boston, exiled by the Marcoses after his thwarted bid for the Batasang Pambansa, to lead an opposition that was re-emerging stronger and more united.
Worthy to note was the fact that no one bothered to ask who killed Ninoy. It seemed everyone knew who did, and certainly it was not that poor-monogrammed-briefs–wearing-farmer–turned-fall-guy Rolando Galman.
The days and weeks that followed were marred by endless class walkouts and demonstrations. For most UP students, real learning was happening outside the classrooms. It was more enlightening to attend teach-ins and symposia, to listen to talks, or attend rallies because we were a bunch of disgusted young people who just wanted to know the truth from the very same government that was subsidizing our education. Many professors also opted not to hold classes and instead sat side by side the Iskolar ng Bayan on the steps. Everyone just wanted to understand the situation, expecting worst-case scenarios that could ensue. After all, martial law might have been “lifted” two years prior, but everything was all for show. The rule of terror still pervaded.
It was on Aug. 21, 1983 when I realized I had been called to action. After that, I was no longer afraid. I stopped being a fencesitter, I learned to be discerning and to listen using my head, heart, and gut. Always, I took a stand.
By February 1986, the political tipping point that was triggered in 1983 had been reached. I took a stand and made myself count when I went to EDSA in February of 1986. I was there to help overthrow a dictator. Unthinkable it might be, but to oust the Marcoses was the common desire burning in the hearts of millions of Filipinos who went out on the streets.
Days One and Two were one big party. Familiar faces from UP and other political luminaries walked among us. Everyone was up in a buoyant mood, unmindful of how this revelry might turn out.
But not my parents, they were mindful, very mindful in fact of their daughter marching in the streets and shouting slogans against the establishment. They would not allow me to go back for Day Three of that subversive occasion, at least in my father’s eyes. Seeing that things were getting serious, with gunfire already being exchanged between government and rebel forces, my parents knew just how to stop me—by withholding my allowance!
That did not hinder me from leaving the house though. I scrounged around for every centavo that I could find in my pockets, in my bag, around the house. I found enough coins for fare. I knew I wouldn’t go hungry because there was so much free food being passed around at the EDSA “party.” I also knew I could ask for coins from strangers and not be looked at with suspicion because the atmosphere was so festive, so filled with love, hope, and patriotism. And so it came to pass that this was one rare instance I was glad I disobeyed my parents, even if Day Three was the day when then AFP chief Fabian Ver was fiercely urging Marcos to already bomb areas outside Camps Crame and Aguinaldo to smoke the protesters out of EDSA.
Most of the details are now just a blur in my mind. I went with my brothers to Mendiola in the evening of Day Four when the Marcoses had already scurried like a mischief of rats out of Malacañang. I remember there was unabashed merrymaking on the streets leading to the Palace. It was clearly a celebration, not a revolution which was how those four days would come to be later known all over the world. But one thing was certain, EDSA People Power was God’s gift to Filipinos, it was a miracle that nobody expected to pan out the way it did. It became, in turn, the Filipinos’ gift to the world. It was to inspire similar actions against corrupt, morally bankrupt, and overstaying governments in Burma, South Korea, Indonesia, Poland, Romania, etc. EDSA People Power became the template for a peaceful, bloodless revolution to force fundamental changes in political power.
By this time, I was already 20, ready to graduate from the university in two months. It was as if a brand new Philippines was welcoming us to the real world. With assurances of a truly free press, which were the first to be shut down when martial law was declared in 1972, media outfits began opening up, presenting us Journalism graduates with vast opportunities never available before.
EDSA was both an end and a beginning. A season of hope was clearly before us. Ours was a generation that almost lost faith in the future, but EDSA happened, and the prospects totally turned around for us. In April 1986, President Cory Aquino was the commencement speaker at our graduation, and she emphasized to us, optimistic young people, that we had to get our freedom ourselves and not wait for it to be given to us —just like how we did it when we marched on EDSA.
Painfully, 31 years later today, I am again marching in the streets against the family of the same dictator we had kicked out—or so we thought.
I am again marching, this time to denounce the favored treatment of the Marcoses who are patently rehabilitating themselves in the eyes of younger Filipinos, attempting to redraft history and overwrite the gains of EDSA. I am again marching because I cannot allow the killing and imprisonment of thousands of Filipinos again, or the stealing of billions of pesos from our coffers again. I cannot allow Martial Law to ever happen again.
I am again marching to honor those who fought to give back all the freedom we are enjoying now. They, we, could have remained silent and accepted that Marcos was king and he could reign forever, but they, we, did not. They, we, spoke up, some even paid for it with their personal freedom, with their lives.
They say the work of democracy is never finished. The societal ills that existed decades ago continue to persist today. But the good news is that the spirit to fight injustice and abuses, and the struggle to achieve peace, justice, and true democracy are alive and well.
Just like how I was as a young person in 1986, the Millennials are living in interesting times today and the power has shifted to their hands. The torch has been passed on to them and from the way they proudly hold up their handcrafted signs during recent mobilizations, the way they ardently shout age-old slogans that were composed even before they were born (that “Marcos, Hitler, Diktador, Tuta” is such a classic!), and take to heart these messages, young people today seem to be taking their newfound role seriously. There is hope. Still.
Now as a teacher at the University of the Philippines, I take it upon myself to retell stories of struggle and more so EDSA tales to remind my students how we all got here. I think the best way to look back at those four days in February, 1986 is to go back to our successes—we overthrew a dictator and ended his 21-year reign, freedom was restored, and it is up to all of us to cherish and to preserve it.
Yes, from being a student, I am now a teacher of life, ever hopeful that the ideals of EDSA are not lost on every Filipino who is now enjoying the precious freedom that we gained back by being out there in the streets.
The author is a homegrown Manila Bulletin journalist, having worked for the company, first as a Lifestyle reporter and then as the pioneering editor of the newspaper’s Youth section, from 1988 to 2012. At present, she manages her own PR firm and teaches Journalism subjects at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. She credits the EDSA People Power Revolution for the restoration of press freedom and, consequently, the opportunities she got as a young media practitioner.