I was born exactly 30 days before Cory Aquino was sworn in as the president who would start the restoration of democracy after decades of tyranny. My mother told me she had wanted to go to Edsa, but she couldn’t for obvious reasons. I suspect, though, that faint-hearted that she is, the sight of military tanks aimed at the crowd of demonstrators would have only made her tremble and rush home. My father, on the other hand, was preoccupied with work so that he could provide for the needs of his wife and their first child. And like any other probinsyano trying his luck in the city, his priority was to earn enough to be able to feed his family.
Thirty years later, many of us born during that time are unappreciative—or, worse, ignorant—of what the bloodless revolution was all about. I have to admit that until I started working for a nongovernment organization, that event was just a fact of history to me. And even now that I am working with people who, in one way or another, experienced the horrors of martial law and participated in student demonstrations to overthrow a corrupt leader, I still have a lot of catching up to do to learn about recent Philippine history.
As it stands, the revolution fueled by “people power” and the difference it was supposed to have made do not mean much to my cohort. Politics doesn’t spark conversation among us. In the cities, those who have work are more concerned about ticking the boxes on their list of must-try restaurants. Those of us who can afford, “seize the day” and hit the clubs, frolic on the beach, or fly somewhere to seek adventure. I am among the few who haven’t given a thought to raising a family.
Those of us who were fortunate to go to college, hoping to become nurses abroad or computer programmers in some company, ended up looking for another job—never mind if totally unrelated to what we studied—after our contracts expire. The kinds of jobs available don’t give us careers. We do not think labor unions can help us, if they still exist; we’re just concerned about finding another job, not about job security.
Meanwhile, those of us who live outside Metro Manila are also facing daily hurdles. Others have joined rebel groups because it is probably more lucrative than farming or fishing. Besides, the land their fathers till still belongs to the rich families (and will be handed over to the heirs probably our age), and there is nothing much to catch from polluted or overfished waters. Their parents, like mine, didn’t march on the streets in 1986. Or they felt they were spared from the brutality of martial law because they chose not to be aware of it, or did not have the means to know what was going on. For some, the revolution was waged by the educated, urban and elite few.
And now, thanks to constant media coverage of crimes—from the pettiest to the grimmest—we are made to believe that “peace and order” is a more urgent concern than protecting human rights and respecting due process. (Il)logic tells many of us that we need someone with an iron fist that can overcome the evil forces that democracy and human rights—the very things that the 1986 Edsa Revolution sought to restore and uphold—are said to have nourished. Even those who claim to have opposed martial law and then served in the government brazenly took advantage of their access to public coffers to amass wealth for themselves and their families.
Human rights, for many of us, are passé, if not vague, and democracy as we know and practice it grants us too much freedom. Discipline is sorely lacking, the older ones lament, and the only way to impose it is through coercion—a repeat of what was done more than 40 years ago. And for us, “moving on” means forgetting the past, not only a bitter relationship but also the abuses and the damage wrought by an abusive regime. Our generation did not make these up, though; we were exposed to these—in our schools, in the government, in the media—as we grew up.
We have been surrounded by ideas, experiences, and values that seem to erase the memory of Edsa. Our generation and those born after us have pop stars, boxing champs, and comic book heroes to look up to. We can’t find people who can inspire us to become responsible and involved citizens. We don’t know where to go to remind ourselves about martial law, and our schools taught us very little about democracy and social justice. We can google the stuff, but we’d likely end up checking out what our virtual friends are up to.
There is a “shared experience” three, four or five decades ago that our generation received in thin trickles. But more obvious is the seeming ignorance—intentional or otherwise—of those ahead of us about the nightmare of martial law, what it feels like to lose a loved one for criticizing an arrogant dictator, his flamboyant wife and their children, and the possibility of a government that can suppress people’s freedom.
I am certain, however, that a few of us born after 1986 are continuing the struggle for a better society. But the cynic in me hates to admit that ours is an ignorant generation. We are not worried sick of what is happening around us, and I apologize for disappointing those who fought hard so that we would grow up in a freer country. But that is the harsh truth we now face, not only because the young are disinterested and apathetic, but also because some of our parents and our parents’ parents are still as poor as before. Others simply decided to forget.
First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Photo by Robin Moyer / Malacañang Palace Archives.