EDSA in Luneta?




(Published on pressone.ph, Feb 29, 2024)

Yes, that was my proposal to a Church prelate just before the Pandemic. I suggested that we had a change of venue for the festivities that year. The People Power anniversary was fast approaching then, but there seemed to be no energy or excitement at all among the populace. The immediate reason for this of course was the obvious fact that the Marcoses which the EDSA movement kicked out of the country were now back and doing well. In the 2022 elections, their full restoration would happen with BBM’s runaway victory.  

But even before this, enthusiasm for the EDSA anniversary was already waning the past two decades. The facile answer people gave for this was that the promise of EDSA was never fulfilled. According to this argument, although democracy was reestablished, many Filipinos remained poor. Like in the French revolution, the liberte, egalite, fraternite that people experienced at EDSA did not translate into inclusive development and progress.  But this contention however is highly arguable. The democratic project takes time. Rome as they say was not built in a day. 

Methinks however that the real reason for the lack of interest in the annual commemoration was the annual credit-grabbing that attended it among the so-called EDSA heroes. Through the years, the debate about whether this or that EDSA personality was “legit” or not became so petty, old, and tiresome. In other words, the festivities, which were supposed to celebrate the values that EDSA stood for, were hi-jacked by politicians, who were using EDSA as “pogi” points or political capital. Over time, these useless political squabbles drained EDSA of its much vaunted “spirit.” As the saying goes, too many cooks spoil the broth!

The spirit, however, as everyone knows, is the Church’s territory or field of expertise. In fact, a strong case can be made that People Power Revolution in 1986 took place because of the large role the Church played then in animating the people’s spirit or, in Church lingo, in enflaming the hearts and minds of the faithful. Not only on those fateful days in 1986 when Jaime Cardinal Sin (Archbishop of Manila) and Ricardo Cardinal Vidal (CBCP President) made their iconic appeals over Radio Veritas and Radyo Bandido to which the throngs at EDSA responded to. Even before 1986, the Church was already preparing the seedbed of the revolution.

Through its many pastoral statements, the conscience of the faithful or the Catholic populace was being formed and fortified. The classic “WE MUST OBEY GOD AND NOT MEN!” before the February snap election was particularly bold and inspiring. But their post-election statement, which condemned the massive cheating that transpired, discredited the government that won by “fraudulent means” and invited the Filipino people to discern and act, fired up the base as it were. It was therefore no surprise that when EDSA happened, the millions that gathered involved a big contingent of nuns, priests, delegates from parishes, faculty and students from Catholic schools, and all sorts of Church groups or associations. Ubiquitous in the gatherings as well were religious icons such as crucifixes and Marian images. There were no planned programs except the regular masses and the praying of the rosary. And because of all this, EDSA was more of a Sunday fellowship in your parish writ large rather than a political rally or the usual protest march. It was a religious event more than anything else. And indeed, bishops and theologians at that time compared it to the Transfiguration of Christ at Mt. Tabor, while many other observers, noting its peaceful nature, called it a “miracle”, which, of course, is a spiritual term.

Sadly though, after EDSA, except for a few very active prelates and priests, the Church seemed to have receded from the limelight of EDSA as well. Like the general public. This is not to say that the Church ceased from socio-political engagement. In truth, Church groups were active in the lobbying for much needed social measures such as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law or the Urban Development and Housing Act. It was very much involved in the formulation of the 1987 constitution and its perennial defense through anti-cha cha rallies. The EDSA principles of people empowerment and democratic engagement inspired the organization of basic ecclesial communities in parishes and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting.

And yet, mysteriously, despite continuously being socially if not politically active, many in the Church also lost interest in the annual gathering at EDSA. Which is of course sad if not tragic, for as already mentioned, it was the Church that animated the throngs at EDSA and inspired the national conscience in the years before. In a sense, EDSA was a spiritual, religious event as much as a political one. And a great religious and spiritual achievement at that! It is also a great legacy to the Filipino people that the Church should now reclaim. Jesus warned us about casting pearls before swine.

For the longest time, swine or crocodiles have been fighting over the legacy of EDSA and now it’s almost been laid waste. It is high time the Church reasserted her role at EDSA. Not to join in the trivial political fray that has become of the EDSA festivities, but to recover the sacred common ground and lead us again to prayer, worship, and fellowship. Like in those fateful days of EDSA 1986 when we were singing and dancing and thanking the Lord for not abandoning us. Holiday or not, EDSA can be our equivalent of the Jewish Passover where the Jews annually commemorate their Exodus experience.

But let them have the streets of EDSA. We can pray at the Luneta where we yearly pray with the Poong Nazareno and where we prayed in the millions with Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman, it is not necessary to worship God in Jerusalem or the Holy Mountain, “but the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth… God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

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