My zoom mates and I were arguing about People Power 1. What happened to all that enthusiasm that toppled a dictator? When the dust settled, the old order crept back into place. The pyramid of possibilities for structural changes crumbled steadily. Then someone asked if we believed in cosmic coincidences. Why, do you think we are in a full circle moment?– I queried. The answer was yes. In February 1986, People Power overthrew a dictator, today, 2022, the dictator’s son is running for president. In 1986, a widow ran against the dictator during snap elections and won; today, a widow is the strongest challenger of the dictator’s Junior who is trying so hard to look, speak and gesture like his father. Former Senator Ninoy Aquino was murdered as he disembarked from an airplane; erstwhile Interior Secretary, Jesse Robredo, was not killed at the tarmac, but he perished in a plane crash.
In the 1986 snap elections, no other candidate could have defeated Pres. Marcos’ powerful politico-military machinery, except Corazon Aquino. She had public sympathy, even if she was not prepared for the presidency. Though she had a college degree in mathematics and French, she was “a professional housewife”, to use her husband’s own words. The other widow, Leni Robredo, has two degrees, one in economics and another in law; she passed the bar in 1997. She worked at the Public Attorneys office until 1999, helping indigent litigants. She joined the Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap where she gave legal services for 13 years. She was a congresswoman for three years, representing the third district of Camarines Sur. Leni Robredo has dedicated her life to the downtrodden, denizens of the laylayan, the fringes of society. On top of all that, Leni was also a housewife.
People Power 1 astounded the world because regime change was brought about peacefully, with hymns and flowers. At that moment in history, a vibrant community of citizens was linked by common interests and collective activities. Advocacy groups proliferated among professionals, cultural workers, church goers, the youth, farmers and fishers, business people. In my opinion, that was a civil society in the making, but unhappily, most died on the vine or were co-opted by the same corrupt hoary system.
During this Covid pandemic, you may notice sprouts of a civil society springing up as Filipinos voluntarily fill in the vast spaces ignored by the government After a community pantry was set up on Maginhawa street, by a hitherto unknown citizen, many other buds opened all over the country with the same motto of getting only what you need and contributing what you can spare.
Somehow, that brought to mind Jose Rizal’s La Liga Filipina, a mutual aid group, an open society the objectives of which were to teach Filipinos how to; help each other in times of need and how to bind the archipelago into one nation, not only a mere political unit. Like many NGOs and citizens’ groups that have sprouted through the decades, the Liga Filipina advocated education, agriculture, trade and commerce ( some urgent needs of Rizal’s times). I think that was why Jose Rizal was executed, he began organizing. He did write two incendiary novels criticizing colonial society, but when he inaugurated La Liga Filipina, inviting all the movers and shakers of that period to join, he became a menace to colonial society, their public enemy number one. They censored and burnt his books, banished him to God-forsaken Dapitan, but instead of breaking the patriot’s spirit, the Spanish colonial authorities inadvertently gave Rizal an opportunity to apply the tenets of La Liga Filipina.
Leni Robredo may not be aware of it, but that is exactly what she has been doing, constructing a civil society, brick by brick. So, is this our cosmic moment of going around full circle? – I asked my zoom mates. Win or lose, Leni Robredo must continue her lifetime, 18- hours a day work schedule of constructing a civil society.
Way before she became the disdained and unwanted vice-president, Leni Robredo has had projects with a civil society orientation. She has never promoted personal interests as her programs filled in spaces untouched by the government. Her advocacies have presented alternative policies that deliver services to the indigent. They have also become the basis for reconciliation among sectors that used to be at war with each other. Leni has definitely elevated the political discourse and has been able to develop national cohesion, so obvious in her electoral campaigns which are all based on volunteer work. My zoom mates and I vowed that we are for Leni Robredo. Win or lose, she must carry on and build a civil society.