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Lessons from Philippines' 1986 revolution lost on new generations

Publication Date : 24-02-2014


Nearly three decades after the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, internationally acclaimed as the world’s first peaceful ouster of a dictator, there is a growing concern that the bloodless uprising is increasingly lost on new generations of Filipinos.

College history professors Maria Rita Reyes Cucio of San Beda College and Jovy F. Cuadra of Lyceum of the Philippines University say they are getting an increasing number of students who know Edsa I as just another holiday - no classes.

Cucio and Cuadra feel that basic education does not really make students understand and appreciate the importance of Edsa I, making the teaching of that part of Philippine history challenging.

“Some of them say dictatorship is equivalent to discipline,” Cucio says. Her observation is shared by Cuadra.

In many instances, Cucio says, she and her colleagues have to start all over again in teaching Edsa I. The focus of instruction in San Beda, Cucio says, is democracy. They let students understand that the freedom they enjoy now would not have been possible during martial law, which President Ferdinand Marcos imposed in 1972 to instill discipline in the Filipinos.

Without any textbook and getting information from traditional sources, the mass media, as well as modern technology, including the Internet and social media, her students, Cucio thinks, are doing all right, with only four or five in a class of 40 challenging Edsa history.

Values are also at the core of Edsa instruction at Lyceum which, together with the University of the Philippines, was at the forefront of anti-Marcos political action before the declaration of martial law.

Cuadra acknowledges that “foreigners seem to know more about Edsa” than her students. She sees that her responsibility as a college instructor is to reinforce what students learned in elementary school, no matter how little, and add new ideas.

“I get out of the usual focus on dates and personalities [involved in Edsa I] and go into the significance of the event,” she says.

Arts and sciences dean Rizalina Cruz says the school is more into changing students’ values and instilling in them nationalism and patriotism, and a commitment to democratic ideals.

At Lyceum, although Cuadra says she tries to steer clear of personalities, there is one person who guides instruction, Cruz says. Founder Jose P. Laurel, former president, was a foremost nationalist.

Historical figures
Instruction at San Beda, on the other hand, cannot ignore personalities who prominently figured in the Edsa revolt, Cucio says.

Former Sen. Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino, whose assassination galvanised a complacent nation to put an end to a dictatorship, was a Bedan. His wife, Corazon, who replaced the ousted Marcos and became the country’s first woman president, was a student at sister school St. Scholastica’s College.

The late Sen. Raul Roco, a major player in the revolution, was also a Bedan. And former Sen. Rene Saguisag, a human rights lawyer, is now a member of the San Beda faculty.

While the college faculty members feel they are getting students who have little understanding and appreciation of what happened on Feb 25, 1986, Grades 5 to 7 public schoolteachers in Pasay City say the problem is certainly not for lack of effort on their part.

With only one short chapter on the current history textbook devoted to Edsa I, the schoolteachers- Myra M. Desacula, Leuvina D. Erni, Teresita S. Fetalvo, Sailey R. Magallano, Criselda A. Santos and Gina Aimee C. Pambid - try to teach their students as much about Edsa I as the 40-minute period for Hekasi (geography, history and civics).

The teachers have produced their own teaching aids, using the ever-reliable Manila paper and cartolina. They bought their own DVDs of Edsa documentaries, downloaded them from the Internet or recorded them from television broadcasts. They have piles of newspaper and magazine clippings.

Cynthia Misalucha, assistant Pasay City schools division superintendent, says the Department of Education did issue modules on Edsa I last year, but it was too late for the People Power discussion in class.

Desacula, a Grade 7 history teacher at Pasay City North High School, says she uses the modules, designed to be taught in six one-hour sessions or two weeks, in her classes as framework for discussions.

Firsthand knowledge
Like Cucio and Cuadra, the teachers were young kids or teenagers during martial law and, thus, whether or not they were on Edsa, heard firsthand what it was all about.

Fetalvo came from Bicol, a hotbed of resistance to Marcos then (some parts still remain communist New People’s Army territory). The Grade 6 Hekasi teacher at Padre Burgos Elementary School saw as a teenager how some people would be “invited” by the military and would never be heard from afterward.

Pambid, Araling Panlipunan department head at Maricaban Elementary School, is the daughter of a soldier and lived in Villamor Air Base, where they were constantly on the ready to move to a safer place should violence erupt during face-offs between government forces and protesters.

In basic education, the teachers say Edsa I is taught in Grade 5 and the focus is on the event itself. Grade 6 integrates the event with other historical, social and political issues.

Santos says that how some students feel about Edsa depends on what they hear from their parents. “Some were told that during Marcos’ time, life was good for Filipinos,” she says.

Teachers have to balance the information students get, she says, as she tells her class that “lumabas ang kaswapangan (greed emerged)” during Marcos’ second term.

But in most homes, the teachers agree, “Edsa is no longer discussed.”

Fetalvo says some students are also confused why, if Edsa was supposed to make things better, “mas rampant ang corruption” and democracy is being abused today.

Not enough time
The teachers agree that more graphic, visual presentations of Edsa I make students more interested. They are also one in saying 40 minutes for Hekasi, with such a broad coverage, is not enough.

They say they need more instructional aids and would appreciate workshops and seminars that would enhance and strengthen their handling of the subject.

As for Cucio’s and Cuadra’s observations, the teachers say it may be because Edsa I is covered only in Grades 5 to 7. From Grade 8, equivalent to the old second-year high school, and until their graduation, students discuss Asian and world history.

While teachers, both in college and basic education, proclaim they are doing their best to make Edsa I alive in the hearts and minds of today’s young, a better guide to what students actually learn and know about the event is to let them express it in their own words.

This writer, judging a competition among elementary and high school student journalists during the 29th Teodoro F. Valencia-DepEd Search for the 10 Outstanding Journalists and School Publications in Metropolitan Manila, asked contestants to write about why Edsa I should be celebrated.

The responses were profound, confused, frustrated and often hilarious. Many of the answers will lose their essence in translation.

An elementary student wrote in Filipino: “I believe Edsa I should not be given importance because many Filipinos still work as slaves for foreigners.”

School holiday
Another wrote in Filipino that people support the event “because there are no classes - it’s been declared a holiday.”

Edsa I, said a grade school pupil, showed the strong bond among Filipinos and it was also a warning to politicians “not to be cheats.”

Without Edsa, said another, the country would not have been liberated from Marcos’ “iron fist” and, according to another, “crooked and inhumane system.”

One pupil said Edsa I happened “because the people rejected the results of the snap election.”

Another believed many people died or were injured during the 1986 revolution, while still another thought it happened after Cory Aquino died and was held in memory of the late President.

Hooked on social media
One knew exactly why he liked Edsa I: “If this did not happen, we will have no computers, we cannot use Facebook, we cannot use Twitter,” then belatedly added, “we will still be under martial law up to now.”

Another pupil compared Filipinos then to dogs that meekly obeyed their masters.

“If they didn’t do that, who would have stopped [Marcos’] crazy rule?” asked one.

Still another offered a revised version of history: “Ex-President Ninoy Aquino was seated in the presidential chair. One day, he travelled using a helicopter and when they landed [Ninoy was shot and killed]. Since [Marcos] was his vice [president], he wanted to be president.”

Connecting better
High school students were able to connect Edsa I to current events. One student wrote in Filipino: “It’s bad that in your country you can run away with P10 billion that’s intended for the poor. It’s a shame that you conceal the truth from your countrymen. It’s dismaying that to this day you can’t teach the meaning of honesty to the young. What’s the use of working for nothing?”

“If Edsa I did not happen, would Filipinos today find the courage to march to Luneta to oppose the pork barrel scam?” asked one high school student.

Another appreciated the freedoms enjoyed by Filipinos today. “Filipinos enjoy freedom today. Freedom to use gadgets, freedom of religion … and freedom to be gay,” he said.

Reminder to officials
Several said it was a display of Filipino courage and patriotism, which inspired other countries to aspire for democracy, and a fervent desire to regain their freedom.

The celebration of Edsa I should remind officials of the time when justice reigned and democracy overpowered a ruler, another student said. It could encourage lawmakers to render justice in cases like the pork barrel scam.

Marcos was ousted, said another, “because he made every person an idiot and ignorant of national issues.”

Mixing his metaphors, one student wrote, “People back then felt like caged birds in a torture chamber. But now we are no longer dolls to be controlled and birds to be caged.”

But frustration about how things were was evident in the essays of several students.

“The problem with the democracy we enjoy today is that thieves openly loot the national coffers. It seems we are overdoing democracy,” one student wrote.

“The prices of fuel, basic goods, power … and crimes are soaring … . Do we owe it to anyone that we expelled a dictator? Even criminals are walking around free,” wrote a frustrated youngster.

“Vice Ganda, Vhong Navarro, Vic Sotto are better known … . Cory should be idolised by women and the youth because she showed that women could become leaders,” another said.

One high school student said Edsa I was not really a national initiative because only people from the cities of Makati and Quezon participated and they were told by their bosses, who worried about business losses, to join the march.

“Do we really see the essence of the revolution on the faces of corrupt politicians, the lost funds … . Sovereignty is in the hands of the liar, the greedy, the corrupt,” the student said.


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