Fil-Am group to relive People Power revolt for new generation
SAN FRANCISCO - Thirty years define a generation, or so says Merriam-Webster. Those three decades supposedly span the average time between an individual's birth and parenthood, between earliest learning and teaching, emulating and modeling.
Nineteen eighty-six was the year Filipinos delivered what is now known throughout the world as "People Power," the peaceful uprising that culminated on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue—also known as EDSA—that brought down a once-feared dictatorship.
Between then and now, a new generation of Filipinos has been born, many of whom have never heard the words "People Power" or confuse it with similar movements that ousted another Philippine president a few years later.
For them, a group of individuals who fought the regime of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and risked their lives leading or supporting the opposition is dedicating a series of events to honor Filipinos' greatest gift to democracy.
Organizers of "EDSA People Power @30" have partnered with the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco and Filipino American nonprofits for a tribute that evokes the spirit of the revolt.
"We were beginning to realize that while it had often been said that the Marcos dictatorship silenced a generation of national leaders, the 30 years after 1986 produced a generation of Filipinos—in the Philippines and around the world— who were ignorant of what People Power was," Susan Po- Rufino, co-organizer of the 30th anniversary events, told Philippine News.
"We were collectively worried about this post-EDSA People Power generation whose history textbooks hardly contained any references to this phenomenon that propelled the Filipino people as global models of peaceful, radical political change. In fact, there seems to has been a rash of revisionist accounts lately about the Marcos regime, in effect, trivializing the 1986 People Power revolution which other nations had been emulating since then."
An essay-writing contest for Filipino American residents born before 1986 launches the remembrance. Book readings and presentations, a screening of a documentary and a photo exhibit at the consulate will relive the highlights and unseen moments that restored freedom in the archipelago nation.
Po-Rufino credited Consul General Henry Bensurto for conjuring up a "celebration...(that looks) to the future - have the post-EDSA generation as featured speakers, sponsor an essay contest eligible only to this generation."
The timing for a history lesson could not be more ideal.
"A crucial Philippine national election is coming up, and there's a whole generation of Filipinos and Filipino Americans who are not aware of one of the most corrupt and brutal dictatorships in the world," co-organizer Mila de Guzman referred to the national elections in May. Many of the candidates are relatives or allies of Marcos and his cronies as well as of his fellow ousted president (now Manila Mayor) Joseph Estrada and his successor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is in hospital arrest on corruption charges.
Po-Rufino, a luxury real estate broker, and de Guzman, a freelance journalist, have a personal stake in the enterprise. Both have family members who were herded into military camps along with other political activists who challenged the dictatorship. They themselves were anti-Marcos activists , but their thoughts are with those who died or disappeared and missing to date or otherwise subjected to atrocities after Marcos declared martial law in 1972.
"More than 3,000 were killed, thousands imprisoned and tortured, women political prisoners were subjected to rape and other sexual abuses," said de Guzman.
Overseas Filipinos were not safe from regime operatives.
De Guzman said she was forced into "involuntary exile" as a UN employee when her Philippine passport was revoked by the consulate in New York.
"Activists in the US were not spared from the surveillance and harassment, and even murder," she stressed. "Seattle union leaders and anti-Marcos activists Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes were gunned down at their union headquarters on June 1, 1981 by Marcos gunmen. In an example of People Power, the Seattle community joined together and formed the Committee for Justice for Domingo and Viernes to pursue justice and filed a civil suit in 1982. In 1989, the U.S. Federal District Court in Seattle found the Marcoses, along with their U.S. based co-conspirators, guilty of the murders. It was the first time a former head of state was brought to U.S. court for the murders of U.S. citizens and found liable."
Their common enemy brought the two women together.
"We met either in a demonstration or an educational event in the early 1980s and became friends," said de Guzman.
Po-Rufino recalled taking part in anti-Marcos activities as a "sort of coming-of-age" for herself, but quickly qualified the People Power movement in the Bay Area as "minor compared to the sacrifices, dedication, deprivations of those in the resistance movement back in the Philippines."
The experience strengthened her character.
"It taught me to make choices, stand up and speak up for what I believed in - not that I did not have this exposure at the Diliman campus of UP in the '60s or for that matter, at home where my father would invite over his fellow former detainees during the witch-hunting days of the 1950s," said the member of Movement for a Free Philippines founded by former senator and presidential candidate Raul Manglapus.
"It rankled me no end when, at that point in the life of the Filipino nation, many people I knew refused to take sides. That's when I decided to have crash courses in Zen so I could savor that bright shining moment of February 25, 1986!"
San Francisco was ground zero for victory of stateside People Power.
The day that then-Consul Gen. Romeo Arguelles announced he was defecting from the Marcos administration opened the formerly forbidden doors of 447 Sutter Street to all Filipinos including opposition leaders and media including Philippine News. Arguelles was the first Philippine diplomat to reject the dictatorship.
Po-Rufino had made the site a daily destination "within the crowd control metal barricades which the SFPD had set up every day of that month (and the month before) chanting for Marcos to step down and that Cory Aquino be declared president of the Philippines."
De Guzman, who by then had relocated to San Francisco and joined the Coalition Against the Marcos Dictatorship, stayed glued to the television those pre-internet days, due to work.
She lost no time after her comrades had occupied the consulate while overseas compatriots reclaimed Malacanang Palace in Manila to fulfill a long-awaited plan.
"Two days after the overthrow of the dictator, I was at the Philippine Consulate applying for a new passport to travel to the Philippines for the first time after almost a decade," she told Philippine News. "When I called my family, the first words of my Dad, who was celebrating his 70th birthday that April, were: 'Come home now, you'll be safe.'"
Ten years later she wrote her nieces, Rachel and Raquel, then-11 and born in March and April 1986.
"I told them that I hoped that they would never live through a dictatorship, that the historical event of People Power would serve as a reminder that social justice and freedom are worthy causes to support, and that they would pursue whatever professions their hearts desire and try to give something back to society as their lives would be much richer by that humanity," said the author of upcoming book "Women Against Marcos: Stories of Filipino and Filipino American Women Who Fought a Dictator."
"Time will tell if my words had any impact on them," she added.
Po-Rufino's children Angelo and Georgina tagged along on their mother's many meetings and rallies. Her son now lives with his wife on the East Coast will commemorate in spirit, but her daughter will definitely be among the Gen-Y and Xers and Millennials EDSA People Power@30 aims to inspire. —Philippine News