Forgetting Edsa

The story of my country begins with a mad king.

There are some who say the king was once a just man, and a wise one, whose heart turned dark at the taste of power. Others say he had always been mad, and hid his madness behind a cunning charm.

The king had a queen, the most beautiful in the world, and again there are those who whisper that it was she whose madness turned the king’s. So they ruled, the black king and his butterfly queen and their army of bloodthirsty knights, from a golden castle built on a lake whose waters turned a darker red with each cruel year.

And then the hero came. It was a long, grim battle, and as the hero died bleeding, an army rose, led by a woman in yellow who came to mourn the hero she loved. They marched to the castle, unarmed and unchallenged, a crowd of peasants and merchants and loyal knights singing of peace and love. The dark king fled before the yellow army, his mad queen tripping over the diamonds that fell from her cupped hands. The people rejoiced, the woman in yellow was crowned queen, and peace reigned in the land where a golden castle stood on a lake of shining waters.

Sometimes the story changes. Swords turned to flowers, the cannon-fire into rose-colored smoke. The woman in yellow walked with an angel of God by her side. The dark king’s cruel men were once knights forced to evil by a powerful spell. What did not change, as the story was passed on from father to son and mother to daughter, was the truth the mad king hid for many years: when a true hero rises, good will triumph over even the most evil of evils.

The story does not end with the defeat of the mad king, but that is the part that is not told very often to the children born during the reign of the lady in yellow. I was one of those children, born 25 years ago into a free country. I understood that evil had a face and a stench and a name that often, but not always, ended with Marcos. Good was colored yellow.

It was a story that was told when I was 15 and a man named Erap was stripped of his presidency and called a thief. The heroes were named: Joker Arroyo, Chavit Singson, Clarissa Ocampo, Hilario Davide, Loren Legarda—she of the tears and the pink suit. Many of my generation joined the march, glad to finally be part of the legend, to be on the side of right, among the fist-pumping crowd behind the Cardinal and the Widow. Good won that day, they say, Joker Arroyo’s nation would not be ruled by a thief—a man who did not have the decency to disappear into the dark, who continued to charm his millions of barefoot supporters, many of whom took up the banner of Edsa and ran howling in defense of Joseph Estrada, President of the Philippines, alias Asiong Salonga. The heroes did not call it a revolution. It was a mob, they said. And so a new queen was crowned by God and country, a small woman who stood in opposition to the villain whose swagger and smirking moustache offended more than his alleged thievery.

The promise was the same. Here was the new hero, come to bring order into the chaos of Estrada’s gambling government. The street protestors returned home, their duties done, secure in the knowledge that the story had reached the natural happy ending. And so Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo lied and cheated and compromised the fledgling institutions rebuilt after martial law, going about her business while the country waited for the promised change. By the time the red queen was named, even the myth failed, and no amount of revolutions and prayers and yellow power could shake the composure of the “mother of the nation.” The dead had been buried, or stolen away. Still the heroes came, and were cast quickly into their roles. Jun Lozada, surrounded by a pack of clucking nuns. Joey de Venecia, who in spite of his unwillingness to play politics, ran for senator the election after his national confession. Today, they are just part of the story.

Twenty-five years after the first People Power in Edsa, the heroes of martial law snipe over who failed the promise of People Power. Edsa has failed, say the critics. Failed because the tyranny of the Marcoses was replaced by the oligarchies that gained power with their leaving. There are no laws, only the money to buy them. The farmers are landless, the debt is ballooning, the poor have gotten poorer and the generals still steal from the same public coffers. The heroes broke their promises while the mad queens ran mad. Look at the graves among the sugar fields of Hacienda Luisita, remember the massacre in Mendiola, see how they betrayed us, deceived us, destroyed the dreams we built together.

Still the yellow flags flew again last Friday, on the same street, in celebration and in pride. Remember Edsa, say the heroes, remember what we did. Remember what our people can do. And so the story is told again, how it was, how it should have been.

This is how the story of my country should be told, after the mad king falls and the yellow queen is crowned.

Once, there was a yellow queen, brave and bright and true. She stood among her men, who held her hand as she walked to her new throne. As the days went by, and the sounds of battle faded, many of her knights fell, some overcome by power, others by fear. Many more could no longer see which side was the side of heroes, and so chose what they liked and later forgot why. Those who knew how to play the game emerged winners, and still keep their high cards to this day.

And so the yellow queen failed, and the country with her, for they forgot that a queen cannot stand alone. And so they told the story, again and again, waiting for the hero, waiting to rise, in the hope of returning to that single moment when good and evil stood apart, and evil vanquished by songs and prayers. They waited as the kingdom crumbled, rose to rejoice at the return of the messiah, and returned downcast as the waters continued to turn red.

This is the lesson my generation takes from the years after Edsa. There are no messiahs, or perfect kings. There are only men who have the same weaknesses as the men they lead. Sometimes a good man chooses the hero’s path, and no matter if his heart is true and his blood the blood of heroes, the kingdom will fall for as long as its people demand a story that should never have been told.

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