To many Filipinos, the lesson that Edsa taught is that people need not be helpless before the abuses of power. When citizens come together in solidarity and courage, manifesting their faith in the justness of their cause, they are stronger than the tyrants who prey upon them as isolated individuals.
Some may think the exercise of people power borders dangerously on anarchy. On the contrary, it restores the faith of the powerless in the necessity of political order in society. Today the concept of “people power” figures in our national experience as the weak’s weapon of last resort against the strong who employ the law and the government to oppress them. It is not an attack on government itself, but rather on government as an instrument of personal power.
Whereas we the intellectuals of pessimism often rail against the betrayal of Edsa and remember only the rigodon of elite domination that followed in its wake, other people everywhere hang on to Edsa as a shining legacy of political awakening. I did not realize how powerful this image of Edsa continues to be in the minds of ordinary Filipinos until recently.
While vacationing in a remote barrio in Dinalupihan, Bataan, I was visited by Mang Felicing, a wise old man from a neighboring farm. He said he had seen me pass through their street and had recognized me. They have a problem in the community, he began. They have been thinking of mounting a people power rally at the munisipyo to redress an injustice committed by the local police. Could I give them some advice?
Two young men from the barrio, Eduardo de la Pena and Jun Tolentino, were on their way to a fiesta in another part of town on the afternoon of January 9, 1999. A highway checkpoint manned by a barangay tanod stopped the motorcycle they were riding and asked them their names and the registration papers of the motorcycle, and inquired where they were going. They told him they were headed for the fiesta in Bangal and gave the name of the barrio captain there as reference. With that, they were allowed to proceed.
Their first stop in Bangal was the house of Eduardo’s uncle, Pelagio de Torres, a security guard from nearby Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. They spent the night there. The following morning, a Sunday, the day of the fiesta, they moved to the house of Eduardo’s grandmother, Kapitana Bermillo, the barrio captain of Bangal. It was there that a policeman and a tricycle driver from Dinalupihan found them. They asked to see the motorcycle they were using.
A Yamaha motorcycle and its side car had been stolen on the same day Eduardo and Jun were making their way to the barrio fiesta. The Dinalupihan police had received a tip that two men had passed through the highway checkpoint at Tipo riding a red Yamaha motorcycle. They were sure these were the same men they were looking for, but to their disappointment, the motorcycle they were using turned out to be not the stolen motorcycle. The investigation of the two young men should have ended there. But it was only the start of a nightmare.
Suspecting nothing, Eduardo and Jun reported to the Dinalupihan police as ordered on Monday morning, January 11, 1999. There, three witnesses identified them as the thieves who took the missing tricycle. Right then and there, the police detained them. Three days later, on January 14, the Municipal Circuit Judge, on the basis of the oral testimony of one witness, ordered their arrest for violation of the Anti-Carnapping Act of 1972. Bail was set at P180,000 for each, six times the value of the missing motorcycle.
Upon hearing of their detention, the SBMA guard who hosted the two men in Bangal rushed to the munisipyo to say they could not have stolen the tricycle because they were in his house at the time the theft was supposed to have taken place. The barangay tanod who had accosted them at the checkpoint also came forward to say he was the one who gave the information to the Dinalupihan police about the red Yamaha motorcycle passing through the checkpoint. He had subsequently learned it was not the same motorcycle the police were looking for, and he wanted to correct an obvious mistake. But both witnesses were ignored.
Carnapping is a major crime. The special law that penalizes it is a remnant of Martial Law’s draconian measures against criminal syndicates. That is why the bail is stiff, and the offense itself considered big enough to be elevated to the regional trial court. It did not matter to the police or to the municipal judge that the two accused in this case had had no previous criminal record, or that the vehicle in question was an old motorcycle. A small complaint that should have been settled at the barangay level is now clogging the docket of the Bataan regional trial court.
Eduardo and Jun have languished in jail for over a month now. The parents of the two men are inconsolable. To peasant folk like them, injustice is not blind; it targets only the poor. Unable to raise the cash for the bail bond, they gathered all the certificates of land occupancy (CLOA) that they could get hold of and offered these as guaranty for the provisional release of their sons. But they were told that when land is offered as surety, the amount of the bail doubles, and they did not have enough land.
One of my brothers, a lawyer, has volunteered his services. The case will go to trial soon, and hopefully, the two young men will be acquitted and released. The important thing, I told Mang Felicing, is that now you have a lawyer. Let him do what he can; then you decide whether it is time for people power.
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