Letter to a granddaughter

My dearest Julia,

We have won, dear child.  Finally, the man in Malacanang has fled in disgrace.  Your Lola made sure of that by marching to Mendiola with thousands of others to drive away once and for all the evil spirit that inhabited that place.

I wasn’t as brave as your Lola; she thought nothing of the hired goons of Joseph Estrada who had camped all over Mendiola.  I stayed behind on Nagtahan, peering across the barbed wire set up by a friendly police and occasionally going to Wendy’s for a drink.  Unlike your Lola, I did not have the patience to wait for Estrada make his humiliating exit, so I decided to go back to the Edsa Shrine where it all began.  I arrived just in time to witness the passage into the future of our nation under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, our brand-new president.

I wanted so much to bring you with us this morning.  I thought that like the young Filipinos, who formed the core of the Edsa II demonstrators from day one, you should experience what it means to be a part of history in the making.  But you are too young to join millennium parties like these. Since you are just slightly over a month old you would have been squashed by the dancing throng.

I felt envious of the parents and grandparents who could bring their children and grandchildren to the Edsa Shrine.  They took photos of their young ones against the panoramic background of a revolution in progress.  They held their children up in the air like flower offerings to a great nation waiting to achieve itself.  Their expectant faces brought tears to my eyes, and I could only think of you.

For the second time in our short history as a nation, we have rescued our society from the pits of demoralization.  Once again we have shown the world that we could find our way out of the most difficult crises armed with nothing more than an inexhaustible faith that goodness always wins in the end.   Who could have known that the impeachment trial against Estrada, that seemed custom-made as a mechanism of presidential vindication, would lead us to another people power revolution?

I never entertained the idea that we could actually remove a powerful president by impeaching him.  My position was always for resignation, even if I knew that Estrada would never resign.  What I really meant was the imperative of ouster, but then I could never imagine the means for doing this without worrying about the dire consequences.

But I should have reviewed the lessons from Edsa I.  After Ninoy Aquino’s assassination in 1983, we began to despair when we could not remove Marcos by the force of demonstrations.  These rallies were good for letting off steam, but they seemed futile for getting rid of a dictator.  So when he called for a snap election in early 1986, all the more did we believe that we were being set up for an exercise we could not possibly win.   But we had a candidate who was everything that Marcos was not – decent, pure, and politically inexperienced. And my generation thought that was a good start.

The rest, as they say, is history.  Marcos stole the elections and, despite massive protests, had himself proclaimed as re-elected president by a submissive legislature.  I foresaw the fraudulent outcome of the voting, but I completely overlooked the importance of investing even in a doomed exercise.  I now think that ironically this is where we find our courage and draw the spirit of citizenship.  As things turned out, the failure of the snap election produced the peculiar combination of a passive military mutiny and an active nonviolent civilian uprising.  This is what the world has come to know as the Filipino People Power Revolution.

The impeachment trial of Estrada is the analogue for the 1986 snap election.  In order to defuse the resign movement, the Estrada forces invoked the constitutional mechanism of presidential impeachment. From the start, they were sure they had the numbers.  They needed only eight senator-judges to frustrate a verdict of conviction, and they had a loyal core of eleven.  Ensuring an acquittal outcome, however, was not the problem.  The problem was how to make the public trust the impeachment process.  So many of the senators who would judge the president were known mercenaries or sycophants.  They could not be compelled to judge solely on the strength of the evidence. The whole thing was a set up that only the naïve would trust.

But, against all conventional wisdom, we got into the impeachment trial the way we did in the snap election.  We took it seriously and gave it the legitimacy it did not deserve.  In the process, we discovered the wisdom and decency of the presiding officer, Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr.  But more important, we discovered the tenacity and honesty of simple folk, the substance of citizenship.  The impeachment court became the site of our people’s self-definition, and every afternoon, we marveled at the courage of their convictions.  Without our realizing it, this was the anvil on which Edsa II was being forged.

My sweet little Julia, you belong to a great nation, a nation that is just beginning to wake up to the magic of its gifts.  I had felt a deep sadness on the day you were born.  What kind of country were we leaving you, I asked myself.  I know I should have had more faith. Mark this day.  Today, your mother’s generation drove away a thoughtless president that they, a thinking generation, did not deserve.  Take care of this legacy, a precious gift from your ancestors.  Do not be afraid to use it.  Never lose hope.

With all my love, Lolo.


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