The grandson of former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos talks about political dynasties, personality politics, and how Filipinos, especially the young, can recapture the true spirit of EDSA People Power, one click at a time
By Sam Ramos-Jones
Originally published by the Manila Bulletin http://www.mb.com.ph/people-power-2-0/
It seems so distant now. For the generations of Filipinos born in the post-EDSA era, myself included, we know of the Marcos years and its subsequent peaceful collapse only indirectly—from our history lessons, from what we have heard, or read, or seen.
Yet somehow, these events seem deeply personal, too. My lolo, former President Fidel V. Ramos, who was then President Ferdinand Marcos’s vice chief of staff, was a key defector. My friend Nicole, who was born just months into the post-Marcos Philippines, saw how the politics of the Marcos years divided her family. In the national psyche, EDSA, in many ways, is the origin story of the modern Philippines—a demarcation between the end of dictatorship and the rebirth of democracy.
EDSA, as I have been taught, was a shining moment of incredible courage, but also luck. It required millions of people from very different walks of life and sectors of society to unite against a powerful military government. There were certain key players: Marcos, Ver, Cory, Cardinal Sin, the RAM officers, vice chief of staff Ramos, and Defense secretary Enrile. Yet, when we really look into what happened in EDSA, it quickly becomes clear that every single person—the soldiers, the nuns, the students, the young and old in the street—played an integral role. During those tense days, my lolo told me, a marine force asked him to surrender, telling my lolo’s small garrison in Camp Crame that they were surrounded by thousands of marines. He replied that the marines, in turn, were surrounded by a much larger force—hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children, unarmed and ready to embrace the marines lovingly as brothers should they lay down their arms.
And yet, in so many ways, the revolution that began 30 years ago remains unfinished. Ultimately, EDSA’s legacy is the restoration of a democratic state, but now the question is: How have we utilized our democratic freedom?
In so many ways, the revolution that began 30 years ago remains unfinished.
Poverty remains deeply entrenched and our political system is dominated by a small group of oligarchs. Roughly 70 percent of the members of Congress are part of political dynasties and the same 106 families (more or less) have continuously served in the House of Representatives since 1907! These are the types of things my friend Nicole CuUnjieng and I often talked about during our time at Yale, where we found ourselves thousands of miles away from home, yet still sipping on hard-to-find San Miguel beer and discussing and debating Philippine history, politics, and culture. Yet, we realized that we would have no significant bearing on these national issues while living halfway across the world. And so, Nicole and I moved back home and founded a start-up think tank, Pampubliko, an online policy discussion platform that aims to provide a public resource for the Philippine citizenry to engage with governance and to, hopefully, move the mainstream conversation away from personality politics and towards policy discussion.
Our democracy requires not only for its citizens to vote in elections, but also for them to be a part of democratic conversation. That way, they’d be able to make informed decisions. Unfortunately, not enough of our citizenry, today, is a part of our nation’s political conversation. Yes, we have achieved democracy through EDSA, but what did we do with it? We may have the trappings of a democracy but it is a system dominated by patronage, where massive inequalities in wealth and representation continue to persist. I don’t think that is democracy.
Our democracy requires not only for its citizens to vote in elections, but also for them to be a part of democratic conversation.
But unlike those fateful days of February 1986, times have changed. We now have the tools at our disposal to make our voices heard and effect change. In the technology age we are living in, social media has already had a dramatic impact on social change. We have seen all over the world—from the Arab Spring revolutions in the Middle East to the renewed civil rights protests in the US—the importance of this new level of connectivity.
And we can use social media to safeguard and improve our country. We can use it to inform, to incite, to unite people. If we so want, we can spur more Filipinos to have a stake in governance and be invested in how it is achieved and how issues are solved. We can change the game.
We can educate ourselves on the Philippines’ most pressing affairs, study the pros and cons, take in every opposing view, construct our own informed conclusions, and make our own decisions. We don’t need to follow the herd, what’s on trend. Democracy, after all, is having the freedom to think and decide for ourselves.
30 years ago, a society—tired of having its voice muted by a dictatorial regime—rose up and demanded to be a part of the conversation, first through free press and fair elections and later on, by bravely facing up to a dictator. We hope, this time around, in the coming elections, we would all be brave enough and wise enough, to not let that bravery, that willingness to die for one’s country, that unity—the true spirit of EDSA—die in vain.