By now, many of us must have our own Edsa horror stories to tell.
It can pertain to the avenue, or to the memories associated with it. With Edsa the road we think of heavy traffic, or our MRT travails, or the inability of authorities to keep motorists safe from bus robbers or stone-throwing drug addicts.
It can also evoke memories of the struggle for freedom, of the pursuit of peace, and the inspiration caused by a change occasioned without violence.
Or it can be a mix of the two—the physical condition of Edsa says a lot about how things are today. Heavy traffic and MRT woes are not just that: They point to wrong priorities, poor management, and inefficient administration. Yes, the chaos on Edsa could well speak for our chaotic national life.
This was before the Iglesia ni Cristo had the brilliant idea of calling its members to mass action on Edsa Friday night.
The traffic was expected. It was a Friday, it was payday, and a three-day long-weekend loomed. All of a sudden, the group that had amassed at the compound of the Department of Justice in Manila decided—were told—to move to the Edsa Shrine. They were told to express their objection to DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima’s action to investigate alleged kidnappings of INC members who dared speak out against alleged excesses of those in the inner circle of the sect.
The religious group known for being a political kingmaker spelled out the agenda very clearly for its members: Go to Edsa and assail De Lima for violating a sacred provision of the Constitution—the separation of Church and State. Come bearing placards. Bring extra clothes, mineral water, food that is not easily spoiled.
Await further notice.
I was on a bus from Ayala late Friday night, suffering the ordeal just like everyone else and at least thankful that I was seated in the bus so I could rest. After more than two hours, and as we inched our way towards Shaw, people started alighting —at least a dozen, I think—men, women, old and young, carrying backpacks and wearing caps and jackets.
An old man said he was from Calamba, Laguna and 30,000 of them in his area had been told to come to Manila to complain about De Lima.
“Saan po ba dito ang Megamall? Doon daw kami magkikita kita,” asked a woman at the back.
In front of the two giant malls were people already camped out on Edsa. Between Robinsons Galleria and the MRT Ortigas station, people were walking on the narrow pedestrian lane, many of them jumping the steel railings meant to keep them on the sidewalk.
Around them, trash. You wonder whether they would even pick up after themselves or leave their litter lying around. Wonder, too, about whether the establishments in the area have sufficient toilet facilities to accommodate them all. Pity the babies and the pregnant women and the children and the older people. Mahamog. Baka umulan pa.
And yet they looked so pleased with themselves, passionate with their cause, oblivious of the inconvenience they were causing others who were exhausted just trying to earn a living. They believed they were on to a good thing, a noble thing.
And that is the tragedy.
If you want to know your candidate, just listen to what he or she has to say about what is happening on Edsa this weekend. The stakes are high and they know it. Consider only the ones who does not give a calculated, populist response.
What politician would be so foolish as to criticize a powerful religious sect that tells its 3 million members exactly whom to vote for? Don’t the politicians even pay “courtesy visits” to the gods of the Iglesia?
If the sect feels entitled to throw its weight around, declaring support for candidates and pushing for the appointment of its members to prime government positions, this is because our leaders have reinforced this symbiotic relationship for many years.
Alas, the wheeling and dealing occurs at the top levels. Ordinary members must profess total obedience and dare not question what it is they are told to do. They are the ones who give unconditional, unthinking devotion, and in the end, they are the ones who get screwed.