As I write this, the whole country is spinning its head around about an unexpected declaration of a non-working holiday on Friday, February 24, to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution.
Despite people's expectations, the Office of the President still declared the anniversary of the popular uprising as a holiday, saying that it "ushered political, social, and economic reforms in the country." (Note that Proclamation 42 signed on August 23, 2022 did not include the phrase "restored our democratic institutions" that had been a mainstay in proclamations since 1999.)
Although February 25 had been reverted to being a regular working day this year, this last-minute proclamation reminds us that the EDSA People Power Revolution was a four-day event starting on February 22, 1986 with the aborted coup of two top military officials which would have been suppressed violently if not for a call to peaceful assembly by Jaime Cardinal Sin and Agapito “Butch” Aquino.
But what's in a holiday anyway, and is it still the potent historical tool that it once was? Official holidays as we know them were introduced on 1 February 1902 through Act No. 345. Of the annual holidays declared, four were American (Washington's Birthday on February 22, July 4, Occupation Day on August 13, and Thanksgiving Day). Perhaps this is an attempt to enculturate us with American Ways. Three were religious (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Christmas)—perhaps respecting the faith of most Filipinos.
However, only one was explicitly Filipino: Rizal Day on December 30. Recognizing his death anniversary as a holiday effectively reinstated Emilio Aguinaldo's decree of 1898 and afforded Filipinos a national day to celebrate one of their own. This became necessary especially after the National Flag and other revolutionary symbols were banned in 1907, making the day one of the few available spaces when Filipinos could express their nationalistic sentiments. Thus, it became a national fiesta — complete with parades, games, and even a Rizal Day Queen.
As years passed and more Filipinos took up space in governance, we added into the roster of public holidays. In 1921, the birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio on 30 November was added. It was initially considered as National Heroes Day until a separate holiday for all national heroes on the last Sunday of August was declared in 1931. (We'll have a separate column on the complicated history of National Heroes Day later.) When the Commonwealth was inaugurated in 1935, its anniversary became a public holiday.
Fast forward to more recent years, Ferdinand Marcos Sr. declared September 21, the anniversary of his proclamation of Martial Law (at least on paper), as Thanksgiving Day in 1973. Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino dropped it in 1987. While she attended the commemoration of the EDSA People Power Revolution since that year, it was only Joseph Ejercito Estrada who made the anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution a non-working holiday in 1999 and only a half-day at that.
In all those years from 1901 until today, holidays seem to have been understood more as a day of rest and recreation rather than a day of reflection. People waited for the list of national holidays less about participating in commemorative activities and more about planning vacations. This was cemented further by the concept of "holiday economics" in which holidays were moved to the nearest Friday or Sunday to have more long weekends.
This is quite different in other countries. For example, in Indonesia students are expected to attend school gatherings marking historical holidays. They even have special gala uniforms for these occasions. Thus, the reason for the season (to borrow a usual Christmas phrase) becomes inculcated in their minds.
Perhaps it is high time that we reconsider how we spend our holidays — both local and national. We should use the time off to both chill and reflect, maybe visit a museum or a monument or watch a credible historical film or documentary. As for school-based commemorations, we do them anyway with our monthly emphases complete with parades in costume and other competitive activities. Maybe it's time we follow Indonesia and organize programs around our historical holidays in which most, if not all, should participate in.
But first, let's declare them early.