Philippine HiStory Today: People Power Revolution
In my humble opinion, there is no other event in the past 30 years or so in the Philippines that is as radical as what happened in the span of four days in 1986. I remember this now because we are nearing another anniversary of the Edsa Revolution: a day of liberty.
Before this event that I am about to tell you I should say that to some extent we Filipinos are not very keen on engaging in collective action so often. I should say that we need more persuasion to rise up together and demand what we want. Many times many of us will only be motivated to act as a united group when the group referred to is the family.
But for a few days in 1986, many Filipinos who were strangers to each other held each other’s hands to fight for what they thought was right: an end to the Marcos regime. This is the People Power Revolution of 22 February.
Sit back and get ready for another whirlwind chapter of our history.
Ferdinand Marcos was a very intelligent man, and his brilliance can be backed up with the years he served as congressman, senator and senate president. He won the presidency in 1965 for having an anti-Japanese platform, a move that few would take in a world still recovering from World War 2.
As president, he had a clear vision of what the Philippines under his regime should be. In a way, we could say he jumpstarted the economy to modernity.
However, things started to become messy when he was on his way to his second term. It was said he won the elections because he cheated, leading to a massive student protest called the First Quarter Storm. Many other factors finally forced Marcos to declare Martial Law, a move that both enraged and satisfied the Filipino public.
The Martial Law years were a quiet and grim facet in Philippine history. In many ways, the Marcoses failed to live up to their promises. Nepotism and cronyism were very rampant in public positions, which allowed many of the Marcos’ cronies to accumulate ill-gotten wealth. The Marcoses themselves were not clean and accumulated wealth beyond their means thanks to access to the public coffers.
At this point, the popularity of the once brilliant Ferdinand Marcos was shadowed by the failures of Martial Law. A falling economy, the cracking credibility of the president, human rights violations, deaths… all these led to a breaking point in the Marcos regime. But it was the death of Marcos’ staunch political opponent Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino that finally forced people to the streets, the first stages of the massive people power of ’86.
In an attempt to quell the public, Marcos declared a snap election. He declared himself winner despite news of fraud exposed by international media. He was set to be inaugurated as President of the Philippines on 25 February 1986. The situation was tense: the opposition vowed changes if Marcos took his oath. Marcos meanwhile was ready to arrest officials who were ready to defect.
But away from government offices, the Filipino people who had had enough of Marcos finally decided to take matters in their own hands by marching through the streets.
22–25 February 1986
In the morning of the first day of People Power, the Marcos’ household staff were gussying up Malacañang Palace for the inauguration. Cory Aquino, who took up the opposition banner after her husband Ninoy died, was meanwhile rallying up an act of civil disobedience in Cebu,.
To combat the threat of arrest, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile mobilised the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), whose assassination attempt of Marcos failed, and informed embassies and the media of the Marcos’ government’s arrest plot. That afternoon, Armed Forces of the Philippines Vice Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos and more army troops defected.
Enrile and Ramos declare open rebellion by 6pm at Camp Aguinaldo. In front of media, Enrile said ‘We are here to take a stand. If anyone of us will be killed, I think…all of us must be killed. We’ll stay here until we are all killed.’ Meanwhile Ramos said ‘The president of 1986 is not the president to whom we dedicated our service… He has put his personal family interest above the interest of the people.’
Men, women, students, priests, nuns, businessmen and ordinary citizens were to be seen holding placards and staying in Edsa on a vigil. More people flooded the streets at the call of Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin through Radio Veritas, the only local media outfit to broadcast the ongoing revolution. The cardinal specifically asked the people to avoid violence and bloodshed.
By Sunday noon, the second day, there were around 350,000 people in Edsa. Tanks threatened the resolve of those who were in Edsa, but they stood their ground, saying ‘Hindi puwede! Mamamatay tayong lahat dito!’ Some say it was at this moment, when people from all walks of life linked arms and did not budge from where they stood, that People Power came to be.
Marcos’ forces attempted to break through the human chain. At the last minute the tanks would stop and retreat. Many non-military troops also attempted to turn the revolution bloody, but the same people in the human chain would stop them.
On the third day, Monday, Cory and the opposition lawmakers were preparing for her oath taking. In Edsa, the atmosphere was at times so tense because of the presence of Marcos military men. But in general, there was a festive mood as showbiz names, lay people, activists with flags, musicians, foreign media, vendors and dancers shared the street.
By Tuesday, talks of the flailing Marcos regime spread. The opposition had designated Club Filipino as Cory’s inauguration venue. At 10:46am Cory Aquino took her oath to the office as witnessed by opposition lawmakers and the Supreme Court senior justice. An hour and a few minutes later, Marcos held his own inauguration at the Palace. His plans were kept secret, but he and America had already arranged for his escape.
When rumours of Marcos’ escape spread, soldiers and nuns alike clapped and rejoiced. Duty and tension had kept them from eating for hours. But as the day of reckoning was drawing to a close, everyone was feeling the exhaustion of the stand-off. At 9:52 when it was announced Marcos has fled the country there was laughing, crying and noise. Some who wanted to vent out their anger rushed to Malacañang and looted the Palace. Many people lingered on the streets to celebrate victory.
The difficulty with history is that people have the tendency to forget. 28 years after Edsa Revolution there are fewer people who can recall the significance of those four days in 1986. There are many programmes today that emphasise the importance of the revolution for the benefit of those who are too young to recall it or for those born after the revolution.
These programmes only attempt to instill the significance to the new generation. But I think it is the duty of those who have lived through, not just Edsa Revolution, to pass on the story of Ferdinand Marcos and Martial Law. In this way, we can work as a collective; a bayanihan to pass on these memories and experiences so that future generations may learn from it.
I was there at the centre of it all; a hopeful Filipinos who dreamed of a more prosperous Philippines after Marcos. As of now, that dream is yet to come true. But if I tell this story again and again to the young ones who can still make a whole world of difference, I’m sure in the future they will see their own dreams come true.
That thought alone is enough for me to be motivated to share my take on the Edsa Revolution. I hope it is the same with you. We have had Edsa Dos and even a controversial Tres, all of which did not necessarily fulfill our dreams. But the real lesson to be learned and that needs to be taught from generation to generation is that collective action will get us somewhere.
That’s all for today! Talk of liberty made me want to liberise myself from this house and maybe spend some time with my grandkids somewhere. Luneta Park for an afternoon, maybe? We’ll see. As for you, I’ll see you our next date with history!
In the meantime share your thoughts with me. What you think about the EDSA Revolution and how our country has progressed since those eventful days! Drop me a line or two at the comment box below!