The value of a title is my column for today. Aside from this however, and barring any other news, this week we’ll focus on the 20th anniversary of the Edsa Revolution.
Twenty years, for all intents and purposes, is a generation. It is an epoch. And with the 20th anniversary of the 1986 Edsa Revolution, the Edsa era can be said to be coming to an end. Looking forward, it must either die, or be reborn; but as a discrete period in our past, the book is closed.
To be born free, my column for February 23, 2004, has everything I need to say, looking to the past: I envy my countrymen born after 1986, who have never known what it is like not to be free.
In Memories of a Martial Law Minor, Charlson Ong speaks for all those of a certain generation -including myself- who grew up under Ferdinand Marcos:
We have muddled through over a decade of democratic restoration and as we approach the end of the second millennium, we might find solace in the Pinoy’s ability to maintain his sense of humor amidst the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and public service.
Still, in some quarters we hear them saying again that freedom is mere excess and license for abuse. Again we are being told that discipline is urgently needed and danger pervades the air. The barbarians are said to be upon our gates once again and only a strong arm may save the day. Twice told tales should come with an extra pinch of salt and older wine.
The Road to Edsa I, as I wrote way back in 1996, for the tenth anniversary of the Edsa Revolution, was a long and complicated one. Its result was clear:
EDSA, the apotheosis of the middle class (in contrast to Marcos’ hollow self-apotheosis in 1981) lay ahead. The inauguration at Club Filipino, which the Left grumbled was a mere restoration, which of course, it was. They had a right to grumble. If they had not been in the last act, their bloody struggled had composed all the previous ones.
But the people who had marched and fought alone in the 70s and 80s should have expected nothing less from those who suddenly swelled the ranks of the opposition after Ninoy’s murder. These people had decided that the time for involvement had come precisely because the things the Left despised but which they valued — order, decency, the safety of property — were in grave peril. They, who were leery politics, had taken over it completely to restore everything to the way it was, and put politics and power again in its subordinate place. These people were the warp and woof of that rug that would be pulled from under Marcos, and would throw him flat on his back.
Before Edsa, there came the campaign during the Snap Elections. As the late Teodoro M. Locsin rhapsodized in an editorial published during the campaign: To be a woman! It was a marvelous thing:
There has never been anything like it in Philippine history: a woman telling the machos of business and industry to do what she is doing, to stand up to the injustices against which they have been content merely to complain. That the economy is being ruined, has been ruined, from which they happily drew so much profit in the past; that the system under which they prospered is in dire danger of total collapse and eventual replacement by one that would have no place for them is evident to them. Free enterprise, that holy of holiest in their minds, is doomed by crony capitalism. And one with any sense of morality, of human right and dignity, can only recoil from government by, for, and of one man clearly determined to maintain his rule at whatever cost to the nation. But it took a woman to do what a man, or men, should have been doing: Fight! Being a man was sadly inadequate. One had to be something else. Be a woman – like her!
Edwin Lacierda has recounted what it was like to have been there. Leah Navarro has been recounting what it was like to be at Edsa in A squandered gift, part 1, and A squandered gift, part 2. Something in their entries recommends itself to reflection: the genuine danger and fear people felt, faced, and overcame. Even during the most tense hours of Edsa 2, or even Edsa 3, the feeling of danger people faced never matched what those at Edsa experienced in 1986. Madame Chiang points to Where has the hope gone?, a poignant memoir of those days. and beyond:
It can be difficult now, with the Philippines mired in political decay and economic stagnation, to remember that “People Power” was an immensely hopeful event with global reverberations. It was felt a year later when a largely peaceful uprising toppled a dictator in South Korea. Its echoes were in Tiananmen Square in June 1989 and in the collapse of the Soviet Empire. The “Orange Revolution” in the Ukraine in 2004 was often compared to the revolt Filipinos named the EDSA Revolution, after a highway running past the military camps where rebel soldiers holed up on February 21, 1986, after their plot to overthrow the regime was uncovered.
In the immediate aftermath of those days, Isabel Caro Wilson penned a letter to friends abroad, titled Our Revolution:
It is said that our type of revolution would not succeed anywhere else. Perhaps we are truly unique. All know is that we have vindicated ourselves. We have cleansed our souls and it feels good.
The Edsa Revolution was not inevitable, it often seems to me; indeed, it was as much a historical accident as anything else, I often tend to think. In an editorial, IF, Teodoro M. Locsin reflect on what it would have been like, had Marcos been smart, and had Ninoy Aquino not been killed:
But just think what would have happened to Ninoy — if he had been taken safely from the plane and escorted to a waiting limousine and brought to Malacañang. There Marcos and Imelda would be waiting to welcome him! Ninoy would have gone unsuspectingly and fallen into the trap. He would be alive today but politically dead. There would have been no millions accompanying his body for kilometers and kilometers to its grave, in outrage and grief at what they had done to him. No mass demonstrations against the dictatorship. No fearless confrontation of its clubs, guns and gas. No ceaseless cry for justice for Ninoy — and all the other victims of the regime. No People Power that drove the Two into headlong flight with their awful family and retainers and no such freedom as the Filipino people now enjoy.
Fr. Joaquin Bernas asserts, however, that Edsa was truly meant to be:
There was never a moment, starting on Sept. 21, 1972, that the nation was not moving toward Edsa. The underground struggle, the bloody encounters, the groans of torture victims, the pamphleteering, the rallies, both political and religious, the silent storming of heaven by contemplative nuns, the whir of fax machines, the electoral struggle under the most adverse circumstances, and, yes, even the “collaboration” with the enemy-each in its own way contributed to the assurance of rebirth. In the end, Divine Providence, which the Filipino people had first formally invoked in its 1935 Constitution, put the pieces together and let them explode into the celebration that was Edsa.
And what about the person who defeated the dictator? I myself, seven years ago, found it easy to write that Cory Aquino was the Person of the Century. I continue to think that, to this day. Billy Esposo, however, strongly disagrees with her assertion that People Power is no longer applicable in resolving the present crisis.
The best synopsis was penned by Charlson Ong:
But if EDSA does turn out to be a lie, then it is but the same lie lovers succumb to again and again. If it be fantasy, then it was at least our fantasy. To borrow lines from Kahlil Gibran poetizing about pleasure: EDSA is a freedom song, but it is not freedom, it is the blossoming of our desires but not their fruits.
This is a time for remembrance, for reading, and for reflection, as Sylvia Mayuga has pointed out; and it comes as a crucial anniversary has hovering over it, the dark clouds of an intervention by our armed forces: for reasons Randy David discussed in his column.
But as for the remembrance, reading, and reflection, there’s this:
I’m glad to have been part of this book.
A curious effort also underway, is the manner in which various groups insist on what can only be described as historical revisionism. For example, here’s an email containing questions posed by a colleague in the Inquirer, to the head of the National Democrats abroad:
WAS THE LEFT LEFT BEHIND AT EDSA I?
QUESTION from JUAN SARMIENTO, Philippine Daily Inquirer
We have already interviewed some people for an article, but we feel
that we should get your views on “whether the Left was left behind at
Edsa.” There’s the view that the national democratic movement and the
Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) were not a decisive force at
Edsa. Do you think that the CPP leadership then was caught flatfooted
by Edsa and the ouster of Marcos? Why or why not?
ANSWER of JOSE MARIA SISON, Founding Chairman of the Communist Party
of the Philippines & NDFP Chief Political Consultant
It is factually wrong and unhistorical to air brush from the so-called
Edsa I the two reality levels of what is loosely called Left: the
protracted people’s war led by the Communist Party of the Philippines
(you may call it the underground Left) and the legal patriotic and
progressive forces (the legal Left) of the national democratic
movement best represented by BAYAN.
You cannot deny that the Left, especially the armed revolutionary
movement, had consistently fought the Marcos fascist dictatorship
since long before the US, the Catholic hierarchy and the
Enrile-Ramos-RAM tandem decided to junk Marcos in the wake of the
Aquino assassination that paved the way for the Aquino presidential
candidacy. The US and most of the local reactionary forces supported
Marcos for a long time and decided to get rid of him only when they
feared that the people, the Left and even a substantial part of the
Aquino electoral following would move together in a direction
threatening to the life of the entire ruling system.
You must take into account the long-term importance of the Left in the
struggle against the Marcos autocracy. The boycott policy of the CPP
was a tactical error for the duration of the presidential electoral
campaign in 1986 because it separated the CPP-led masses from the
bigger masses that attended the pro-Aquino electoral rallies. An
informal alliance with Aquino could still be maintained even as she
had come under the advice of the US (specifically Richard Holbrooke
and the CIA station chief) in November 1985 to keep the Left out of
her campaign organization and even as she had snubbed all approaches
of BAYAN for a formal alliance after her meeting with Holbrooke..
You must distinguish the boycott policy from the decision of the CPP
to call for the immediate overthrow of the Marcos fascist regime after
the snap election in which Marcos won by Comelec count and by Batasang
Pambansa proclamation, as the CPP had predicted. The CPP decision to
call for the overthrow of Marcos because of electoral fraud came ahead
of Aquino’s call for civil disobedience and the CBCP pastoral letter
denouncing the Marcos regime as illegitimate and immoral.
The CPP contributed immensely to the success of the mass uprisings at
Edsa and elsewhere by calling on the masses in the rural and urban
masses to participate and by asking allied forces to do their best.
The CPP was not at all permanently disabled by its previous boycott
policy and by the failure of the leadership to see clearly before and
during the electoral campaign that the US had pushed Marcos to call
for snap election so that he would subsequently be overthrown for
electoral cheating, as in the earlier case of Duvalier in Haiti.
Now, we focus on the days of February 22 to 25, from the day that the
RAM coup attempt failed until the people’s mass uprising cum military
withdrawal of support succeeded in overthrowing Marcos. Cardinal Sin
and CBCP were decisive in using Radio Veritas and the broadcast
facilities of the Communications Foundation of Asia to call on the
people to give succour to Enrile, Ramos and the RAM after their failed
coup attempt. BAYAN was decisive in rallying its organized masses
immediately to the front of Isetann Cubao upon the call of Butz Aquino
for help. It constituted the hard core of the masses (at least 20 per
cent of the entire masses) at Edsa at the peak. Five hundred members
of BAYAN Quezon City accompanied Colonel Santiago to capture the TV
Channel 4 compound. After the transfer of Enrile, Ramos and RAM from
Camp Aguinaldo to Camp Crame, Bayan chairman former Senator Tanada and
other BAYAN leaders were at the planning room in Camp Crame until the
US helicopter rescued Marcos and his family and staff from the irate
masses at the gates of the palace..
Edsa I uprising was not limited to Edsa. You should not airbrush the
masses led by the progressive religious of CNL, the KMU and LFS who
concentrated on Mendiola and then on the gates of the presidential
palace after they valiantly did away with the barricades. If those
that assembled at Edsa were decisive in protecting the failed coup
leaders, rallying the biggest mass of demonstrators and encouraging
the military to withdraw support from Marcos, those that assembled in
front of the palace were decisive in compelling Marcos to flee after a
RAM-piloted helicopter dropped grenades on the palace roof and the US
announced that it would withdraw military support from Marcos should
he use force to stay in power. At any rate, Ambassador Boswell, the
CIA station chief and General Ileto were busy from day 1 of the Edsa I
days, tying the hands of Marcos according to instructions from Philip
Habib who was the crisis manager at the level of the US National
Also, the people’s uprising was not limited to the national capital
region. BAYAN had the most organized masses rising up against the
Marcos fascist dictatorship and neutralizing the pro-Marcos local
officials in so many provincial capitals, cities and key
municipalities. BAYAN Angeles City stopped on its tracks the tank
convoy of General Palafox. General Renato de Villa put his command and
personnel in alliance with BAYAN Bicol in order to serve notice to
Marcos that Edsa had a deep reserve in the provinces.
Let us recap and go comprehensive. What was the most decisive force or
what were the most decisive forces in the overthrow of Marcos? I would
point to the broad masses of the people that showed up at Edsa and
before presidential palace. But I dare not single out any of the
organized forces as the most decisive, without clear qualification. It
was a convergence of various forces that overthrew the Marcos regime.
Various forces were decisive in their respective ways.
The legal and illegal Left were most important and decisive in
contributing the most tested and most organized masses that served as
hard core of the broad masses at Edsa and elsewhere. But certainly the
most decisive in emasculating Marcos within the ruling system and at
the same time keeping the ruling system intact were the US, the
Catholic hierarchy, the business groups, Aquino and her followers and
those high Marcos bureaucrats and military officers who turned against
Among those who have been most active in denying the important role of
the CPP and the national democratic movement in seeking to overthrow
Marcos before and during Edsa I are some elements who betrayed the CPP
by undertaking the bloody witchhunts in Mindanao and elsewhere, tried
to cover these up with the myth that the boycott policy was a timeless
strategic error and exaggerated the capacity of the Left to take power
or share power with Aquino at the time of Edsa II. There are also
elements who consider themselves as Left and yet exaggerate their
self-importance by attacking the CPP and boasting of their success as
job seekers within the ruling system. Still other anti-CPP elements
see no merit in the CPP at all because they are in fact die-hards of
the ruling system.
As linked above, my research suggested a story different from the one given by Sison. But neither being a Communist or an expert in the Byzantine workings of that party, I asked a scholar about his opinions on Sison’s interview. The scholar wrote, referring to Sison’s remarks,
This was always the spin after 1986 — from Joema to the late Lean Alejandro. “We wuz there!!!” The Ayatollah [Sison] pushes the envelope a bit further by pretending that there was a unified Left response. There was none. Bayan was in disarray and the united front units in charge of the urban areas were fighting each other. The Mindanao and Visayas Commissions went ahead with participation or giving their units the right to make their own decisions, but Mindanao by then was hampered by KAHOS.
Part of the confusion had to do with the fact that most of the CPP politburo members were isolated from everything as they waited for a plenum that would never come. They could not “intervene” because most of them were in some mountain fastness, with their mobility hampered by military operations below. Hence they were left with the decision of the executive committee. You can read more about this confusion in Dominique Caouette’s dissertation on the CPP’s history: quite comprehensive. Ateneo will be publishing it hopefully by the end of the year.