Reading up on Edsa

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:

Heroes Booklaunch
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:

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
Security Council.

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.

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

13 thoughts on “Reading up on Edsa

  1. One of the writers I have always followed is Billy Esposo. I would tend to agree with his analysis that indeed, we have lost the gains we achieved at EDSA in 1986. But instead of saying we failed (past tense), a more positive view would be to use the word “failing”, as in we’re currently doing it, but there is still a chance to change things and the direction our nation is heading to.

  2. Esposo wrote:

    “The first lesson that we should have learned is that we should stop believing that we will be saved by ‘champions.'”

    ***That’s right. But all we hear from a few sectors is that their solution is based on the notion that their candidate who replaces GMA will be such a champion.
    Esposo wrote:

    “The second lesson we failed to learn is that we are the stakeholders and the title holders of our country.”

    ***That’s also right. “We are manipulated by the very people who are under contract to uplift our conditions”, he also says. Does he mean the do-nothing senators???
    Esposo wrote:

    “Poe was cheated, remember?”

    ***No. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t…after all this time, no proof has been shown that demonstrates massive fraud.
    Esposo wrote about CPR:

    “Arroyo can shut down your rally and demonstration—a very basic right in a democracy—just by declaring certain areas as banned or by making an allied local official not issue a permit to hold the exercise of freedom of assembly.”

    ***a) If a permit is not issued 5 days (if I remember correctly) after submission, the permit/demonstration is considered valid.

    ***b) I believe most democracies in the world maintain the right to bar demonstrations from being held just anywhere…especially near the seat of the national governments seat of power. Demonstrations are also not supposed to inconvenience those in the general public who are NOT participating.
    Esposo wrote:

    “The single most significant piece of legislation in this country—a law that is delivering progress despite the failings of the national leadership—is the local government code and that is a legacy of the Cory Aquino administration.”


    “He (Roco) had a clear vision of how we can progress from our deplorable social conditions—through education.”

    ***Interesting to note that GMA’s 2006 budget allocates more money to education and to social services — much of it via the LGU’s — than anything else outside of the decclining debt load payments. Cha-cha, in fact, is aimed at bringing more power and money to the local communities/LGUs so that they can adress their immediate and local needs rather than coursing it all through the historically corrupt central government.
    Esposo wrote:

    “Cory Aquino’s administration was delivering double digit (sic) growth of the economy and this was only stunted by power-hungry coup plotters led by Gringo Honasan and those who were providing him the wherewithal to mount his 1987 and 1989 misadventures.”

    ***Gee, so now many people/groups want to make the same mistake under Gloria’s term?
    Esposo wrote:

    “While Fidel V. Ramos and Gloria Arroyo were bent on holding on to presidential power, Cory Aquino willingly passed on the presidency to her elected successor. Ramos sought to stay on beyond his term by proposing to change the constitution. Madame Arroyo is believed to have cheated in 2004 to remain in Malacanang and is now also trying to force Charter Change to stay in power even longer.”

    ***Just another set of accusations posing as fact. Anybody can play this game, eh? I think Esposo is trying to rile up the public so that he can get a good position in the new revolutionary government’s cabinet. I cite the same number of abundant facts that he uses in his allegations.
    Esposo wrote:

    “What Abraham Lincoln described as the government of the people, by the people and for the people is what People Power is all about in a democracy. The key aspect of that is by the people which underscores the people’s obligations as the stakeholders of the country.”

    ***Agreed. The people are the stakeholders and are expected to be responsible. The rights the people have (which others have died for) are not a carte blanche to be irresponsible. A loud few/minority are especially not supposed to be so irresponsible that they undermine the country’s economy and pull down the entire nation. That’s called “crab mentality”.

  3. Re: Value of the Title:

    Re:Tuason estate:
    I remember a narration by the FG Mike arroyo in one of those so called useless hearings that his family owned part of caloocan,quezon city etc,etc…

    I believe this was the Jose Pidal hearing when either sen Johny Osmenia or Joker arroyo was asking the FG…..

    As to what Geo has outlined

    You really are aptly named “geo”

    as to Cory’s government’s growth

    until the coups…..

    but I believe one commenter (previous post)that the kamag anak incorporated and the cory bandwagon
    ruined Cory’s government …whether that is one of the reasons for the coups, I could not tell…

    off topic….

    With the goings on The Peso will slowly fall again..

  4. I was born before EDSA but I was then too young to know the difference. I have read too many commentaries, stories, analyses and conflicting views about EDSA. The conclusions are often that of dismay. EDSA is one our crowning glories as a nation, maybe if we could just agree on that and on the fact that EDSA has given us more lessons than the 300 years of Spanish regime and five decades of American colonization combined, but it is up to us to use those lessons. We failed but we don’t need to have another EDSA revolution to start changing and to start living its lessons. I had no first hand experience of EDSA revolution but I hold on to it’s promise.

  5. the only person who could have saved marcos was marcos himself. evidently, like hitler, he would never have stayed in power so long if he had not at least the tacit support of the electorate. it seems also that he would never have been deposed if he had not made two major mistakes and alienated an influential portion of his support base.

    one was allowing the military to run roughshod over the entire civilian populace, including the middle and upper classes. even the most fascist-inclined padres de familias had to have had second thoughts about the regime, since even they could never be sure their sons and daughters shared their political leanings and were safe from the iron fist. anyone could be disappeared, no exemptions.

    the second mistake was allowing his cronies to run roughshod over the economy. like any machine with built-in safety margins, an economy can tolerate a certain amount of corruption and favoritism/cronyism and still perform well, as long as policies and fundamentals are favorable. past a certain point, however, corruption starts making the cost of doing business too high to be competitive, and cronyism starts eroding the confidence of ordinary businessmen that they can compete in a fairly level playing field. they can no longer be sure they can keep their profits. they can’t even be sure they can keep their companies. under marcos, corruption and cronyism went way past that point. economic collapse soon followed.

    it was well within his power to correct both mistakes. unfortunately for him, he was a prisoner of circumstances. he could not very well afford to exempt the middle and upper classes, since most of the prominent dissidents hailed from their ranks. neither could he deny his and his wife’s cronies their newfound priveleges.

    if only he could have reach a modus vivendi with his bourgeois adversaries. if only he had the will to deny his relations and cronies. but these are big ifs.

    if he had done all this and survived, perhaps we’d be in a better position today. or maybe not. the choice of successor would have been his alone, and the perennial problem in an autocracy has always been, aside from succession, the removal of those who’ve proven incompetent in governance.

    perhaps it’s good he made those mistakes. perhaps it’s good he provoked the restoration. the value of democracy is not so much to select competent leaders as it is to remove incompetent ones. for this, at least, we can consider edsa, both edsas, its apotheosis.

  6. “The rights the people have (which others have died for) are not a carte blanche to be irresponsible. A loud few/minority are especially not supposed to be so irresponsible that they undermine the country’s economy and pull down the entire nation.”

    i couldn’t agree more, geo. in the united kingdom, they call the minority party “her majesty’s loyal opposition”. the key word there is “loyal”. they can do as they please, as long as their actions are not against their country’s interest. sadly, the same cannot be said for a significant portion of the opposition here. as was seen in last year’s disruptive but half-baked attempts to replicate edsa, and in this year’s active encouragement of military adventurism, some in the opposition plan their actions regardless of the possible deleterious effects on our economy (i am being generous here and giving them the benefit of the doubt; i can’t help a nagging suspicion that economic collapse, or even just a short-lived recession, is actually one of their objectives, since it would lead to greater discontent and possibly higher turnout in the rallies). as ricky carandang pointed out in one of his blog posts last year (i can’t link to it since it doesn’t seem to be archived), it is quite possible to oppose a sitting administration without bringing the entire country’s economy down with it.

    you can start by trying to convince your neighbors. initiate a signature campaign. file an impeachment case every twelve months if you want. if all else fails, course it thru the courts. now, if you can’t even convince your neighbors, if no one signs your petitions, if impeachment attempts repeatedly fail because there is no pressure from the congressmen’s constituencies to vote for it, then maybe you can consider just the tiniest possibility that that is the people’s will after all? but that is another issue entirely. the point is, you can do all of these things with little negative impact on investors’ perceptions and our economic outlook.

    by doing so, not only would the opposition prove their good faith, but they would also avoid inconveniencing fellow citizens who just want to go home after a hard day’s work. fact of the matter is, images of protest rallies and marches, not to mention encouragement of military intervention, get blown out of proportion in the foreign media. they create a negative perception not just of the current administration, but of the entire country. i’m sure even the most vociferous oppositionist of good will does not want to scare investors off our country. as such, actions such as these have become counterproductive. the age of 24-hour cable news channels have made both their real costs and their opportunity costs too high to be justifiable, and other non-disruptive avenues of opposition have to be explored. CNN and MSNBC have made edsa obsolete.

    of course, some would object how come edsa 1 and 2 were justified and subsequent rallies were not. in both cases, the economy was already collapsing when the marches and rallies were called. the raison d’etre for both was really to staunch the economic hemorrhage under the administrations then in power. witness the economic rebound immediately after edsa 1 and the recovery of the peso and stock market after edsa 2.

    the opposition would probably gain more sympathizers if they redirect their efforts into non-disruptive channels. indeed, what i found most objectionable was not their position per se, but that they were willing to damn the torpedoes and sink the economy just so they could achieve their objective. if they do their utmost to be non-disruptive, if they try their best not to spook the investors, then they would not only have proven their loyalty and good faith, they would also have shown themselves to be viable, responsible alternatives.

  7. Amen, footvoter. I wish I had written that; it encapsulates most of my thoughts on all these matters.

  8. it is possible to oppose an administration if it, itself, stays within the bounds of the law. but when a government, which has the burden to uphold the law, itself begins to subvert the law, then how can the rule of law apply to anyone?

    i am also uncomfortable with reducing opposition to marcos to the economy. true, while the people were reasonably well fed and prosperous, they cheered him on. but this discounts the committed minority who, like committed minorities in similar situations, knew from the start that it was more than about economic mismanagement, it was about perverting what government and society should stand for. what marcos did and the reasons he did it simply wasn’t right. and if the people cheered, then the people would have to see what they were cheering -their own inevitable annihalation, in the same manner italians cheered mussolini and the germans cheered hitler. and once people’s pocketbooks shrank, they realized they had nothing -and worse than nothing, since by then the rule of law dictated that even joking about the situation could be considered a crime.


    When the end came in February of 1986, the only words uttered by a dejected Ferdinand Marcos were “I am so very, very disappointed.” It was an unusually languid response for a man who once dominated an entire country. For some twenty years, Marcos had swaggered through the Philippines like a mighty conqueror: dangerous opponents were cashiered or co-opted; every possible symbol and institution of power and repository of wealth was laid at his feet. It was not an exaggeration to say that just about nothing was beyond Marcos’s presidential reach.

    Armed with a charismatic vitality, an extraordinary acumen, and a despot’s ruthlessness, Marcos cajoled and coerced in all directions, gaining in the process the fear and respect of his enemies and the fidelity of his partisans. With his cynics subdued, his sycophants inextricably transfixed, and his power base consolidated, Marcos built a political and economic empire. But it was an empire conceived in ravenous ambition and chronic falsehoods; it could not stand forever on such hollow and unchaste pretenses. Hence, when the phenomenon of “People Power” was evoked, with its ideals of good over evil and reformation over revenge, the Marcos dominion was found to be ripe for overthrow.

    Force was one of Marcos’s trademarks. His willingness to use it whenever prudence and necessity warranted it seemed to validate Mao’s dictum that power grew out of the barrel of a gun. With devoted henchman Fabian Ver and a host of merciless others at his side, Marcos exercised force in its various forms and effectively suppressed voices of dissent for the tenure of his regime.

    Yet, when the situation called for unleashing the blunt instruments of repression in February 1986 to put down a rebellion by disillusioned soldiers and citizens, Marcos could not find the resolve to pull the trigger. Risking the loss of support from his patrons in Washington and of leaving behind a bloody legacy for the whole world to see, Marcos reluctantly called down his remaining legions of loyal stormtroopers, perhaps not realizing in the midst of his panic that this atypical failure to move decisively would spell the demise of his rule.

    As his universe began to fragment around him, Marcos tried desperately to cling to power, somehow convinced that Filipinos could still be persuaded to renew their faith in him. With each passing day however, the debilitating nature of Marcos’s policies were increasingly estranging him from the Filipino people. The bottom line for Marcos was that he had squandered the nation’s confidence and capital after all that time in office, making a shambles of the popular mandate that had formerly been bestowed on him. Dissatisfaction had finally come even to those guilty of acquiescing to him for so long: wide swaths of the military and of the middle class were looking forward to the potentialities of a Philippines without Marcos at the helm.

    A tragic figure as the curtain was raised on the final act of his regime, Marcos would flee into exile without much of a fight, never to return to the Philippines alive. His wife Imelda and some of their closest cronies also left in disgrace with the trounced dictator. The sun would rise on Imelda’s fortunes again in a few years, along with several of her husband’s most opulent courtiers; but for Ferdinand, a political comeback was nothing more than wishful thinking on his part. He would die in a secluded Hawaiian paradise, deluded and in denial, his body surrealistically bound for a cryogenic receptacle in his home province of Ilocos Norte.

    The “People Power” experience provoked the miracle of miracles of watching an absolute dictator fall. It was a monument to the dethroning of a king who had gone far astray from his people and from any sense of morality or compassion. The outgrowth of those few heady days in February 1986 was the setting of the Philippines on a refreshingly new course: the nation, once again united under the banner of freedom and democracy, could now be pointed towards the collective goal of improving all aspects of Filipino life. People Power, coming in the wake of an exposed military conspiracy for the seizure of government, became a lesson for all Filipinos, a lesson in both conscience and consciousness.

    The uprising also represented a new dawn for the common Filipino. With their future all but mortgaged and their existence turned into a reservoir of despair and degradation, the common Filipino folk were shown by the new leaders of the country the tapestry of social and economic reform. People Power helped revive the hearts and minds of the masses for it granted them a hearing for their long-ignored needs and concerns. The masses now discerned a positive meaning in the countless wrongs and deprivations that had been inflicted on them under the Marcos administration. The success of People Power promised to reward their suffering with their rebirth as a proud, liberated, and prosperous people. This was an easy sell on Philippine streets and in the barangays where the residents never stopped praying for a fresh start. As novelist Ninotchka Rosca reflectively wrote about the Philippines, “Everything in this country happens in the morning” because it is a “country of beginnings.”

    People Power opened other perspectives for Filipinos: it dedicated them anew to their traditional values, religious convictions, and venerable love of country. For other Filipinos, People Power turned into an opportunity to return a measure of respectability to the Philippines; these Filipinos yearned to become the architects of a thriving, pristine socio-economic order, an order where strife, venality, and glaring disparities would no longer be the dispositions of the day. One window looked to the salvation of the past; the other looked to the prospects for the future.

    Ultimately, the starry-eyed spectacle of People Power accentuated Filipinos’ national identity. This transformational event was an inspirational gesture of autonomy; it proved that Filipinos’ themes were finally their own, that they could take the fate of their country into their own hands and not be so easily subject to outsider influence or manipulation. Indeed, there was little that any outsider could do but watch the locals play out the drama that was of their own creation. The late, great national artist Nick Joaquin wrote, as People Power unraveled itself before his very eyes, “For once we were not only in on the making of history, but we ourselves were making the history.”

    In the extended aftermath of People Power 20 years after the fact, many of its dreams and expectations have not come to fruition. In the euphoria of the moment, the movement’s protagonists may have lifted a famished people’s hopes too high and too hastily without regard to reason or to the realities on the ground. For some, what happened in February 1986 has turned into a terrible disappointment: Filipinos were led up another blind alley to nowhere. For the more optimistic, they prefer to remember the first People Power as a once in a lifetime example that Filipinos should never stop striving for: an example of fraternity, goodness, resolution, and courageousness.


    *Allen Gaborro is a freelance writer of Philippine history and politics based in San Francisco, California. He is also an arts and book reviewer for the Philippine News weekly (

  10. mlq3 wrote:

    “it is possible to oppose an administration if it, itself, stays within the bounds of the law. but when a government, which has the burden to uphold the law, itself begins to subvert the law, then how can the rule of law apply to anyone?”

    ***True enough. Which laws have been broken by the government? I ask, not in a combative way, but from curiosity…and a desire to understand your position. Certainly EO464 may be more than just pushing the envelope…and we should get the SC’s ruling in a few months. What else? (Pls: demonstrable illegalities; not accusations without substantial proof.)

    At the same time, are there any laws being broken by oppositionists? Certainly mutiny, sedition or worse by some officers. Permitless rallies as well. Others? I’m not sure if anyone ever bothered to see (to get a ruling) if possession and distribution of illegal wiretaps could be legally justified due to the possibility that public officials don’t enjoy the extent of protection regular citizens do.

  11. EDSA Revolution is the only way to change the government. The graft and Corruption that will lead us into nothing. But the question is…do we really understand the essence of People Power? I hope so…….

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