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Remembering EDSA People Power Revolution

EDSA People Power Revolution

This 2021, specifically February 25th, is the 35th Anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution, commemorating the demonstrations that occurred in 1986. In a Memorandum Circular 2021-021, released February 17, 2021, by the Department of Interior and Local Government, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines will conduct a commemorative program at the EDSA People Power Monument and invites all local chief executives nationwide to simultaneously hold similar activities.

History of EDSA People Power Revolution

The EDSA People Power Revolution was pivotal in the history of the Philippines. From February 22 to 25, 1986, million of Filipinos gathered along Epifanio De Los Santos Avenue (EDSA) in Metro Manila in a campaign of civil resistance, in a bid to end the 20-year term of then-President Ferdinand E. Marcos. Here are excerpts published in the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines.

During those momentous four days of February 1986, millions of Filipinos, along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) in Metro Manila, and in cities all over the country, showed exemplary courage and stood against, and peacefully overthrew, the dictatorial regime of President Ferdinand E. Marcos. More than a defiant show of unity—markedly, against a totalitarian rule that had time and again proven that it would readily use brute force against any and all dissenters—People Power was a reclaiming of liberties long denied. The millions that gathered for the 1986 People Power Revolution—the culmination of a series of public protests, often dispersed if at all given leave—was a nation wresting itself, as one, back from a dictator.

The four-day demonstration along EDSA was a manifestation of the discontent and furies that began with the parliament of the streets during Marcos’ totalitarian rule, as Filipinos began, determinedly, to shake off the subjugation. But, the players of this revolution, at the start, knew only to gather; only in EDSA, at the height of the marches and within the multitude of citizens, did standing as one begin to coalesce as a campaign. From its beginnings as an immediate response to the rigged results of the snap elections, and then as a vigil to guard defecting top military men from Marcos’ vengeful machinations, a show of support heartily encouraged by the Catholic Church; to streets gradually teeming with people to quietly face off with armored tanks, a confrontation of linked arms and prayers and flowers and songs—the four days of EDSA People Power in itself was an exemplar of the evolution of the Philippine protest.  

Rise of Ferdinand E. Marcos

President Ferdinand E. Marcos won the presidential elections in 1965, defeating incumbent President Diosdado Macapagal. Moreover, he was reelected again in 1969, defeating Sergio Osmeña, Jr. Marcos’ second term was tarnished by allegations of graft and corruption from the Liberal Party. In 1969, the New People’s Army was formed as the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Marcos denounced the movement. Moreover, in 1972, the Moro National Liberation Front, a militant Muslim separatist group, was formed in Southern Mindanao.

Marcos used militant unrest as justification to declare Martial Law.

Proclamation of Martial Law

Barred from running a third term, Marcos announced Proclamation No. 1081 on September 23, 1972, declaring Martial Law. Marcos seized emergency powers giving him control over the military as well as the authority to suppress the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and other civil rights. He also dissolved Congress and shut down media establishments. He also ordered the arrest of opponents: Senate President Jovito Salonga, Senator Jose Diokno, and Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr.

This allowed Marcos to reign for another 14 years beyond his term.

1980s Economic Collapse and Assassination of Ninoy Aquino

According to sources, the administration relied heavily on debt since the 60s. Moreover, the country was vulnerable when the US economy went into recession in the third quarter of 1981, forcing the Reagan administration to increase interest rates. In 1981, the Philippine economy began to decline.

On August 21, 1983, after three years of exile in the United State, Benigno Simeon ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr. was assassinated as he disembarked from a flight at the Manila International Airport. This event enraged Filipinos. Apart from this, the Philippine economy continued to deteriorate even further.

Snap Election and People Power

With increasing pressure from the US government, Marcos announced a snap presidential election on November 03, 1985. The snap election was legalized with the passage of Batas Pambansa Blg. 883 (National Law No. 883). The growing opposition also encouraged Corazon Aquino, Benigno Aquino’s widow, to run for the presidency.

On February 20, 1986, Marcos proclaimed himself victor of the snap elections, and was set to retain the presidency; on the same day, Corazon C. Aquino led a people’s victory rally at Luneta and called for civil disobedience, which included the boycotting of known Marcos-crony institutions. Two million people took up the cause with her at that rally; stocks of singled-out companies fell the very next day. Marcos responded with the threat of reinstating Martial Law, should Cory Aquino lead a nationwide strike; he, too, orchestrated a mass demonstration of support—reports emerged that twelve million pesos had been earmarked to pay supporters to attend a proclamation rally in his honor at Luneta.

On February 22, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, who was once at the center of the declaration of Martial Law in 1972, discovered a plot to implicate him and officers involved in the Reform the Armed Forces Movement in a coup. Faced with only two options—dispersing or regrouping—Enrile chose the latter as the “more honorable” option. He announced his defection from Marcos, alongside Chief of Staff Fabian Ver’s deemed successor, Lieutenant General Fidel V. Ramos, from within Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame. The Catholic Church announced their support of the two, and enjoined people via radio broadcast to provide aid and, for all purposes, a human cordon to guard them against anticipated counter-offensives. Soon enough, the base and its surroundings were teeming with citizens. Marcos denounced Enrile and Ramos, but speedily changed the venue of his inauguration to Malacañan Palace; there he would be sworn in as president yet again, but this time surrounded by nothing more than courtiers tied to his pursestrings. Back in EDSA, that first night: Close to a hundred thousand held vigil—a number that would only swell.

Citizens continue to march to EDSA as individuals or as organized groups with their own safety rope, provisions and banners. Photo by Nestor Barido, People Power: The Philippine Revolution of 1986

On February 23, Enrile and Ramos met along EDSA, surrounded and protected by a growing number of supporters eager for what already seemed then as a fomenting revolution. But Marcos and his remaining officials had mobilized forces still under his command: Columns of armored tanks formed barricades along EDSA, with heavily armed battalions as escort. Thus began the banded Filipinos’ show of force—through song and slogans; through earnest extensions of friendship to hard-faced soldiers; through the flashing of the Laban sign—symbol of Cory Aquino’s campaign and of the movement that carried her; through prayers and linked arms and rosaries, human barricades and flowers.

On February 25, Corazon C. Aquino was sworn in as the elected President, effectively reinstating democracy following decades of the totalitarian rule of the Marcoses. Democracy was swept in through the swell of a unified crowd—and it was this tide of the populace that would fully drive out the dictator from his Palace, stealing out of the country that wanted it no longer and that which could finally act on it.

Sources:

  • Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines
  • Department of Interior and Local Government
  • People Power Revolution, Wikipedia

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