People Power: The 1986 Philippine EDSA Revolution Essay

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We Americans like to think we taught the Filipinos democracy; well, tonight they are teaching the world.

” Bob Simon, CBS anchorman, February 25, 1987

Revolution (from Late Latin revolutio which means a turn around) can be described as a drastic, significant, and far-reaching change usually occurring in a short period of time. Implicit in this definition is that a revolution usually takes place outside accepted laws, norms, or customs (Revolution, in Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia). This paper will deal with political revolution involving overthrowing an existing government, specifically, in the 20th century era.

In terms of any successful but peaceful revolution in the 20th century, the success of the Philippines cannot be discounted, to say the least. It experienced a classic example of a government being overthrown without the use of violence. The 1986 Philippine EDSA Revolution (also known as the Philippine Revolution of 1986, People Power Revolution, and Rosary Revolution) was successfully staged by the people of the Philippines in a period of just 4 days. This is by far the most non-violent revolution that has ever taken place in recorded history.

These non-violent mass demonstrations lead by Jaime Cardinal Sin (Archbishop of Manila) and Corazon Aquino (wife of the slain Ninoy Aquino, the main man of the political opposition then) have brought the downfall of President Ferdinand Marcos authoritarian regime and the installation of Corazon Aquino as the new president of the Republic of the Philippines. EDSA is an abbreviation for Epifanio De los Santos Avenue, a major highway in the Metro Manila region which was used as the main site or avenue of the demonstrations (1986 EDSA Revolution, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia).

Events leading to the staging of the People Power

The revolution took place because of the discontent of the Filipinos against the authoritarian regime of President Ferdinand Marcos. The catalysts range from the declaration of martial law itself, human rights abuse, and other reported corruption happening during the regime (Baron and Suazo, 1986). But the most major series of events happened through Ninoy Aquino, a known political opposition who left the Philippines temporarily on a three-year exile in the United States. On the 21st of August, 1983, when he returned to the Philippines, Ninoy was assassinated at the Manila International Airport. This assassination did not only shock and outrage many people who are already losing confidence in the government, specifically, Marcos leadership, but also the international community. This has ignited the opposition more (Baron and Suazo, 1986).

            The opposition has become more visible through rallies and demonstrations. And after years of pressure from domestic opposition as well as international community, particularly, the United States, Marcos announced on November 23, 1985, the holding of a snap election on 1986. This is a year ahead of the originally scheduled elections on 1987. The snap election was made official by virtue of the Batasang Pambansa 883. At around this period, the opposition movement which is steadily growing in numbers has made Corazon Aquino, Ninoys wife, the presidential candidate, with Doy Laurel as her running mate for the vice-presidency position. Marcos decided to continue and ran for re-election (the re-election provision for president was removed in the 1987 Philippine Constitution), with Arturo Tolentino as his vice president (De Leon, 1986).

            As planned, February 7, 1986, marked the execution of the snap elections. The result of this exercise, however, was not accepted by the people. It was marred by reports of cheating, violence, and massive fraud of election results. Marcos was officially declared by Commission on Elections, the official poll body of the state, as the winner of this election with more than one-and-a-half million votes more than the opposition. However, an official poll watcher, the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), provided the tally with Aquino leading the elections with almost a million votes more than Marcos  (De Leon, 1986).

            As anticipated, many reports of alleged fraud were released to the public causing the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to condemn the elections, particularly the government, through an official statement. The Senate of the United States made a resolution with the same intent of condemning the electoral activity of 1986.

The start of the non-violent revolution

Day 1: The Defection

            The alleged mass fraud in the election ignited far more serious events in the succeeding days. The 4-day revolution started when two high-ranking government officials withdrew their support from Marcos leadership. Juan Ponce Enrile (Minister of Defense) and Fidel Ramos (Armed Forces Vice Chief of Staff, and later President) gathered the press and make their official announcement on the withdrawal of support from the government. They announced to the press that they believe that Marcos cheated on the previously conducted elections, that they could not support the leadership anymore, and pledge their allegiance to Aquino as the rightful and legitimate president of the republic (Mercado and Tatad, 1986; People Power Movement from Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, 2001-2006).

            They then barricaded and held for themselves two existing military camps: Camp Crame, the Headquarters of the Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police (Ramos) and Camp Aguinaldo, Ministry of National Defense (Enrile). The two camps are situated across EDSA and faced each other. Ramos and Enrile were both protected by only a few fellow soldiers, and had prepared to face an attack by the troops led by Gen. Fabian Ver, a Marcos loyalist and Chief of Staff of the Philippine Armed Forces (Mercado and Tatad, 1986; People Power Movement from Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, 2001-2006).

            Within the same day, Radio Veritas replayed the conference held by Ramos and Enrile nationwide. During that time, Radio Veritas, a radio station of the Roman Catholic Church, is the only radio station not owned nor controlled by the government. In the evening of that day, the station aired a call from the very influential Manila Archbishop Cardinal Sin urging the Filipino nation to support the rebel soldiers cause by going to EDSA in between the two camps and providing them emotional support, food, and other needs that the soldier may have.

For many, the call was a very unwise decision considering the strength of the military. Civilians could not stand a ground if the military would come and disperse them. But contrary to this conception, a number of Filipinos, civilians, priests, and nuns, stormed EDSA (Mercado and Tatad, 1986; People Power Movement from Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, 2001-2006).

A press conference was also held by Marcos urging Ramos and Enrile to stop their stupidity and surrender.

Day 2: The astonishing support of the masses

            The Veritas radio station has been working as a catalyst to this revolution. It has been broadcasting and coordinating in a wide scale the movement of government troops, the logistical needs of the revolting soldiers, and other related and necessary activities of the revolution. It is because of this that the military troops knocked down the transmitter of the station. It cut off its broadcast to faraway provinces. This has not stopped the station from broadcasting. They switched to a transmitter with only a limited range now.

            The shutting down of the station did not stop the people from swelling EDSA. By second day of the revolution, hundreds of thousands of people (unarmed civilians) had occupied EDSA. Contrary to other revolutions, the mood in the streets of EDSA was not a violent one, but actually very festive. People are in the streets with their family, performers are doing presentation to entertain the crowd, priests and nuns are leading prayer vigils, and civilians that made their own barricades in many places along EDSA and major streets intersecting it. Radio Veritas continued transmitting and people everywhere listened to the station. On the second day of the revolution, Ramos and Enrile consolidated their forces. Enrile joined Ramos at Camp Crame (Mercado and Tatad, 1986; People Power Movement from Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, 2001-2006).

Day 3: More defections

At dawn of the third day, Monday, Marines and demonstrators had a serious encounter. Government troops had lobbed tear gas to disperse thousands of demonstrators in Libis, a commercial district near EDSA. There were also 3,000 marines who were able to enter and take hold of a portion of Camp Aguinaldo. A squadron of Air Force personnel was sent by Malacanang to neutralize Camp Crame. Helicopters were sent to the camp. However, these military personnel had already secretly defected. They headed to Camp Crame and instead of neutralizing it by attacking the soldiers occupying the camp, they simply landed and joined the soldiers. These military helicopters boosted the morale of the crowd and soldiers (Schock, 2005).

            A news was received about Marcos leaving Malacanang Palace and this made the crowd rejoiced. Even Enrile and Ramos came out from the camp and celebrated with the crowd. However, the celebration was short-lived because later that day, Marcos appeared on government-controlled national TV saying he will not step down. The station went offline during the broadcast as more military personnel defected and captured the station. Shortly after that, the station went back online, with a new message declaring This is channel 4. Serving the people again. It was estimated that the number of crowds in EDSA at this time has reached almost 2 million (Schock, 2005).

            Later that day, military helicopters from the rebel group attacked an airbase which destroyed vehicles of the president. Another group of helicopters fired a rocket to Malacanang and caused minor damage. Military officials who are graduates Philippine Military Academy Graduate and more than just half of the Armed Forces defected.

Day 4: Triumphant at last!

On the fourth day, two inaugurations took place: Corazon Aquino and Salvador laurel were sworn in as a president and vice president, respectively, by associate justices of the Supreme Court. The inauguration took place about a kilometer away from Camp Crame. Almost an hour later, Marcos was also inaugurated as president re-elected at the Malacanang Palace. However, no foreign dignitaries attended the inauguration. The inauguration was broadcasted by remaining government TV stations. This broadcast was cut off because the remaining TV stations were seized by the rebels (Mercado and Tatad, 1986).

            Because of these developments, Marcos asked the White House for an advice. It responded and told Marcos to cut and cut cleanly, to which Marcos obliged with disappointment. Later that day, Marcos requested Enrile for safe passage. That night, four American military helicopters transported Marcos and his family to an Air Base outside Manila before heading to Hawaii (Mercado and Tatad, 1986).

            Marcos departure marked the finality and success of the People Power Revolution.

Aftermath of the revolution

Was it really a revolution?

            Some critics are questioning whether this event is indeed a revolution, or just a mere coup d etat aimed at grabbing political power. This is partially because there are some analysts who believe that a revolution has to involve violent overthrow of a regime or government. Majority, however, believe that revolution means a replacing or changing of prior regime by the use of extraordinary means. No matter how anyone would look at it, EDSA  or the People Power Revolution was and remains to be extraordinary (People Power Movement from Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, 2001-2006).

            During its time, the People Power revolution may have been just a major event as no other similar revolution has taken place. But one may say that this could have started this kind of empowering the people as similar events took place after this period (refer to the case Ukraines Orange Revolution, [former] Czechoslovakias Velvet Revolution, and former East Germany). These similar uprising may have made the people power more authentically a revolution than before (People Power Movement from Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, 2001-2006).

Driving force of the revolutions success

At a superficial level, they were able to topple a two-decade authoritarian regime with no bloodshed at all, and hence, successful in that sense. But how did it succeed considering the military regime with two decades of experience. Of course, there is the popular attribution to the power of their prayers. Some analysts cited other factors like the character of the Filipinos themselves, the continuous rallies in Mendiola (a plaza near the Malacanang Palace), or the involvement of the Catholic Church. There are even some American authors who attribute this success to the US governments intervention.

This is an unprecedented event in the history of the Philippines, and in a sense, history of mankind the first time that millions of civilians from all walks of life came and helped the military, considering the fact that they have been instrumental in oppression and terror in the country.

To say that one was the driving force of the revolution and another one was not is probably a mistake because what happened is a series of interrelated and connected events. It could have been that for any revolutions to be successful, a number of elements should have been present. Gone are the days were sheer military or brute force is the measure of supremacy, hence, success in any war.

The late 20th to 21st century is an era where for a revolution to be successful, there has to be a support from the military, from the civilians, and even a support from the international community. Would the People Power be successful if the military did not concede? Would have it succeeded if the civilians did not support the military? Clearly, one supports the other. And in this sense, we could say that the driving force of the revolution is the system that made all elements of the revolution intact.

Post-People Power: Questioning its relative success

            The People Power Revolution, with no doubt, is acknowledged by many social scientists and analysts as a great instance of what we call democracy at work. As stated by an American analyst, Philippines taught the world what democracy at work means. However, a number of them believe that this successful revolution failed to actualize or maximize what it could have gotten from this fresh government leadership and overwhelming support from all aspects or sectors of the state as well as from the international community.

The Philippines is still lagging from its neighbor in the Asian region in terms of economic development. Originally, other neighboring countries are sending their specialists in the Philippines to study their technology, procedures, and bureaucracy. But now, these countries who once took advantage of the Philippines talents are way ahead of Philippine economy (Miranda, 1999).

            Many vocal groups, activists, and non government organizations decried the coming back of individuals previously connected to the Marcos regime, which the Filipino people have fought for with their lives. Some even argue that the nature of politics has not changed at all only the politicians, at most. There is still the widespread existence of nepotism. Trapos (trash in the English language, and is used as an abbreviation for traditional politicians) have actually been recurring in the administrations of the post-Marcos years. To put it simply, EDSA revolution may have been used to take away the old trapos with a new batch of opportunistic politicians who denounced the current regime of Marcos simply for their gains in the next elections on 1987 (Gonzales, 1999).

Because of the status of the Philippine economy, its political stability (or lack of it), and rampant corruption, Philippines is being criticized by some analysts, even by its own social scientists, as a worst example of a democratic state, and that it is not yet ready for a true democracy. Filipinos themselves attribute the recent successes of regime change (as in the case also of the previous President Joseph Estrada who was replaced by current President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo through People Power 2) as a ochlocracy, mob rule, or simply, tyranny of the masses. This is a case of traditional politicians still clinging to old posts, people are voted into office (by means of popularity, as in the case of TV actors and actresses gaining posts in the political arena) whether they are capable or not (Sabangan and Carcamo, 1999).

            People Power Revolution was able to take away a strongman out of two decades of rules. However, the situation that emerged failed to become a better alternative. The new constitution substituted as a result of people power has made future presidents susceptible to revolutions and ouster. President Estrada was ousted in the same way as Marcos, and President Macapagal-Arroyo experienced not just one revolution that affected the Philippine economy. The constitutionality and legitimacy of revolution was disputed because the significant events that happened starting from snap elections to the revolution and inauguration all transpired through extrajudicial processes.




Works Cited

 

1986 EDSA Revolution. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 6 Nov 2007, 18:43 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 10 Nov 2007 .

Baron, Cynthia S., and Suazo, Melba M. Nine Letters: The Story of the 1986 Filipino Revolution. Quezon City, Philippines: Gerardo P. Baron Books, 1986.

De Leon, Josie H. Electoral Manipulation: The Case of the February 1986 Presidential Elections. Philippine Journal of Public Administration, 1986; 30(2): 154183.

Gonzales, Stella O. Remember the Truth, Marcoses Are Back FVR. Philippine Daily Inquirer, 21 February 1999. Also available at www.inq7.net.

Mercado, Paul Sagmayao, and Tatad, Francisco S. People Power: The Philippine Revolution of 1986: An eyewitness history. Manila, Philippines: The James B. Reuter, S.J., Foundation, 1986.

Miranda, Felipe B. 13 Years After EDSA Revolution. Lost revolt waits for new spark from below. Philippine Daily Inquirer Internet Edition, 21 February 1999. Also available at www.inq7.net.

No author. The Peoples EDSA. Philippine Daily Inquirer, 22 February 1999.

People Power Movement from Encyclopedia of Modern Asia. USA: Macmillan Reference, 2001-2006.

Revolution. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 8 Nov 2007, 03:28 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 10 Nov 2007 .

Sabangan, Annie Ruth, and Carcamo, Dennis. What EDSA? What victims? Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. Manila Times, 23 February 1999.

Schock, Kurt. Unarmed Insurrections: People Power Movements in Nondemocracies. Minneapolis, USA: University

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