Choppers roaring over Edsa
Among my memories of the 1986 people power experience, one stands out above the rest. It took place at the home of the revered statesman and former senator Lorenzo “Ka Tanny” Tañada on the evening of Feb. 22, 1986, a day after the people had converged outside the police and military camps on Edsa. In the verandah were his son Bobby, and two stalwarts of the opposition, former senators Jose W. “Ka Pepe” Diokno and Jovito “Ka Jovy” Salonga.
Considering the options. As events unfolded in the streets around the camps, an exchange of ideas took place at what was then a critical juncture. Ka Pepe initially saw a standoff between two factions of the military and therefore warned that ordinary people could become “cannon fodder.” Ka Jovy took a cautious position, and wanted to wait out developments until there was more clarity. Ka Tanny was vocal in his determination to seek out the leadership of the military reformers to ensure that there would be no turning back in their decision to distance themselves from the dictatorship they had served for so long. His instinct was to turn this risk into a political opportunity.
Soon after the meeting, Bobby Tañada accompanied his father to the military camp to seek an assurance that there would be no turning back. Ka Tanny came back convinced that civilians in concert with military reformers could mount “people power” with a capacity to bring down the dictatorship.
Turning the corner with no turning back. The ranks of those who had camped out in the streets had swelled to perhaps over a million, at one point stretching from the confines of Cubao to the corner of Edsa/Ortigas Avenue, followed in their millions by people tuned in to their radios. In the afternoon, I saw how nuns with rosaries in their hands pleaded with soldiers on top of the tanks that had come from the direction of Fort Bonifacio to turn off their engines and partake of refreshments. I talked with several soldiers, one wearing shoes without soles, and they asked me where the communists were because they had been told by their commanders to quell a communist revolt. They were surprised to find themselves face to face with seminarians and students, housewives carrying their children, and devotees carrying images of the Blessed Mother.
The soldiers were confronted, not by the so-called “enemies of the state,” but by the people they were bound to protect. They found themselves looking into the eyes of determined seminarians, devout priests and women who could have been their mothers and sister—all defending the space they had won and would not budge—even at the cost of their lives, it seemed.
People would not move; they stood their ground. It was in this way that a peaceful retreat was negotiated— extracted, rather—from military men that had now lost their compass.
Braving the dawn of a different day. At the break of dawn on the third day of the people’s siege of the camps, the roar of engines from the skies broke the ominous silence. Seven Sikorsky helicopters from the 15th Strike Wing of the Philippine Air Force hovered above the camps. I thought what we had feared most was about to come to pass: an aerial assault to disperse the crowds assembled on Edsa.
Almost instinctively, we sang. I do not now even remember if what we sang was “Ama Namin” or “Our Father,” but one thing was certain: It was sung like a prayer, and with all the fervor we could muster after a night almost without sleep in the streets.
As the helicopters descended on the parade grounds of Camp Crame, we experienced the surprise of our lives: From the helicopters that seemed camouflaged in the dark emerged some 16 pilots with long guns, M-16s perhaps, slung on their shoulders, waving white handkerchiefs and flashing the Laban sign. It seemed, from where I stood, like the turning point of the people power experience.
We had expected a bloodbath and were ready to give up our lives; we experienced redemption instead. A new day had dawned.
Ed Garcia served as a framer of the 1987 Constitution. He previously worked on peace processes in different countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America as an envoy of International Alert and as a researcher at Amnesty International. He taught at UP and Ateneo, and now works with scholar-athletes at FEU Diliman.
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