Hope is an accumulation of decisions
“Your Program on Nonviolent Sanctions at Harvard has always aroused much interest but also skepticism. Much of the skepticism about nonviolent methods was swept away by the success of the Filipino people in obtaining elections, in unveiling the fraudulent methods to distort the popular verdict, and finally in ousting Marcos in February 1986. How do you explain this shift?”
In 1986 and 1987, Gene Sharp, one of the principal theorists of nonviolent resistance and the director of the Program on Nonviolent Sanctions in Conflict and Defense at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs at the time, gave a wide-ranging interview to Afif Safieh, then a visiting scholar in Harvard.
His answer to the introductory question attempts an overview of the Edsa Revolution; it is largely accurate, and still makes for bracing reading:
“The Philippines struggle had a number of distinct features. It was a very good example of the withdrawal of the pillars of power. The Filipino people withdrew legitimacy from the regime when it became clear that the elections were a fraud. There were plans for economic resistance and noncooperation against the supporters of Marcos. Diplomats abroad began resigning. The population became nonviolently defiant. Finally, a major part of the army and its officers in effect went on strike. They did not turn their guns in the other direction or bomb the presidential palace. They went on strike and said that they were doing it nonviolently. So the army itself was taken away. Then the church called on people to demonstrate and protect the soldiers nonviolently. The civilian population formed vast barricades of human bodies surrounding the mutinous officers and soldiers, in a case that probably has no historical precedent: the nonviolent civilians protected the army. Finally Marcos was left with very little power. You take away the sources of power and the man who was formerly a tyrant becomes just an old man. His choice was not whether to remain in power, his only choice was how he was to leave. And so he left semi-gracefully.
“That teaches us a great political lesson: that all repressive systems, all governments, legitimate or otherwise, all tyrannies, all foreign occupations are able to continue only because they receive the support of those they rule. Even foreign occupiers are supported by their own people, and frequently receive international support. If you can withdraw those sources of power, then the regime is threatened.”
The military rebels did in fact conduct one airstrike against the presidential palace; helicopter gunships belonging to the strike wing that had defected to the rebels strafed Malacañang Palace, to send an unmistakable signal.
The delegitimizing of the Marcos administration began years before the fraudulent elections of 1986, when millions of people turned out to take part in the funeral of the assassinated Ninoy Aquino, in 1983. The opposition won a third of the seats in Ferdinand Marcos’ National Assembly in 1984. The economic crisis of 1983-1985 worsened public perception of the Marcoses. (But the economic noncooperation campaign, targeted against companies run by Marcos’ cronies, began only about a week before people took to Edsa.)
Part of the army did go “on strike,” so to speak, but only because the Reform the Armed Forces Movement’s attempt to seize power through a coup was found out, and the rebels repaired to Camp Aguinaldo to make a last stand.
Sharp, however, did get the other details, and the larger perspective, right. It was a long struggle to withdraw the sources of power of the Marcos regime.
But one crucial factor that was not mentioned in this overview, and indeed in other historical surveys, is all-important. Hardly anyone then thought that Marcos—powerful, intelligent, disciplined—would in fact be overthrown. People just did what they thought needed to be done: show up at the Aquino home and then in Sto. Domingo Church to look at the opposition leader’s remains; join marches and rallies despite the truncheons and the tear gas; flood Ayala Avenue in Makati City with confetti every Friday; vote for opposition candidates for parliament; go to Edsa, as Jaime Cardinal Sin had urged everyone, to protect the military rebels. People did this, without thinking whether the protest action of the moment would “work.”
The odds were stacked against the people who fought against Marcos—until, suddenly, in a matter of hours in February 1986, they weren’t. The downfall of Marcos wasn’t inevitable, until an accumulation of millions of personal decisions made it so.
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand
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