Remembering People Power 1986
Filipinos will celebrate this Thursday the anniversary of the downfall of the Marcos regime, which ruled the country with an iron hand for 14 years from 1972 to 1986. It was 35 years ago when our people kicked out a hated regime after four fateful days in February 1986.
Unfortunately, people’s memory is short. This generation 35 years old or younger was not born yet at that time — imagine that — and hence does not know first-hand the abuses of the Marcos regime. Many are too young to remember that the Marcos family robbed our country blind before he was chased away in 1986 from Malacañang to Hawaii where he eventually died.
We older folks remember only too well the events that led to the downfall of the dictator—starting with the snap presidential election marked by massive Marcos fraud and the furor that followed when Marcos manipulated the vote count, to the mutiny spearheaded by then defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Armed Forces vice chief of staff Gen. Fidel Ramos, and finally, the bloodless people’s revolution that toppled Marcos.
On the evening of Feb. 22, Enrile and Ramos told Marcos they were withdrawing support for his discredited regime. The two then holed up in Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo with their soldiers. Jaime Cardinal Sin, the archbishop of Manila, warned against bloodshed and called upon the people to form a protective shield around the two camps. The rest is history.
On the morning of Feb. 23, people were coming to Camp Crame by the tens of thousands. In Los Baños, my wife and I joined a UPLB rally of support for Ramos and Enrile; we marched around campus and sent their message to the local military commander. At noon the following day, Feb. 24, we joined the human barricades around the two camps — Crame and Aguinaldo. Our group approached two truckloads of Marines. We tried to persuade them to defect while other people offered them food and flowers. They were part of a convoy of tanks and armored vehicles caught in the mass of humanity gathered on Edsa. After a few minutes, the Marines pulled back. One victory for the people’s revolution. Other defections soon followed.
My wife and I bivouacked with the UPLB contingent, marching with our own UPLB banner at one side of Camp Aquinaldo. Our mission: to prevent Marcos soldiers from invading Camp Crame, imagine that!
The following day, Feb. 25, we marched some 7 kilometers from where we had parked the car with UPLB students. This time, we saw a company of Marines surrender to people manning the barricades. They were escorted by a cordon of seminarians while people applauded as they passed by. The Marines were making the familiar L sign with their fingers (for Laban, meaning fight, the battle symbol of the Cory Aquino campaign).
By this time, about 2 million people were milling around the two camps. We were witnessing a historic moment in the saga of our nation, an unusual sight which saw civilians protecting soldiers! Some scenes and sounds from this smiling people’s revolution:
• The awesome sea of humanity that filled the eight-lane Edsa, as far as the eye could see, all determined to stop with bare hands tanks, armored vehicles, and soldiers.
• Images of the Virgin Mary atop huge hauling trucks used to barricade streets, surrounded by people singing “Ave Maria,” “Our Father,” and other religious hymns.
• Nuns and students, middle-class people and well-dressed elite, on their knees in the streets praying the rosary in front of the soldiers.
• An invalid in a wheelchair manning one of the barricades.
• A three-year-old child flashing the
Laban “L” sign, perched on the shoulders of his father.
• Seminarians carrying huge crosses, their only weapons in this war.
• Contingents of poor people from the slums, children and adults, marching behind drum and bugle corps, waving banners with all kinds of slogans and all colors—yellow, red, black, white, and blue—or singing the alternative national anthem, “Bayan Ko.”
Meantime, Marcos was in Malacañang, adamant. My wife and I were resigned to continue staying in the barricades for another week if need be. Then it happened. That evening we saw on TV that finally the SOB had fled to Clark Air Base on his way to the United States for asylum. It was a moment we will never forget. All the pent-up frustrations inside us for 14 years were suddenly released. We prayed in thanksgiving with the priest-television announcer at the time, and we all wept unashamedly.
There was shouting and dancing in the streets. Millions were out celebrating until morning. The miracle of it all was that we were able to drive out the despot in a bloodless revolution that caught the world’s imagination. Cardinal Sin called it the miracle of Edsa.
When Marcos finally left, there was also drama unfolding in the newsrooms, including the Inquirer. The editor of the paper at the time was Louie Beltran, a hard-boiled journalist who recalled his experience when this happened: “Some guys from foreign television interviewed me and I was explaining that elections were like a basketball game between the Celtics and the Lakers. They asked me how I felt. Tinamaan talaga ako (I was hit hard). Sometimes you never know the depths of your feelings. I wanted to say something glib. Before I knew it, I was crying.”
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Crispin C. Maslog is a former journalist with Agence France-Presse. In 1986, he was teaching journalism and development communication at UP Los Baños, Laguna.
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