On the eve of the 1986 people power revolt | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

On the eve of the 1986 people power revolt

/ 04:10 AM February 21, 2022

There was one particular meeting on the eve of the people power revolution that I will never forget, for as long as I live.

On the evening of Feb. 22, 1986, I heard the appeals made by Cardinal Jaime Sin and the late Butz Aquino on Radio Veritas for people to converge on the streets fronting the military camps to show support for the military reformers who had finally taken a stand against the dictatorship.

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It was a beautiful night, I recall, nearly a full moon in the sky which encouraged me to go out. Thus, I went to Edsa unsure of the response of citizens to spirited calls to mass in the streets around the camps. As people continued to pour in around the gates of the military camps, what struck me more than anything else was a certain loss of fear manifested in the “joy of being together in the streets” and how people from different walks of life exuded confidence coupled with collective courage— backed by a calm demeanor bordering on prayer. I became convinced early on that “something serious could be brewing.” Amazed to see people in the thousands, I felt a growing certainty that this gathering of people had the potential to make a difference in the life of the nation.

I was in Ka Pepe Diokno’s home the next day, and he asked me to drive him in my old run-down VW Beetle car to No. 59, 13th Street in Broadway, New Manila, for a meeting. It was the residence of one of my father’s best friends who was a co-founder of the Civil Liberties Union, the revered statesman, Sen. Lorenzo Tañada. Since it was a Sunday, he was in his rest house in Tagaytay, and he had to be fetched by his son, Bobby. A third person in the meeting was a Liberal Party stalwart who was both a victim of the Plaza Miranda bombing and an exile recently returned home, Sen. Jovy Salonga.

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Ka Pepe was adamant that what was happening was a stand-off between two factions of the military and therefore warned that ordinary people could be “cannon fodder” should citizens in their audacity decide to come out in the streets. Salonga took a cautious position and wanted to wait out developments till there was more clarity. Ka Tanny was vocal in his determination to seek out the leadership of the military reformers to ensure that there was 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.

The next day, I had seen how religious nuns with rosary in hand pleading with the soldiers on top of the tanks that had come from the direction of Fort Bonifacio to stop their engines as they confronted women, who could be their mothers or sisters, and who would not budge and stood their ground. A peaceful retreat had been negotiated, extracted rather, from a military that had now lost their compass.

At the break of dawn the next day, Monday, Feb. 24, 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 military camps. I thought that what we had feared most was about to pass — an aerial assault to disperse the crowds assembled around the camps.

Almost instinctively, we sang the “Our Father” with all the fervor at our disposal after a night almost without sleep in the streets. As the Sikorsky helicopters descended on the Camp Crame parade grounds, we experienced the surprise of our lives. From the helicopters that seemed camouflaged in the dark, out came some 16 pilots with white handkerchiefs sporting the Laban signs with long guns slung on their shoulders. That seemed to be the turning point of the people power experience from where I stood. We had expected a bloodbath and were ready to give up our lives; we experienced redemption instead.

Fast forward to 2022, on the eve of national elections. We are once again called to reflect and rethink the way forward. We had put our lives on the line 36 years ago; now, in less dramatic terms, we are once again asked to take a stand, to remain steadfast, and to build a future different from the past.

* * *

Professor Ed Garcia is one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution.

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TAGS: Commentary, Ed Garcia, People Power Revolt. EDSA 1986
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