The sea of shoes: A ‘miracle’ untold
Ladies’ shoes. Not the 3,000 pairs left behind in a palace. But hundreds of them, strewn all across the road inside the Batasang Pambansa, left behind in the hasty retreat of the roughly 400 women from Maryknoll, who managed to disappear in a second. Rocks were thrown by the Marcos loyalists who attacked us, but fortunately no one was hit in the head.
I was there, just visiting. Someone from HQ arrived and said I should start a protest march using whoever was there, to march around the Batasang Pambansa, since the Batasan was apparently going to declare that day that Ferdinand Marcos Sr. had won the recent snap presidential elections of Feb. 7, 1986. We didn’t know there were 3,000 loyalists encamped on the other side. As we left, two policemen taunted us that we deserved the rocks because we were “radicals” creating “trouble.” Despite such little defeats, before that month ended the dictatorship was dismantled.
George Orwell once said “History is written by the winners.” But, in the euphoria of their victory, might the victors of Edsa have shot themselves in the foot, because their depiction actually waters down the history?
There is NO MIRACLE OF EDSA. Rather, there was already a people’s movement whose very strength meant that Marcos would surely be ousted. The only questions left by the dawn of Feb. 22 were: For how much longer could Marcos stay on before losing his grip entirely? And how many more might die? Calling Edsa 1986 a “miracle” makes it easy to ignore the people’s movement that was already well on the way to challenge the despot’s regime on all fronts.
In De La Salle University (DLSU), sometime before the Feb. 16, “Tagumpay ng Bayan” rally, we had a small rally inside the campus. I asked the crowd, “There is a rally this afternoon in the Liwasang Bonifacio! Shall we go?” The answer: “Yes!”
Br. Andrew (Gonzalez), DLSU president, warned me: “You can’t go to that rally! You better cancel that plan!” as the rally in Liwasang Bonifacio was by leftist groups, and he stressed, “You will get sucked in if you go, then you will be used… back off.’’
I assured him we will not be “used,” and we still left DLSU to march to Liwasang Bonifacio. At least 800-strong, the DLSU column was the biggest group which arrived that day at Liwasan. The “Tagumpay Ng Bayan” rally on Feb. 16, 1986, which became a mammoth rally of over a million attending, will definitely be on anybody’s list of the top three largest public gatherings in all of Philippine history. Marcos threatened to arrest rallyists, but with such huge turnout, no one was arrested that day. Cory Aquino announced protest actions would not stop until Marcos was deposed.
A few days later, in a Youth for Cory activity, we marched from DLSU to Rustan’s Makati, to rendezvous there with University of the Philippines and Ateneo forces, with UP led by our YCC chair, Chito Gascon. Once again, DLSU had the largest contingent.
Edsa was no fluke. It was not some kind of “temporary insanity” that gripped millions, as if they were unduly influenced by demagogues who brainwashed them to oust Marcos.
In DLSU, the anti-Marcos were the hegemony. For example, to wear a pro-Marcos or Kilusang Bagong Lipunan T-shirt in campus would get one ostracized for sure; and over time fewer did so. There were some missteps by the opposition, like “do not drink San Miguel Beer,” which was later shown would not have direct effects on Marcos cronies.
Contrast to that tight camaraderie of those who vowed to fight. One afternoon as I was leaving Edsa, I saw a close friend marching toward Crame surrounded by many workers from their company. I gave a high thumbs-up. No long greetings. All the talk was already done, long before.
They who accuse Edsa of being a failure because there still exists social inequality, poverty, and corruption in Philippine society, fail to realize that the Edsa people power was spontaneous and rushed, and that it had no goals and objectives save one: The ouster of the dictator! And in that it was a spectacular success, perhaps even saving the Marcos family. However, the present manipulation of the historical context — “historical revisionism” — gains traction precisely because of the faulty “miracle of Edsa” framework.
The 3,000 pairs of shoes in Malacañang, all of the same size, owned by one. The 300 pairs strewn all around that Batasan road, well, that had greater value.
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Joel Sarmenta served as the secretary-general of the Youth Coalition for Cory in late 1985-Edsa 1986 and was DLSU student council chair for Liberal Arts; he has never written about his experiences of 1985-86.
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