The myths of the 1986 uprising | Inquirer Opinion

The myths of the 1986 uprising

/ 05:12 AM February 24, 2014

Filipinos recall the 28th anniversary of the Edsa People Power Revolution Monday with marked deep disillusion over the Edsa upheaval as a catalyst of profound political and social change. Euphoria over the Feb. 22-25, 1986, event is down to zero.

For the first time, the celebration of the historic moment shifts to Cebu City, not in Metro Manila where the revolution broke out, upon the request of President Aquino.


The shift is symbolic. It was in Cebu where the President’s mother, Cory Aquino, the then opposition leader, pursued her civil disobedience campaign after the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos came under heavy international and domestic condemnation for stealing the Feb. 7 snap election.

Archival material on the Edsa Revolution tell us that at a “victory rally” at the Luneta on Feb. 16, attended by more than a million people, Cory called for strikes and boycott of Marcos crony media, banks and business establishments.


Marcos was under pressure from the Reagan administration in Washington after the US Senate voted 85-9 for a declaration that the snap election was marked by “widespread fraud.”

US President Ronald Reagan had dispatched the veteran diplomatic “troubleshooter” Philip Habib to Manila to try to defuse the escalating crisis and break the standoff between Malacañang and the opposition forces.

Compromise eyed

The White House had grudgingly admitted that the election was “marred by fraud and violence perpetrated largely by the ruling party,” and instructed Habib to work out a compromise with Cory.

On Feb. 16, according to the account of Angela Stuart-Santiago, Marcos announced that Gen. Fabian Ver, commander of the Presidential Security Command and chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, had resigned and that Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos, chief of the Philippine Constabulary, would take over as chief of staff. On Feb. 17, Marcos extended Ver’s term to the end of February.

Habib met with Marcos, then with Cory. She bluntly refused anything less than Marcos’ removal. The Inquirer’s archives reported that Habib, convinced that his mission had hit a dead end, flew out on Feb. 22. Before he boarded his plane, Habib told a US Embassy officer to tell US Ambassador Steve Bosworth that Aquino had won the snap election. Marcos himself called Habib to show that he still had the support of his countrymen. Habib told the embassy staff: “Marcos is finished and we ought to offer him asylum in the United States.”

A few hours later, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and General Ramos pulled out the plug on the Marcos regime. They announced to journalists in Camp Aguinaldo they had withdrawn from him.


During those tense moments, my first clue that the crisis was coming to a head was when diplomats from 15 countries—Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Japan, Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Denmark and West Germany—called on Cory who told them she was determined to assume the presidency “at the earliest possible time.”

I was then writing for the reopened Manila Times that had been padlocked by Marcos during the martial law regime.

Where’s spirit?

Except for the official commemoration rites in Cebu, there is little sign that the spirit that drove millions of people to the streets to overthrow the hated Marcos dictatorship has come alive again.

Three decades after Edsa, the ruling political, social and economic structure has remained entrenched, even more firmly than they were in 1986.

Beginning with the structure of political leadership, the landscape of no-change is the dominant defining feature: first, since 1986, this country has had only five administrations, made up of offspring of three political dynasties—two from the Aquino clan (Cory Aquino, the first post-Edsa President, and the incumbent Benigno S. Aquino III, son of Cory, both belonging to the Cojuangco clan of Tarlac whose economic power is based on the landed wealth of Hacienda Luisita, one of the largest landlords of the country; the third is Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, daughter of former President Diosdado Macapagal, who came from a poor peasant family in Lubao, Pampanga, but who nonetheless established a dynasty).

Between these two dynasties were nonelite economic commoners, Fidel Ramos, who succeeded Cory Aquino, and Joseph Estrada, a former senator, who was deposed by Arroyo in Edsa II in 2001, after an aborted impeachment trial of Estrada in the Senate on charges of corruption.

During the past 28 years, we have had five regime changes—two of which came through people power (in the case of Cory Aquino and of Arroyo after the ouster of Estrada). The rest were elected: Ramos, the incumbent President Aquino, and Arroyo who was elected for her second term, although this was marred by charges of alleged rigging, stemming from the “Hello Garci” tapes, which showed she gave phone instructions to Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano to tamper with the results of the balloting in Mindanao.

P-Noy can’t be too smug

This history of regime changes in the post-Edsa I period allows us to draw some observations which raise issues over the stability and desirability of people power as a mode of regime change.

The above developments illustrate the instability and fragility of democratic restoration periodically rocked by extralegal people power disturbances.

First, as evidence shows, there is no guarantee that the era of people power as a means to effect changes has come to an end.

This means that the incumbent administration cannot be too smug that it will not face a people power movement that could dismount it from power before the end of its term, despite its still high popularity ratings on opinion poll surveys.

Recent polls show that public discontent is rising over poverty among the poorer sections of the population who have been left behind in the enjoyment of the benefits of economic growth that do not trickle down to the poor.

This social gap between the rich and the poor has been aggravated by the fact that the economy has not been creating enough jobs to provide income to the poor.

This enlarging pool of unemployment is providing a recruitment ground for conscripts in protest people movements in the streets.

Recent surveys also show erosion of the Aquino administration’s trust ratings.

The 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution was never a social revolution that led to a shift of social power from one class to another. Its results were limited to regime change—not system change.

The Luisita landholding class or their likes still are at the helm of political power. Their economic power bases have not been redistributed. Their dynastic bases have been replicated in the regions and the local governments where dynastic descendants are in political control.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Read Next
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: amando doronila, edsa people power, opinion, people power revolt, politics
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Fearless views on the news

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

© Copyright 1997-2023 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.