The nonviolent revolution
The nonviolence of the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution was not a random flash of divine intervention. Feb. 25, 1986, was the climax of the Filipino people’s growing rejection of Ferdinand Marcos’ one-man rule, or what Primitivo Mijares, a desaparecido to this day, called in his book “the conjugal dictatorship” of Marcos and his wife Imelda. Divine intervention slowly took root in the hearts and minds of millions of Filipinos: that freedom is a fundamental right worth fighting for.
The nonviolent resistance began immediately after the murder of Ninoy Aquino on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport on Aug. 21, 1983. The alternative media, or what Marcos called the “mosquito press” (Mr.&Ms. Special Edition, Ang Pahayagang Malaya, among others), became bolder. The August Twenty-One Movement (or Atom) was organized and soon began an almost-daily mobilization of rallies and demonstrations, such as the “Tarlac to Tarmac” march; the rain of confetti on Ayala Avenue in Makati; and the brief marches to Mendiola Bridge and elsewhere.
In April 1984, the 7-day Holy Week Fast for Society’s Transformation was organized. It was held at Ateneo de Manila University and facilitated by Fr. Jose C. Blanco, SJ. It was a turning point of sorts toward the nonviolent option for regaining freedom. Any leaning to an armed struggle by those leading the resistance was set aside after gaining insights from the fast.
And there was substance to the nonviolent path taken. A French couple, Jean Goss and Hildegard Mayr-Goss of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, shared the philosophy of “active nonviolence” (ANV) with some members of the clergy (Bishop Francisco Claver, SJ, and Father Blanco among them) and a few lay people (Butz Aquino, Mon Pedrosa, Toy Nepomuceno, Reli German, among others). It was made clear that counterviolence and passivity are not the only responses to violence, and that ANV can be an effective response.
ANV was the way of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Bishop Oscar Romero, who confronted social injustice in their respective countries. It requires that activists reach out to those supporting the principal source of the violence and make them recognize their complicity in the injustice, and convert. Victims of violence will also have to recognize their own contribution to the unjust situations and commit to withdraw from participation. The core premise is that all men, women and children are created equal and have absolute human dignity. Reconciliation is the end; the prevailing injustice only means that people fail to grasp it.
Father Blanco set out to spread this philosophy and way of life. He facilitated workshops on ANV for groups of people from all walks of life all over the country: professionals, entrepreneurs, farmers and fishers, urban poor, activists, religious and lay people, Christians and Muslims. He organized Aksyon Para sa Kapayapaan at Katarungan (Akkapka) as a medium for the active nonviolent response to the abuses of the Marcos regime. Members of Akkapka were assigned to the frontlines of marches and rallies to make the body language of peace visible to the antiriot police.
When the Agrava Commission acquitted the ranking generals accused of Ninoy Aquino’s murder, a nine-day fast was organized at the University of the Philippines’ Chapel of the Holy Sacrifice to mourn the injustice.
Marcos’ announcement of a “snap” presidential election on Feb. 7, 1986, was a providential milestone. The people’s growing restiveness needed a release valve. A “tent city” was set up at Ugarte Field near Ayala Avenue to give people a chance to reflect collectively on the days’ events and to pray for a peaceful election and a peaceful outcome.
And then there was the million-strong rally at the Luneta where candidate Cory Aquino called for the boycott of crony businesses and for civil disobedience starting with nonpayment of taxes. Preparations for extreme scenarios were made including holding one’s ground in case of violent dispersal.
The rest is history. The nonviolent revolution on Feb. 22-25, 1986, was a people’s revolution. For one shining moment, the Filipino people stood united against tyranny, injustice and violence.
But then, Edsa People Power was hijacked. The military group that the people saved on Edsa must have thought they owned that revolution, and tried to take over the government through numerous coup attempts. People in the government likewise thought Edsa was their claim to power and made sure they got the spoils. Marcosian corruption was reignited, perhaps with greater intensity. The Filipino people, faceless status-less, they who truly owned Edsa People Power, were forgotten and left behind.
Thirty years after the nonviolent revolution, with the fifth presidential election scheduled in May, is there still hope for the people to reap the benefits of freedom? It will be very sad if those campaigning for the people’s mandate are merely seeking power, money and fame. Opportunism is, after all, also corruption and injustice. The people must finally learn that they get the government they deserve. They need to be discerning and to choose leaders who will serve the common good.
In 1986, the people were involved, engaged and committed to nonviolent change. Today, this is the challenge: The people must be mobilized to ensure that the coming political exercise will be guided by divine intervention, for an outcome that will serve the common good, with preferential option for the poor. The fervor of 1986 must be rekindled.
Danilo S. Venida ([email protected]) is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and is now a business consultant.
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