Laban ’78 to Edsa ’86

IN APRIL 1978, the Interim Batasang Pambansa elections were held. Our millennials can learn lessons from this period in our recent history.

After almost seven years in solitary confinement as a political prisoner of Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship, former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. decided to take part in the Interim Batasang Pambansa elections. He wanted to use the campaign period as a platform to shake the people from getting used to the repressive and brutal practices of the authoritarian regime. From his prison cell he founded the Lakas ng Bayan—or Laban (Fight)!—with this writer, Monching Mitra, Tito Guingona, Nene Pimentel, Anding Roces, Nap Rama, Charito Planas, Soc Rodrigo, Ernie Rondon, Juan T. David, Tony Martinez, Neptali Gonzales, Ernie Maceda, Trining Herrera, Alex Boncayao, Jerry Barican, Jaime Ferrer, Primo de Leon, Fely Cabigao and Chito Lucero.


Since representation at the Batasan was by region, Ninoy chose Metro Manila as the political battlefield to make it easier for foreign journalists and observers to monitor the harassment of Laban candidates, as well as the arrest, detention and possible salvaging of Laban leaders and members.

Ninoy forewarned the Laban candidates that under martial law, victory was impossible because the dictator controlled the Commission on Elections, much of the local media were owned by cronies, the Marcos loyalists were in politics, and the military could cheat with impunity.


He stressed that the objective was to “reawaken the democratic spirit of the Filipino,” using this writer’s words.

In the first week of the 45-day campaign period, only the drivers and family members of the Laban candidates were at the rallies. The people were too scared to be seen in attendance, fearing arrest and detention by the Metrocom (Metropolitan Command). At one meeting in Soc Rodrigo’s house in

New Manila, the Laban team analyzed the initial public reaction. After all the Laban candidates had aired their views, this writer said: “Since cowardice is contagious, courage is likewise contagious.”

From that insight, the Laban leaders presided over by former senator Lorenzo Tañada crafted a strategy. Everyone would fearlessly attack the Marcos dictatorship by exposing its massive rights violations, such as warrantless arrests, indefinite detention of activists without charges filed in court, torture of prisoners of conscience, rape of women activists, salvaging, and forced disappearances, and exposing as well the Marcoses’ unexplained wealth, Swiss bank accounts and plunder of the economy, as well as the takeover of flourishing companies, graft and corruption, etc.

As a result, people came out of their darkened houses to attend the Laban rallies, filling the plazas in 18 cities and municipalities of Metro Manila.

The elections were held on April 7, 1978. When the votes were counted, early returns showed that all the 21 Laban candidates were winning, with

Ninoy Aquino at the No. 1 slot. Then Marcos stopped the counting and canvassing and imposed a news blackout. Later it was announced that the candidates of the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan led by Imelda Marcos (now a representative of Ilocos Norte) had won. A protest march by Laban ended with everyone arrested and detained in a military camp.


What are the legacies of Ninoy’s Laban ’78 to the succeeding generations, especially the millennials? They are: the battle cry “Laban!”; the Laban sign “L” popularized by then 7-year-old Kris Aquino, who substituted for her father Ninoy in the Laban rallies; the emblematic yellow ribbons, T-shirts, banners, and caps; the resurgent popularity of the activist anthem “Bayan Ko”; the reawakening of the democratic spirit in the hearts and minds of

Filipinos; and the noise barrage of April 6, 1978, so deafening all over Metro Manila that some liberal US newspapers bannered it as the eruption of a revolution in the Philippines.

Most important: the removal of fear among Filipinos, so much so that years later, when Butz Aquino and Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin called on the people in February 1986 to mass on Edsa to protect the beleaguered mutineers in Camp Aguinaldo, hundreds of thousands of people came to the rescue. The “crowd sourcing” soon developed into a “people power revolution.”

National Artist Nick Joaquin subsequently wrote, “The People, the Power,” meaning it was the people who were the heroes in Edsa I, and not only one person. To use Sidney Hook’s language in his “Hero in History,” the event maker is not a single individual, but the people. They led themselves, knowing what to do: to topple the Marcos dictatorship and restore democracy.

The objective of Edsa ’86 and Laban ’78 is the restoration of the democratic system, its institutions, processes, and values. At that stage (Feb. 22-25, 1986), it was simply a political revolution. But it is an “unfinished revolution,” as Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno described it in her speech at the recent TOWNS Awards ceremonies, and as the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines stressed in reaction to the attempt of Bongbong

Marcos (now a senator and vice presidential candidate) to revise history and unrepentant refusal to apologize for the massive rights violations and plunder of the economy during martial law.

And here are the legacies of Edsa ’86:

• Dismantling of the Marcos dictatorship and restoration of the democratic system, its institutions, structures, and processes.
• Recognition and enforcement of human rights, particularly freedom of expression, freedom of the press and of speech, freedom of assembly, etc.
• Framing of the 1987 Cory Constitution, which embodies the second phase of Edsa I—the social revolution—and which provides the ideology, principles, kind and nature of society and the economy. These are equality, a just, humane and dynamic society, social justice, positive concept of liberty, respect for human dignity, adequate and comprehensive social services in the field of education, health, housing, social services, other welfare measures, inclusive economic growth and development to achieve a society without poverty.

In short, the social revolution anchored on the 1987 Constitution will create a liberal social democratic state, society, and economy.

In the second year of her term, President Cory Aquino, on this writer’s advice, finally announced: “Now that the political revolution has restored democracy, the next phase is the social revolution.” The seven coup attempts by Gregorio Honasan (also now a senator and vice presidential candidate) hijacked the social revolution. Now there is a snowballing call to bring the unfinished revolution to its logical conclusion in the fullness of time.

Emmanuel Tiu Santos ([email protected] yahoo.com) has founded Laban 2G for millennials. He is chair-CEO of the International Academy of Management and Economics in Makati City.

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TAGS: Cory Aquino, democracy, Edsa People Power Revolution, Elections 2016, Ferdinand Marcos, martial law, Ninoy Aquino
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