Take a quick dive into history and you’ll quickly find countless governments that have been removed from power. Take a closer look and examine which ones were removed by completely peaceful mass movements in pursuit of replacing an oppressive dictatorship with a more democratic structure.
Off the top of my head, I can rattle off numerous examples of violent insurrection—China’s 1911 revolution, Castro’s 1953 armed revolt and Pinochet’s 1973 coup d’etat, to name a few—but when I try to recall a demonstration that was successful with the complete absence of violence, I’m stumped to bring up anything that occurred before the 1986 Edsa Revolution.
From field trips to Ayala Museum, kid-friendly documentaries and history lessons in Filipino class, my primary school self gained a surface-level understanding of the revolution that removed the Marcos regime from power.
I only gained a stronger grasp of the four-day revolution in eighth grade when our History teacher tasked us with forming an exhibit under the theme “Taking a Stand.”
Instantly, I knew that the Edsa Revolution would be the perfect topic. Not only was it an example of decades of unrest culminating in a peaceful movement aimed at uprooting a dictatorial government, but it was also an opportunity for me to learn about a momentous piece of Filipino heritage.
To examine the Edsa Revolution, it is imperative to understand the oppressive regime preceding it. Though Ferdinand Marcos was inaugurated for his first term in 1965, he is most notably remembered for the era of martial law which began in 1972. Proclamation No. 1081 allowed him to rule by decree, allowing him to defy the two-term presidential rule, dissolve press freedom and baselessly arrest political opposition.
The stories my group and I discovered from the 14 years of Marcos’ dictatorship were horrifying.
The regime murdered political opposition, government critics and student activists, often under accusations of subversion and rebellion. A striking example among countless mass murders was the 1974 Battle of Jolo, which led to 1,000 civilians—though this number has been suspected to be 20,000—left dead after rampant fires in the town of Jolo, Sulu.
Tensions built throughout the 1980s. The circulation of rumors regarding government corruption, electoral fraud, Marcos nepotism and political violence increased. In 1983, Ninoy Aquino returned from exile in America with the hopes of restoring democracy, but was fatally shot on the tarmac of the airport.
In 1986, Cardinal Vidal demanded civilians reject the fraudulent result of the snap elections, while the Reform the Armed Forces Movement nearly led a coup, and Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel Ramos resigned. Soon after, Radio Veritas aired a message by Cardinal Sin, calling for Filipinos to rebel against the election turnout by marching in Edsa.
From Feb. 22 to Feb. 25, 1986, millions of Filipinos gathered on Edsa to protest the Marcos regime, and as Marcos ordered his armed forces not to shoot, members of his party defected, he and his family fled to exile in Hawaii, and Cory Aquino was inaugurated as president of the Philippines.
As I reminisce about our exhibit, I remember valiant and heartwarming images from the revolution, whether it be pictures of civilians linking arms to block military personnel, nuns praying the rosary as a soldier’s rifle looms in the foreground, and men triumphantly standing on tanks with their fists in the air.
Sea of yellow
Revolutionary symbols are vivid too: an endless sea of yellow fabric and arms raised with the laban sign, flowers in gun barrels and the overwhelming symphony of thousands of voices singing “Bayan Ko,” the adopted anthem of the Marcos opposition.
Even after Marcos had fled from Malacañang Palace, Filipinos still filled the streets to celebrate his departure and Cory’s inauguration. When researching for my project, it was easier to find pictures of people smiling than pictures of them not. Thousands of Filipino faces grinned in elation as they watched their home country liberated and tyrannical chains lifted, and alongside it their potent miseries.
The People Power Revolution is one that is undoubtedly remembered as both successful and completely peaceful. It set a global precedent for how oppressive governments can be dismantled when a force for good gathers the masses.
Our exhibit remains on display in our History classroom until today—and will hopefully remain there after we graduate from high school within the next few months. Poised on the wall’s highest shelf, and in glaringly bright yellow letters, is the Styrofoam cutout of the title “Edsa Revolution.” Eyes naturally gravitate toward this display, and somehow I see this as a representation of how the revolution should be remembered: a bold symbol of courage, justice and unity, an event in Filipino history that remains a high point, even after those who were there to witness and create it have gone. —CONTRIBUTED
The author is the editor in chief of British School Manila’s Winston magazine.