Dancing to the Tune of the Revolution: 5 songs of EDSA

[This essay was originally published on this website to commemorate the 27th anniversary of EDSA, February 25, 2013]

Martial Law regime began with eerie silence, in the wake of media outlets that were closed down and long distance telephone lines that were shut down in the middle of the night. Government-sanctioned media stations filled the ensuing void with an audio-visual façade of cartoons and muzak. Musically-speaking, the New Society would be more like the Japanese Occupation, with a pop twist. Combined with the bombast of the Bagong Lipunan March, martial law was accompanied by patriotic tunes imbued with the ideology of the New Society—”Ako ay Pilipino” with its reference to “Dugong Maharlika,” being an example.

For its part, the opposition appropriated popular American music such as “Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree” and “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window,” used to pillory the cronies of the ruling regime. The opposition would respond with the thundering beat of ati-atihan drums at Ayala Ave. and in the massed ranks willing to be teargassed in the ‘parliament of the streets’, and would finally find its anthem in “Bayan Ko,” whose purity was a stark contrast to Handel’s “Messiah” (“And He shall reign for ever and ever…”) at President Ferdinand E. Marcos’ 1981 inaugural, or his efforts to put forward a ‘We Are The World’-style rendition of the National Anthem which scandalized the nation.

When, in February 1986, Filipinos trooped to the polls to throw out Marcos, only for the The Batasan Pambansa to proclaim Marcos the winner of the snap elections, a Civil Disobedience campaign was launched to show support for his opponent, Corazon C. Aquino.

Then, EDSA happened. This was a revolution, but this was also a revolution accompanied with a folk song, a jingle, a hymn, and jubilation would be expressed through a dance.

“I have never seen a revolution like this. People are dancing and singing. You see this in the movies, in fiction. This is real.”—Freddie Aguilar quotes a foreign correspondent’s observation on the People Power Revolution

Forever intertwined with Philippine history, these five songs were played and replayed during the four days of struggle in February 1986—over the radio, out in the streets. The peaceful revolution found outlet in these tunes: at once, a tender tribute to the beloved country, yet also a resolute call to action. In the strums of a guitar, or in a haunting melody, this was the music that stirred people to rise—evoking the injustices of the past, while remaining hopeful for the future. These were the songs which perfectly encapsulated the swell of emotions of the time, and soon came to embody the People Power Revolution.



Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree

“Tie a yellow ribbon ‘round the old oak tree.

It’s been three long years

Do you still want me?”

Upon the suggestion of former Senator Eva Estrada-Kalaw, Tony Orlando’s popular song was originally intended to have been the homecoming song for senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino. Apt, for Ninoy had spent the past three years in self-imposed exile in the United States of America—however, he was assassinated upon his arrival at Manila International Airport, before the opening bars of the song had even begun to play.

“A simple yellow ribbon’s what I need to set me free.”

It was soon adopted by the opposition, and the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution bore witness to the power of yellow, which adorned the streets in the form of ribbons, pins, armbands, confetti, and other paraphernalia.


After Radio Veritas was taken off the air, June Keithley used these songs in her broadcasts on Radyo Bandido, to help listeners identify her with Radio Veritas:

Bayan Ko

“Aking adhika, makita kang sakdal laya.”

Perhaps no other song has expressed the struggles of the nation so succinctly as this kundiman, written by Jose Corazon de Jesus and set to music by Constancio de Guzman in the 1920s. What came to be known as the definitive version of Bayan Ko was recorded by Filipino artist Freddie Aguilar in 1979, seven years before the revolution. In his own words:

“When I was singing that song, without accompaniment, beside the coffin of Ninoy Aquino, I broke out in goose pimples. I was thinking: ‘I am full of conceit. All I do is talk. This man gave his life.’ From then on, I became part of the protest scene—all the way until the revolution, still singing Bayan Ko.”

After Corazon C. Aquino took her oath of office as President of the Philippines, the crowd erupted in cheers before eventually bursting into song—the Lord’s Prayer and then the unofficial anthem of protest: Bayan Ko.

“This things isn’t over yet, this revolution. And people will keep on singing Bayan Ko in EDSA.”—Rofel G. Brion

After the Marcoses evacuated Malacañang, civilians stormed the Palace. One civilian recalls that, in the piano in dining hall of the Palace, someone immediately began to play Bayan Ko.

Mambo Magsaysay

This campaign jingle, written and composed by Raul Maglapus and credited with sweeping Ramon Magsaysay to the Presidency in the 50s, resurfaced in the 80s, after Keithley played the jazzy tune during her broadcasts to boost morale. The lyrics were a subtle jab at the rampant corruption and flagrant human rights violations of the Marcos regime.

“Everywhere that you would look

Was a bandit or a crook

Peace and order was a joke

Til Magsaysay pumasok.

That is why, that is why

You will hear the people cry

Our democracy will die

Kung wala si Magsaysay.”

Magsaysay had run on a campaign to stamp out corruption and strengthen the country’s democratic institutions, in a stark contrast to a fellow Ilocano who had done the opposite.

(Listen to the track on Soundcloud)

Onward Christian Soldiers

The 19th century hymn was also adopted by the members of the 1986 People Power Revolution. Intermittently played over Radio Veritas, and later Radyo Bandido, the solemn hymn served to encourage the soldiers by reminding them of the unity of the opposition.

Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo

With the heartfelt lyrics of Jim Paredes of the APO Hiking Society, written just after the revolution, Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo became the collaborative effort of a group of Filipino recording artists released in April 1986.

“Handog ng Pilipino sa mundo,
Mapayapang paraang pagbabago.
Katotohanan, kalayaan, katarungan
Ay kayang makamit na walang dahas.
Basta’t magkaisa tayong lahat.”

The song evokes the sentiment of the peaceful, non-violent revolution, and, as a fitting tribute, the lyrics are inscribed on a wall of the EDSA Shrine at the intersection of EDSA and Ortigas Avenue.

(Watch the video on Youtube)