EDSA, Elsewhere: The 1986 People Power Revolution

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

This year marks the 27th anniversary of the 1986 People Power Revolution. During these momentous four days in February, Filipinos showed exemplary courage and stood united against a dictator. In honor of this milestone in our nation’s history, the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) presents rare, personal footage of the 1986 Revolution through the lens of esteemed Filipino filmmaker, Kidlat Tahimik. With his permission, we feature part of his opus, Why is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow? (1994).

This footage documents and records the musings of father and son as they go through the tumultuous days of February 1986. Each narrator engages in the telling of a story that is deeply personal and also profoundly significant in this nation’s history.

On February 7, 1986, nationwide snap elections were held for the presidency and the newly restored position of vice-president. The contenders were the tandem of Ferdinand E. Marcos and Arturo M. Tolentino of the KBL, versus Cory Aquino, widowed spouse of assassinated senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. and Salvador H. Laurel of UNIDO. In the film, the young Kidlat gets an asthma attack in anticipation of the elections. His father, the elder Kidlat, has promised to take him along when he casts his ballot. They arrive at a small voting precinct in Baguio City and just as he marks his ballot, the father motions for his son to move away from behind him. He casts his vote in and reveals to his son that it is the “secrecy of the ballot that guarantees that the will of the people is granted. Secrecy is what protects voters.”

In the far-flung region of Benguet in the Mountain Province, elections take place as they do in other parts of the nation. Surprised as they are to be afforded this opportunity by a president who has ruled for nearly two decades, people cast their votes risking life and limb. The integrity of the ballot afforded people hope that perhaps the results yielded might deliver them from the grip of a dictator. However, the Comelec numbers show Marcos and Tolentino the winners, a result made official by the KBL-dominated Batasan Pambansa. As government tried to rubberstamp its way to victory, a series of astounding events began to grip the world’s attention: computer operators tabulating Comelec votes walked out; the bishops of the Catholic Church issued a pastoral letter saying a government that cheated was devoid of legitimacy; Cory Aquino called for a civil disobedience campaign and a boycott of crony-owned corporations until the opposition victory was recognized. Within two weeks of the February 7 snap elections, multitudes of demonstrators would fill the vast expanse of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) calling for the peaceful ouster of a dictator.

However accelerated these events of February 1986 may be, revolutions do not take place overnight. The Marcos years, characterized by the Machiavellian exercise of power preservation, fomented political unrest. Allegations of graft and corruption against the administration and her cronies would forge a disparity of wealth and grow the gap between the extremely wealthy and the very poor. Civilians took to rioting and fed the administration’s hunger to be on the defensive and thus able to practice aggression against them. This heightened sense of control meant the suppression of civil liberties and before long, President Ferdinand Marcos found himself addressing the public, justifying the need for power to be vested solely in his hands. The September 23, 1972 declaration of Martial Law planted the seeds of discontent that would make revolution necessary, even vital to the restoration of democracy.

The 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution gathered throngs of people, filling the capital’s main artery. However, the spirit of their movement didn’t remain contained in the streets of Manila. Pockets of dissent manifested nationwide creating a stir in local communities and uniting the nation in the desire to attain freedom.  Cebuanos and Davaoeños gathered in their own plazas, packing streets with slogans and singing the anthems of the revolution. All were guided by the voice of Radio Veritas—the one station whose dedication to truth helped topple the regime. Many looked to this station as the beacon of light. No doubt, People Power was set ablaze elsewhere in the nation because of the Veritas broadcasts.

While opposition groups formed outside the capital, many people also went out of their way to be counted. In the featured film, the De Guia’s drive from Baguio to Manila just as others would leave the comfort of their homes to be counted in this movement. People from all walks of life would converge and even creeds were no hindrance to a people standing united against a dictator.

During the 20th anniversary of the EDSA revolution, the Philippine Daily Inquirer published accounts of those who had participated in the revolution and among them was a touching story of a Muslim who was tasked to organize Company D:

“More than a hundred men and women from Maharlika, the Quiapo mosque and the Tandang Sora Muslim communities responded to our call. We turned down the women and warned the 85 men of Company D that not all of us could return alive.”

Later, the account also describes how people grew watchful of food and made sure that pork was never served to their Muslim brethren. Once, a truckload of food arrived and as people made their way toward it, the driver was quick to say, “for Muslims only.” To the one recalling the story, this was the definitive moment being Filipino was most clear—that somehow away toward belonging had been found.

These stories are few among many more untold ones that we have not heard of because often, EDSA is quickly reduced to being a movement done in the capital or by the big people in history. Clearly, this is not the case.

When news of President Marcos leaving the Palace reached Jaro, Iloilo, it was late at night and yet the lights came on and residents made their way toward the Cathedral of Jaro. Suddenly illuminated and with ringing bells to boot, then 16-year-old high school student, Ruby A. Dumalaog, stood in awe of her town.

“I realized that what was happening at EDSA was also happening in Jaro. Soldiers patrolling the city shook hands with people on the street. People who didn’t know each other were embracing each other and crying. That night, I realized that although the islands in the Philippines are far apart, although we are far away from EDSA, although we were not there to face the tanks, in our hearts we are one, we have one dream and we can be together.”

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