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EDSA ‘86: Honoring the People Power

Article by: Rad Lem-ew Vince B. Balisong and Alexandra Isabelle G. Delavin

Graphics by: Aliza Belle C. Dayao and Cassius Klai Francisco

36 years have passed since the first EDSA People Power Revolution happened – an event that remains to be a momentous part of the nation's history. This fight against dictatorship had ended the atrocities brought upon by the Martial Law era of late Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. and once again marked the start of freedom and democracy. To preserve the memory of those who fought and sacrificed their lives for freedom, The New Builder tells the story  of the people’s battle against tyranny to reclaim peace and liberty. 

The Road to EDSA Revolution 

The People Power movement holds a significant place in Philippine history. A true hallmark of Filipino force was the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) People Power Revolution of 1986 – a time when people had used peaceful means of fighting against oppression and inequalities during the Marcos regime. The 1986 revolt was held along EDSA where millions gathered over a span of four days to overthrow the then Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. The civil resistance was a massive display of collective effort to invoke freedom and bring back Philippine democracy.

Marcos Sr. was first appointed into the highest executive position in 1965.  For 20 years, Filipinos had suffered under increasing economic and social inequalities. Economists today define the economic strain during Marcos’ regime as ‘debt-driven growth.’ This is due to the unsustainable amount that the administration had borrowed from international banks which led to a tremendous increase in national debt. As a result of this, farmers’ wages had dropped at least 30% from PHP 42.00 in 1962 to only PHP 30.00 per day in 1986.  

After declaration of Martial Law in September 1972, Marcos Sr. revised the Philippine Constitution, curtailed civil liberties, and concentrated power to serve his ill agenda.

However, it was upon the assassination  of the opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. on August 21, 1983 which triggered the Philippine revolution. Three years later, on February 7, 1986,  Marcos had called for a snap election, where he claimed his victory over Corazon “Cory” Aquino – the wife of the late Ninoy Aquino, Jr. – by 1.5 million votes.

Despite winning in the snap elections, the Filipino people had refused Marcos’ triumph. 15 days after, millions of Filipinos had gathered around EDSA to start the peaceful protests.

In defiance, the former president ordered the military to silence the mass action while some soldiers decided to turn their back against him. However, Marcos quickly retaliated by attempting to arrest those who defected but the Church protected and guarded the soldiers against the anticipated attacks. Soon, the military base was surrounded by citizens. 

Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Lieutenant General Fidel V. Ramos were among those retracted from the totalitarian rule. After losing two of his allies, Marcos hurriedly changed the location of his inauguration to Malacañang Palace as he once again sought to swear himself as the country’s president.

Despite Marcos' quick efforts to maintain his power,  an army of tanks formed as barricades along EDSA with heavily armored soldiers to escort the bands of citizens the next day. Through a united front, Filipinos raised the Laban sign, symbolizing Aquino's campaign and her movement.   

On February 24, the Marcos' most powerful ally, then President of the United States of America Ronald Reagan offered the Marcoses’ refuge and then called on Ferdinand Marcos Sr. to cut clean and step down as thousands defy curfew. By February 25, in an attempt to block Cory Aquino’s inauguration as the President of the Philippines, Marcos Sr. held his own inauguration at the Malacañang Ceremonial Hall with live coverage but was shut down simultaneously across all channels. Later that day, Marcos Sr. prepared to leave the country, following the rest of his family – who had already left earlier that day – for the United States. And at 9:52 PM on February 25, 1986, radio station DZRH announced that the Marcoses had fled the country. 

Cory Aquino’s declaration as the nation’s president served as the mark of a peaceful transition from the dictatorship that cost thousands of lives to a democracy that lit the beacon of hope for the nation

Power Brought Back to the People

14 years of dictatorship and oppressive rule had put the screws on the Filipinos to live in fear. However, the same fear engraved in their hearts soon became a rage and hunger to fight for the innocent who had suffered under the late president’s term. 

Until now, the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution is more than just remembering its roots and upholding the figures that spearheaded this historical movement. The 1986 People Power Revolution was a revolution won by the common folk, several political and military groups, and the Church.

The civil resistance showcased the value of accomplishing national concerns through non-violent means. It restored the freedom of the press, abolished the totalitarian system of the Marcos’ rule, and introduced the 1987 Constitution which divided the government power equally into three branches – executive, legislative, and judiciary – under democracy. The movement also reached out to other countries’ democratization such as South Korea and Taiwan, who cited the 1986 Revolution as their context for political reform without resorting to violent gestures. 

As the 2022 national and local elections near, historical revisionism continues to be rampant as a way of sanitizing the Marcos regime. However, one must never forget. People Power was the nation’s fight to take its identity back from a dictator. The culmination of public protests, the sacrifices of the innocent, and the memories of those who fought must not be forgotten nor should history ever be altered. More than a mere battle between two political factions, the legacy of the People Power Revolution has always been hard-fought freedom that must never be buried under false dichotomy.

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