Thursday, August 16, 2007

EDSA 1986 as a Critical Historical Juncture

In the history of the world, there will always be a critical juncture in which the people in a sovereign nation will rise up against the immense socio-economic and political contradictions that have besieged their very existence as a people. Events like these are replete not only in the developed world, as in the case of the French, Russian and American Revolutions, but also in former colonies of the great superpowers. The Malaysians, under the leadership of Sukarno, emerged victorious in their British struggle for independence, and so have been the Vietnamese, in their struggle against the French until their victory against the Americans in the 1970s, among other heroic stories of relentless struggles of a people in revolt. However, there is no more historic event that is no more important and transformative event in the Pacific region in the twentieth century than the 1986 EDSA[1] People Power Revolution in the Philippines. This revolution has also been called the “bloodless revolution”, as it forced, through sheer mass mobilization, the ouster of a feared Philippine dictator without the firing of a single shot. As such, the historic event presented a new mode of the people’s peaceful assertion of sovereignty other than elections, to the extent that many political analysts even surmised that the 1986 Philippine Revolution inspired many other democratic movements around the world, including the ill-fated Chinese student movement that climaxed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. This paper will examine the important events that transpired and why the peaceful revolution in the Philippines can be considered the most important event in the Pacific region in the twentieth century.

On the 21st of September, 1972, the late dictator President Ferdinand E. Marcos placed the entire Philippines under the state of martial law, on the excuse of a state of lawlessness and the leaps and bounds of a resurgent communist insurgency.[2] The privilege of the writ of the habeas corpus was suspended and expectedly, warrantless arrests ensued.[3] However, most of those arrested were neither the criminals nor the rebels that President wanted to eliminate and neutralize, but high-profile leaders of the mainstream political opposition led by Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., the populist Philippine senator who was assassinated by suspected Marcos security elements a few years prior to the EDSA Revolution.[4] More so, thousands of political activists of the militant national democratic movement were sent to military stockades, tortured in military safe houses, forcibly disappeared or summarily executed in almost fourteen years of military dictatorship.[5] Nonetheless, it is this kind of state of repression is the backdrop of the events that led to the 1986 Revolution. On the other hand, the Philippine economy was on the brink of collapse, as the dictator generously secured onerous debts from multilateral lending institutions which did not translate into development projects but instead diverted to the infamous Marcos family Swiss accounts.[6] In an email interview, Prof. Bobby Tuazon, a political science professor-political activist at the University of the Philippines, said that the EDSA revolution actually started when Sen. Benigno Aquino was assassinated at the Manila International Airport on the 21 August, 1983, as it was an event that united and awakened a once pliant and intimidated Filipino people.[7] The assasination even led former Marcos cabinet minister, Francisco Tatad, Jr.[8] to conclude that –

Aquino’s assassination lit a fire of protest which the country had not seen before. In the months ahead, its flames raged in the city and countryside. Ugarte Field in Makati, the financial district, took its place beside Liwasang Bonifacio (Bonifacio Plaza) in downtown Manila as a center of protest. Here, the upper and the middle class marched with the poor, the professionals with the workers and the unemployed.

Nonetheless, as the Filipinos were already enraged at the senseless assassination of a high-ranking leader of the anti-Marcos movement, the militant ferment to change the Marcos regime started anew in the years 1983-1985. Street protests were once again swelling to levels unseen during the entirety of martial rule, to the extent that it forced President Marcos to commit a serious political blunder – the calling of a snap presidential elections in which he fought against the widow of Sen. Aquino, former Philippine President Corazon Aquino. Expectedly, the snap elections was marred with massive cheating that election officials walked out of tabulation centers in disgust and both presidential candidates conducted their own inauguration addresses. On the other hand, a military coup was already brewing at the general headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines where two high-ranking security officials were seeking the ouster of the dictator and the support of the Filipino people.[9] Sensing the threat to the lives of the high-ranking military officials, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin, sent out word to his flock to gather at EDSA to protect the military officials and their men who were standing up to President Marcos and his loyal generals. The Filipino people then proceeded to EDSA in the millions and stood in front of military tanks, armored vehicles and loaded rifles, and transformed themselves into an impenetrable shield of humanity that threatened the imminent fall of the dictator.[10] On the other hand, military generals loyal to the President were asking for Marcos’ approval to fire on the demonstrators and finally break the stalemate of one of the Pacific’s most gripping political crises. However, the President declined to strike, and the Filipino people on EDSA staked out for almost five days until President Marcos finally left for Hawaii on the 25th of February, 1986.

In all of these, it can be safely said that the EDSA revolution is the most transformative event that occurred in the Pacific region in the twentieth century because it convincingly proved that despite decades of oppression, exploitation and fascist rule, a peaceful path towards democracy, peace and social justice is still possible. The Philippine experience showed that political power does not ultimately emerge from the barrel of the gun but from the sovereign will of the people. It teaches a lesson on liberal democracy which has been emulated in many parts of the world up to now, including the peaceful Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the bloodless yet militant people power in Venezuela – that the fate of democracy cannot only be determined through the ballot but also in very direct means of assertions of sovereignty such as cross-sectoral mass mobilizations that can make or unmake the existence of any despotic regime in the reins of powers.


  1. Baron, Cynthia S. and Suazo, Melba M. 1986. Nine Letters: The Story of the 1986 Filipino Revolution. Quezon City, Philippines. Gerardo P. Baron Books.
  2. Pimentel, Benjamin. 1989. The Unusual Journey of Edgar Jopson.
  3. Republic of the Philippines. September 21, 1972. Presidential Proclamation 1081: An Act Placing the Entire Philippines Under Martial Law..
  4. Schock, Kurt. 2005. Unarmed Insurrections: People Power Movements in Nondemocracies. Minneapolis, USA. University of Minnesota Press.
  5. Simbulan, Nymia. April 17, 2007.Email interview to author.
  6. Tatad, Francisco. 2006. The Beginning of a Revolution.
  7. Tuazon, Bobby. April 18, 2007.Email interview to author.
  8. Villegas, Edberto. April 18, 2007.Email interview to author.

[1] Epifanio delos Santos Avenue

[2] Republic of the Philippines. Presidential Proclamation 1081. September 21, 1972.

[3] Benjamin Pimentel. The Unusual Journey of Edgar Jopson. 1989.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Prof. Nymia Simbulan. Email interview to author. April 17, 2007.

[6] Dr. Edberto Villegas, PhD. Email interview to author. April 18, 2007.

[7] Prof. Bobby Tuazon, Email interview to author. April 18, 2007.

[8] Francisco Tatad. The Beginning of a Revolution.

[9] Pimentel. op cit.

[10] Villegas, op. cit.

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