By Marivir R. Montebon
In 1986, the people power EDSA* uprising in the Philippines was a perfect synchronization of political decisiveness that toppled a dictator without bloodshed. It capped the long, bloody sacrifices of men and women, young and old to oppose the tyranny of Pres. Marcos. It was the peak of the various struggles for justice that ended with a political seizure of power by civilians and backed up by a military coup.
When my daughter Nikki, a wonderfully curious being, asked about what happened in EDSA, I proudly described to her that it was that one single moment when millions in Manila seized political power and promptly acted in unison to unseat Marcos who just declared himself winner in a snap elections.
It was a scary moment that ended up gloriously. Amazingly, there was no bloodshed.
I was 18 at that time, a campus journalist, feisty and had this youthful thought that I knew how the world should heal itself. At the University of San Carlos in Cebu, many students were constantly engaged in political rallies as part of the entire anti-dictatorship campaign in the country.
In that one moment, I remember when news broke that the encoders of election results at the Commission on Elections stood and walked out of the office where they were ordered to encode bogus presidential election results. That was the spark of the uprising.
At the same time, hundreds of thousands of rallyists in EDSA faced tanks and high-powered guns which were positioned to shoot them. More and more were coming out courageously.
In the south, we were mostly all tuned in to the quick and thorough coverage of the late June Keithley and Angelo Castro of Radio Veritas, to be updated with the events in public.
The archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin, called on to everyone through Radio Veritas, to join the call for Marcos to step down, following the walk-out of the Comelec encoders who were instructed to rig election results. The rallyists reached more than two million in EDSA. The Radio Veritas transmitter was eventually cut by government but Keithley and Castro continued coverage in a clandestine manner.
It was a moment for goosebumps as nuns and students aggressively approached soldiers who were in full battle gear and gave them roses and rosary beads. It was an odd moment for them to openly fire at the rallyists. They were not able to. There was a standoff.
Meanwhile, the military, led by Senator, then defense secretary, Juan Ponce Enrile and President Fidel Ramos, then chief of the Philippine Constabulary, staged a coup against Marcos, sensing that civilian unrest had gone too big to handle. In that open defiance, Marcos was defeated. He was advised to leave the country and seek asylum in Hawaii. A clear moment of victory for Filipinos.
I still felt like crying in that triumphant phase of our political life when I told that story to Nikki not so long ago. These were the events unfolding from February 22-25 of 1986.
Political analyst Amando Doronila immediately shed light into the phenomenon of people’s power in EDSA. We, student leaders, referenced to his earlier writings in our discussion of events at the round tables of USC. Doronila wrote that it was not a revolution for it did not change economic and political structures where power emanates, and I remember quoting him in our discussions. It was at best a bloodless uprising of civilians that broke the might of a dictator.
It was for the world to see that a strongman can bend before a unified political action without having to use guns. After EDSA, we saw similar experiences, like the breaking down of the Berlin wall.
But in the course of time, the first EDSA uprising became a learning experience for traditional centers of power. Subsequently, it has become a tumultuous cosmetic change of one political dynasty to the next. In my work as journalist, I have covered events and wrote opinions on EDSA II, III, to the point of its desecration. Nothing meaningful, just a change of one traditional politician to another. EDSA uprisings have become boring and baloney.
Political struggles in the Philippines have become diluted and lacking in independent perspective as groups who profess social justice and independence dance with the powers that be. It is deceptive and strange why many groups would root for conditions and accommodations given to them by traditional politicians. So far, no one can claim moral ascendancy in leadership these days.
Sadly, EDSA has just been reduced to rhetoric.
*Epifanio delos Santos Avenue