The nation today commemorates the EDSA People Power Revolution of February 22-25, 1986. It was a sustained assertion of civil resistance, a non-violent revolution that led to the departure of then President Ferdinand Marcos and the end of his authoritarian regime which had begun with his declaration of martial law in 1972.
During those five days in February, over two million people came to Epifanio de los Santos Ave. (EDSA), particularly in the area between Camps Crame and Aguinaldo, but with the masses of people extending all the way north to Cubao and south to Ortigas.
Three years earlier, in 1983, opposition leader Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., had been shot dead, even before his foot could touch the airport tarmac, by the military men escorting him from his plane. He had been arrested on the first day of martial law in 1972, tried and convicted by a military court, imprisoned for seven years, but allowed to leave for the US for heart treatment. He decided to return to Manila in 1983.
His death stirred the nation like no other event during the many years of authoritarian government and repression. But it was only years later, in 1986, that the people, encouraged by the voice of Jaime Cardinal Sin on radio, gathered to mass at EDSA where two former Marcos leaders – Gen. Fidel V. Ramos and Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile – had declared their withdrawal of support for the president.
Tanks were sent by President Marcos but the troops refused to fire on the crowd. News photos of nuns standing in front of the tanks offering flowers to the troops went round the world. As crowds continued to mass day after day, United States President Ronald Reagan urged President Marcos to step down. On February 25 – 32 years ago today – Marcos realized his time was up and agreed to leave the country. It was a non-violent revolution that had an effect on many other nations around the world, which took their own steps towards democratic government.
It had taken many long years before our people made their stand, simple ordinary folk who brought their children with them to EDSA. No violence. No shooting. People simply standing their ground before tanks. And on the other side, there were the troops who also stood their ground, but refusing to fire at the crowd of men, women, and children. It was a very Filipino kind of resistance and response. During those five days in February, the massing crowds and the soldiers were one. This is what distinguishes EDSA from other revolutions in the world.
Even as we celebrate this great event in our history, we must heed the words of former President Ramos – the same General Ramos at EDSA in 1986: “True enough, regime change was achieved nonviolently through the power of the people.
Filipinos, however, should no longer count on ‘People Power’ confrontations to effect structural changes because these can be violent and bloody… Instead we Filipinos must now strengthen our democratic institutions…”
And there should never again be a need for another EDSA. The people rose in 1986 because of an authoritarian government that had been in power for 14 years – on top of Marcos’ two terms of eight years – and appeared intent on staying many years more. There should never again be such a situation where our established democratic processes are set aside.