In 1986, the Philippines made it beyond its beautiful beaches and pristine islands to draw the attention and praise of the international community; the country left its imprint in the history of world politics when the Filipino people had triumphantly overthrown a two-decade repressive regime by peaceful means and had reclaimed what was rightfully theirs: democracy.
The Philippine Revolution of 1986, popularly known as the “People Power Revolution” and the “EDSA Revolution”, was a four-day nationwide protest from February 22-25, 1986 driven by persistent campaigns on nonviolent civil resistance against the atrocities, corruption, and alleged electoral fraud committed by the administration of then-President and dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Civilians, religious, military and political groups alike heeded the call of key political opposition figures and trooped to the streets. Over two million Filipinos were reported to have participated in the demonstrations, most of which took place along the stretch of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA).
With the news of the massive democratic movement reaching the international community, Marcos failed to prove his legitimate control over the Filipinos and was forced to yield his power and to depart from the country. Corazon “Cory” Aquino, the widow of Marcos’ main political rival Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., assumed the presidency and restored democracy in the Philippines.
Marcos’ Rise to Power
Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr. began his political career in the Philippine Congress by serving in the House of Representatives (1949-1959) and then in the Philippine Senate (1959-1965) for three terms each. Marcos assumed the highest seat in the government after defeating former President Diosdado Macapagal in the presidential election in 1965 and was reelected for a second term (which was allowable under the 1935 Constitution) in 1969. Adamant in the massive development of public infrastructures and the erection of civic buildings, Marcos intensified tax collections to shoulder the cost of these projects. While his administration boasted of having built more structures than all of Marcos’ predecessors combined, the extravagance of several projects—juxtaposed with the widening gap between the rich and the poor—raised accusations of graft and corruption from critics.
Marcos’ second term was met with political and civic unrest stemming from widespread corruption and economic decline. Student activism and communism were on a rampage, often breaking into violent episodes. The extreme example of which was the Plaza Miranda bombing on August 21, 1971 where nine died and 95 were injured. This prompted Marcos to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, which might have been the first step towards his totalitarian rule.
A year later, Marcos declared Martial Law by virtue of Proclamation No. 1081. Under this decree, Marcos was able to exercise the full range of his authority; he curtailed the media and the press by shutting down establishments that were critical of the administration and suppressed the freedom of speech by ordering the arrest of activists and his political opponents. The latter included Senator Ninoy Aquino, who was considered to be his principal rival in the political arena.
The sole obstacle to his supremacy, however, was the constitution in effect during that time. The 1935 Constitution prohibited Marcos to stay in the presidential seat beyond 1973; hence he reconvened the Constitutional Convention to change the form of government from republic to parliamentary. The latter would allow him to extend his hold of power over the Philippines as its prime minister.
Fuels of the Revolution
The Martial Law dragged on for years along with the extension of Marcos’ reign. With free speech still suppressed, dissent against the atrocities of the regime remained silenced. It was the assassination of opposition leader Ninoy Aquino on August 21, 1983 that sparked the long-harbored outrage of the Filipino people. Aquino was shot upon his arrival at the Manila International Airport (now renamed after him) after returning from his exile in the United States. Since then, the Marcos administration had begun to wobble at the loss of public support and trust and continued to weaken under the pressure coming from foreign allies, particularly from the US government.
To reaffirm his legitimacy as a ruler, Marcos suddenly called for a presidential election in 1986 (which was a year earlier than scheduled). Cory Aquino, the widow of Ninoy, ran against Marcos in the presidential race. The snap election, which took place on February 7 of the said year, yielded two differing results from the Commission on Election (COMELEC), the official election canvasser, and the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), an accredited poll watcher; COMELEC declared Marcos as the winner while NAMFREL declared Cory as the victor.
Amidst the widespread reports of violence and tampering of election results to favor Marcos, 35 COMELEC computer technicians walked out in protest. This was eventually followed by the defection of the military from the Marcos administration, which was inspired by the bold move of Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos to resign from their posts and withdraw their support from Marcos.
Under the leadership of Cardinal Jaime Sin, the Archbishop of Manila, and Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, the Archbishop of Cebu, the religious sector used its massive influence on the Filipino community and called on them to partake in the peaceful resistance against the Marcos administration through Radio Veritas, a Roman Catholic AM station operated by the Archdiocese of Manila. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos had already heeded the call of the Catholic Church at the beginning of the revolution. The number then grew to over two million towards the end, including military officers who defected after being moved by the protestors.
Without the military to back him up, Marcos, upon taking the advice of the White House, ceded his power and fled to Hawaii in exile on February 25.
A Filipino Legacy
The world witnessed a rare moment in history when the Filipinos overthrew an oppressive government without the use of violence—something many have tried but failed to do so. Dubbed as “The Bloodless Revolution,” the Philippine Revolution of 1986 inspired nations across the globe to learn from its example when pushing for a regime change.
Presently, Filipinos celebrate the anniversary of the People Power Revolution every 25th of February. In 2018, it will be 32 years since the Filipino people took back from a dictator its rightful hold on democracy.
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By Marie Abigail PACHO, ASEAN Correspondent from Philippines