• EDSA, Mendiola and the power of the people

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    I WAS reading the personal accounts of those who participated in the 1986 EDSA people power revolt and most of them mentioned the sheer number of people who mobilized and organized themselves in front of Crame and Aguinaldo. Estimates have put the number of those who massed along the highway at around 1 million which led to the end of the 20-year rule of then President Marcos. Some estimates have even placed the numbers to reach up to 2 million.

    These numbers were not surprising especially if one includes those who also mobilized near the Malacañang Palace and the broad united front against the dictatorship then. It included in its ranks workers and peasants who have long been fighting for their rights, a large segment of the youth, various middle class groups and professionals, business, the military and the Church.

    I tried to make my own estimate from current maps and the crowd photos at the time of EDSA I. The length from Boni Serrano to Santolan where the people power monument is now situated is roughly around 1350 meters. The perpendicular distance from the gates of Aguinaldo and Crame along the highway is around 60 meters. Using this as a rough estimate, we estimate around 81,000 square meters as the area covered between the two camps. Of course, the side streets could have been occupied as well by people in 1986.

    Existing photos give a sense of the crowd density at that time. The photos show us that the crowd density varied from around 3 to 6 people per square meter. This would give us a low estimate of 250,000 people to around half a million along the section of the road measured above.

    Of course, there was also the massing up of people near Mendiola during the latter part of EDSA I. The presence of a large crowd at the gates of Malacañang proves to be a crucial factor in turning the tide in the past two EDSA events in our history. In 2001 (EDSA II), Malacañang was abandoned when a large contingent of the crowd at the EDSA shrine started marching toward Mendiola paving the way for the transition. The same was true in 1986.

    How large a crowd can the streets around Malacañang hold?

    I was part of those who marched through Mandaluyong towards Manila in 2001 from EDSA. I remember being at the middle of the contingent when we stopped along Legarda. When we reached the area of Mendiola, the news that Estrada had given way was already several minutes old.

    The distance from the statue of Chino Roces to the gates of Malacañang is around 570 meters. The width of that road is around 25-30 meters. We can use this to get an average road area of 25,000 square meters per kilometer of road in the vicinity. This road area is a bit of over estimation since some side streets are not as wide but it should give us an idea of the upper limit of the numbers involved in surrounding the Palace as what happened in 1986 and 2001.

    That average road area translates to an upper limit estimate of 100,000 per kilometer of road (at most four persons per square meter, marching). Moving crowd density limits are different for static (or standing) crowd density. The critical moving density is around 2-3 people per square meter. At higher densities, the crowd movement drops until to a point that it does not move at all.

    How many roads lead to Malacanang?

    This question can be answered in both an objective way by counting the actual roads in the map and in the political sense. The easy answer is that within the vicinity of the Palace, there are around 15 to 20 kilometers of road ranging from small streets to major thoroughfares. Using this estimate to get a lower bound for the number of people that the road around the Palace can take, we get the 15 kilometers and multiply this by 100,000.

    Simple arithmetic would give us a number of a million and a half to fill up the streets around Malacañang. Seeing even half that number must have pushed things quickly and forced some decisions for the actors during those days of EDSA I and II.

    The political answer to the roads leading to Malacanang is learnt from history. The confluence of progressive and patriotic forces ranged around a common issue toward a narrow target galvanized a large segment of the people to move and call for a change in leadership. We have seen in EDSA I and EDSA II that it is should not simply be a change in personalities nor just changing one ruling clique for another.

    What we need is a thoroughgoing change in governance such as genuine independence from foreign intervention so that we would not be bullied around such that our police and military become pawns in a foreign-led operation such as Mamasapano. We also need to address the demands of 70 percent of our people who need land to till and technologies to increase their productivity. We should also have the industries to make the things we need and to make the factories that will allow us to make other factories in order to have true economic growth in our country.

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    2 Comments

    1. I just heard Fidel Ramos describe on TV the two separate events of 1986 and 2001 as “military coup”. So please stop tagging these events as “people power”. People Power is indeed an illusion, and those of us who were there to support such political military movements were indeed part of naked power grabs by a military long accustomed to human rights abuse, torture, killings and mayhem.

    2. Mendiola Bridge: The 1st Quarter Storm.
      It was only a protest march in the beginning against police brutality. And I was there, from the start at Welcome Rotonda, QC and Manila boundary, it culminated in front of old Congress where fiery speeches were dramatized, then a march was formed toward Malacanang Palace, up to the inside of Malacanang Palace (Gate 4), we used an abandon fire truck to break the heavy bolt, in fact, Rolando Catabay, an engineering student from MLQ, died in my arms inside a taxi while rushing him to the hospital. He was beside me when he was shot atop Mendiola bridge.
      My own estimate is in hundreds not more than a thousand, we used and converged only into two narrow streets.
      Only a third portion from those gathered in front of the old Congress marched to Malacanang Palace. It’s already 6:00 p.m. and night was approaching. Majority went home. Two groups (MPKP, Malayang Pagkakaisa ng Kabataang Pilipino and SDK, Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan) were already in the vicinity outside of Malacanang Palace when we arrived. They’re not even in a hundreds and scattered, and schools within the vicinity were closing at that time, but they were not at all participants to the actual events being galvanized.
      Thank you.