Today, as the Duterte government has decided to “tone down” the celebration of what was once a glorious part of contemporary Philippine history, I am reprinting an essay which I wrote in 2009, 23 years after the events of February 1986 when we toppled the Marcos regime and tried to usher in a new democratic paradigm. Before the forces that now want to make the EDSA Revolution irrelevant could succeed, I am recounting those four days of February, hoping to in some way rekindle the fires of passion now deeply buried in the recesses of the collective memories of our people; preventing perhaps the muting of its significance and relegating these legitimate struggles against a dictatorship as mere historical footnote.
Today therefore, 31 years after, I am again putting on paper my thoughts, a little bit more appreciative and perhaps a little bit more dispassionate on the events that transpired – given the distance of years and the dissipation of emotions and passion that propelled us then to bring about this “revolution”. This will appear in Part 2 of this series. Meantime…
Davao City, January 2009
I WAS not at EDSA. There was no EDSA in Davao City. But I was part of the decades-long political struggle that eventually brought about the upheaval during those heady four days in February 1986, now known worldwide as the EDSA People Power Revolution.
This is not a tome or even an attempt at a thesis examining the actual events leading towards the culmination of decades of a seething political cauldron. This is a simple recounting from personal memory to answer an age-old conundrum “…where were you when it happened?” Perhaps this is also a way of situating one’s role in the great episodes of the times. We hanker to be part of the momentous movements of history and even begin to presume that we may indeed have been a major participant thereof—when in fact, we simply may have taken on a minor role—bit players in an unfolding drama on the world stage. But it is this trifling part, when multiplied by the thousands that makes the involvement of each of us anywhere within the stream of events singularly significant. In this way, our collective action becomes history-making. We need not have been (present physically) at EDSA—we were the spirit of EDSA.
A lapse of 23 years is a long time to overcome to rummage through one’s memories of those days. The haze and the cobwebs are layered through the years, locking some details perhaps never to resurface.
It was around the second week of February 1986 when I was called for a meeting at the Cojuangco building in Makati initiated by Peping Cojuangco to help plan out the sorties of Cory to the provinces. I was then working and living in Makati since 1983, after Ninoy’s assassination, and was an active functionary of the PDP-Laban. The sorties were designed to get Cory to major cities in the country to protest the massive cheating by Marcos at the February 7 snap presidential election.
In Davao, together with the late Zaf Respicio and Dodo Cagas (PDP-Laban members of the Batasang Pambansa), we helped coordinate Cory’s planned visit to the city on Sunday, February 23. She was to fly in from Cebu.
The late Chito Ayala, the leader of the Yellow Friday Movement in Davao, together with Paul Dominguez and the late Rey Teves, were the point men in this southern city. They handled all the details for the sortie, from the construction of the stage to providing local security for Cory and the multitudes we expected to attend. She was to stay at Chito’s house in Matina.
On Friday, February 20, the late Monching Mitra, Cory’s advance man, flew in to check the preparations. After a press interview in one of our radio stations, I drove him to the airport to catch a plane to Cebu where Cory was scheduled to attend a massive rally at Fuente Osmeña.
It was on February 22, Saturday, while we were all meeting at Chito’s house to finalize details of her visit, when word began to filter through about “some movement” going on in Manila. There was a vague rumor of a possible coup circulating among the members of the Manila press who were now in Davao to await Cory’s arrival. There was nothing yet on TV and radio hinting of a gathering cloud of a political tempest.
By early evening, Chito and Teddyboy Locsin, who accompanied the members of the Manila press, huddled with us to dissect the implications of the bizarre theater suddenly presented to a global audience, the first act of which was the press conference of Enrile and Ramos on their “breakaway” from Marcos.
Our gut feeling then was that we were in a maelstrom of a life-altering political convulsion, yet we were in a quandary as to what we local people could do. Our immediate concern was how to protect Cory (whom we thought was still flying in to Davao from Cebu) from the Marcos minions.
Somehow, an idea began to float about providing not only sanctuary to Cory in Davao but organizing an armed resistance against the Marcos regime. Mindanao was so vast an area that it was possible to create a revolutionary government headed by Cory. We looked upon Chito Ayala to bring this to the attention of Cory in Cebu, but by this time she was incommunicado.
The last detail of informal talks at Chito’s house before we broke off was where to get a private plane for Teddyboy and the media to fly to Cebu or Manila.
February 23. The streets of Davao were almost deserted as the residents were glued to their radios tuned in to either Radio Bombo or Radio Veritas. It was an emotional roller- coaster ride for us from hope to despair and back again, depending on how we perceived the rebels, under Ramos, were faring vis-a-vis Ver’s loyalists.
We, the opposition to the Marcos regime and identified with Cory, were by now used to marching in the streets and veterans at tweaking our noses at the dictator. But this development in the capital caught us unprepared for anything. We didn’t know what to do but wait for an outcome—any outcome. The waiting was excruciating.
Every bit of information, good or bad, helpful or not, filtering to us in Davao outside of what we heard on the radio, was instantly passed on to like-minded Davao residents. Oh, how we yearned to be in the center of things joining hands with the populace now gathering at EDSA.
The evening of this day was almost unbearable to us. The fear that our side was losing drained us of emotion. Our anguish was heightened by our inability to simply be there at EDSA.
February 24. The late June Keithley’s Radio Bandido appearing after midnight was as electrifying as any to lift up our spirits. We devoured every bit of news. The defection of Sotelo’s helicopters to Camp Crame later that morning stunned us to tears. A change in fortune was on our side.
But the declaration of Marcos later that morning that he would fight to the finish blunted our rising euphoria. The rest of the day was a cacophony of bits and pieces of news, hearsay and “intelligence reports”.
In our growing despair, we prayed. My wife Sylvia and I fell on our knees, beside our children Lara and Carlo, who were asleep.
February 25. God must have heard our prayers and surely the pleadings of the hosts of Filipinos at EDSA and throughout the country and the world. In the capital city, priest, nuns, and seminarians had been storming the ramparts of heaven.
That evening, Rey Teves, Cesar Ledesma, the late Cesar Decena, and Cris Lanorias congregated at my house for dinner. Two Presidents had been inaugurated that day: Cory at the Club Filipino and Marcos in Malacañang.
When reports came out that Marcos had left the Palace, Davao residents ran out of their houses and flooded the streets. We were honking our cars in impromptu caravans all around the metropolis and met up at the San Pedro Park in front of the City Hall.
A new day had begun.
(Part 2 of this article will appear next Thursday, March 2.)
The author served under four Philippine Presidents in various capacities as a member of the Cabinet and several commissions. A Harvard educated political technocrat, he was one of the prime movers of the Citizens Movement for Federal Philippines(CMFP); one of the founders of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines (CDP); Ang Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya; and the Centrist Democracy Political Institute (CDPI)