Thirty years ago, Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) stood frozen not because of the heavy volume of cars that burden the urban dwellers of today, but because of a historical event that reached not only the headlines of local dailies and news programs but the international media as well.
The year was 1986. Over a million disgruntled Filipinos flocked the stretch of EDSA to fight for freedom from a two-decade long dictatorship.
Today, People Power is etched in world history as the peaceful uprising that ousted the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, serving an inspiration to other nations that change can be had with a bloodless revolution. In fact, TIME Asia wrote on its special issue on August 2009 (which had Marcos’ successor, the late President Corazon Aquino on the cover) that within a few years of EDSA People Power, similar movements with similar goals of ousting authoritarian leaders, transpired around the world: Solidarity in Poland, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and the end of dictatorships in South Korea Mongolia and Taiwan.
As EDSA People Power commemorates its 30th anniversary today, images of nuns with intertwined arms and hands clutching rosaries, of non-uniformed Filipinos standing unfazed in front of heavy tanks, and the color yellow, will surely dominate TV shows, newspapers and even social media posts to remind the nation—especially those who were not yet born during the time—of this pivotal moment in the country’s history.
As far as documentaries go, one notable look back at the story of EDSA is Discovery Channel’s People Power: 30 Years On. It features first-hand accounts of People Power’s key players and how they view this iconic event three decades later.
Originally titled Laban, People Power: 30 Years On was produced and first screened in 2006 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of People Power.
Some 16 personalities were interviewed exclusively for the documentary, including the late President Corazon Aquino, Former First Lady Imelda Marcos, former President Fidel V. Ramos, Senator Gregorio Honasa, Bishop Soc Villegas, the late former senator Butz Aquno, the late Fr. James Reuter, General Vic Batac and Colonel Red Kapunan, and journalist Cheche Lazaro, among others.
They each gave their accounts on how they witnessed the turn of events that led to People Power—from the regime of former President Ferdinand Marcos, the dark years of Martial Law, to the rise of charismatic statesman Ninoy Aquino and his political clashes with Marcos; the detention of Aquino, his asylum in the United States and return to the Philippines, where his assassination ultimately led to the snap elections between his widow and Marcos, and the famed bloodless revolution.
“There was a program that they made 10 years ago on which this program was based, and we basically tried to reinvigorate the material,” Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific Southeast Asia General Manager Louis Boswell told members of the press during the special advance screening of the documentary in Quezon City. “There’s a new musical score, a host that’s been searched to handle the program, and some new interviews that we shot for the production.”
He added, “The idea [in showing it]is to re-engage with the younger audience who today perhaps have only broad conceptions of what happened but don’t really know the details.”
Impressively, the original material from which the new documentary picked up was made by a student named Sally Jo Bellosillo. Laban was her thesis as she completed her Masters in TransAtlantic Studies at the University of Birmingham. Bello-sillo had her eureka moment after producing an audiovisual presentation of the 20th anniversary of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution in the Philippines.
A professor and several filmmakers helped her put together the project, as well as decide on what kind of treatment to give the documentary.
“It took me six months of preparation and pre-production to contact all the interviewees and do my research, after which we shot the film over a two-week period,” she told The Manila Times. Bellosillo and her team finally completed the film after two years, when she was 26 years old.
A decade later, Bellosillo admits she still lacked in her understanding of EDSA’s events back then, especially since she was only five years old when People Power happened. Nevertheless, she told The Manila Times that her deep love for history drove her to tell the story of this important time in the Philippines
“Making Laban meant documenting my country’s history. I did this film so that we not only have a record of events for our children’s children to see but for all of us to learn from it, to engage in fruitful debate and discussion, and put democracy to life. It is important to get all sides of the story and to listen. While we may not always agree with everyone around us, it is important to practice tolerance and understanding because it is then that we truly grow,” she further elaborated.
The same film, by association, came to the consciousness of executive producer Emile Guertin of Discovery Channel.
“We have a relationship with Sally’s [Bellosillo] production company, and when it came to the anniversary of EDSA, we were very keen to look for some kind of title for the production that we can actually put on our channel to commemorate 30 years. We decided that Sally’s show would be great to showcase because at that time, and I think ever since then, not as many of the key players have appeared on film as they do here,” Guertin in turn related to The Manila Times in a separate interview.
To update the material and cater to Discovery Channel’s audience beyond the Philippines, Guertin and his team—with close collaboration with Bellosillo—edited the original Laban.
“It was little bit out of date by 10 years and we felt that the tone in the film was quite slow. That’s when we had the idea to bring on board Trey Farley to play the host and link to the camera. We also changed the musical score, and we simplified some of the scripting to actually condense a little bit just to make the whole documentary more accessible,” Guertin continued.
“We have to bear in mind that we are primarily broadcasting to a local audience but the same film has to be relevant in Southeast Asia,” he furthered.
As such, what used to be a 55-minute production was condensed to a 46-minute presentation.
“We kept it quite simple and moved the reflective part off. And then in its place, we had access to Pinky and Ballsy Aquino [Ninoy and Cory’s daughters] and really asked to have an up to date summary from their perspective on how they felt now that it’s 30 years on, because it was their father that they lost, after all.”
When asked why the audience should watch the documentary whose story has been read, heard, and seen many times before, Guertin said, “There might be a mix of people that may think, ‘We’ve heard this story again and again.’ But I think you have to really listen [anew]because there are little bits of information that came out that haven’t really been discussed in the mainstream, not on television anyway.”
To end the interviews, The Manila Times asked both Guertin and Bellosillos the main takeaway they would want for their would-be audience as EDSA People Power: 30 Years On premieres tonight on Discovery Channel.
“The key takeaway locally, obviously, is to understand what it took to achieve the revolution, not as a political story but actually as mothers, fathers, and family members because the Philippines is a very family-orientated culture. I’m hoping that sometime, some of the accounts remind us that these were people’s relatives that were going out, fighting for their freedom,” Guertin answered.
Bellosillo, on the other hand, kept it simple, “I want the world to learn from the past and to use the lessons to build a better future.”
EDSA People Power: 30 Years On airs at 9 p.m. tonight on the cable channel.