WE have romanticized the Philippine Revolution of 1986, also known as EDSA People Power Revolution so much that perhaps we got from it the wrong lesson.
First, we always say that it was a peaceful revolution. I have stopped teaching this.
True, the four-day protest of two million people at EDSA and thousands more in different cities around the country on February 22 to 25, 986 was generally peaceful, but when we emphasized all these years that it was peaceful, that made us think that regaining freedom is as easy as dancing in the streets. Today, people think so easily of surrendering our freedoms and human rights for discipline. Well, in fact, following the law and respecting the rights of others manifest true love of country and fellowman.
As a historian, I was trained to see turning points in our history not just as singular isolated events but as a historical process.
That said, EDSA was far from peaceful. The anti-dictatorship struggle to restore democracy required so much hardships and sacrifices. Fourteen years of blood. We should remember that even at the height of Martial Law, militant sectors of society risked their lives and tested the limits to resist the dictator, underground and above ground. Thousands were imprisoned, many were killed. Those who survived torture were thought to have pointed to someone and were used as tracers. That was why their friends and comrades turned away from them. This kind of situation prompted even the most moderate activists to go to the mountains and join the armed struggle. It was bloody.
Second, we always say that it was the first successful peaceful revolution in the world. Sen. Rene Saguisag informed me two years ago that Portugal’s Carnation Revolution of April 25, 1974 which ousted the four-decade-long Estado Novo military rule was also a peaceful uprising.
But why was it that our People Power was known in the world? Because in 1974, there was no CNN to cover the Carnation Revolution. Because of cable television and satellite transmissions, the whole world watched Filipinos wage the weirdest revolution ever seen. In the face of real and present danger, after14 years of repressive military rule, people went to EDSA as if on a picnic, smiling and laughing. Gen. Fidel Ramos was jumping. Families came with their children, some of the kids even walked along with the tanks. When tanks rolled, the wheelchair also rolled as persons with disabilities joined what probably is the most inclusive revolution. People were giving food, water and cigarettes to soldiers on both sides that one wonders what kind of a people was this that gave flowers and hugged soldiers who they thought might kill them and told them, “Bakit tayo magpapatayan, pare-pareho tayong mga Pilipino?”
The world saw images of how Filipinos, instead of running away, went in front of the tanks tasked to crush the rebel soldiers. They knelt and prayed, earnestly asking battle-hardened Marines to go away despite orders to disperse the crowd and attack the rebels. Instead of carrying weapons in a revolt, people took out religious images, rosaries and Bibles, kneeling and crying for a cause demonstrating what #squadgoals really mean.
According to professors Felipe Landa Jocano and Felipe de Leon, Jr., the four-day EDSA event was where our supposed ideals were displayed: pananampalataya, pakikipagkapwa, pakikiramay, pagiging masiyahin, bayanihan, pagiging mapayapa and pagiging malikhain. It was our brief shining moment in front of the whole world and it provided a template for the next peaceful successful uprisings the world over. Only that one might ask: If we sustained doing our good qualities beyond the four days, could we have had a better country?
Lastly, in many narratives of EDSA, there were two dominant forces that brought about the end of the Marcos dictatorship: The middle-class Yellows and the nationalist democrat Reds. This prompted the military to claim that without their planned coup (which failed), EDSA wouldn’t have happened. Some in the church would claim that EDSA was none of these but was actually a miracle from God.
There is no disclaiming the big role all these sectors played in the fall of the dictatorship but no one should claim that EDSA was theirs. It is in the unity of all these forces, which also included social democrats, the indigenous and Moro sectors, and the non-organized population, all united despite contending interests and became the jigsaw puzzle that became EDSA. One piece falls and it would have turned into a more bloody conclusion.
And yes, even Ferdinand Marcos was part of the jigsaw. Because, although ruthless, he knew that if he insisted on going after the rebels even if it meant mass murder, he could not escape the judgment of history. To avoid bloodshed, he left the country, ousted by the overwhelming presence of what we called “People Power” because it was precisely that—People’s Power.