The People’s Power: EDSA and the enduring lesson from the past

Many stories resurface as the 29th anniversary of the EDSA People Power draws near. Some say that it was Benigno Aquino Jr’s assassination that sparked the beginning of the end Marcos’ rule. History, however, tells quite a different story.

EDSA People Power was a product not of a single stateman’s martyrdom, but of the collective struggle of Filipinos from different walks of life who risked their lives to end the dark years brought about by the dictatorial rule. From the dawn of the martial law years to the victory of the momentuous uprising, it is undeniable that workers, peasants, professionals, church people and even some among the elite – many of whom came from the ranks of youth and students – were at the forefront of protests and demonstrations that confronted the Marcos dictatorship.

1960’s

After a long hiatus in revolutionary activity and the grave crisis that afflicted the country during the late 50’s, the youth broke the “post-liberation” peace and held a 5,000-strong demonstration to protest the Anti-Subversion Law. Many progressive organizations emerged like the Student Cultural Association of UP, Kabataang Makabayan and Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan, among others. Like mushroom, many were organized across the country. In many schools, instances of tuition and other fee increases served to ignite the fury of the youth. Since they were conscious that their sectoral concerns are but a “microcosm” of national and even international problems, they actively engaged in multi-sectoral campaigns and struggles – the most phenomenal of which were the anti-Vietnam War protests in the late 1960’s. Students went out of their way to immerse in communities and factories to form people’s organizations and trade unions, and to solidify the unity of the people. Some students even forsake their schooling to work fulltime in mass work and to struggle for social transformation.

1970’s

The spark that spread like wild prairie fire in the 1960’s was what prepared for one of the most fateful events in the country’s history. Launching their own “state of the nation address” to protest Marcos’ own speech the following year, people composed mainly of students protested along Mendiola in January 26, 1970. They were violently dispersed and several demonstrators were killed by constabulary forces. Instead of pouring cold water to the burning agitation of the people, the brutality only ignited a wave of protests, and demonstrations were launched across the country, with those held in Manila reaching 10,000-strong each. This lasted for three months, and became known in history as the First Quarter Storm of 1970.

By 1971, Pres. Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus, immediately after the Plaza Miranda bombing, an incident which was proven to be an orchestration by the Marcos clique itself. But this did not deter activists from further exposing and isolating the regime.

By 1972, martial law was declared.

Working in a different conditions where even the assembly of at least three people can cause them to be arrested, activism transformed from an aboveground to an underground movement. This movement clandestinely organized groups and organizations that used traditional activities to continue doing propaganda work among the people. Hence, after several years of sowing the seeds of much larger protests, another series of protests broke out by the late 1970’s with the La Tondeña strike and the anti-Interim Batasan Pambansa “noise barrage” serving as most noteworthy examples.

1980’s

In the early 1980’s during a time of severe economic and political crises, protests and demonstrations became bigger, more frequent and diverse. The Marcos regime became increasingly exposed and isolated from the whole people, and this encouraged even the anti-Marcos elites who openly criticized the government and joined the bandwagon. Among them was Benigno Aquino Jr., who was eventually martyred in 1983. Marcos’ desperation was the one responsible for Aquino’s assassination.

What it planned as an attempt to quell dissent only became as a further stimulus for more militant actions on the part of the people. Finally, when Marcos manipulated the 1986 “snap elections,” the people decided that enough is enough.

From February 22 to 25, 1986, the Filipinos massed up in what came to be called as the EDSA People Power uprising. They reached close to two million in strength, not counting those in many other cities and town centers. They stayed in the streets until the abhorred president was ousted.

The victory of the unprecedented EDSA People Power uprising was not only a result of a single assassination. It was a result of the sacrifices of thousands of workers, peasants, professionals, church people and even some among the elite – many of whom came from the ranks of youth and students.

During the Marcosian regime, our ancestors gradually realized that sovereign power lies on their hands. They also learned that they can only wield this power by means of collective action. As we commemorate the EDSA People Power, let us not forget the lives and the stories that paved the way for an uprising that now inspires us. And with this inspiration, let us, like the generations before us, wield the power of the people to cause much-awaited changes in the society. [P]

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