For three days in 1986, the Philippines garnered world attention with the peaceful People Power Revolution. Throughout the country, the people rallied in major city streets demanding the ouster of President Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos Sr. (1917-1989) from office; with the 23.3 kilometer long Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA for short), that spans Metro Manila, as the central theater of the revolution.
Although most people refer to the EDSA Revolution as a reaction to the dictatorship of Marcos and the effects of Martial Law (1972-1981), the very roots of the revolution may be traced back to World War II (1939-1945). During the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines (8 Dec. 1941 – 8 May 1945), many soldiers and civilians went to the countryside to engage the Japanese in guerrilla tactics. The then Lieutenant Ferdinand Marcos was captured and was part of the Bataan Death March, where 80,000 American and Filipino POWs were forced to walk from walk 112 kilometers from Bataan to Tarlac, where around 18,000 prisoners died in the process. After his release, Marcos joined the guerilla forces, which he would later embellish his exploits as a leader of the Ang Mga Mahárlika group (The Noblemen), and claim to be the most decorated war veteran of the time. This exaggeration was used by Marcos in his campaign for Senate President and later President of the Philippines. Marcos would once again use this story to enforce his credibility, with the 1970 film Maharlika (aka Guerilla Strike Force). The lead actress, Dovie Beams (born Dovie Leona Osborne, 1932-2017), became Marcos’ mistress.
One of the better known guerrilla groups of World War II were the Hukbalahap, short for Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapón (National Army Against the Japanese). Also called the Huks, the guerilla group was born from a Socialist militia that was organized before the war. However after the war, many of these fighters found themselves excluded from the decisions in national rebuilding and agrarian reform, while being disarmed by the American and Philippine forces. So in 1946, the Huks led by Luis Taruc (1913-2005) took arms against the Philippine government.
The Huks operated mainly in the Central Luzon area, and allied itself with the Marxist Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP, or Communist Party of the Philippines, est. 1930). By 1947, they changed their name to the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (People’s Liberation Army). The Philippine government waged an all-out war against the insurgents, echoing the Communist fear in American, called McCarthyism, which ran through the 1940s to the 1950s.
There were several times Philippine government tried to negotiate the ending of hostilities the Huks, and in 1953 the then Secretary of the Department of National Defense, Ramón del Fierro Magsaysay (1907-1957), was able to obtain a peaceful surrender of the Huks, which would catapult him to the presidency in the same year. However, after the tragic death of Magsaysay in 1957, the agreements with the Huks were slowly discontinued by his successors, leading to growing resentment among the former Huks, farmers and academe.
At the meantime, Ferdinand Marcos was rising through the political ranks, first serving as the congressman of 2nd district of Ilocos Norte for three terms (1949-1959), then as senator from 1950 to 1965. At the senate, he held the position of minority floor leader from 1950 to 1960, and then became senate president from 1960 to 1965. While as a congressman, Marcos met the beauty queen, Imelda Remedios Visitación Trinidad Romualdez (born 1929), on the 6th of April 1954, which would lead to a whirlwind romance of 11 days, and ended with marriage on the 17th of April 1954.
While eyeing the presidential elections of 1965, Marcos commissioned the biographical film “Iginuhit ng Tadhana: The Ferdinand E. Marcos Story” (Written in Fate), featuring the top stars of the time: Luis Gonzales (born Luis Mercado, 1928-2012) and Gloria Romero (born Gloria Galla, 1933) to play the roles of Ferdinand and Imelda. The film and its controversy catapulted Marcos to the presidency, beating re-electionist, Diosdado Pangan Macapagal Sr. (1910-1997). Marcos running mate was the former Vice-President, Fernando Hofileña López Sr. (1904-1993), who had served previously under Pres. Elpídio Rivera Quiríno (1890-1956).
During the first term of Marcos, allegations of the abuse of power and corruption were beginning to grow. This abuse of power may be best exemplified with the July 1966 concert of the Beatles, at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, in Manila. Before their concert, the Beatles were invited to lunch at the presidential palace, Malacañang, but due to the lack of coordination between the Philippine promoter, Ramon Ramos Jr., and the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, they were never able to attend that lunch. The day after the concert, the band and their entourage were harassed from the hotel and the airport, and were beaten up by a mob of civilians and men in uniform. Although the Marcos family deny any connection with the incident, and blame it on the overzealous press and admirers of the first family, one cannot deny the seemingly coordinated effort of the Manila Hotel, the Bureau of Immigration, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and the Manila International Airport in making a nightmare for the Beatles, on their last day in the Philippines.
The growing resentment against the Marcos family and administration was also affected by the worldwide Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation Movement, Native Rights Movement, Gay Liberation Movement, and New Left. In the campuses and in the countryside, local groups began to organize and clamor for human rights. The remnants of the PKP were now shifting from Marxism to Maoism; and in 1969, José María Canlás Sison (born 1939) along with 10 others formed the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The following year, Kumander Dante (born Bernabé Buscayno, 1944) organized the New People’s Army (NPA) as the military arm of the CPP. Shortly after the 1969 formation of the NPA, funding by the Communist Party of China began with arms shipments to the Philippines, as a part of the People’s War doctrine of Chairman Mao Zedong (1893-1976).
In the same year, Marcos was running for his second term, against Senator Sergio “Serging” Veloso Osmeña Jr. (1916-1984). To bolster his campaign, Marcos commissioned the film “Pinagbuklod ng Langit” (United by Heaven), with Gonzales and Romero reprising their roles as Ferdinand and Imelda. The campaign and the election day were marred by many instances of violence and vote buying, which was condemned by the news magazines, Time and Newsweek. Because of the 1969 elections, the term “Three Gs”, meaning “guns, goons, and gold,” was coined to describe the Marcos legacy.
Even before Marcos became president of the Philippines, leftist student groups have been staging protests against the government and American intervention in the Philippines. This would hit a fevered pitch with the “First Quarter Storm” that would occur between January to March of 1970, the first quarter of the year. The first protest was at the January 26 protest of the Seventh Congress, when Marcos delivered his State of the Nation Address (SONA). The protest led to violence with the injuring and arrest of several student groups. Mobilized by the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP, est. 1957), the Student Cultural Association of the University of the Philippines (SCAUP, est. 1959), and the Kabataang Makabayan (KM, or Nationalist Youth, est. 1964) more protest and boycotts ensued, leading to the Battle of Mendiola of January 30, as students attempted to reach the Malacañang Palace via the Mendiola Road. From then more protests followed; such as the February 12 Plaza Miranda, the February 18 attack on the US Embassy, the February 26 UP Sunken Garden Rally, the March 3 People’s March, and the March 17 Mendiola Protest, which would all end in violence.
Although there were other protests against Marcos after the “First Quarter Storm”, they were fewer and father apart in dates; this may have been due to the government crackdown of militants, as well as the fear of the violent dispersals and arrests of rallyists. Another reason was the waning support for the protestors, as many of the gatherings would also lead to the destruction and arson of public and private properties, along with the disruption daily routines and traffic created by the rallies. However this “lull” was broken with the 1971 February 1 to 9 “Diliman Commune.” Inspired by the La Commune de Paris (Paris Commune, 18-28 March 1871) where a Socialist revolutionary government took over Paris, France; student and faculty of the University of the Philippines Diliman (UP) joined the transport workers in protesting the oil price hikes. Although the fuel price increase was created by the worldwide Energy Crisis of the early 1970s, this didn’t stop the students from barricading the UP campus.
The social and political unrest of the early 1970s was capped with the 21th of August, 1971, Plaza Miranda Bombing, where two grenades were thrown into the oppositionist Liberal Party rally, in Plaza Miranda, Manila. With 9 dead and 95 others injured, people were quick to put the blame on Pres. Marcos. Although no one believed the government pinning the accusation on the NPA, years later oppositionist Senator Jovito “Jovy” Reyes Salonga (1920-2016), and survivor of the attack, stated that it was indeed the NPA who orchestrated the bombing. This was also confirmed by then-Colonel Victor Navarro Corpus (born 1944), who had defected to the NPA in 1970 as an army lieutenant, until his surrender in 1976.
Immediately after the Plaza Miranda Bombing, Pres. Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus, which caused many moderates to join the radical left. And from March 15 to September 11, 1972, twenty bombing hit private and government buildings, causing fear in the general public. Years later critics assumed that these were false flags created by the government, in preparation to the declaration of Martial Law, which he signed on September 21, 1972; and was announced to the public on September 23.
Immediately after the declaration of Martial Law, activists, labor leaders, oppositionist politicians, critics and journalists were arrested, many private business assets were seized, media was censured, and a curfew was imposed around the country. During Martial Law there were cases of those who were arrested, only to be found “salvaged” (summarily executed) a few days later, and the “desaparecidos” who were never found at all. While some critics fled abroad, others joined the underground movements and the NPAs. Noted critics from influential families were either put under house arrest, or were silenced by other forms of persuasion.
Despite the local and international condemnation of Martial Law, Marcos justified it as a means to quell the growing communist threat in the country, and this was “validated” with the supposed assassination attempt on the Minister of National Defense, Juan Furagganan Ponce Enrile, Sr. (born 1924), on September 22, 1972; where his car was riddled with bullets as he left from a previous meeting. This was later followed by the 7 December 1972 assassination attempt on First Lady Imelda Marcos, during the National Beautification and Cleanliness Competition awarding ceremonies; where Eng. Carlito Dimahilig tried to kill her with a short bolo, hidden in his sleeve.
In the island of Mindanao, centuries old tensions of the between the Islamic Moros and the Christian settlers were revived with the alleged March 18, 1968, Jabidah Massacre, where 60 Tausug commandos were murdered by their commanding officers, during the training for the clandestine Operation Merdeka (freedom in Malay) to regain the Malaysian province of Sabah, in the name of Sulu Sultanate and the Philippine government. Although this event was proven to be a false report years later, the news sparked the armed Muslim Independence Movement (MIM) on 1 May, 1968. After Marcos was able to bridge a peace agreement with the MIM, UP professor Nūrallaji Pinang Miswāri (born 1939) formed the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) on October 21, 1972, and continued the armed conflict for an independent Moro Mindanao.
Despite the rising human rights abused and accusations of corruption and plunder of the country’s coffers, the international community could not outright condemn and bring sanctions to Marcos, due to his very shrewd international diplomatic policies. Marcos was able to gain the support of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) countries, especially the USA, for his strong anti-communist stance. This is best exemplified by his close relationship with the American Pres. Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911-2004), while he was still Governor of California. At the same time, Marcos was able to forge political and economic ties with Communist countries to weaken their support for the NPA and MNLF, and aid in brokering peace deals with the rebel groups.
The Marcos family were not just dealing with different political leaders, but were hobnobbing with the rich and famous, including Hollywood celebrities. Among their closes friends were the matinee idol George Stevens Hamilton (born 1939), international chess master Robert “Bobby” James Fischer (1943-2008), and tobacco heiress Doris Holt Duke (1912-1993). Aside from throwing lavish parties in the Malacañang Palace, the presidential yacht BRP Ang Pangulo (The President), or the Philippine Center in NYC; the Marcoses also hosted many visiting celebrities and even in housing them at the Coconut Palace, which was designed to be a presidential guest house. Some of these celebrities charmed by the Marcoses were the American R&B group Jackson 5, the English-Australian band Air Supply, the British singer Matt Monro (born Terence Edward Parsons, 1930-1985), the American singer and songwriter John Ford Coley (born 1948), the British singer Cliff Richard (born Harry Rodger Webb, 1940), and the American actress Brooke Christa Shields (born 1965). With all these international connections, the Philippines also becomes an international filming location, starting with the shooting of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 “Apocalypse Now.”
However, the greatest international entertainment event held in the Philippines was the “Thrilla in Manila” held at the Araneta Coliseum, held on October 1, 1975. This was the heavyweight match for the unified WBC/WBA/The Ring/Lineal belts, between challenger Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., 1942-2016) and champion “Smoking Joe” Joseph William Frazier (1944-2011). The success of this super-fight was able to erase sour taste left by the Beatles debacle of 9 years past.
The Marcoses conducted many international events as well as some local programs brought prestige to the Philippines and placated the public from their fears of Martial Law. To accommodate these international events and guests, Marcos allowed Imelda to lead the building spree, that would be later describes as an “Edifice Complex.” Among the notable buildings Imelda had constructed for international events were the Folk Arts Theater for the 1974 Miss Universe Pageant, the Philippine International Convention Center and Philippine Plaza Hotel for the 1976 IMF-World Bank Meeting, and the Manila Film Center for the 1982 First Manila International Film Festival (MIFF).
But it must be noted that this “Edifice Complex” was not just for the Marcoses to flaunt their power and ill-gotten wealth to their guests, but these places allowed the Filipino to raise the quality of art, business and medicine to the world standard. The first of the major institutions is the 1969 Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), which would be the government’s primary institute of promoting the arts with organizations and programs such as the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group (est. 1972), the Philippine Ballet Theatre (est. 1987), the National Artist Order (est. 1972), and Thirteen Artist Award (est. 1970). Continuing the cultural programs of the CCP is the 1974 National Arts Center in Laguna Province, which is also the home of the Philippine High School for the Arts (est. 1978). In finance, the 1974 Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Security Plant Complex (Central Bank) in Quezon City modernized the Philippine monetary system. And in field of medicine, the 1975 Philippine Heart Center, the 1979 Philippine Children’s Medical Center, the 1981 National Kidney and Transplant Institute, and the 1982 Lung Center of the Philippines help modernize Philippine health care.
Aside from grandiose buildings, the Marcos legacy expanded to road expansion and development projects. With 55,778 kilometers of roadways throughout the Philippines in 1965, by 1985 the total length of roads in the archipelago was 161,000 kilometers. In 1975, Marcos enacted the Bagong Lipunan Improvement of Sites and Services (BLISS) Housing project, which saw the construction of 230,000 low-cost housing units throughout the country. Tenants of these units were able to pay for their homes through the Home Development Mutual Fund (HDMF), which is more popularly known as the Pag-IBIG Fund (est. 1978). And there is the 1981 Executive Order No. 737, which created the Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran (KKK) that funded 25,000 entrepreneurial projects. And there was the 1979 Primary Health Care (PHC) Program, which was able to raise the average life expectance of Filipinos by 12 years and lowering infant mortality 12% at the end of his term. And there were also the public transport programs such as the Love Bus and the Manila Light Rail Transit System Line 1 (opened 1984), with several other train lines in planning.
There are many more programs that Marcos has enacted that had greatly improved the lives and culture of the Filipino people, however these are lost to the issue of human rights abuses and the exorbitant spending of Imelda. From paintings of European and American classical masters, to jewelry and clothes, Imelda’s shopping was insatiable. To most people, this is best exemplified by her collection of over 3000 shoes, but in truth most of these were donations by the shoe makers of Marikina, whom she supported whole heartedly. However, what would truly represent her “Imeldific” spending is her purchasing of real estate around the world, especially in New York City. Among these are the 1902 Herald Center, the 1910 Woolworth Building, and the 1921 Crown Building, all in NYC.
Another mistaken example of the Marcos’ extreme lavishness is the opening of the Calauit Island Wildlife Preserve in 1977, which became the home of 104 feral African animals consisting of bushbucks, elands, gazelles, giraffes, impalas, waterbucks, topis, and zebras. Due to the eviction of the 254 Tagbanwa families for the island, rumors circled that Marcos created this preserve for his son, Bongbong (Ferdinand Jr., born 1957), to have his own personal safari in the Philippines. In truth it was Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta (1897-1978) who asked Marcos for help in preserving the African wildlife, which were threatened by drought and war.
With the many accusations of human rights abuses, the international community started to question the Marcos administration. This led to major diplomatic negotiations between the Vatican and the Philippine government, in the preparations of the papal visit of Pope John Paul II (born Karol Józef Wojtyła, 1920-2005) to be conducted from the 17th to 21st of February, 1981. So by late 1980, Pres. Marcos ordered the release of incarcerated opposition leaders; and on January 17, 1981, Marcos formally “lifted” Martial Law in the Philippines.
Yet no matter what accusations are made against the Marcoses, whether true or fabricated, there was nothing that could faze the Marcos or get the people to take action against him. That is until the assassination of Senator Benigno Simeon “Ninoy” Lampa Aquino Jr. (1932-1983) on August 21, 1983. Senator Aquino was a staunch critic of Marcos, and was immediately arrested after the declaration of Martial Law. Aquino was implicated for his connections with the NPA, who he had built connections with the former Huks when he was still a journalist. Rumors would swirls that Aquino was part of the planning the Plaza Miranda Bombing, due to his NPA links and his being the only Liberal Party senatorial candidate absent during the rally. Will in jail, Aquino was sentence to death in 1977, along with Victor Corpus and Bernabé Buscayno. While awaiting the final sentencing, Aquino was allowed to run in the 1978 parliamentary elections. That same year, Aquino suffered several heart attacks, and was allowed to leave for the USA for medical treatment by Imelda Marcos, whom Aquino once courted. Leaving with his family to America, Aquino would continue to criticize Marcos. Finally in 1983, accompanied by members of various international media news groups, Aquino returned to the Philippines under a false passport. When the Chine Airlines 811 landed in the Manila International Airport, Aquino was immediately escorted out of the plane by members of military to an awaiting Aviation Security Command (AVSECOM) van. Before Aquino could step on to Philippine soil, shots rang out and he lay dead beside his alleged killer, Rolando Galman.
Although Marcos claimed that Galman was a communist hitman hired to kill Aquino, however an 1985 Sandiganbayan (special court) found 25 military personnel guilty of the deaths of Aquino and Galman. The accused have blamed the businessman and Marcos crony Eduardo “Danding” Murphy Cojuangco Jr. (born 1935), a relative of Corazon Aquino, as the mastermind of the assassination, but not evidence had warranted his arrest. During the wake of Aquino, his family decided not to have his body cleaned or his clothes changes, for the people to see the truth of his death.
Aquino’s death inspired the people to stage mass protests all over the country. This time the police could not use any force against the protestors, as these were no longer just students, militants and laborers; rather the rallies included wealthy and celebrities, businessmen and even government officials. And in the financial district of Metro Manila, Makati, as office personnel would shred the Yellow Pages and toss them down to the streets as confetti on to the protestors. Yellow was the color adopted by the opposition, as a symbol of the late Senator Benigno Aquino, whose theme song for his return to the Philippines from his American exile was “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘round the Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and the Dawn (released 1973).
With the growing protests demanding Marcos to step down, the president declared a Snap Election in November 1985, during an interview in the ABC’s This Week with David Brinkley. Through a parliamentary resolution, the elections were slated for February 7, 1986. Initially the oppositionist Senator Salvador Roman “Doy” Hidalgo Laurel (1928-2004) aired his intent to run against Marcos; however other oppositionists were courting Aquino’s widow, María Corazón “Cory” Sumulong Cojuangco Aquino (1933-2009), to be the candidate. Corazon Aquino first asked for a million signatures, to convince her to run. And when receiving the more than a million signatures, Corazon Aquino accepted the candidacy, with Laurel as her running mate.
The campaign for the presidential elections was marred by the “Three Gs” of goons, goons and gold throughout the country. And during the election day itself, there were many reports of vote buying, snatching of ballot boxes, flying voters (people who jump from one precinct to another), ghost voters, and intimidation by armed gangs. Volunteers would flock to “hot spot” precincts to form human shields against any possible cases of election fraud.
The counting of ballots was manual, and would take a day or two to complete for each precinct to complete the count. After counting, the ballots would be sent to the government’s COMELEC (Commission on Elections) quick count center at the Batasang Pambansa. Soon discrepancies between radio reports of the independent National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) count and the official government announcements were getting the people worried. Meanwhile at the Batasang Pambansa, government programmers noticed a big inconsistency between the data on their monitors and what is broadcasted on the official government boards, this prompted 35 of the programmers to walk out of their posts of February 9, causing an uproar around the country.
On February 11, former Antique governor and oppositionist, Evelio Bellaflor Javier (1942-1986), was assassinated in front of the capitol building of the province, with his body riddled with 24 bullets. With the electoral fraud and the death of another prominent, the people were getting restless as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) declared the elections as fradulent. And with the February 15 COMELEC declaration of Marcos as the winner, the situation had become volatile.
Despite Marcos claiming victory, Marcos’ health was waning and then-AFP Vice Chief of Staff and PC Chief Lt. Gen Fidel Valdez Ramos (born 1928) and Minister of Defense Juan Enrile, Sr. plotted a military coup d’etat with the RAM (Reform the Armed Forces Movement) to over throw the president. However, their plan was discovered and Marcos ordered their arrest. Fearing possible death for treason, Ramos and Enrile held a February 22 press conference in Camp Aguinaldo, where they declared their resignation from their government posts and declaring their support for Corazon Aquino.
Through the Catholic Radio Veritas, Cardinal Jaime Lachica Sin (1928-2005) called on the Filipino people to support the rebels, who in turn came in the hundreds of thousands to fill EDSA and nearby roads to prevent any government forces from approaching Camp Crame, where the rebels had transferred to. Benigno Aquino’s brother, Agapito “Butz” Aquino Aquino (1939-2015), joins the rebels to show solidarity. In the nearby provinces, people also took to the streets to block military convoys moving towards Manila.
Although General Fabian Crisologo Ver (1920-1998) advises Marcos to give the order to fire upon the crowds on EDSA, Marcos dismissed the request. This allowed more and more government officials, as well as military and police officers and their men to defect to the opposition, and swear loyalty to the Corazon Aquino. On the 24 of February, the government television station MBS Channel 4 is taken over by the rebels, effectively cutting of the Marcos propaganda, and resumes broadcast as the People’s Television.
In the morning of the 25th of February, both Corazon Aquino and Ferdinand Marcos took their respective oaths of office as presidents of the Philippines. Aquino took her oath at the Club Filipino is San Juan City, while Marcos took his at the Malacañang Palace. Marcos’ televised speech is cut off as the rebels capture the transmitter to the channels RPN-9, BBC Channel 2 and IBC-13. By the afternoon, the chances of EDSA Revolution not letting up, the American Embassy and military intervened by pulling out Pres. Marcos and his family to the American Clark Airbase (named after Major Harold Melville Clark, 1890-1919) in the Province of Pampanga. After the debriefing, the Marcoses were flown to Marcos’ home province of Ilocos Norte, to collect more of their property, and then they were finally airlifted to Hawaii, where Marcos would spend his remaining days.
With the news of the Marcoses’ departure, and jubilation erupted all over the country, and the crowds on EDSA cheered on. In Manila, people rushed to the now abandoned Malacañang Palace, destroying artworks and important documents, showing blind rage borne of decades of repression. After almost 21 years in power, an era had finally ended, and the whole world cheered the Philippines for the miraculous bloodless revolution.
My family has always been politically active, from journalists, to active political party members, and to even holding government positions. Between all of us, we have many opinions of the legacy of the EDSA People Power Revolution and the Aquino Regimes. Yet despite what has happened to the Philippines since those 4 days in 1985, we cannot deny the power of what had happened then. And from the hushed conversations during Martial Law, and the silent support for Benigno Aquino during the 1978 parliamentary elections, we did what we can. When Aquino was murdered in 1983, we took to the streets, with my mother crafting the wittiest placards. And when Pres. Marcos declared the Snap Elections, we went out gathering the signatures to convince Cory to run. And when she accepted the nomination, we once more went to the streets collecting a “Piso para kay Cory” to fund the campaign. We went around the provinces campaigning. And election day came, we went to the polls to protect the voters and the ballots. And in February 21, we took a break from the protests, only to hear on the radio of the secession of Ramos and Enrile from the government, and we immediately rushed back to Manila to join the crowds in the streets. And now 33 years after the EDSA Revolution are we still proud of our accomplishments? Yes! Because no matter who the corruption and inefficient politicians who took over after Marcos, we the Filipino people, still banded together that February, not for those people, but for our country.