EDSA in context: An uprising 14 years in the making

Vantage Point | BusinessWorld

Criticizing those in government — and he might as well have been referring to certain sectors of the media too — who have been campaigning against the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, President Benigno S.C. Aquino III, described them as “enemies of peace” in his speech during the 29th anniversary of the 1986 civilian-military mutiny at Quezon City’s Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA).

Mr. Aquino argued that peace was what the EDSA 1 uprising was all about, its outstanding characteristic having been its peacefully removing the Marcos dictatorship from power.

Practically in the same breath, however, Mr. Aquino declared that “it’s only by attaining lasting peace that all the sacrifices will be worth it for those who fought at EDSA, including those who lost their lives to end fear and violence in society.” Mr. Aquino could have, with justice, also recalled to his listeners the sacrifices of the Bangsamoro people that helped make EDSA 1 possible.

Conventional wisdom excludes them from that event, and even characterizes EDSA 1 as purely a response to then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Philippine Constabulary Chief Fidel Ramos’ withdrawal of support from Ferdinand Marcos, their boss and patron for nearly two decades.

Popular lore ignores the context within which it occurred. Having internalized the cliches of 29 years, too many Filipinos today do not realize that the 14-year resistance to dictatorship by both Christians and Muslims were preparations for the EDSA mutiny. They think that like the goddess of wisdom Athena, whom Greek myth says sprang full grown and fully armored from the head of her father Zeus, EDSA 1 materialized overnight from the chaos and brutality of the Marcos dictatorship.

According to this viewpoint, EDSA 1 was a near-spontaneous expression of outrage by some two million people to the years of authoritarian excess, attributing to Jaime Cardinal Sin’s supposed standing as a democratic symbol among the faithful much of the middle class’ and other sectors’ involvement.

The 29-year mantra that it was a “peaceful revolution,” an oxymoron if ever there was one, forgets the 14 years of resistance to the martial law regime that included an armed component; the sacrifices of two generations of activists and human rights defenders who gave their lives and fortunes to the cause of overthrowing the dictatorship, and the no less critical role of the organized politicization campaign that the alternative and underground press waged against the Marcos regime from Day One of the dictatorship.

Much of this historical revisionism is deliberate: for the civilian, Church and military elite, the EDSA mutiny came so dangerously close to sanctioning the overthrow of governments through direct citizen action that it was necessary to rewrite the narrative to emphasize its uniqueness (it can’t — it shouldn’t — happen again) as well as to remove from it any suggestion that rather than a spontaneous occurrence, not only was it the result of organized people’s resistance, but also contained within it the hope for an alternative future of equality and justice.

EDSA 1 itself was a generally peaceful event, despite the constant threat of violence from the dying Marcos dictatorship, which massed tanks and troops in the vicinity of the uprising, and flew helicopters overhead. But the preparation for it was not.

The anti-martial law resistance had a peaceful side to it in the form of demonstrations, statements and manifestos, and a systematic press campaign to counter the “good news” orientation of the regulated press, radio and television. But it also had a less peaceful side in the form of the guerrilla wars that the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) and the Bangsamoro formations, principally the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Nur Misuari, waged. There were also other attempts at fighting the regime by other groups, among them the Light-a-Fire Movement that sought to destabilize the regime.

The regime’s initial advantage in organization and number of troops was soon offset by its having to fight armed opponents along several fronts. The MNLF (which, because of the Jabidah Massacre in which dozens of Muslim recruits for a purported invasion of Sabah were killed by government troopers) was convinced that the regime was pursuing a policy of Muslim extermination and was especially effective in Mindanao, while the NPA grew in strength, experience and number as the human rights violations, the continuing impoverishment of the people, and the vision of an alternative future persuaded thousands of idealistic young men and women to take up arms.

Meanwhile, a press tradition that goes back over a hundred years to the propaganda movement, the alternative press was already challenging regime propaganda within weeks after the declaration of martial law. Such underground publications as Liberation, for example, were staffed by, among others, journalists formerly with the newspapers the regime had shut down, while others across the country were published in various languages by former students who learned the craft of journalism on the run and on the job, among them some of today’s most well-known practitioners.

Neither the armed or unarmed resistance was a picnic. Over a hundred thousand men and women were arrested and detained by the regime.

Many were tortured, summarily executed, or forcibly disappeared in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Entire families were decimated, husbands and wives separated, and children orphaned. Poets and doctors, professors and priests, nuns and social workers representing the best and brightest sons and daughters of the Filipino people were among those victimized for daring to resist a brutal regime.

The murder of Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983 provided the complacent with proof enough of the violence of the regime. It was a critical factor in the massing of the millions at EDSA in 1986, but was only the most outstanding indication of how far the regime was prepared to go to keep itself in power.

As crucial were the 14 years during which a broad alliance that included the Bangsamoro people’s struggle in the South fought the dictatorship along several fronts. Enrile and Ramos’ withdrawal of support from Marcos emboldened the millions who, during the 14 years of dictatorship, had silently suffered the regime’s lies and brutality to mass at EDSA. But without those years of learning from the demonstration effect of the resistance, EDSA 1 would not have happened.

The Bangsamoro people, other commentators have pointed out due to the convergence of the 29th anniversary of EDSA and the Mamasapano incident, were not at EDSA in 1986.

Physically they may not have been there, although there were individual Muslims who joined their Christian brethren.

But they were there in force nevertheless, in both the spirit of resistance and the signal lesson that they taught the tyrant and the rest of the Filipino nation: that a regime no matter how brutal and how seemingly powerful can be defeated by a determined people.

Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro). The views expressed here do not represent the views of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.


Published in Business World
March 5, 2015

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