Reviews

 

 

Book Title People Power - An Eyewitness History: The Philippine Revolution of 1986
Editor Monina Allarey Mercado
Language English
Copyright 1986
Publisher Writers and Readers Publishing, Inc.
ISBN 0863161316
My Rating 5 stars (out of 5)


"People Power - An Eyewitness History" tells the story of the revolution that ousted Ferdinand Marcos from power in February 1986.  Or rather, it is a collection of various stories by many different people told in their own words.  The book was published shortly after the events which it chronicles and the euphoria concerning those events is still evident in the words of the people recounting those events.  The book does not attempt to be even-handed.  It is clearly slanted towards the supporters of Cory Aquino who are portrayed as the protagonists.  Be that as it may, it does shed some important light on the events which toppled the Marcos dictatorship.

But more than the stories themselves, it is the pictures which really grab your attention.  The book is chock full of black and white photos which give the reader a real sense of what it was like to be part of the People Power struggle.  You could skip over all the text and just focus on the faces in the pictures, and you would still come away with an appreciation of what the Filipinos went through.  These pictures ought to be hanging in a museum and perhaps they will be someday.  They really capture the drama of the moment when an entire nation rose up and threw off the shackles of dictatorship which had oppressed them for so long.

The story begins in August 1983.  Opposition leader Benigno ("Ninoy") Aquino decides to return to the Philippines after living in exile in the United States for several years.  He arrives in Manila on a China Airlines flight using a fake passport, but it fools no one.  He expects to be arrested and detained in Fort Bonifacio where he had previously been imprisoned by the Marcos regime.  Instead, he is gunned down as he disembarks from the plane.  Of course, this event becomes an international media sensation but in the Philippines itself the Marcos controlled television stations and news media barely mention it.

But somehow, whether through word of mouth or telepathy, the Filipino people learn of the death of Ninoy and they show up in mass numbers for his funeral.  It is estimated that up to two million Filipinos lined the funeral procession as Ninoy's body was transported from Manila to his native province of Tarlac for burial.  This was the first inkling of People Power and Marcos should have paid attention to it.  Of course, he blindly ignored it and it became his doom.  The book has a gruesome picture of Ninoy lying in state in his casket.  Cory ordered that his body not be made up.  She wanted it to appear the same way it appeared when it first fell on the tarmac at the airport.  So we see a bullet riddled body as testament to the barbarity of the Marcos
regime.

The period from 1983 until 1986 was marked by building demonstrations against the Marcos dictatorship.  We should not forget that this was a period of great danger for those taking part in the street protests.  People were shot.  People disappeared.  By showing up to protest the Marcos administration one was taking one's life in one's own hands.  This excerpt from Margarita Cojuangco is a typical example:

"The fire trucks continued advancing on us and were now 35 meters away.  The soldiers were positioned on both sides of the fire trucks with their shields and truncheons.  They came at us, keeping pace with the fire truck.  I heard cans fall on the ground and I saw smoke rising.  Still, we didn't move.  More smoke bombs were hurled at us, along with some rocks.  Gunshots were fired.  The order came: Run! ...

I was running with tears rolling down my cheeks, thinking: Why is this Filipino shooting at us Filipinos?  I heard: Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop like popcorn from my kitchen.  These can't be smoke bombs.  They're guns firing at us...
"

It was also during this period that Corazon Aquino really came into her own as an opposition leader.  At first, a reluctant opponent of the Marcos regime, she began to symbolize more and more the opposition to Marcos.  In November 1985 Marcos on a whim calls for snap elections to take place in February 1986.  He is confident that no one can win against him, especially since he has the three G's: goons, gold, and guns.

A reluctant Cory Aquino had announced earlier that she would be a candidate for president only on two conditions: 1.) that Marcos calls for snap elections, and 2.) that a million signatures calling for her to run be gathered.  Much to her surprise, both events happen in short order.  Cory goes to see Jaime Cardinal Sin and is told the following:

"All right, kneel down. I will bless you.  You are going to be president.  You are the Joan of Arc... And you will win.  We'll see the hand of God, one miracle after another.  God bless you."

This is a theme which is repeated throughout the book.  That is the notion that the events of February 1986 were the direct intervention of God in the affairs of men via the intercession of the Virgin Mary.  Certainly most Filipinos believed this at the time and continue to do so to this day.  And who am I to contradict them?  Certainly the most improbable events came to pass during this time, so that even the most hardened skeptic may begin to wonder.

The snap election was scheduled for February 7, 1986.  Cory ran under the LABAN party which means "Fight" in Tagalog.  It was customary for followers of LABAN to form an L with their index finger held at right angles to their thumb.  This was a common way to show defiance of the Marcos regime.  The organization called NAMFREL (NAtional citizen's Movement for FRee ELections) tried to monitor the elections to prevent fraud.  Unfortunately, widespread fraud took place.  The voter's list was tampered with to prevent Cory supporters from being able to vote.  Marcos's goons routinely intimidated voters and NAMFREL volunteers at various polling places.  Ballot boxes disappeared only to reappear later stuffed with votes for Marcos.

Thirty-eight computer programmers working for the COMELEC (COMmission on ELECtions) noticed that cheating was occurring in the tallying of the results.  They walked off their jobs in protest.  On February 13th the Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines issued a statement which condemned the elections as fraudulent.  But this did not prevent the Batasang Pambansa (National Assembly) from declaring Marcos the winner of the election two days later.

Having defeated his opponent Mrs. Aquino in the snap election via fraud, now Marcos made the fatal mistake of his life.  He decided to settle old scores and he began with the military.  For several years there had been an underground movement in the military known as RAM (Reform the Armed forces Movement) which sought to curb the most flagrant abuses of the Marcos military and end corruption.  A few weeks after the election Marcos decided to purge the military of RAM members.  This included some high ranking officials including the Vice Army Chief of Staff, General Fidel Ramos and the Minister of Defense, Juan Ponce Enrile.  Unfortunately for Mr. Marcos word of his impending purge leaked out and both Enrile and Ramos became aware of their impending arrests.

On Saturday, February 22nd, Enrile and Ramos hold a press conference and declare that they have withdrawn their allegiance from Marcos.  But they go much further than that.  They allege that Marcos has committed election fraud and that Mrs. Aquino is the true winner of the recent election.  They have barely 200 troops on their side versus the 200,000 troops that Marcos has on his side.  It appears that Marcos and his Army Chief of Staff, General Fabian Ver will easily crush the revolt.  This is a true-to-life David versus Goliath story.

But just then, fate intervenes and Cardinal Sin via the radio station of the Catholic Church (Radio Veritas), makes an urgent appeal to all Filipinos to go out into the streets and support the rebellion of Ramos and Enrile.  Ramos and Enrile are holed up in Camp Crame just a few miles from Malacanang (the Presidential Palace).  Thus begins the saga which has come to be known as People Power.  At first, there are a mere few
thousand Filipinos who show up mainly to bring food and drink to the beleaguered soldiers inside Camp Crame.  But soon it becomes apparent that the crowd outside must protect the rebels from attack from loyalist troops.  Without "people power" the revolt will surely be crushed.

On Sunday, February 23rd, the crowd has swelled outside Camp Crame and extends for miles in the vicinity of Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue (EDSA).  A tense confrontation takes place between the people and a battalion of Marines who have been ordered to attack Camp Crame.  Amado Lacuesta, Jr. was there and he writes:

"The APC jerks forward.  Men brace themselves against the advancing metal wall, trying to hold it back.  Behind them, the nuns stay on their knees, praying.  I am about several people behind the nuns, but the APC is so huge it seems to loom even over me.

The soldier continues to signal the APC on.  I wonder how many will be crushed before they realize we mean to stay, or before the pile of bodies makes it impossible for the APC to continue.

...

Just as I am ready to hear the first shriek of agony, a miracle - the APC stops, its engine winds down.  Cheers and wild applause.  We have won again.  The soldiers glare down at us.  Again, the thousands gathered chant Cory's name.
"

So this is the ultimate asymmetrical warfare.  It is tanks versus nuns, bullets versus Rosary beads, machine guns versus crucifixes.  A religious icon known as Our Lady of La Naval de Manila is brought to the rebel headquarters and set up on a pedestal.  With Her presence the rebels feel they can't lose.

On Monday, February 24th the turning point comes.  Colonel Antonio Sotelo of the 15th Strike Wing has been ordered to attack Camp Crame using his squadron of attack helicopters.  His squadron has more than enough fire power to completely obliterate Camp Crame.  As Emmanuel Ridad writes:

"We heard the Sikorsky choppers fly over.  It was time to join the others in the building's lobby.  I was nervous.  My arms were stiff.  My hands were sweating.  My lips were very dry.

...

With my Armalite aimed at one of the helicopters, I was now ready to die.  I was just waiting for the whistling sound of the gunships' missiles and for the building to explode anytime.

But the helicopters did not open fire.  Instead, they began to land!

Don't fire!  They're defecting!  They're ours! a jubilant General Ramos shouted.
"

And so they were.  Colonel Sotelo and his entire command defected and put their helicopters at the disposal of General Ramos.  That Monday more and more of the military began to defect to the rebel side.  The power of the Marcos dictatorship was now ebbing fast.  That night the rebels captured their first television station, Channel 4.  For the first time since martial law was imposed in 1972, the Filipino people could watch television free from Marcos propaganda.

Tuesday, February 25th was the end game.  It was a day of two inaugurations.  The first took place at 8:00 a.m. Cory Aquino was sworn in as the seventh president at Club Filipino.  The second took place in the early afternoon.  Marcos was sworn in as president at Malacanang.  But he was already making preparations to flee the country.  The live coverage of Marcos's inauguration on the last television station to remain in loyalist hands, Channel 9, was cut off abruptly as the rebels took control of the station.

Marcos, his family, and a few of his cronies fled Malacanang via helicopter at 9:00 p.m. on the night of February 25th.  He stopped at Clark Field on his way to Guam and then eventual exile in Hawaii.  I think Cory Aquino put it best when she said:

"At last, we are home.  Let us remember the day, February 25, 1986; the time, nine in the evening; the occasion, the coming of freedom.

Freedom from twenty years of dictatorship, twenty years of oppression, hardship, repression, injustice, corruption, greed, waste and near-despair - ended.  Ended by a revolution of peace, prayers, Rosaries, radios, and above all, raw human courage.

It is true: the Filipino is brave, the Filipino is honorable, the Filipino is great.
"

Winston Churchill when looking back on how the British people stood up to Nazi tyranny during the Battle of Britain in the Summer of 1940, called it the finest hour of the British people.  Without a doubt, the EDSA Revolution of 1986 was the finest hour of the Filipino people.  It was a time when three million people armed only with faith in their God, confronted and overwhelmed a brutal dictatorship.  And unlike the current events in Iraq, they did it without an ounce of help from a superpower.  They did it all alone without any outside aid.  For that alone, the Filipino people ought to be extremely proud of their history.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about Filipino history and the character of the Filipino people.  I found the stories to be captivating and the photographs in the book are quite stunning.  I give the book my highest rating, 5 stars.