Thirty-one years ago, Manila was brought to a standstill. Along Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue, the usual lines of vehicles were replaced by throngs of people as millions of Filipinos took to the streets and reclaimed the democracy that they had been deprived of, displaying their honor and courage for the whole world to see.
Today, the freedom that we enjoy can be attributed to the hardships the generation who came before us had faced during some of the most painful chapters of our history. Armed with nothing but faith and courage, Filipinos from different sectors of society came together, toppled a dictatorship, and paved the way for a nonviolent approach of protest which would later inspire many other countries to do the same.
As we celebrate the 31st anniversary of the People Power Revolution, let us travel back in time and relive the EDSA spirit through the accounts of three Lasallian professors who were all at different walks in their lives when these pivotal moments unfolded in our nation.
Through a child’s eyes
Despite having been around 6-years-old at the time, Assistant Professor Fernando Santiago Jr. clearly remembers what life was like at the height of the Marcos regime. “I was very much aware, growing up, what was happening,” he recalls, “Though I was a child back then, I had an awareness of certain realities that I would not fully comprehend until I was a bit older, pero kita ko..“
Santiago was born during Martial Law, so the circumstances of the time were the only ones he’d ever known. He grew up with the nuances it entailed, from TV propaganda portraying Marcos as a “strong man” who never showed any signs of weakness, to the very visible presence of the armed forces. He particularly notes an instance wherein his father was driving so fast, to the extent that he was driving recklessly, because he didn’t want them to be caught by curfew. To him, as child of that period, this was his understanding of what Martial Law entailed.
Although he was too young at the time to participate in the EDSA revolution itself, Santiago’s family brought him with them to the streets, tying yellow ribbons when Ninoy was on his way back to the Philippines. “It was a sign of support for Ninoy,” he explains, rather than an act of rebellion.
During the actual People Power Revolution, like many others, Santiago monitored the events on television. “I remember feeling very strongly,” he shares, “Like watching an event as it was unfolding live.” He feels as though witnessing these events in real time as a child made him mature a little faster.
It was only after People Power that a child, such as Santiago at the time, would finally know the extent of what Martial Law incurred. He had heard whispers of what the Marcos family was doing, but only after his presidency did the media start to actually show all the injustices they’d previously swept under the rug.
“Growing up, I was never aware of the realities in the Philippines,” he says, “Yun naman ang magandang experience ng Martial Law—the truths were hidden.”
Through a college student’s eyes
Dr. Jose Victor Torres of the history department was taking up his third year of college at the University of Santo Tomas when the EDSA Revolution struck. “[The] military were already blocking the way and there were checkpoints all around, so people couldn’t really move about and tell the police [they] were going to EDSA,” he explains, and attributes this as the main reason why he couldn’t take part in the revolution. He adds that he probably would have joined in, however, had the circumstances been different.
When all was said and done, the People Power Revolution was a success, and the Philippines welcomed a new president into power. “When Cory ran for president, I knew there would be something wrong about it,” Torres shares, “I was not pro-Marcos, but I never supported any of her moves to become president.”
Torres adds that he thought she was simply not the right person to be president at that time, given her lack of political experience. Despite having somewhat disagreed with the outcome, however, he still believes that, “[The EDSA Revolution] wasn’t a mistake, because it was removing a dictator from power.”
Many people today do claim that, because politicians abusing their power is still a staple in the Philippine government, the People Power Revolution was mostly in vain. Torres disagrees with this, saying the only mistake was that they replaced the oligarchs the Marcos family initially removed back into power.
In the end, Torres believes the EDSA revolution all boiled down to one thing: Democracy. That was its main goal, and despite all the controversy surrounding the other outcomes of the revolution, freedom was attained. Media censorship became far less strict, democratic processes were reinstated, and people were once again given a voice.
Through a historian’s eyes
If you asked a child who their hero was, it would be common to hear them respond with a fictional character from a comic book or their favorite television series, but if you asked a 7-year-old Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua that question, he would answer Ninoy Aquino.
Chua, aside from being an assistant professor in the History department, is also a historian that has researched extensively on the Marcos Regime. He has interviewed the likes of Corazon Aquino and is the host for “Xiao Time!”, a three-minute history documentary featured in News@1 of PTV 4.
Although Chua was only two years old when the revolution happened, his knowledge of this milestone in our history can be attributed to photographs and books which sparked his interest, as well as his grandmother who had been an activist during the time.
“I watched this documentary called Batas Militar during the first airing, September 21 of 1997. When I saw it, I felt na bakit hindi ko alam ito? I knew that there were bad things that happened. I knew about the revolution, but you know [schools] did not really tackle it,” Chua says.
Today, the lack of proper education on the EDSA Revolution continues to be a problem. Chua explains that the youth of today tend to only see the peaceful revolution of 1986 without understanding the long struggle that came before it. “If you lose the context of 14 years of repression under martial law, you will see that it was not an easy fight. The four days of peaceful revolution was the climax of a 14-year struggle that killed a lot of people.”
Yet despite the frailty of our Martial Law education, a rapidly growing number of young Filipinos are becoming more aware and are taking a stand on what they believe in, not just through social media, but on the streets as well.
Chua recalls feeling a wave of astonishment rush through him as he stepped out of his Uber to join the Anti-Marcos rally in the People Power monument. Standing before him were thousands of young people chanting at the top of their lungs as they held up handmade placards etched with witty catchphrases.
“These are the young people who are saying we will hold these values, and we will not allow anyone to tarnish them,” Chua says. “Parang nabuhay yung loob ko. In the long run, have we forgotten EDSA? More so now that a lot of people will not forget it.”
Leaving a legacy
The People Power Revolution can be seen as many different things, depending on whose perspective you see it through. For Torres, it was a lesson to be vigilant in regards to our democracy because it can always happen again. For Santiago, it was a product of the desire of the people to be free, and thus an exercise of freedom. For Chua, it was the climax of a 14-year struggle, wherein the Philippines lost countless countrymen, but earned ranks of immortalized heroes.
During those four glorious days, the world was shown the spirit of the Filipino. It was a revolution not by guns and bloodshed, but by roses and prayer, bravery and unanimity. Chua says, “This is where we showed our values as Filipinos: Bayanihan, pagiging maka-diyos, pagmamahal sa kapayapaan, pagiging malikhain, and pakikiramay. These values we showed to the world, and they applauded.”
Even now, 31 years after the fact, the lessons the EDSA revolution imparted still echo in the hearts of many all over the world. The youth of today, who had not even lived through it, can grasp a sense of its importance in history. It will, in many ways, be the legacy of the Filipino people, and will remain relevant wherever there is oppression and a desire for freedom.