EDSA 1: A Recollection
By Maribel Ongpin
ON FEBRUARY 22, 1986, a Saturday, I was coming home exhausted from a Namfrel (National Movement for Free Elections) thanksgiving mass in Marikina. It was about 8 pm.
My exhaustion was due to months of doing Namfrel work as the Chair for Mandaluyong City. It also came from the tension brought about by the events before and after the February 1986 elections. Those were days of chaos after years of tense opposition to the dictatorship, starting from years of discontent at the way the country was in, and culminating in the shocking assassination of Ninoy Aquino at the Manila airport.
As was customary in those days when we all tuned in to the radio, usually to Radio Veritas, to keep up with the events we seemed to be caught in, I had the car radio on while going home from Marikina.
I was not quite listening to the drone of the radio when I realized there was a report on the elections’ being fraudulent and that the people who were being interviewed were going against the regime. My ears perked up when I identified the voices to be those of General Fidel Ramos and Secretary of National Defense, Juan Ponce Enrile. I thought I was hearing things, probably because I was too tired to analyze or figure out what really was on the radio. I thought that what was being aired was just another speculative chat program.
But I did come home vaguely curious and looked for Jim, my husband, for a comment. Ramona, our helper of long standing, met me at the door and I quickly asked if Jim was home. Yes, she said, he was packing.
Indeed, he was. What I had heard on the radio was real. It seemed there was some kind of coup going on which we did not quite understand or know what to do about. All we knew was that weeks before we had been warned that Jim was in the list of people for arrest if the government decided to crack down. It was time to flee to a safehouse as Manindigan (a civil society group which took a stand against the dictatorship) members like us had agreed on early that afternoon during a meeting.
We did just that amid a flurry of phone calls that established that there was an ongoing rebellion and that people power was needed to pull it through.
Thereupon, Jim went to the military camps (Crame and Aguinaldo) with our eldest son, Rafael, while I stayed with our other children.In the beginning, in the tense days that followed when large numbers of people gathered at EDSA, I would be present there in the daytime, while Jim and Rafael would replace me at night.
In the first night, according to Jim and Rafael, the thick crowd that had gathered earlier before midnight dispersed, leaving a dangerously small group that stayed through the night.
When I went to EDSA in the daytime armed with food and drink, sunblock and calamansi (supposedly to use against teargas), there was a more comfortable number of people that soon grew more and more. But we saw tanks in the distance that were coming closer. We were in front of Camp Crame and the tanks stopped short at Ortigas, then full of empty spaces where now there are buildings.We were afraid that they would let loose and shoot. We waited.
Many who had participated in opposition demonstrations arrived, friends among them. We continued to wait at the corner of Annapolis street and EDSA, where we had a good view of who were coming and going. Soon, not only the usual opposition demonstrators were coming, but also people who had kept to themselves, did not comment on politics or participate in the years-long resistance to the dictatorship that had brought us there. Strangers, vendors, religious groups (including priests in full regalia)—a whole spectrum of contemporary Filipino society—was showing up.
I had recruited my neighbors, my helpers, my friends, the friends of my children, the friends of friends to come to EDSA. They were all there. Some were apprehensive. Some were looking at the event as entertainment, while others were more militant.
The one funny thing I remember was that as I sat under a coconut tree it suddenly shed one of its fronds, which fell on me. I was stunned and in pain. But everyone laughed, so I joined in the laughter.
We watched how television was covering the news. The first night showed us a grim scene of military officers in front of President Marcos being accused of involvement in a conspiracy to commit treason. That was intimidating and frightful. The next day all the Marcos cabinet members were there, including my brother-in-law whom I had talked to on the first day to ask how he was because he was on General Ver’s hate list. He said he was somewhere and not to worry and for us to get out of the house. In that television scene he looked grim too.
Sometime on the second day, we saw dozens and dozens of PLDT vehicles roaming the streets of Mandaluyong from their depot in the area as though on parade or in some kind of triumphant mode. Wondering what that meant was the mystery of the day. Who sent them? What for? Why?
Then the news came that the Malacañang occupants had left for the airport. We turned on the television set only to see them all in view in Malacañang. The “news” was just a rumor.
By this time I had hardly seen my husband since the first day of the mass gathering (February 23). He was busy doing whatever he had assigned himself to do, such as talking to diplomats, to the military, to the media, to the Cory Aquino group. But on February 25, while at home from my EDSA watch, I received a telephone call from him saying that it was all over, Malacañang was empty and he was at Josephine Cojuangco Reyes’ residence with Cory Aquino and the Opposition. A revolutionary government had been established.
Soon a flurry of calls came through, even from abroad, asking whether it was true. It was.
During those three cool days in February (from the 23rd to the 25th), the culmination of three years of unrelenting resistance to the powers that be, we went through a gamut of emotions, a mix of hope and fear.
The rest is history which I lived through, participated in and will never forget.
Yet it was not the last chapter for me or my family. Jim came home that night and surprised us by saying he had been named finance minister of the new government. But that is another story.