Learning from EDSA
By Luis V. Teodoro
EVEN BEFORE the February 22, 1986 press conference called by then Minister of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile and then Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Vice-Chief of Staff Fidel V. Ramos to publicly declare their withdrawal of support from the government of Ferdinand Marcos, rumors were already rife in Manila that something politically cataclysmic was about to happen.
The rift between the Ver faction of the AFP and the Enrile-Ramos faction was already the stuff of coffee shop gossip. It was to some extent fed by Marcos himself, who, by naming his cousin Fabian Ver AFP Chief of Staff, seemed to imply that because AFP loyalty was crucial to the survival of his rule, he could not rely on anyone else except a close relative.
Equally widespread then were rumors about Marcos’ poor state of health, as well as Enrile’s disaffection with Marcos’ rule and the existence of a shadowy group of AFP officers supportive of Enrile and Ramos. One of the consequences of the unreliability of the government regulated press, rumors were taking the place of reliable information, but were eagerly seized upon by many information hungry Filipinos who were skeptical of the glowing reports that regularly and tiresomely appeared in the controlled media. The rumors of cracks in the ruling system were as persistent as the rumors of Marcos’ ill-health, both of which turned out to be accurate.
At the time a resident of University of the Philippines (UP) campus housing, in the evening of February 21 I was told by a neighbor, who was teaching at the College of Arts and Sciences department of philosophy, that a coup was in the offing, and that it was being led by Enrile and Ramos. That such a coup had in fact been planned, but had been discovered by Ver’s operatives, was eventually confirmed by, among other events , the February 22 Ramos-Enrile press conference at the AFP headquarters in Quezon City’s Camp Aguinaldo.
By the next day (February 23) Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin was calling on citizens to mass at EDSA to protect Enrile and Ramos who had been targeted for arrest as the supposed instigators of the coup against the Marcos government. Supermarkets and grocery stores were soon inundated by hordes of Filipinos anxious to stock up on food and other supplies, who emptied the shelves with Cardinal Sin’s call for background, because many of the food establishments were tuned in to Catholic Radio Veritas. Reports via the grapevine, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Malaya newspaper, and Radio Veritas soon indicated that thousands upon thousands of Filipinos were heeding the Cardinal’s call and were massing at Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue (EDSA) between the then Integrated National Police-Philippine Constabulary headquarters in Camp Crame, and Camp Aguinaldo.
Together with two friends from the University of the Philippines, I also proceeded to EDSA. My first impression was that a festival spirit was animating the mostly middle class and religious crowds, who, though presumably familiar with the regime’s capacity for violence, had brought picnic baskets and coolers as well as their children with them. But it was also apparent to me that for Marcos’ still loyal forces to disperse the growing multitude would mean killing hundreds and injuring thousands more, resulting in a political catastrophe Marcos could ill afford, the eyes of the world by then being focused on the events at EDSA through the international media, which had by then sent hordes of reporters and camera people into the Philippines.
I can’t remember when I saw it, but at one point, while the regime still had control of the broadcast media, Marcos and Ver staged a charade in which Ver pretended to be persuading Marcos to disperse the EDSA multitude with tanks and gunships, while Marcos put on an air of benign patriarchy by refusing to issue the order for Ver to do so. By that time, however, Radio Veritas and Radyo Bandido were already providing the listening public with reports on which military unit had defected to the Enrile-Ramos side. Eventually, even Marcos Spokesman Adrian Cristobal was forced to declare in an interview, about which Marcos expressed incredulity over television that “the government has fallen” not only because of the defections by several military units all over the country, but even more crucially, because of the swelling numbers of Filipinos massing at EDSA. By February 25, it was all over, with Marcos fleeing with his family to Hawaii, USA, and Corazon Aquino installed in Malacañang as the country’s president.
Overall, the experience validated my and many other Filipinos’ conviction that the regime would eventually fall because of the conflicts that were by that time wracking it. But even more crucial to its collapse was the concerted and determined direct action of a people who, after more than decade of living under a dictatorship, had finally declared “enough!”
Marcos had committed the fatal mistake of underestimating the people—and of overrating the capacity of fear and violence to keep himself in pelf and power. It’s a lesson all regimes anywhere should take to heart.