Monday, June 24, 2024

EDSA I: When People Fought and Won

By John Macklien Olandag | Feature Writer

Vol. XCI No. 18

Mar. 6, 2020

Radyo Veritas had been on-air for three days already. Their reports covered a massive solidarity between familiar and unfamiliar faces, on the wide stretch of an avenue famous now for what happened on those significant moments. The tanks rolled but its crew did not fire its turrets or their handheld weapons, but they reached out their hands as women gave them flowers in support of that peaceful revolution. The famous Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) was crammed with hundreds of thousands of people as the song of unity filled the air. On the third day, reports circulated that the president, his family, and his loyal high officials had been evacuated to an American chopper en route to Hawaii, to ultimately seal the fate of a 21-year reign that cost lives and people’s liberty.

Kim Komenich, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist captured the moments where the masses stood strong against a powerful dictatorship together with the might of his armed forces. He gave the world a concrete picture to the world of how the unified strength in numbers can topple a government in defense of a common liberty that was fought for by the nation’s forefathers. Former President Ferdinand E. Marcos reigned for two decades with a regime that sparked the rise of corruption and abuse of power that were practiced by high-ranking officials and uniformed personnel alike if not himself. The EDSA People Power Revolution I is the first of the two bloodless revolutions in the Philippines that pioneered a great weapon of defeating a powerful force using the power of solid numbers. 

A month prior to the revolution, President Marcos called for a snap election after an American journalist, David Brinkley, dared him in support of the question of the nation’s faith in him. He proceeded to run as a president with a woman with a strong personality, a widow of Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr., who was assassinated three years earlier allegedly backed by political rivals. She ran with a yellow ribbon pinned on her, fearless and bold as she challenged the existing dictatorship and backed the restoration of democracy. Mrs. Corazon C. Aquino accepted the challenge to lead the nation into liberty she originally enjoyed. The results were a split decision. The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) declared Marcos a winner but the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) declared Aquino as the victor. The contrasting results led to a violence catalyzed by the international observers’ comment that the COMELEC did not heed the explicit provisions of the Electoral Code requiring “that the tampered or altered election returns be set aside during the final counting process, despite protests by representatives of the opposition parts.” Thorough investigations further proved the existence of election-related violence and fraud, so it came into people’s senses and the church called the nation to boycott the COMELEC’s results which already had a number of programmers walking out due to the fraud that was happening.

These events had thrown the nation into full arms to fight. Filipinos all over the country had looked at the Philippine flag and realized its cry of freedom so everyone regardless of religion, ethnicity, literacy, and personality gathered together bringing with them not weapons but candles, flowers, placards, and letters.  The then-defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Vice Chief of Staff Fidel V. Ramos resigned their posts and joined the nation into this massive resistance. Radyo Veritas covered these events and drew the people closer as these two personnel also told their fellow government officials via live broadcast to “stop this stupidity already.”

As the civil resistance swelled, the government troops desperately cut down the main transmitter of Radyo Veritas, which impeded their broadcast and coverage to provinces. The radio station was proven to be a powerful communication media that fed the “rebels” information. Nevertheless, the station switched to a standby transmitter with limited range. People witnessed this desperate move by the government and this only made them grow in numbers. Entertainers came into the streets as they perform and entertain people in a festive mood but retaining their opposing atmosphere. Everybody became one entity as fighter for freedom. 

Later, at the 22nd day of February, the avenue became a center of what the world witnessed as an uprising without arms, an army of weaponless but passionate and dedicated Filipinos who braved the rolling tanks as the military try to silence the masses, but it’s the masses who got them when they offered these exhausted soldiers flowers and even food as they also decided to get off from their tanks. Then with the turrets silent, their shouts became the war cry that their forefathers chanted, and they locked their weapons, laying them down to go hand in hand with their women and children who became the part of this great crusade.

Radyo Veritas would become the channel, the underground tunnel of these people through the growing desperation of the government. Foreign journalists also covered the event as the sea of people became actors of history, that a Spartacus kind of uprising without arms had happened finally for the first significant time in the books and annals. No blood was shed, but the blood of those who fell during Marcos’ authoritarian regime became their catalyst. In the minds of these unified warriors are the memories of the fallen students, teachers, politicians, writers, and their fellow warriors who vanished or perished fighting for the democracy their sons and daughters would enjoy.

The 23rd of February grew more dramatic as General Artemio Tadiar threatened to open fire to the crowd as they dash their way to the rebel camps. The Filipinos braved the barrels of guns that faced them and sang “Bayan Ko” while retaliating to government troops with bread and cigarettes. The Holy See, as a spiritual consort for the people, even pleaded Marcos through a letter from Pope John Paul II to resolve the issue peacefully.

Even the United States government backed democracy as it expressed support on the widow’s government over the dictator’s rule. On the 24th of February, in the heat of the ongoing peaceful revolution that the world had witnessed, then-US President Ronald Reagan asked Marcos to step down. Marcos, sensing a diminishing number of loyalists, asked its remaining few to go to Mendiola to show their support of the declining regime.

With the people still encamping the streets on the 25th of February, the two opposing presidents held their inauguration address. Mrs. Aquino took her oath before then-Associate Justice Claudio Teehankee, Sr. at Club Filipino, Greenhills, San Juan. Meanwhile, President Marcos also swore his own oath at Malacañang in front of then-Chief Justice Ramon Aquino. Hours later, Radyo Veritas delivered a news that was greeted in jubilance by the people. Around early afternoon, Marcos, his family, and a handful of loyalists were flown by the US authorities via chopper to Hawaii therefore ending Marcos’ score-long reign. The people further made the matter more public by climbing into the palace, looting everything that reminded them of the dark past and scarred them for decades.

Hegelian perspective said that EDSA People Power Revolution I was an undying expression of the spirit that is inherently present in the people since the beginning. Dissatisfaction isn’t just the endpoint of reason why the people were bold enough to show their strength in numbers against the reigning government. The consciousness of freedom among people sparked the manifestation of this spirit. 

“People Power” became a sharp weapon since history witnessed this peaceful revolution. Other countries soon took the step in utilizing this weapon like the Orange Revolution in Ukraine which resulted in a successful revote, and only one casualty had been recorded due to a heart attack. 

This was a moment in history when people without swords, clubs, or rifles won the seemingly hardest battle one could imagine. This was EDSA I. 

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