The People Power Revolution (also known as the EDSA Revolution and the Philippine Revolution of 1986) was a series of nonviolent and prayerful mass street demonstrations in the Philippines that occurred in 1986. It is sometimes referred to as the Yellow Revolution due to the presence of yellow ribbons during the arrival of Ninoy Aquino. These protests were the culmination of a long resistance by the people against the 20-year running authoritarian regime of then current president Ferdinand Marcos and made news headlines as "the revolution that surprised the world". The majority of the demonstrations took place at Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, known more commonly by its acronym EDSA, in Quezon City, Metropolitan Manila and involved over 200,000 Filipino civilians as well as several political, military, and religious figures, such as Jaime Cardinal Sin. The protests, fueled by a resistance and opposition of years of corrupt governance by Marcos, occurred from February 22 to 25 in 1986, when Marcos fled Malacañang Palace to the United States and conceded to Corazon Aquino as President of the Philippines.
Throughout his presidency, Ferdinand Marcos had set up a regime in the Philippines that would give him ultimate power over the military and the national treasury. Following his declaration of martial law on September 21, 1972, Marcos immediately began to embezzle money from the government and order the military to kill any political competition against him. As a result, the Philippine economy began to tumble greatly, and the nation lost its competitive edge in Southeast Asia.
Several groups of people, however, even within the government, conspired throughout the term of the Marcos regime to overthrow him. They were led by the popular public figure, opposition senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr, said to be leaning to a left-wing solution. While gaining popularity amongst the Filipino people for his stance against Marcos, Aquino was eventually forced to seek exile in the United States for his beliefs after several groups threatened to assassinate him. However, in 1983, despite being warned not to return to the Philippines, Aquino announced that he would fly back to fight for his people.
The assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983 caused the economic problems of the country to deteriorate even further, and the government plunged further into debt. By the end of 1983, the country was bankrupt, and the economy contracted by 6.8%.
In 1984, Marcos appointed a commission, led by Chief Justice Fernando, to launch an inquiry and investigation into Aquino's assassination. Despite the commission's conclusions, Cardinal Jaime Sin, the Archbishop of Manila at the time, declined an offer to join the commission, rejecting the government's views on the assassination. In October of that year, Marcos appointed a second commission to investigate. The commission's final report accused the military of staging a conspiracy to assassinate Aquino, dealing another major blow to the already collapsing government.
The elections were held on February 7, 1986. The electoral exercise was marred by widespread reports of violence and tampering of election results. The official election canvasser, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), declared Marcos the winner. The final tally of the COMELEC had Marcos winning with 10,807,197 votes against Aquino's 9,291,761 votes. On the other hand, the final tally of the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), an accredited poll watcher, had Aquino winning with 7,835,070 votes against Marcos' 7,053,068 points.
Because of reports of alleged fraud, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a statement condemning the elections. The United States Senate also passed a resolution stating the same condemnation. US president Ronald Reagan, a friend of Marcos, issued a statement calling the fraud reports as "disturbing". In response to the protests, COMELEC claimed that Marcos with 53 percent won over Aquino. However, NAMFREL countered that the latter won over Marcos with 52 percent of votes.
Marcos was still proclaimed the winner amidst the controversy. The Filipino people refused to accept the results, however, asserting that Aquino was the real victor. Both "winners" took their oath of office in two different places, with Aquino gaining greater mass support. Appalled by the apparent election irregularities, Juan Ponce Enrile, then secretary of National Defense, and some military officials tried to set in motion a coup attempt against Marcos that they have been planning for some time. However, after Marcos learned about the plot, he ordered their leaders' arrest.
The events of the revolution started when two key leaders of the military withdrew their support for Marcos. At 6:45 p.m. on Friday, February 22, 1986, the Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile and the Vice Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Lt. Gen. (later president) Fidel Ramos announced at a press conference that they felt Marcos had stolen the election. Therefore, they declared that they could no longer support Marcos and that Aquino was the rightful president. Subsequently, they barricaded themselves in two military camps: Ramos at Camp Crame, Headquarters of the Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police and Enrile at the Ministry of National Defense in Camp Aguinaldo. Both camps faced each other across EDSA in Quezon City, Metro Manila. Supported by only a few hundred fellow soldiers, Enrile and Ramos prepared for the inevitable attack by Marcos-loyal troops led by Gen. Fabian Ver, the Armed Forces Chief of Staff.
A few hours later, Radio Veritas—a Roman Catholic Church radio station which helped amplify the voice of the Filipinos during the mass revolution and the only non-government-controlled radio station—replayed the press conference nationwide. Marcos himself later conducted his own news conference calling on Enrile and Ramos to surrender, urging them to "stop this stupidity."
At about 9 p.m., in a message aired over Radio Veritas, the highly influential Catholic Archbishop of Manila Jaime Cardinal Sin exhorted Filipinos to come to the aid of the rebel leaders by going to EDSA between Camp Crame and Aguinaldo and giving emotional support, food and other supplies. For many, this seemed an unwise decision since civilians would not stand a chance against a dispersal by government troops. Nevertheless, many people, especially priests and nuns, trooped to EDSA.
Radio Veritas played a critical role during the mass uprising. Nemenzo stated that: "Without Radio Veritas, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to mobilize millions of people in a matter of hours." Similarly, a certain account in the event said that: "Radio Veritas, in fact, was our umbilical cord to whatever else was going on."
At dawn, Sunday, government troops arrived to knock down the main transmitter of Radio Veritas, cutting off broadcasts to people in the provinces. The station switched to a standby transmitter with a limited range of broadcast. The station was targeted because it had proven to be a valuable communications tool for the people supporting the rebels, keeping them informed of government troop movements and relaying requests for food, medicine, and supplies.
Still, people came to EDSA until it swelled to hundreds of thousands of unarmed civilians. The mood in the street was actually very festive, with many bringing whole families. Performers entertained the crowds, nuns and priests led prayer vigils, and people set up barricades and makeshift sandbags, trees, and vehicles in several places along EDSA and intersecting streets such as Santolan and Ortigas Avenue. Everywhere, people listened to Radio Veritas on their radios. Several groups sang Bayan Ko (My Homeland), which, since 1980, had become a patriotic anthem of the opposition. People frequently flashed the LABAN (fight) sign, which is an "L" formed with their thumb and index finger.
In the mid-afternoon, Radio Veritas relayed reports of Marines massing near the camps in the east and tanks approaching from the north and south. A contingent of Marines with tanks and armored vans, led by Brigadier General Artemio Tadiar, was stopped along Ortigas Avenue, about two kilometers from the camps, by tens of thousands of people. Nuns holding rosaries knelt in front of the tanks and men and women linked arms together to block the troops. Tadiar threatened the crowds but they did not budge. In the end, the troops were forced to retreat with no shots fired.
By evening, the standby transmitter of Radio Veritas failed. Shortly after midnight, the staff were able to go to another station to begin broadcasting from a secret location under the moniker "Radyo Bandido" (Bandit Radio). June Keithley was the radio broadcaster who continued Radio Veritas' program throughout the night and in the remaining days.
At dawn on Monday, February 24, the first serious encounter with government troops occurred. Marines marching from Libis, in the east, lobbed tear gas at the demonstrators, who quickly dispersed. Some 3,000 Marines then entered and held the east side of Camp Aguinaldo.
Later, helicopters manned by the 15th Air Force Strike Wing, led by Major General Antonio Sotelo, were ordered from Sangley Point in Cavite to head to Camp Crame. Secretly, the squadron had already defected and instead of attacking Camp Crame, landed in it, with the crowds cheering and hugging the soldiers who came out. The presence of the helicopters boosted the morale of Enrile and Ramos who had been continually encouraging their fellow soldiers to join the opposition movement. In the afternoon, Aquino arrived at the base where Enrile, Ramos, RAM officers and a throng were waiting.
During this broadcast, Channel 4 suddenly went off the air. A contingent of rebels, under Colonel Mariano Santiago, had captured the station. Channel 4 was put back online, shortly after noon, with a voice declaring, "This is Channel 4. Serving the people again." By this time, the crowds at EDSA had swollen to over a million. (Some estimates placed them at two million.)
In the late afternoon, rebel helicopters attacked Villamor Airbase, destroying presidential vehicles. Another helicopter went to Malacañang, fired a rocket and caused minor damage. Later, most of the officers who had graduated from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) defected; the majority of the Armed Forces had already changed sides.
Fabian Ver: We have to immobilize the helicopters they've got. We have two fighter planes flying now to strike at any time, sir.
Ferdinand Marcos: My order is not to attack.
Ver: They are massing civilians near our troops and we cannot keep on withdrawing. You asked me to withdraw yesterday....
Marcos (interrupting): My order is to disperse [them] without shooting them.
Ver: We cannot withdraw all the time...
Marcos:' No, no, no! Hold on. You disperse the crowds without shooting them. You may use any other weapon...
Later in the morning, Corazon Aquino was inaugurated as President of the Philippines in a simple ceremony at Club Filipino in Greenhills, about a kilometer from Camp Crame. She was sworn in as President by Senior Associate Justice Claudio Teehankee, and Laurel as Vice-President by Justice Vicente Abad Santos. The Bible on which Aquino swore her oath was held by Aurora Aquino, the mother of Ninoy Aquino. Attending the ceremonies were Ramos, who was then promoted to General, Enrile, and many politicians. Outside Club Filipino, all the way to EDSA, about hundreds of people cheered and celebrated. Bayan Ko (My Country, a popular folk song and the unofficial National Anthem of protest) was sung after Aquino's oath-taking. Many people wore yellow, the color of Aquino's campaign for presidency.
An hour later, Marcos conducted the inauguration at Malacañang. Loyalist civilians attended the ceremony, shouting "Marcos, Marcos, Marcos pa rin! (Marcos, Marcos, still Marcos!)". On the Palace balcony, Marcos took his oath as the President of the Philippines, broadcast by the remaining government television channels and channel 7. None of the invited foreign dignitaries attended the ceremony for security reason (although Moscow sent a congratulatory message). The couple finally stepped out in the balcony of the palace in front of the 3000 KBL loyalists who were shouting to Marcos: "Capture the snakes!" First Lady Imelda Marcos sang one more rendition of "Dahil Sa Iyo" (Because of You), the couple's theme song, rather tearfully, chanting her trademark Tagalog entreaties:
Because of you I attained happiness
I offer you my love
If it is true that you shall enslave me
All of this is because of you.
After the inauguration, the Marcos family and their close associates hurriedly rushed to leave the Palace. The broadcast of the event was also cut off as rebel troops successfully captured the other stations.
By this time, tens of hundreds of people had amassed at the barricades along Mendiola, only a hundred meters away from Malacañang. They were prevented from storming the Palace by loyal government troops securing the area. The angry demonstrators were pacified by priests who warned them not to be violent.
At 3:00 p.m., Monday, (American time) Marcos talked to United States Senator Paul Laxalt, asking for advice from the White House. Laxalt advised him to "cut and cut cleanly", to which Marcos expressed his disappointment after a short pause. In the afternoon, Marcos talked to Enrile, asking for safe passage for him and his family. Finally, at 9:00 p.m., the Marcos family was transported by four American helicopters to Clark Air Base in Angeles City, Pampanga, about 83 kilometers north of Manila, before heading on to Guam, and finally to Hawaii.
When the news of Marcos' departure reached the people, many rejoiced and danced in the streets. Over at Mendiola, the demonstrators were finally able to enter Malacañang Palace, long denied to Filipinos in the past decade. Looting by overly angry protesters occurred, but mostly people wandered inside, looking at the place where all the decisions that changed the course of Philippine history had been made.
Many people around the world rejoiced and congratulated Filipinos they knew. Bob Simon, an anchorman at CBS said, "We Americans like to think we taught the Filipinos democracy; well, tonight they are teaching the world."
Despite the People Power Revolution, the democratic political system of the Philippines is still fragile and flawed. Patronage politics still hinders the development of democracy and resources are still at the hands of the few. However, the fall of Marcos and the collapse of the Communist movements has discouraged non-democratic alternatives to politics. The revolution also provided the restoration of democratic institutions after thirteen years of authoritarian rule. These institutions can be used by political and social actors to challenge the entrenched political clans and develop Philippine democracy.
There are political writers, especially those living outside of Metro Manila, who associate the People Power Revolution with what they term as "Imperial Manila" because it was believed that Marcos was toppled from his position without the participation of Filipinos living in areas outside of the capital region. In an article published in Philippine Daily Inquirer, Amando Doronila wrote that:
People power movements have been an Imperial Manila phenomenon. Their playing field is EDSA. They have excluded the provincianos from their movement with their insufferable arrogance and snobbery...ignoring the existence of the toiling masses and peasants in agrarian Philippines.