THIRTY-five years after EDSA 1, only the Yellow Cultists, I-was-there-behind-the-scenes people and those who amassed wealth as part of the two Aquino governments cling to the myth of a glorious People Power in which Light overcame Dark, Democracy defeated Dictatorship.
Rather, there is a consensus that includes even those who had been Corazon “Cory’ Aquino’s true believers, that EDSA 1 merely restored the pre-Marcos oligarchy-ruled republic. It is amazing indeed — and a testament to the power of propaganda — that anything other than that could be expected: the Lopez clan that has been the archetype of the Philippine oligarchy was Cory Aquino’s most visible and powerful supporter. And just a few months after EDSA, it would reopen its old powerful weapons, the Manila Chronicle and ABS-CBN, and retake its old family jewel, Meralco.
The People Power myth wouldn’t have lasted a decade if not for the fact that that there were two more Yellow presidents, the opportunistic Fidel Ramos and Cory’s son, the vacuous Benigno Aquino 3rd. Both won in the country’s two most contested elections.
It also lasted that long because the Lopezes’ ABS-CBN had become the biggest media network, and two of the largest broadsheets, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) and the Philippine Star were set up by Marcos haters and dedicated to propagating the EDSA 1 myth. “We are the torchbearers of the spirit of EDSA,” the late Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, inarguably the PDI’s moving force for decades, often said.
With the gleam of the EDSA 1 myth all but gone, we can dare propound the thesis: Was “People Power” merely disguised mob rule or worse, cannon fodder?
History in fact recently played a cruel joke, when in the US — whose Cold War strategists in the 1980s maneuvered the events that led to EDSA 1 — at least 10,000 angry Americans stormed its Congress, claimed its November elections were rigged, and for Trump to remain as president.
Isn’t that what happened in EDSA 1 when so many Filipinos in 1986 also claimed the February presidential elections were stolen, that Cory won, and that Ferdinand Marcos should step down from power? If not for the Yellows’ control of media, and if there had been social media in 1986, the photos that would have gone viral would have been young Filipinos ransacking Marcos’ study room and showing Imelda’s bottles of perfume.
Yes, the hundred thousand or so Filipinos who massed at EDSA to defend the mutineers led by Juan Ponce Enrile (later joined by Fidel Ramos) and his RAM boys, believed they were there to defend democracy.
But weren’t they by design expendable cannon fodder, whose lives the coup plotters had no compunction sacrificing had Marcos’ troops attacked them?
It is amazing really why unarmed Filipinos massed at EDSA to defend the mutineers, who were armed to the teeth, trained by the Israeli ex-military men. Did the mutineers strategize that while Marcos’ troops would be slowed down by thousands of civilians blocking them, or by hundreds of corpses they had to step over, they would have time to escape in the confusion? Isn’t that a description of a “human shield” — defined as the “presence of civilians on, whether voluntary or involuntary, used to impede military operations,” which is prohibited by international humanitarian law?
Indeed, with the communists’ and the Yellows’ propaganda that Marcos was a bloodthirsty dictator, the Communist Party believed — with much delight — that the dictator would crush the insurrection at the cost of many lives. After all the military establishment was still solidly behind Marcos: all of the commanders of the four services (Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force) supported him, except the Philippine Constabulary Chief Fidel Ramos, who even couldn’t bring a single police general to defect.
A bloodbath at EDSA would have driven tens of thousands of Filipinos into the arms of the Communist Party and to the ranks of the New People’s Army — a First Quarter Storm a hundred times over. That would have been ironic as arguably, what initially drove the people to EDSA was religious superstition and the hold the Church over people’s minds.
“The Blessed Lady will protect you in EDSA, and she will help us solve this problem peacefully,” Cardinal Sin announced in a message over radio. Indeed, the iconic images of EDSA 1 were priests and nuns kneeling before troops, carrying statues of the Virgin Mary. Of course, those who were first in that kind of mob were members of the Christians for National Liberation, the Communist Party’s organization.
Indeed, the biggest, nearly hilarious lie of EDSA is that it succeeded because of “Mama Mary’s” intervention. I’m confident though that future historians, especially when scholars unearth so far still secret US State Department and CIA archives, that it wasn’t Mama Mary but Uncle Sam that made EDSA a success.
The man who played the most important part in EDSA I is Marcos, ironically portrayed as the Devil in this EDSA Yellow legend.
If Marcos had followed the advice of his generals to move quickly to disperse the EDSA crowd, and undertake a ruthless surgical strike against the mutineers, there would have been a slaughter, like the Mendiola Massacre Cory let her generals umdertake a year later. But Marcos could also have retained power — even for just a few more years which would have given him time for a peaceful transition to a successor not hostile to him, such as Cesar Virata who he had made prime minister, and who the US had recommended.
This could have been done as many failed insurrections elsewhere in the world demonstrated, with the only variable being the number of people killed. The Chinese Communist Party demonstrated this could be done in 1989 when it crushed the Tiananmen Square protests — which ushered in an era of stability in China, that led to its tremendous economic growth. Or maybe the only blood that would have been spilled would be that of the mutineers, although mostly likely a thousand demonstrators would have been hauled to Fort Bonifacio stockades.
It is of course in the realm of speculation whether Marcos would have survived a violent dispersal of the EDSA crowd and the likely crushing of the mutineers.
It is also in the realm of speculation why Marcos did not order the EDSA crowd to be dispersed. A theory spread by the Yellows was that he was warned that the US would intervene militarily, and already had secured its puppet nations’ concurrence, and even participation in such extraordinary involvement.
I asked his son Ferdinand Marcos Jr. 33 years later why his father didn’t attempt to disperse the EDSA crowd. “My dad’s words were: ‘I’ve spent my entire life in the service of Filipinos. Why would I order them killed in the twilight of my political career?’ ”
Whichever explanation is true, Filipinos did not become cannon fodder in 1986, not because of Mama Mary’s intervention. It was because of Marcos.
Without Marcos’ decision, there could have been a bloodbath or maybe only a little. But certainly there would not have been an EDSA 1. And its copycat EDSA 2 would not have happened, nor perhaps even the Color Revolutions in Eastern Europe.
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