Today, Feb. 25, is the 36th anniversary of the culmination of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, arguably “The Greatest Democracy Ever Told,” as proclaimed on the cover of the book People Power.
One of those who shared his recollections of EDSA in the book, published by the James B. Reuter Foundation, S.J. in 1986, was the late Max V. Soliven, who, after EDSA, would become the founding publisher of The Philippine STAR.
The youth of the land learned a lesson in civics and citizenship from the barrel of the gun and the tip of the bayonet that could never be picked up in the classroom. l can only salute them with admiration and wonder.
They come from all sectors of society—from the public schools and the elite schools, from the slums and from the posh villages. They came as Filipinos and they won their spurs in that face-off, which won us liberty.
Take the contingent of 200 boys and girls from the Ateneo University who manned the Santolan-Libis front last Monday (Feb 24).
At 2 p.m., a jeepload and a truckload of Philippine Marines screeched to a halt in front of their human barricade. The Marines demanded to pass to assault Camp Crame. The kids—of high school and college age—shook their heads and refused to budge. They pleaded with the soldiers to go back, or else join the revolution. After a standoff of almost half an hour, the Marine officer in charge lost patience.
He gave the order, “Fix bayonets,” as the horrified priests and nuns, and the kids who had linked arms, listened. Then he instructed his men: “When you advance, don’t think of anything. Just thrust your way through.” Then they started marching forward in lock-step, their sharp bayonets glistening.
At the last minute, the priests ordered the students to give way—and the Marines pushed their way through. Many students fell to the ground or hugged each other, sobbing in anger and frustration. But they had stood their ground until it was impossible for unarmed and human flesh to resist bayonets. These kids will grow up knowing how dearly won and how important freedom is.
Fr. Arnel Aquino, S.J. was one of the priests that marched with the Ateneo students to man the Santolan-Libis barricades.
“Yup, that was us,” Fr. Arnel told me last week. “We were scared but resolute. Bahala na. Marami naman kami. Not just strength but comfort in numbers. While we pushed back, we eventually let the soldiers through because Fr. Bill Kreutz feared for our safety.”
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One of the “kids” who went to EDSA in 1986, right up to the corner of EDSA and Ortigas, is Ed Lingao of TV5. He was then a UP student, he recalled at a forum on EDSA moderated by Dr. Patricia Licuanan, where he was a panelist along with Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines president Bishop Ambo David, Solita Monsod and former Armed Forces chief Gen. Manny Bautista. Ed covered Malacañang at about the same time I worked at the Malacañang Press Office during the presidency of Cory Aquino.
In the iconic photo taken by Pete Reyes of the standoff between civilians and the military on Feb. 23, 1986, Ed is the teenager in dark shades behind the nuns, armed to the teeth with rosaries, who stared down armed soldiers and “tanks” at the junction of Ortigas Avenue and EDSA. How he got there was a journey in bravery, curiosity and, at first, serendipity. He had no choice because the bus he was riding from UP Diliman couldn’t get past P. Tuazon, he recalled at the forum. So he had to get off the bus—and into the pages of history. He couldn’t believe his eyes at first when he beheld the sea of people in front of him, spilling out onto the 12-lane highway. People power.
His next step was no longer an accident. It was his choice. He walked all the way to the Ortigas junction, and listened to the exchange between Butz Aquino and Marine Commandant Brigadier Gen. Artemio Tadiar. Aquino told Tadiar that if they (the civilians) let them pass, there would be bloodshed between Filipino and Filipino as the general said they were headed towards the camps where the forces that had broken away from the Marcos regime had holed up.
“We knelt, we prayed,” Ed recalled. Then the tanks started their engines, a very loud rumble. The tanks very slowly but surely moved forward. Then he saw something unexpected again. Photographers and reporters, who are supposed to be neutral in their coverage of events, themselves pushed back the tanks.
For Ed, it was very symbolic. “They chose to take a stand.”
Then the soldiers turned off the engines of the tanks, and with a sigh of relief, those who were at the barricades, EDSA’s “frontliners,” so to speak, “realized what we had done.”
They stopped the tanks.
“Filipinos chose to make a difference,” believes Ed.
“EDSA was a chance to reboot.”
On allegations that things have become worse after EDSA, Ed says, “Untrue.” Just think of the “democratic space” we have now because of EDSA, he points out. He also says that three presidents (that’s at least 18 years) after EDSA were not identified with EDSA, so critics cannot just blame the so-called dilawans or EDSA veterans for the problems of the country since 1986.
Was EDSA a failure? “No,” says Ed. “Perhaps we were the failure.”
But it is never too late to redeem ourselves. Again. *