People Power in the Philippines

Disclaimer: The following blog post is not a reflection of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s opinion on the EDSA People Power Revolution in the Philippines.

By Nadya Hayasi.

1986 Philippines People Power Revolution[1]

February 2022 marks the 36th anniversary of the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) People Power Revolution in the Philippines, when the population overthrew dictator and kleptocrat Ferdinand Marcos and abolished the martial law implemented during his rule. However, history is at risk of repeating itself as Marcos’ son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., won the presidential elections in May 2022, marking the Marcos family’s return to Malacanang after 36 years.

To understand the effects of the reclamation of the highest office in the Philippines by the Marcos dynasty, it is imperative to examine Marcos Sr.’s rule, including the cronyistic and human rights abuses which unraveled during his two decades in power which ended in the dictator fleeing the nation after one of the most successful nonviolent protests in history.

Marcos Sr. was a noteworthy figure and gained mass support and success by claiming to have been the “most decorated war hero in the Philippines” during World War II, although his claims were later vehemently denied by the United States Army.[2] He served as a lawyer before climbing the political ladder in the Philippine Senate. He was elected as President in December 1965, and then reelected in 1969 which made him the first Philippine president to serve a second term.[3] His economic and industrial progress in the first term allowed him to stay for a second one, although his administration started to face increasing student demonstrations and urban guerrilla activities, as well as the threat of communist forces.[4]

In 1972, Marcos Sr. implemented martial law, rewrote the Philippine constitution to concentrate power under him, curtailed civil liberties, and gave key leadership positions to his closest friends and family members while also imprisoning and killing anyone who dared oppose his rule.[5] [6] While standards of living in the country declined rapidly, Marcos lived lavishly as he embezzled the nation’s funds for his own personal benefits, almost $10 billion missing by the end of his presidency.[7] His brazen and unbridled actions peaked when he ordered the assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino Sr., leading to great backlash from the Filipinos, who started to gear up for a fight.[8] In an effort to win back his popularity and legitimacy, Marcos held a snap presidential election in February 1986 against Aquino’s widowed wife Corazon Aquino. It was the most corrupt and deceitful election held in Philippine history, ending with Marcos declaring himself as the landslide winner.[9]

This time, it was enough. The Filipinos refused to accept the snap election decisions and on February 22, 1986, they took to the streets on Epifano de los Santos Avenue to protest for the removal of Marcos from his presidential powers. Over a million people from various walks of life showed up. The protest was also supported by national Catholic leaders like Cardinal Jaime Sin, the Archbishop of Manila, which was significant as most Filipinos were Catholic and had great trust in the religious institutions.[10] The military troops, ready to see a change as well, refused to fire on the crowds, with many joining the protests as well.[11] The protests also included a delayed payment of utility bills and a boycott of all the businesses that Marcos and his associates owned, in a movement to show they will no longer be funding Marcos’ presidency any longer.[12] The protest ended after 4 days with Marcos fleeing to Hawaii, Corazon Aquino being inaugurated as president, and the end of a 20-year dictatorship.

The revolution highlighted the power of the masses, and how the overwhelming number of Filipinos involved in the protest could lead to immediate and important change for the country. Without the widespread base of support for the cause, the revolution might not have succeeded the way it did in the Philippines. The revolution also inspired similar nonviolent movements around the world, including in former Soviet bloc countries who are galvanized by the success of regular Filipinos taking back their power and overthrowing an oppressive regime.[13]

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. waves a Philippine flag during his last campaign rally before the election on May 07, 2022 in Paranaque, Metro Manila, Philippines. [14]

The question thus stands, what does it mean for the Philippines to elect the son of a dictator who was overthrown less than half a decade ago. Will Marcos Jr. follow the footsteps of his father, or will he chart a new path for himself? It is easy to forget that his father’s oppressive rule was merely a generation ago. Many of those who lived through Marcos Sr.’s torture are now concerned that lessons of that era are going to be swept under the rug.[15]

The first step for Marcos Jr. is simply to acknowledge his father’s wrongs and assure that it won’t happen again, something that we have yet to see five months into his rule. As the protestors took to the streets again the day Marcos Jr. was appointed as president, “never again, never forget.”

[1] Associated Press.

[2] John Sharkey. “The Marcos Mystery: Did the Philippine Leader Really Win the U.S. Medals for Valor? He Exploits Honors He May Not Have Earned,” The Washington Post (December 18, 1983).

[3] The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Ferdinand E. Marcos,” Encyclopedia Britannica (Last Updated September 22, 2022).

[4] Ibid.

[5] “The Makings of a Constitutional Dictator,” Martial Law Museum.

[6] Nada AlTaher, “Who was Ferdinand Marcos Sr and what does a Bongbong victory mean for the Philippines?,” The National News (June 30, 2022).

[7] Nick Davies, “The $10bn question: what happened to the Marcos millions?,” The Guardian (May 7, 2016).

[8] Gareth Evans, “Why the Marcos family is so infamous in the Philippines,” BBC News (May 10, 2022).

[9] Michael Bueza, “Marcos vs Aquino, and past snap elections around the world,” Rappler IQ (February 7, 2015).

[10] Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso, “The Philippine church’s role in social transformation,” UCA News (February 27, 2017).

[11] Mark John Sanchez, “The People Power Revolution, Philippines 1986,” Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective (February 2021).

[12] Jee Y. Geronimo, “Martial law speak: Words that defined the anti-Marcos movement,” Rappler IQ (February 24, 2016).

[13] Aurea Calica, “1986 people power: Philippines’s gift to the world,” The Philippine Star (February 24, 2016).

[14] Ezra Acayan/Getty Images.

[15] Kathleen Magramo, “They were tortured under Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos Snr. Now they fear their stories are being erased,” CNN (September 30, 2022).