Archive for the ‘Historical revisionism’ Category


Twenty six years ago today, a failed military coup that morphed into a popular uprising finally ousted and forced the flight of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his close family members and associates to Hawaii after four days.

Ferdinand Marcos

Notwithstanding the presence of armed soldiers on both sides, the uprising was largely non-violent and introduced ‘people power’ into popular and academic discourse.  While it is understandable that some Filipinos claim we invented ‘non-violent revolution,’ perhaps we should be modest enough to acknowledge the pioneering efforts of Mahatma Gandhi and his followers.  The Indians were unable though to expel the British colonists from the sub-continent.  

Gandhi leading the Salt March in defiance of British law

Gandhi leading the Salt March in defiance of British authorities

However, a military-civilian uprising peacefully ousted the 50-year old regime of President Antonio de Oliveira Salazar of Portugal–an event now known in history as the Carnation Revolution–in 1975, some 11 years before EDSA I.

A military rebel during Portugal’s Carnation Revolution

Perhaps, Filipino pride in EDSA People Power is justified because it was the first of its kind in Asia and is said to have inspired the fall of the Soviet Union and its allies through similar peaceful popular uprisings–events which completed the end of the Cold War.

Not a few Filipinos may consider today’s celebrations as ‘just one of those things.’  I suspect that this attitude is true among many of our youth.  An appreciation of EDSA 1986 requires some historical knowledge of martial law and the upsurge of the anti-dictatorship movement after the assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. as well as the four days of EDSA 1986.  History textbooks at the secondary level are relatively blank on these periods.  It is almost as if martial law is still in place.

It is this blind spot that invites historical revisionism.  It is expected that the Marcos family, led by its current spokesperson, Senator Bongbong Marcos, will deny any wrong-doing on the part of the family patriarch during martial law.  In today’s papers, Senator Marcos is reported to have demanded a stop to blaming his father for the country’s problems.

Senator Bongbong Marcos at the firing range

Senator Bongbong Marcos at the firing range

To be fair to Senator Marcos, he has a point.  It is indeed not right to censure his father for all of the nation’s woes.  Post-Marcos presidents share part of the failures.

However, none of the nation’s chief executives, save Ferdinand Marcos, concentrated political power in himself and a narrow coterie of family members and associates.  Such concentration of political power gave rise  to imprisonment of political opponents, human rights violations (including disappearances and torture), and conspicuous consumption.

I recently learned of a story written by Ed Lingao (http://pcij.org/stories/a-different-edsa-story/) at the website of the Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) that reported a rather intriguing take on EDSA 1986.  It  is about a video-ala-Powerpoint presentation authored by somebody who calls himself Baron Buchocoy.   I actually saw this production before but ignored it until Lingao’s story.  

Among other things, Buchocoy alleges that the only reason why EDSA 1986 was peaceful and non-violent was because Marcos himself ordered his men not to fire upon the rebel  soldiers and assembled crowds of civilians.  Perhaps, he will offer as proof the TV footage of Marcos admonishing a trigger-happy AFP chief of staff Fabian Ver before Malacanang was cut off the air.

Marcos ordering Ver not to fire on EDSA crowds

Let’s examine Buchocoy’s allegations.  If indeed there was no order to attack, why was a column of Philippine Marines tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs) sent to EDSA?  According to Buchocoy, the Marines were sent to arrest the rebel officers and soldiers holed out in Camp Aguinaldo.  The idea apparently is to convince the rebels not to resist arrest given the overwhelming superiority of the Marines force.

What happens if the military rebels resist arrest?

What if they make a last stand?

These are hanging questions but I guess the Marine commander will have to consult with higher authority.

As  things happened, hundreds of thousands of non-threatening civilians inserted themselves between the Marines and the military rebels.  As a result, the Marines never got near Camp Aguinaldo to accomplish their mission, whatever that was.

Marine with civilian women in front of armored personnel carriers

To accomplish their mission, the Marines will have to plow through the crowd with their armored vehicles. But every time they move, they were stymied by the crowd.  The most effective ‘anti-tank weapons’ were kneeling nuns praying the rosary.

Tank-stopping nuns

In many non-violent people power revolutions, we hear of orders for soldiers to fire upon or bomb the crowds of peaceful protesters.  These revolutions remained non-violent because officers and soldiers refuse to obey such orders.  Those who offered testimony after the fact answered that a key reason for hesitation and defiance is the probability that family members, friends, and neighbors might be in the crowd.

A professional military unit may hesitate, may be puzzled or flummoxed, when confronted by non-aggressive and unarmed civilians that stand in its way to accomplish a mission.

Also, in a situation where the military is divided and the fate of the country’s leader is on the balance, military units may hedge and decide to wait and see or dissemble as if following orders.

In a March 2007 international conference on people power held in Oxford where I presented a paper on EDSA 1986, one of my discussants, former US ambassador to the Philippines (1984-87) Stephen Bosworth revealed that Marcos was warned by his government not to attack the military rebels and unarmed civilians.

US ambassador Stephen Bosworth

Thus, the nonviolent character of EDSA 1986 does not lie on an alleged Marcos decision not to attack.  

What intrigues me to this day is Marcos’ failure to attack when he still had the upper hand.  He got an early warning of the attempted coup the failure of which sent the rebels scurrying to Camp Aguinaldo at the first day of EDSA 1986.   This was when the rebels were most vulnerable.  Their estimated strength was 400-600 and they were yet to be cocooned by a crowd.  

Was Marcos still gathering information?  Was he conducting a loyalty check within the military and consolidating his loyalists first? Or was he caught between a rock and a hard place because of the US pressure?    

Now to my last point.  I mentioned earlier that many Filipinos think February 25 is just one of those commemorations.  While some would invoke a so-called ‘spirit of EDSA’ to carry out deep reforms, others (Senator Bongbong Marcos included) complain that EDSA has not meant a better life for Filipinos.

At the risk of demeaning EDSA 1986, I submit that it is not a revolution in the full sense of the word.  It was participated in by millions of Filipinos who were united on a single issue: Marcos and his cohorts must go so political power can be freely contested.  No unity exists among the many Filipinos massed in EDSA beyond this issue: workers want wage hikes while capitalists would not be in favor of that; some wanted the ouster of the US military bases while others do not. And so on.

The legacy of EDSA 1986 is concretized in the 1987 Constitution.  Through the Constitution, we can carry on and frame our struggles for needed change.  If we deem it necessary, we can amend the charter.  To the extent that we can do all these things, we owe them to EDSA 1986.

(Footnote on Buchocoy: He sees EDSA 1986 in a negative way that one cannot be faulted from thinking that he would have wanted Marcos to issue orders to fire upon the military rebels and civilian crowds to prevent his ouster and the ascent to power of Cory Aquino.)

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