There and Back Again: Recounting the Philippine People Power Revolution
“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.”
— Gandalf, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit
This month, we remember the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, a 4-day mass uprising along a major highway that overthrew Ferdinand E. Marcos. The Philippines was lauded all over the world for ousting a dictator without violence, and inspired similar actions in several countries. Yet today, many Filipinos know very little about what happened, or are ambivalent about what was achieved there.
So how should we celebrate People Power, 37 tumultuous years later? What does it even mean today?
To start with, People Power won us the freedoms we enjoy today. Like hanging out with more than two friends in a coffee shop or other public place. Or freely accessing the whole range of books and media products on history and politics. Or travelling home late at night from a party or late-night shift without being arrested. Or sharing views or clever comebacks about news and current events (courtesy of a free press) on Facebook, Twitter or TikTok. These are freedoms we didn’t always enjoy. And we mustn’t take them for granted because they were hard won for us by those who came before. Today, we stand on the shoulders of the people who fought for those freedoms despite the personal risks they had to take, and in some cases, at the cost of their lives.
The EDSA Revolution was a tremendous victory of the Filipino people. Not just of the high-profile personalities. Not just of any one group or coalition. Not just of the national capital region. People from all walks of life were there to lend their bodies and power to a cause bigger than us. And because we came together as a people, we achieved what we thought was impossible.
People Power was not just those four days on EDSA. Several years before EDSA, we saw the exercise of People Power become more visible. Normal, previously unengaged citizens started to discuss the national situation among themselves, and formed groups on their own. Many new organizations emerged — community groups, alumni associations, student assemblies, sectoral formations, regional alliances, issue-based organizations. Protest art and merch began to proliferate. More and more people started to attend forums and protest rallies. Filipinos had found the strength and courage that had been suppressed for so long! EDSA was merely the culmination of that energy, and would not have happened without those years prior.
We have People Power inside us. The 1986 Revolution ushered in the widening of our democratic space, and a new Constitution with a strong adherence to human rights, social justice, and citizen participation. But for our democratic ideals to be fully realized, we need to continue exercising our power not just on momentous occasions but in the daily work of looking after each other, keeping government accountable to us, and in contributing to the unfinished national project. With government and sometimes despite it. Because we are the nation.
This is what we should remember and celebrate every February. People Power is what we should harness every day. Because the work doesn’t end after the dragon is defeated or the big battle has been fought. More important is to continue the journey.
WiseOwl Management Consultancy (WiseOwl) is a duly registered strategy firm specializing in communication for social change, with expertise in communication strategy, branding, social and cultural marketing, social behavior change communication, training and community-building.