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Behind the Scenes of People Power

And not to detract from the impact of the so-called EDSA People Power Revolution of 1986 – because the Iron Curtain fell as a consequence of the example our people showed the rest of the world – but the real revolution happened not so much on the pesky traffic-infested stretch of concrete road that we have learned to conveniently call EDSA but rather well behind the scenes among those who themselves were directly or indirectly responsible for keeping Ferdinand Marcos in power…

Indeed, priests and nuns with rosaries holding back the tanks from advancing further was the Time Magazine edition of the revolution; and their pleading with fellow Filipinos not to engage those who had defected in battle and, therefore, prevent the spill of blood and civil strife was sheer fodder for journalists and photographers alike.

All it could have taken was a tank driver without morals to have burst the soap bubble of the so-called revolution – as machine guns showed in 1989 at Tiananmen Square in Beijing when Chinese youths attempted to discover how far the politburo could be pushed into changes in a manner not dissimilar to that on EDSA just three years earlier. Crushed bodies would not have looked as attractive on the front pages.

Behind the scenes, the word “defect” was suddenly becoming fashionable. To you and I, the word means to forsake a cause or a country; and usually for an ideological reason. The revolution was not so much the millions who had descended upon EDSA but more the changing of loyalties of those whose role it was to implement and maintain governance.

Anyone with a hammer could have hit Marcos on the head; and where would that have left the late former President? The question was always could anyone have come close enough to have hit him in the first place. And he was Iron Man for close to two decades…

No prizes, therefore, for guessing who was keeping Marcos in power all that time. The changing of loyalties behind the scenes, that was as medieval as it could possibly get. Albeit, there were the masses on EDSA to give the matter the gloss of democracy…

Technically, those in law enforcement and the military ought to be apolitical. Allegiance is sworn in support of the Chief of State, whoever that person may be at a given time. Perhaps, what sets us apart as a nation is that there are those in uniform – or at least, within the context of the first EDSA Revolution – who know that apolitical and amoral do not mean the same thing.

Had the drivers inside the Army tanks possessed the sort of blind loyalty that the Chinese troops of Tiananmen had, God only knows how History would have written the next quarter of a century for this country. Then again, perhaps the presence of God could be attested to by the fact that our soldiers knew when to surrender to a dilemma when it came in the form of the citizens they had sworn to protect.

We also do not, perhaps, give Marcos credit enough for leaving his seat of power when he did. When he and his family boarded an American chopper to be ferried to Hawaii, he was still not totally without support among those in uniform. His health was fast fading; and the writing was, indeed, on the wall. He had been called many things; but a dunce was never one of those. For whatever it was worth, his leaving preserved the relative bloodlessness of the so-called revolution.

Because I do not think Marcos was a dunce, I do not think, either, that he had anything to do with Ninoy Aquino’s assassination. Anybody with two cents’ worth of intelligence would have quickly come to the conclusion that Aquino’s assassination would only have rebounded back on the Marcos government. And Marcos was anything but stupid…

He was, however, totally intoxicated by his own power. Aquino’s death was simply the spark that lit a powder keg of passion in the Filipino people that Marcos’ dictatorship kept bottled in. I have no interest in who was ultimately responsible because the years have rendered the issue moot and academic. It is worth noting, though, that members of the foreign media started descending on Manila months before Marcos eventually fled. They were being fed information.

It was these very same members of the foreign media, however, that were totally captivated by the scenes along EDSA – the sheer drama of it – that it was they whose reports immortalized what would eventually come to be known simply as People Power. As a means for effecting change, the phenomenon was novel for the rest of the world.

There was little or no blood involved. What was required was for people to speak their collective voice on the streets. It would certainly be the eventual undoing of the once-mighty Soviet Union; ditto its allies inside the Iron Curtain. And it is starting to manifest itself again in the present all across the Middle East…

Tiananmen aside, there were also abortive People Power uprisings in Latin America that were never really brought to fruition. There have also been criticisms leveled against such movements because they essentially involve mostly the citizens in or close to the capital city. That is why wherever a People Power uprising succeeds in toppling the government, it has to be followed quickly by an election or referendum to legitimize the new government.

In all successful People Power uprisings, though, several common denominators have been observable. The nation involved must have been under a singular ruler or the same type of government for a significant amount of time; its citizens must feel an overwhelming need for change, particularly in the light of perceived injustices against them; there is a trigger that sends people out to speak their emotions on the streets; and its soldiers must feel a strong sense of what is right and wrong – enough, at any rate, to make them disobey orders if they involve the assault of citizens.

Of course, behind the scenes where the real power plays are enacted, enough of those who hold the keys to governmental power need to change loyalties to the emerging new figure so that the incumbent is persuaded to let go of power, in so doing allowing the desired change to be effected and the voice of the citizens to be heeded.

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