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EDSA, an Analysis (Part 1)

Here, hopefully, is an attempt to salvage the “tangibles” within EDSA, in the hope that people will see stars where there are stars, and a civil revolt, where there was civil revolt. We will dissipate the aura of “magic”, and that EDSA was a blessed insurrection, and treat it in every respect as what it was: aninsurrection.

Read here for a dedication I wrote at what I feel is the definitive end of the EDSA Movement: The Story of the EDSA Movement



An interesting read would be “Taming People’s Power: The EDSA Revolutions and their Contradictions“, which also take a pragmatic and realistic approach to the EDSA Movement.



I have written several posts tackling the EDSA Revolution: one placed the February 1986 demonstration alongside the January 2001 and May 2001 protests in a historical context that alluded it to the violent protests that rocked Czarist Russia from 1905 to 1917; another saw that EDSA was in fact a continuing revolutionary movement that has as yet to see its conclusion; and another that stated that it was doomed to fail by the mercies of the leaders. Reaching the territory of the so-called “EDSA 2” (which I once dubbed the January Uprising), readers and bloggers have divided squarely into two factions: one clung to the idea that EDSA-any EDSA-was bestowed upon the people as “divine right”, and that the protest of the streets was the weapon that can be “wielded” by the people when the institutions they have put their trust to have failed. The other side has since denied that EDSA 2 was legitimate, that the “Parliament of the Streets” perpetuated a cycle of futility, and invited anarchy. This other camp has clung to the comforts of “legitimacy”, and “lawful transition”.

EDSA of 1986 has reached such mythological proportions, that its more tangible aspects have disappeared in place of a “magical event” that led the people of the Philippines to congregate to that famous square, sing hymns of praise and stop the tanks with their faith. Sometimes, even these small details are lost before the “miracles” and the “symbolisms”. Losing the tangibles however, we would lose the very significance of what EDSA was-a Philippine equivalent to the Martin Luther King demonstrations. It happened in a few days, and not as violent as the dispersals in the Alabama protests. It was a civil revolt.

Here, hopefully, is an attempt to salvage the “tangibles” within EDSA, in the hope that people will see stars where there are stars, and a civil revolt, where there was civil revolt. We will dissipate the aura of “magic”, and that EDSA was a blessed insurrection, and treat it in every respect as what it was: an insurrection.

The Circumstances of EDSA

The first obvious mistake of both parties is to think that the revolution is formed within a period of weeks, or even days. This is the case because the point of a revolution that most attracts attention is the explosive act of insurrection, or overt attack on the institution that is no longer masked in conspiracy. The Revolution in Russia did not begin in October 1917. The beginnings of it could actually be seen even earlier, in 1905, when the Russian czar was forced to concede the creation of a more liberal government body, the Duma. But again, this is merely the overt element of the uprising, and meanwhile the revolutionary movement evolved over time, from mere anarchy to Marxism, and from Marxism to Communist-Bolshevism.

In the same way, the EDSA revolution was not waged in those critical days of February 1986. Resistance to Marcos existed even before Martial Law, and civil resistance continued even during the early years of the dictatorship. While the actions of Senator Benigno Aquino ultimately served as the catalyst for the impending EDSA uprising, he was merely one out of a few elements within Congress, and within members of the government, that was silently resisting Marcos. Revolution is an assault of both political and socio-psychological character. A revolution does not die because its overt elements-military, political leadership-is terminated or suppressed, but when all significant elements of society willingly and gradually give it up. Senator Aquino began to form EDSA as a cohesive whole, by planting the seeds of doubt and resistance against Marcos.

The movement evolved from the generally scattered liberal demonstrations of the students and the passive legal resistance of elements of the government, to the overt, focal point of Senator Aquino, to even more violent civil demonstrations, until it was carried on by the military.

Ninoy was not the leader of EDSA. While he carried the resistance through to the United States and helped give “international exposure” to the simmering movement against Marcos, in fact the dictator was trying to stamp out the elements of the movement from at home. The best one can say is that Ninoy could have been a leader of EDSA because he was the only one left. The contrary, however, was true. The movement had simply crystallized to him when most of its elements had been suppressed or expunged. To hammer the point, Colonel Klaus Stauffenburg as portrayed in the movie Valkyrie was not the sole leader of the resistance movement to kill Hitler. The conspiracy to overthrow the dictator existed as early as 1939, following the invasion of Poland. There was not even only one or two overt acts to kill Hitler, but several that dotted 1942 and 1943. It even went so far as to try to contact the West and the Allies at large, including the Pope. Ninoy was one such Stauffenburg. He did not create EDSA, but was one element that indicated the movement’s evolution.

The surprising truth is, is that in most pure revolutions, there is no one leader. It is a mass movement, both political and socio-psychological, with its one aim as to uproot the present institution, and replace it. The nightmare of the French Revolution was that it had no central leadership, and the rivaling parties from Girondin to Jacobin fought for control, and threw each other to the Revolution’s weapon, the guillotine. As a result, the Revolutionary movement passed to the monsters Robespierre and Marat, the compromise Directorate, to the closet-aristocrat Napoleon Bonaparte. The Chinese Revolution, following Sun Yat-Sen’s “inspired victory” to topple the Manchu government, splintered into military anarchy, and the core of the movement was later contested between his legitimate successor Chiang and the Marxist Mao. Before Ninoy, the movement against Marcos (EDSA was only its focal, rallying name), could be overtly seen in the demonstrations by the students, and the legal battles over the Senate. Following his death, the EDSA movement had no de facto leadership but carried on in rising tempo, eventually espousing the focal point of the senator’s wife. The snap elections of 1986 was because of the revolutionary movement. The subsequent violent protests and economic boycott was again because of the revolutionary movement.

Would the revolution have exploded without the overt intervention of Ramos and Enrile? The actions of the two generals were products of the conditions created by the EDSA uprising. Even before the military revolt Aquino was leading an escalating standoff with the Marcos dictatorship. The conditions in 1986 are similarly analogous to Russia’s in 1917:

We generally attribute the fall of Czar Nicholas II in the period, November 1917 (October in the Russian calendar) through the leadership of Lenin. Lenin was such an overt, critical element of the Russian Revolution that the movement itself is popularly centered on him, that he was its spiritual leader. The Bolshevik Revolution may have espoused Ulyanov as its leader, but the greater Russian Revolution as had been discussed earlier, first erupted in 1905 and then erupted again in March 1917. When Lenin came to power, and merchantmen began to revolt in the shipyards, he was not directing his attack solely on the Czar. Nicholas and his family was under house arrest. The reigns of power had passed on to the Liberals and to Alexander Kerensky, who merely continued the war policies of the Czar, which may have contributed to the mistake that the Czar still held leadership.

At the heady days of 1917, Russian military morale was collapsing. There were mass desertions, mutinies, and military routs where the soldiers no longer cared to fight. Russia’s front was collapsing on all sides. The Bolsheviks did not create the revolution, but capitalized on it. The sailors in St. Petersburg could care less if it was Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin or God knows who else was the spiritual leader of the uprising. They were going to rise either way. The Kerensky government would already have had to contend with a full-blown revolution.

In the context of 1986, there was already a rising against Marcos. We cannot be certain, outside of Ramos or Enrile, how the revolution would have erupted, or when it would have erupted. But it would have erupted at some point, only under different circumstances. Neither could we say that without the coup, the EDSA revolt, if it had erupted, would have been unsuccessful, since if we remember the circumstances of the EDSA uprising, Ramos and Enrile did not actively participate in the mass concentrated demonstration in EDSA. The miracle of EDSA was not that it succeeded, but that it passed without violence.

Continued in: EDSA and Martin Luther King

Editor’s Update, 07/05/2017:

I wasn’t able to continue the Analysis, which I hoped would be a definitive study of EDSA.   That, however, has been written in a later post, but a short continuation of the analysis will be written here.


EDSA and Martin Luther King

The second part of my analysis planned to explain how the EDSA Revolution was less a revolution in the traditional sense, but an act of successful civil disobedience.   While it might not have drawn direct inspiration, the EDSA uprising has marked similarities from the campaign for civil rights led by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

There were actually two parts in the EDSA Revolution: one was a mutiny situated in Camp Crame, where Ramos and Enrile were preparing for a showdown with Marcos loyalists, hoping to draw anti-Marcos allies in the process.   This came in the form of a mass civil disobedience in EDSA, prompted by the call by the late Cardinal Sin.    The mutiny was the trigger, but the core of the EDSA Revolution was in the mass demonstration in the EDSA highway.

This was a first in Asia, and would inspire a series of nonviolent protests worldwide, including that of Eastern Europe in 1989, and the ill-fated Tiananmen uprising in China in the same year.   But nonviolent protests go further back to the 1960 Civil Rights demonstration of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., which in turn draw inspiration from Gandhi’s nonviolent protest against the British.

The Alabama protests can be compared to the mounting protests in the Philippines in the 1980s, following the assassination of the spiritual leader, Benigno Aquino, Jr.  But while MLK achieved gradual success for equal rights among African Americans, with successive administrations granting the eventual end of racial segregation in America, there was no touch-and-go showdown that the Philippine demonstrations had.   Our protests–which in a sense was also a Civil Rights protest–culminated in the 1986 demonstration which could not be ignored or dispersed with small force, because behind it was the real threat of military coup de etat in Crame.

In a sense then, it was our Civil Rights demonstration, as well as a Revolution when one factors in its military component.   That is why successive EDSA attempts (including the EDSA Dos incident) depended on military defection, or else it would be dispersed as another act of civil revolt.   It was not a revolution in the traditional sense, because except for sporadic fighting among loyalists and demonstrators, force of arms did not play a primary role.   It was a unique event for that time, a miraculous event because for all intents and purposes, the military could have easily quashed it.   There were many factors (including American pressure) that held back Marcos, but there was enough existential reason to employ force.    So it was an act of civil disobedience that had revolutionary aspects, which was actually successfully pulled off.