1986 – Meeting power with flowers in Philippines

Over a million Filippinos peacefully took to the streets to overthrow the corrupt regime of President Marcos in 1986 – the culmination of three years of organizing and calls for unity following the assassination of the country’s popular opposition leader, Benigno Aquino. The uprising ended the regime and paved the way for the country’s first woman president.

Before his murder in 1983, Benigno Aquino had advocated nonviolent resistance. In the months that followed his death, formerly-divided opposition movements, church leaders, peasants, labour and student leaders and community organizers, came together to create the nonviolent “people power” movement.

In a bid to appease the growing opposition, President Marcos held a snap election in 1985. Benigno’s wife Corazon (Cory), had agreed to run against him after one million Filipinos signed petitions supporting her. When Marcos tried to steal the election, the country moved to the brink of civil war.

Cory Aquino called for nonviolent rallies, vigils and civil disobedience to undermine the fraudulent claim. Church leaders backed her call and Catholic bishops made a historic decision to call upon the people to nonviolently oppose regime.

When key military leaders and a few hundred troops defected, masses of unarmed Filipinos poured onto the streets to protect them and demand Marcos’ resignation. Soldiers sent to put down the rebellion were met with flowers, sandwiches and sweets, and appeals to join the people.

People knelt in front of tanks coming to crush them, locking arms five rows deep. Some of those who did so had learned the tactics from the Czechs who, in 1968, had faced down the Russian tanks. The Filipinos set up groups to check with each other and keep out infiltrators. Their plans were very simple: link arms, drop to the floor if attacked, don’t run, and go in a deliberate manner. When tear gas was thrown, the first line would disperse to be replaced by those in the back.

In the face of such organized opposition and collapse in his own support, the dictatorship fell and Marcos fled the country. After two months Cory Aquino peacefully assumed power.

The 1986 uprising showed the power the Filipino people could wield when united and determined, but unfortunately did not deliver on its promises to transfer power and wealth to the majority of Filipinos. Aquino's government ended up institutionalising an elite-dominated electoral system that led to factions of the ruling class alternating in power. Poverty and inequality remained shockingly high, leading to popular disaffection with the system and the emergence of another authoritarian leader, Rodrigo Duterte, exactly 30 years after the uprising.

 

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A reenactment of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Photo by EPA.

People from all walks of life gather at EDSA to protect the mutineers. Photo by Pete Reyes