Remembering the 1986 Edsa "revolution"

I was a teenager in 1986 when the first Edsa "Revolution" erupted. The sound of this "eruption" for me was the murmer of a crowd queueing at a fishball stand or playing pusoy dos with their pals on a sidewalk while smoking Marlboro "Blue Seals". An anticlimactic account, yes, but the thing about the first Edsa "revolution" was that it came together spontaneously as ordinary people milled rather than massed into Edsa as what was to become the seminal event emerged from the collective stand. Indeed, back then the stand was clear, the phenomenon was emergent, and the sponteneity was very evident. That phenomenal nature underpinned by such clarity cannot be replicated -- specially if the attempt is engineered by people with top-down agendas (as what's happened since). For the first Edsa revolution was, at its most fundamental, a bottom-up movement.

More strongly imprinted in my memory was the sound of the clatter of my friend's reporter's vest -- weighed down by a clutter of Opposition knick-knacks fastened to it -- whenever we marched in and out of rallies. He had been collecting Yellow Army paraphernalia since 1983 when Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr was assassinated. There was quite an assortment of them -- yellow buttons with Ninoy's iconic two-tone black-and-white image printed on it and various anti-Marcos badges and pins flashing logos of the "movements" of the time: ATOM (August Twenty One Movement) and CAPM (Cory Aquino for President Movement) among others.

I was a card-carrying member of the CAPM back then and no less than the venerable Howie Severino -- who was our English Comp/Lit teacher -- led our volunteer group on a campaign trail that took us from the very ends of Laguna province to various rallies against the government-run Channel 4 and pickets in front of the Romualdez-owned Rustan's Department Store in Makati. As CAPM members we got a free yellow shirt with the image of Cory Aquino printed on it on top of the words "Cory Aquino for President". She was the winnable candidate in the Snap Presidential Election organised by President Ferdinand Marcos. I remember being at the miting de avance to end all miting de avances for years to come in Luneta where a huge crowd gathered to mark the culmination of Cory's campaign.

The newspapers of choice of the self-described "revolutionary" in the 1980's were the then little underground "subversive" Davids known as the Inquirer and Malaya which were seen to be heroically going up against the Goliaths of the industry at the time Bulletin Today (which went on to morph into the Manila Bulletin) and the now defunct Daily Express. Because these little "revolutionary" papers were so "underground" they presumably didn't have the resources to openly do proper reporting at acceptable journalism standards. So the hearsay reporting of these journals were pretty much excuseable at the time. In fact they were pure gold considering that every "subversive" factoid and news snippet that slipped through the draconian press censorship of the Marcos government was gobbled up hungrily by our adolescent "revolutionary" minds. Little did we know that such dismal levels of journalistic standards would become institutionalised and deeply-entrenched into the industry culture in the subsequent post-Marcos quarter-century. Indeed, we can see with the benefit of hindsight how an investment in the winnable one back in the 1980's turned into a huge payback for the owners of these little rags (now the Media Oligarchs of today) and elevated those who wrote for them into the revered demagogues that today imprison the 21st Century Filipino mind.

It didn't help too that the handing back of the ABS-CBN Network to the Lopez Dynasty (rightfully so, to be fair) after Marcos's fall was made out to be a seminal event associated with this Yellow "revolution" as well. It baked the ABS-CBN institution into the mystique of 1986 and wrapped a veneer of a kind of endorsement of its hallowed place in Philippine history that renders the content it infects our society with today virtually immune to critical scrutiny (kind of like how citing some weird stuff found in the Holy Bible evokes the primal fear of damnation that's been ingrained in most Catholics since birth).

My point is, the 1986 Edsa "Revolution" -- like the jeepney and many of our age-old traditions -- was a measure that served a specific purpose within a period of time characterised by a combination of circumstances that is most likely never to be seen again.

I cannot highlight enough the uniqueness of this coming together of stuff between 1983 and 1986 that led to:

Specificity of purpose within a;

Finite time frame; given a,

Combination of factors

When you've got that many variables and a unique string of values describing an event, the probability that the same environment will recur in the future is virtually nil. What then does that say about this supposedly worthwhile effort of keeping the "spirit" of Edsa "alive"? For me, it simply means remembering it, as I do fondly but with a tinge of realism as I bring subsequent hindsight to bear. But to expect something of it beyond its efficacy as a mere historical relic is a bit of a stretch. The reality is that there is nothing in the real future we face as a society today that begs for solutions of the kinds we would like to imagine are underpinned by the "legacies" of 1986.

Indeed, the future begs for our maturity as a democratic people. All that the legacy of the 1986 Edsa "Revolution" offers is an adolescent "eruption" that, in hindsight, is better off left along with the mullet and cobra hair-do's of the 1980's.

[NB: This was originally posted on and was my entry to the 2010 Blog Action Day: The Real Heroes of EDSA sponsored by the Kabataan Party List commemorating the 1986 Edsa "Revolution"]


  1. Right, old revolutions, unlike old blogs, cannot be recycled. They fall flat, lacking the energy of sponteniety, the chemistry of the moment.

    I find fascinating the dynamics of the broad Middle Eastern uprising that ignores borders and reflects the collective will of suppressed souls for something, anything, but the heavy burden of autocratic demands. It is hard to keep enlightened folks in the darkness of iron-fisted rule. I suspect that Iran, too, will eventually fall, but it will be the bloodiest of them all.

  2. Trouble is, albeit the falling regimes are all despotic, they seem to be mostly secular in nature (like Saddam Hussein's was). So is the alternative truly a preferred option? Chaos is where extremism thrives. And the situation in the Mid East is just too juicy an opportunity for extreme Islamists to ignore. So I wouldn't be surprised if they are lurking around, ready to seize the day.

  3. Ah, but the Islamists have also learned that suicide bombings and random massacres don't always translate to success.

    When one Islamist group happens to be the biggest opposition name in the country, disavowing that legacy (at least on the surface) is probably something they want to include as an agenda. Even Hamas' put away the pipe-bomb rockets and anti-Israel rhetoric for a few months and got elected in Gaza on a platform that was focused against the PA's corruption.

    On the other hand, you also have that hatred for Israel shared with an Army that repeatedly tried to invade and failed...


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