Remembering the People’s Power Revolution in Baguio

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Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines for two decades, using his position to amass a personal fortune. When Benigno Aquino Marcos’s key political rival was assassinated on August 21, 1983, cross-class opposition to the regime erupted. Opposition protests drew international attention, and under mounting pressure, Marcos agreed to hold snap elections in 1986. Aquino’s widow, Cory, ran against Marcos; and no one was surprised when Marcos rigged the election. Just as Cory Aquino announced a plan for a nonviolent civil resistance, two military leaders defected. The cardinal of the Filipino Catholic Church asked citizens to protect the two defectors. Millions responded, forming a human barricade between Marcos’s troops and the officers. Civilian resisters encouraged the advancing soldiers to defect. After several days, the majority of troops joined the opposition movement. With no sanctioning power left, Marcos fled to Hawaii, and Aquino assumed the presidency.

That in a nutshell, was what happened during the 1986 People’s Power Revolution that occurred in the Philippines 33 years ago.

But although most people would say that this was a “bloodless revolution,” many more would disagree because in the years leading to the People’s Power Revolution, countless Filipinos were jailed, tortured, disappeared or killed.

See video presentation, from The Workshop for Infinite Media, Inc. as posted in its Facebook page:

A short documentary by TWIMediaProducer and Director: Jasz BulaonVideographer and Editor: Spyke Pat-oganCreative and…

Posted by The Workshop for Infinite Media, Inc. on Saturday, February 23, 2019

True, the four-day protest of two million people at EDSA and thousands more in different cities around the country on February 22 to 25, 1986 was generally peaceful, but when we emphasized all these years that it was peaceful, that made us think that regaining freedom is as easy as dancing in the streets. Today, people think so easily of surrendering our freedoms and human rights for discipline. Well, in fact, following the law and respecting the rights of others manifest true love of country and fellowman.

That said, EDSA was far from peaceful. The anti-dictatorship struggle to restore democracy required so much hardships and sacrifices. Fourteen years of blood. We should remember that even at the height of Martial Law, militant sectors of society risked their lives and tested the limits to resist the dictator underground and above ground. Thousands were imprisoned, many were killed. Those who survived torture were thought to have pointed to someone and were used as tracers. That was why their friends and comrades turned away from them. This kind of situation prompted even the most moderate activists to go to the mountains and join the armed struggle. It was bloody.

Here in Baguio City, the ‘bloodless” struggle was held for the most part at the Baguio Cathedral, where most militants stood their ground.

During the four-day uprising, the world saw images of how Filipinos, instead of running away, went in front of the tanks along EDSA to crush the rebel soldiers. They knelt and prayed, earnestly asking battle-hardened Marines to go away despite orders to disperse the crowd and attack the rebels. Instead of carrying weapons in a revolt, people took out religious images, rosaries and Bibles, kneeling and crying for a cause demonstrating what their goals really mean.

According to professors Felipe Landa Jocano and Felipe de Leon Jr., the four-day EDSA event was where our supposed ideals were displayed: pananampalataya, pakikipagkapwa, pakikiramay, pagiging masiyahin, bayanihan, pagiging mapayapa and pagiging malikhain. It was our brief shining moment in front of the whole world and it provided a template for the next peaceful successful uprisings the world over.

It wasn’t any different here in Baguio when local residents amassed at the Baguio Cathedral grounds to voice their sentiments.

According to then Lieutenant Benjamin Magalong, who headed the Philippine Constabulary detachment in Buguias, Benguet, and who was the first officer to defect during the People’s Power Revolution in the Cordillera, they made the turnaround because of the lack of any real leadership in the police or military.

“I consulted with my men and although we were all fearful about what would happen to us for defecting, we agreed to do it because we felt that there was no real leadership in the police or military in our country and this resulted in very low morale among us,” he pointed out.

After leaving a skeletal force to safeguard Northern Benguet due to the imminent danger posed by the communist New People’s Army rebels around Buguias, Magalong and two truckloads of PC soldiers made their exodus to Baguio a little before midnight on February 23, 1986 and passed Camp Bado Dangwa at around 3AM of February 24 to get as little attention as possible.

Upon their arrival in the city, they dialogued with personnel of the Baguio City Police Station and disarmed the latter to avoid any untoward incident from arising then.

After their arrival at the Baguio Cathedral grounds, they were met with enthusiasm by those gathered there, up to the point of dancing in revelry to the sound of indigenous gongs.

To finally finish their “mission,” despite being of a lower rank and the possibility of facing a court martial, Magalong and his men went to Camp Dangwa the following day to put the incumbent PC regional director under detention when the latter proved to be still loyal to the Marcos dictatorship.

The militants who boycotted the snap elections brought their gongs with them in front of the Baguio Cathedral and so the place had a cañao atmosphere. Some of the priests and nuns, especially those active in NAMFREL, also joined in.

But then it was reported that Marcos had fled, and there was a rush of glee at the cathedral. The expected sleepover turned into wild cheering and drinking.

The next day was the victory parade for the Baguio residents. The Cory Aquino for President Movement and other moderates with their yellow T-shirts paraded first below Session Road, with the yellow confetti raining on them. Helicopters also passed by the cathedral before that, showering leaflets of victory.

The militants paraded as well behind the Cathedral, on to Assumption, and down to Session Road, so there was that “sangandaan” for the two groups of marchers. The atmosphere then was that of revelry as the people regained their lost freedom.

For what he had done during the People’s Power Revolution in Baguio in February 1986, Magalong has been regarded by most local residents as one of the heroes of the uprising here.

With him then was former Major Victor Ibrado, who later became the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

In many narratives of EDSA, there were two dominant forces that brought about the end of the Marcos dictatorship: The middle-class Yellows and the nationalist democrat Reds. This prompted the military to claim that without their planned coup, EDSA wouldn’t have happened. Some in the church would claim that EDSA was none of these but was actually a miracle from God.

There is no disclaiming the big role all these sectors played in the fall of the dictatorship, and it is in the unity of all these forces, which also included social democrats, the indigenous and Moro sectors, and the non-organized population, all united despite contending interests that became the jigsaw puzzle that became EDSA. If one piece fell then it would have turned into a bloodier conclusion.

And yes, even Ferdinand Marcos was part of the jigsaw. Because, although ruthless, he knew that if he insisted on going after the rebels even if it meant mass murder, he could not escape the judgment of history. To avoid bloodshed, he left the country, ousted by the overwhelming presence of what we called People Power because it was precisely that People’s Power.


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