Thirty-two years ago today, Filipinos responded to the call for freedom, unwittingly coopting a planned coup d’état, and ending up dislodging a dictatorship.
That the Edsa revolution started as a planned coup attempt by disgruntled members of the dictatorship’s ruling mechanism is a matter of historical record—admitted by the prime movers themselves. Contemporaneously, former President Corazon C. Aquino even referred to them as a “third force,” entering a power equation that had previously included only her and the dictator. It was, again according to the historical record, a Prince of the Church who had convinced her that this third force could be enfolded into her movement, and thus sweep her into power.
According to Jaime Cardinal Sin, Aquino had spoken to him on the morning of the 23rd of February, saying, “We have a big problem. There is a third force.” Sin, of course, had already spoken with then-Minister for National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile who had pleaded for help; the night before, Sin had already, in fact broadcast a call to the people to “fill the spaces around [Camps] Crame and Aguinaldo.” Now, with Aquino’s ear, the Cardinal spoke without hesitation.
“I told her,” Sin recounted, “‘No. I am sure they are staging this because they want you to be the President. Go there and thank them. Without this, you could be demonstrating every day and you will still not be President. But now, you will be. You can see the hand of God. This is the answer to our prayers.’”
Mere hours later, Aquino called on the Filipino people to rally behind the “reformists,” and told “decent elements in the military” to join the defectors and side with the Filipino people. In the same message, she asked the dictator to step down for the sake of a peaceful transition in government.
Consummate pragmatists, this third force—which had already previously considered an alliance with Aquino but under a decidedly different dynamic—knew that it would be in their best interests to welcome the new arrangement, and so went with the flow. If they hadn’t, there was a very real possibility that the people flocking to their cause—in her book, Impossible Dream, journalist Sandra Burton wrote: “[t]he predominance of yellow in the crowd was clear evidence that the people perceived the reformist forces as supporting Cory—would disappear, taking with them the protection they afforded.”
Individually, Aquino, Enrile, Ramos and even Sin were merely acting, as the unfolding situation demanded, all with an eye out for their own interests—some of them unquestionably noble, others perhaps not so selfless. Regardless of their motivations, however, Edsa would not have turned out as it did without the indispensable participation of the fourth force—the Filipino people.
But that was how the predominant narrative of Edsa was established—and, to my mind, why Edsa has never truly become the unifying moment it could have been. Instead of understanding Edsa as a movement of the people, we’ve allowed it to be portrayed almost exclusively as the closing act of a pitched political battle against a dictatorship; a victory of one side against another, when it should be commemorated as a triumph of all the people who, regardless of their own allegiances, demonstrated what sovereignty truly meant.
If you’re going to commemorate Edsa, that is what you should remember about those four days in February. Edsa belongs to all of us, no matter how divided we remain.
Despite the political accretions since then, what shouldn’t be forgotten is that we may have taken different routes to get to Edsa and we may have marched under various leaders, but in the end, we stayed because we—as a people—wanted to take back what we took a long time to realize we had lost.