Remembering the People Power Uprising: Why Filipino Youth are Continuing the Struggle for National Democracy

Filipino youth organizations from all over Canada and the world commemorate February 25th as the anniversary of the People Power Uprising of 1986, which consisted of several popular demonstrations that took place mainly in Metro Manila’s EDSA (Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue). This uprising resulted in the ousting of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, ending his twenty one-year regime, and the supposed restoration of Philippine democracy. 

What happened during this period is a reminder that to continue to struggle for genuine national democracy in the Philippines, we must arouse the masses to organize and mobilize them for revolutionary change. We remember the sacrifices and dedication of many Filipino anti-fascist and anti-imperialist revolutionaries who had laid their lives during the regime, as their efforts to fight for national democracy had finally put Marcos’s reign of terror across the Philippines to an end. 

The History of the People Power Uprising

Ferdinand Marcos took power in 1965 and became the 10th US-puppet president of the Philippines for twenty-one years. To maintain his repressive regime he declared Martial Law in 1972. During those dark years, thousands of Filipinos were kidnapped, tortured, and killed. He sold peasant and farmers’ lands to foreign corporations for exploitation, opened borders for US military bases to be established, weakened our national sovereignty by enslaving the peasant and indigenous population, and tanked the economy, while Marcos and his wife Imelda plundered the people’s wealth for their own enrichment. Then in 1983, the anger of the Filipino people was at the tipping point after a prominent senator was assassinated.

The agitation and exhaustion of his regime finally boiled over in the February 1986 snap elections. The results declared Marcos was the winner and paved the way to the people power uprising. Prominent figures in the church and in the masses called upon the people to demonstrate in EDSA and in major thoroughfares across the country.

Civil disobedience was led by the very people who had been fighting Marcos even before the declaration of Martial Law: human rights defenders, progressive church organizations, students, workers and peasant leaders, and revolutionaries who were forced to go hiding with underground organizations such as the Moro National Liberation Front and New Peoples Army (NPA).

In EDSA, people faced down barricades by loyalist Marcos military machine comprised of troops, tanks, and attack helicopters. Parts of the national highway close to the military camp were occupied by the demonstrators for four days, long enough for Marcos’ political, military, and foreign support to deteriorate and waiver. The people declared the end of the terror regime. The people won when the fascist Marcoses fled from the Palace, escorted by US helicopters, and eventually escaped the country. 

The Aftermath

After the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos and his authoritarian regime, Philippine democracy was declared to be restored by the opposing political party with their standard bearer Corazon Aquino. The people looked up in hope when the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) had begun negotiating peace talks with the revolutionary forces such as the NPA and other national liberation front organizations; it seemed like the beginning of genuine reform that would have addressed the roots of the armed conflict.

However, the peace negotiations quickly eroded after January 1987, when peasant farmers protesting for genuine land reform were gunned down and killed by the military and police. The incident, dubbed Mendiola Massacre, was used as the GRP’s excuse to declare “all-out” war against the people’s revolutionary movement and army. 

Regime change does not mean the end of the oppressive system. As militant Filipino youth studying the material and systemic conditions in the homeland through a scientific lens, we recognize that oppressive conditions in 1986 still echo today.

Continuing the Struggle for National Democracy

Thirty-four years after the 1986 People Power Uprising, we look back and draw lessons on the success of this movement of broad masses and reflect on the errors made. The promises of political reform by the succeeding government and the governments that followed were still not delivered to the people.

The Philippines is still deeply entrenched in a semi-colonial and semi-feudal economy. The country is stunted by limited development decades after that turning point in Philippine history, and poverty among millions of Filipino people continues to be on the rise.

Even now, the vast majority of peasant and farmer population remain landless and displaced from their homeland. Genuine agrarian reform was not implemented by Aquino, herself being a member of the elite land-owning class, as in the past promises by politicos were not enacted. To this day, local community leaders, organizers, activists, and those who have fought in the revolution resisting Marcos’s dictatorship for 20 years have become targets by the succeeding presidents, including the current fascist Duterte administration. 

Revisionist accounts surrounding the “EDSA Revolution” have also become evident by painting the institutional Catholic Church, the military, and the opposing political party as the leaders of the people power ouster. Giving credit to the elites, political opportunists, and oligarchic powers take away the role and agency of the protracted people’s war waged for decades prior and eventually ran up to the People Power Uprising. In commemorating the year of 1986 that was also inaccurately called the Yellow Revolution, we will not forsake the armed struggle that was birthed ever since the founding of the Katipunan. 

As part of the Filipino national democratic movement worldwide, ANAKBAYAN-Canada continues to call on the Government of the Republic of the Philippines to resume peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). We demand the release of all political prisoners such as the Tacloban 5, the NDFP peace consultants, and especially the sick and the elderly. We strongly oppose the trumped-up charges against activists, revolutionaries, and the struggling masses, the extrajudicial killings of innocent people, particularly of youth, in the cities, and the attacks against the right to organize and the right to academic freedom in schools, factories, and communities. We militantly resist the neoliberal policies that continue to impoverish the people, especially liberalization laws on our raw natural resources. We continue to push for genuine agrarian land reform and redistribution for the workers, farmers, and the landless peasants. These could be achieved with the resumption of formal peace talks with the GRP-NDFP, as this will lay the foundations for better economic, social, political, institutional reforms that will better serve the masses and not the oligarchs. 

People Power of 1986 demonstrates the strength and political power of the people united from various sectors as a force of change, but the fight for genuine national democracy is not over. The people will persist in the struggle against the elite bourgeoisie and imperialist oppressors for true liberation from foreign intervention and interests of the ruling class. 

Filipino youth today will continue to resist by educating, organizing, and mobilizing with the basic masses to join the struggle for national democracy with a socialist perspective. Only then can we finally address the root causes of the systemic oppression of the people. All Power to the people!

Join Anakbayan to become part of that change.


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