PETERBOROUGH, NEW HAMPSHIRE—if you ever hear someone say a dictatorship can’t be taken down without the use of arms, tell them to learn about the “People Power” revolution in the Philippines. That’s what sixty people did on Oct. 23 at the Mariposa Museum in Peterborough, where two Filipinas and an American journalist described what it was like to be in the streets of Manila when the government of Ferdinand Marcos fell from power in 1986.
The uprising followed an election that Marcos tried to steal from Corazon Aquino, widow of martyred leader Benigno Aquino, who had been assassinated by Filipino soldiers three years earlier.
At the time of the 1986 election, Ruth Arjona was in college. Almost all college students were leftists and Marcos opponents, she recalled. The Left did not believe the election would lead to substantial change and she didn’t vote. But when independent election observers walked out of their offices to protest vote fraud and the Catholic Church called for peaceful protests, she joined the movement in the streets and boycotts of products sold by companies with links to Marcos.
Lina Hervas was more of an activist. She had several years of experience in anti-Marcos movements at the time Benigno Aquino was killed. When Cory Aquino and the Catholic Church called for protests following the election, she joined the thousands of protesters in Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, Manila’s major roadway, known as EDSA. She remembers 4 nights and 5 days of singing and dancing in the streets, as nonviolent protesters faced off with tanks in what became known as the EDSA Revolution.
P.J. O’Rourke was sent by Rolling Stone to cover the unfolding rebellion in the streets of Manila. He found an “extraordinarily orderly” crowd, calm and determined, and growing in confidence as their hope for change grew. When Marcos lost support of key military leaders, O’Rourke said, he lost his ability to hang onto power.
In the end, the throngs in the street rallied peacefully to support rebel officers. The Church called for nonviolence, as did Cory Aquino. The last pillar of support for Marcos was US President Ronald Reagan, who had formed a bond with the anti-communist Filipino leaders years earlier and was reluctant to cut ties, especially when the U.S. was still occupying major military bases it had held since conquering the Philippines in the 19th century. But eventually even Reagan realized Marcos’ regime was over, and he sent a plane to ferry the fallen dictator and his wife, Imelda, to Hawaii and exile. Cory Aquino became President, carried into office by unarmed people power.