#Edsa36: Remembering those who gave up their lives
MANILA, Philippines—The Edsa People Power Revolution was not a one-shot affair that ended the 21-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos—it was also the result of the sacrifice made by thousands of Filipinos who gave up their lives to end tyranny.
Sr. M. Jeva Sumbillo (RGS) was a 28-year-old novice in 1986. She was with millions of Filipinos who were on Edsa that year as Jaime Cardinal Sin, then archbishop of Manila, spoke over Church-run radio station Radio Veritas.
On Feb. 22, 1986 Sin asked Filipinos, especially those in Metro Manila, to support a group of military rebels, including then armed forces vice chief of staff Fidel V. Ramos, which had decided to break away from the Marcos regime.
Sr. Sumbillo, who is now 66 years old, told INQUIRER.net that 36 years since the Edsa People Power Revolution, she could still vividly remember her role in the uprising that led to the downfall of Marcos.
She said they were told by Sr. M. Guadalupe Bautista (RGS), the congregation’s provincial at that time, to pray inside the convent’s chapel and seek enlightenment. The next day, they went to Edsa—in Camp Crame.
“We were one in our quest for freedom and liberation from a dictator who plundered the wealth of our nation and caused misery and chaos to the lives of our people,” Sr. Sumbillo said.
For Sr. Bautista, the Edsa revolt, which lasted for four days, was “historic and heroic,” saying that the outrage against Marcos escalated after the assassination of former senator Benigno Aquino Jr., a key political rival of Marcos, on Aug. 21, 1983.
Exactly 36 years ago, on Feb. 25, the fourth day of the “Filipinos’ gift to the world”––the Edsa People Power Revolution––Marcos, his family, and his cronies, left Malacañang and flew to Hawaii.
“There was that deep sense of pride that we are Filipinos,” but while there was celebration, it also became time to remember the Filipinos who were not there on Edsa but paid dearly for fighting the Marcos dictatorship—murdered, arrested and tortured.
Fight for liberation
In Quezon City’s Bantayog ng mga Bayani, a black wall stood since Nov. 30, 1992––the Wall of Remembrance—which was dedicated to the martyrs of the dictatorship.
Marcos was elected president in 1965 and won again in 1969. With limitations set by the 1935 Constitution, his presidency was set to end in 1973, an election year.
However, he did not want to yield power and would cling to the presidency until 1986. On Sept. 21, 1972 he declared martial law through Proclamation No. 1081, which would be instrumental in keeping him in power for more than 20 years.
A year later, the 1973 Constitution took effect and its transitory provisions, according to the book “Martial Law in the Philippines: The Methods of Regime Survival”, gave legitimacy to Marcos’ rule.
When Marcos declared martial law, his main reason was to thwart the rebellion by communists, especially New People’s Army (NPA), which Marcos at the time said had 1,028 “armed regulars.”
David Wurfel, political expert, said in his book that to combat rebellion, thousands of Filipinos were imprisoned on suspicion of complicity or sympathy with communist guerrillas.
The New York-based Amnesty International said from 1972 to 1981, 70,000 people were imprisoned, 3,257 were killed and 34,000 were tortured. The group Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance said 878 went missing.
Sr. Bautista, who was only 29 years old when martial law was declared and 43 years old when the dictatorship fell in 1986, told INQUIRER.net that the regime violated the rights of the people. She saw it.
“Those years were very dark, we were helping the young, the students who were hiding because they were being tagged by the government as NPAs. They were being killed,” she said.
Sr. Bautista said she was assigned to Malabon, Baguio City and Quezon City back then, so she saw the extent of the abuses committed during martial law because they were helping the victims themselves. She is now 79 years old.
It was that time when Sr. M. Christine Tan, RGS, who headed the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, and the other religious superiors established a ministry—the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines—to help political prisoners and their families.
When the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act was signed in 2013, the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission (HRVVMC) was established.
Its “Roll of Victims” consists of 11,103 victims of rights violations from 1972 to 1986. These are the individuals already recognized by the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board.
Here’s a breakdown from the HRVVMC:
- 2,326: Killing and enforced disappearance
- 238: Torture (rape and forcible abduction)
- 217: Torture (mutilation, sexual abuse, involving children and minors)
- 1,467: Torture (psychological, mental, and emotional harm, acts of lasciviousness)
- 182: Cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment
- 699: Arbitrary detention (more than six months)
- 1,417: Arbitrary detention (15 days to six months)
- 1,239: Arbitrary detention (36 hours to 15 days)
- 579: Involuntary exile (involving violence and illegal takeover of business)
- 2,739: Involuntary exile (involving intimidation and physical harm)
Some of them were young individuals who courageously stood against the dictatorship, saying that when Marcos declared martial law, “democracy died.” Here’s a lookback:
- Liliosa Hilao
Hilao, who was in her 20s when martial law was declared, wore black as a sign of grief, saying that “democracy is dead.” The Bantayog ng mga Bayani said she had a strong sense of social awareness.
In 1973, when intoxicated military men barged into her house in Quezon City to look for his brother, Hilao asked for search or arrest warrants. She was taken to Camp Crame.
The next day, her sister, Alice, was called to the Camp Crame Station Hospital. There, Hilao was found dead and her body had visible marks of torture and sexual abuse. She was 23.
- Archimedes Trajano
In 1975, the Pambansang Katipunan ng Kabataang Barangay ng Pilipinas was created “to clearly define the role of the youth”–consistent with the principles of Marcos’ New Society.
Imee Marcos, the late dictator’s eldest child, headed the Kabataang Barangay, but in 1977, Archimedes Trajano, a student of the Mapua Institute of Technology, challenged her leadership.
The Bantayog ng mga Bayani said Trajano was later “kidnapped, interrogated, and tortured to death by military intelligence personnel who were acting on General Fabian Ver’s directive.” He was 22 years old.
- Emmanuel Lacaba
Lacaba was a poet who discovered the relevance of his art and life to the Filipino masses. In 1970, he started to show his political awareness by taking part in the First Quarter Storm.
He was teaching a course on Rizal’s life at the University of the Philippines when he was arrested and imprisoned because of his participation in a labor strike, the Bantayog ng mga Bayani said.
In 1974, he joined NPA in South Cotabato. In 1976, he and others who were with him were shot and killed by soldiers.
Lacaba and a pregnant woman were brought to Tagum, Davao del Norte where a sergeant directed his men “not to bring anyone back alive.” The pregnant woman was first shot dead then Lacaba. He was 27 years old.
- Maria Lorena Barros
Barros, the Bantayog ng mga Bayani said, was one of the most well-known heroes of the fight against the dictatorship: “She was the gentle warrior who defiantly confronted death at the hands of government soldiers.”
When the writ of habeas corpus was suspended in 1971, she was one of the 63 student leaders who were charged with subversion. She later went underground and was arrested in 1973. She escaped one year later.
In 1974, the dictatorship offered a P35,000 reward for Barrios’ capture. In 1976, she was wounded in a clash with soldiers in Mauban, Quezon.
While her companion was killed instantly, she was promised medical treatment if she would cooperate with the military. Barros refused and was shot in the nape. She was 28 years old.
- Ma. Leticia Pascual-Ladlad
Pascual-Ladlad loved books and excelled as an agricultural chemistry student at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. She was expected to graduate magna cum laude.
“Her writings began to show this deepening understanding of her country’s politics, especially when she actually started making extended visits to Southern Luzon farming communities and learning about their problems.”
When the writ of habeas corpus was suspended in 1971, she worked with peasants in Laguna and Quezon provinces. In 1973 she married fellow activist Vicente Ladlad and gave birth to their daughter in 1975.
That year, too, she left home to meet some individuals near Paco Church in Manila. She was expected to return that day, but “they all disappeared without a trace.” She was 25 years old.
- Antonio Mijares
The Bantayog ng mga Bayani said the family of Mijares lived in a house that was next to a prison cell. In the early days of martial law, Mijares would hear people being beaten and crying out.
He would slip them ginger ale and bread for breakfast. He later moved to Aklan province and was said to have helped revive a student publication. He also helped establish a chapter of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines.
He decided to engage in organizing work in the mountains and hills of Aklan and Antique. He died in 1984, on a Good Friday, as he and his companions were “ambushed.”
His two companions were instantly killed. Mijares was wounded, but the leader of the constabulary later fired at him, repeatedly. He was 22 years old.
- Jose Lingad
Lingad, who had already been the governor of Pampanga and one of the Cabinet officials of former President Diosdado Macapagal, was convinced by Ninoy Aquino to run for governor again.
Back then, he was Pampanga’s first district representative when Congress was padlocked as martial law was declared. He was arrested and detained for four months following the imposition of martial law.
Since then he turned to farming for a living while continuing to participate in opposition activities to overthrow the dictator. It was in 1980 when he lost the elections to a candidate of the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, as expected.
While the election protest was still hanging, he was shot dead in 1980 in San Fernando, Pampanga by a lone killer who witnesses said was a former constabulary sergeant. He was 66 years old.
- Evelio Javier
Javier was a young lawyer. He was 29 when he became the youngest governor in the Philippines. Throughout martial law, he strongly stood for his political independence from the regime while serving Antique province.
Eight years later, he went to Harvard University to take up a master’s course in public administration at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. When Ninoy Aquino was murdered, he went back and ran for a seat in the Batasang Pambansa.
Before the elections, seven of his supporters were killed in an ambush. In what was seen as a sham election, the Marcos-aligned warlord Arturo Pacificador was proclaimed the winner.
He later campaigned for Corazon Aquino and Salvador Laurel who were facing Marcos in the snap presidential elections that were set for the first week of February 1986, the Bantayog ng mga Bayani said.
Five days after the elections, Javier was shot dead by hooded men in broad daylight and less than 100 meters away from the provincial capitol where election returns were being canvassed and tallied. He was 44 years old.
End in sight
The Martial Law Museum said the regime stood on “pillars of support” that came from the middle class, businesses and international community. This was the reason it survived for many years.
But political repression and the regime’s economic policies brought together the Catholic Church and the masses on a collision course against the dictator.
The Martial Law Museum said “poverty worsened” over the course of the dictatorship, emphasizing that six out of 10 families were poor by the time the regime ended.
It was an increase from the four out of 10 families, who were poor before Marcos took office in 1965. The daily income of agricultural workers was P30 in 1986, a 30 percent drop from P42 in 1962.
This, as the prices of commodities were rising, especially in the last 10 years of the dictatorship: “What cost P100 in 1976 now cost more than P300—even nearing P400—in 1986.”
The Martial Law Museum said when Ninoy Aquino was killed, two more significant segments of society would take part in the intensifying opposition—the middle class and the business community.
Sr. Sumbillo said since that day, they took part in protests that later led to the Edsa revolt. “I think people had the courage since that day. That started People Power. They were no longer afraid.”
On Feb. 20, 1986 Marcos proclaimed himself the victor of the snap elections. That same day, Cory Aquino led the Luneta “people’s victory rally,” the Official Gazette said.
On Feb. 22, 1986, then defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile, who is now backing the presidential bid of Marcos’ son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., defected with Ramos from the regime.
The Official Gazette said on the first night of what would later be celebrated by the world as the People Power Revolution, close to 100,000 held vigil—which later swelled to millions.
Srs. Sumbillo and Bautista shared to INQUIRER.net the most special moments they remember on the second day of the Edsa People Power Revolution to the day when Marcos fled Malacañang and flew to Hawaii.
- We’re brothers, let us not fight
Sr. Sumbillo said one of the most touching scenes she saw with her eyes was how an unarmed man slowly extended his arms to an armed soldier who was ready to shoot him.
“The man said, ‘Let us not fight, we are brothers.’ In the end, they embraced each other in peace,” she said, stressing “in the end, love and goodness prevailed.”
- White flags
Sr. Bautista recalled seeing military helicopters land inside Camp Crame and not knowing if they were pro or anti-Marcos forces. When the pilots disembarked and raised white flags, “we knew they were on our side.”
- Good men
Sr. Bautista recalled asking pro-Marcos soldiers to return to their camps. “We went there and brought them back to Fort Bonifacio.”
At that time, she realized the soldiers violated the chain of command. “They did not shoot us, we knew they were good people.”
36 years later…
As Marcos and his family fled Malacañang, reports documenting the family’s flight and arrival in Hawaii pointed to crates of belongings, worth billions of pesos, joining the exiles.
The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, in the report “The End of an Era––Handholding Ferdinand Marcos in Exile,” said the United States Customs found 24 crates with gold bricks and diamond jewelry.
This was supported by a 14-page affidavit submitted to the Senate blue ribbon committee by the late industrialist Enrique Zobel, a close Marcos confidante.
International newspapers The Guardian and Washington Post also reported that the Marcoses carried with them cash and gems (some of which were in diaper boxes), 70 pairs of jeweled cufflinks and enough clothes to fill 67 racks.
This, as the World Bank and UN Office on Drugs and Crimes said Marcos, having the longest reign as dictator, stole between $5 billion and $10 billion from his country’s resources.
But 36 years later, the dictatorship era is being regarded by some as “golden years”––that life was good back then for Filipinos who did not fight the government.
It might have been because of the shortcomings of those who led the country after the Edsa revolt.
Sr. Sumbillo said “we were not able to sustain the spirit of Edsa.” She said she doesn’t know what went wrong along the way, but one of the reasons could be the “kind of leadership that we had.”
Sr. Bautista said she is saddened by how some people, especially the young, were “brainwashed” about the dictatorship. “That’s where our generation likewise failed. We did not stop it, now they’re blinded.”
Likewise, she said, “we restored democracy but the social revolution did not continue.”
“Social revolution, I mean, the poor are still forgotten, the poor are still taken advantage of. They are still being cheated because of corruption. Edsa is real but the revolution should have persisted,” she said.
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