VINCENTIAN PRESENCE AT THE PEOPLE POWER REVOLUTION 1986
On this 34th EDSA anniversary (2020), I decided to share the People Power story of a group of Vincentian seminarians and lay people from St. Vincent Seminary and St. Vincent School of Theology (SVST) in Tandang Sora, Quezon City. I have read many reactions on the social media discrediting, denying, maligning what happened in EDSA. Many of the authors of these commentaries were not there. They have no idea what real people felt and experienced on the ground. “Naiyak ba kayo sa drama ng mga madre sa EDSA,” Mocha Uson wrote in her FB page. But she was not there. How dare she say that? Sadly, she is not alone. It is about time to speak out from the ground. Otherwise, we leave the trolls to shape the minds of our young people. Today, I want to say that from the eyes of those who were there, EDSA was a symbol of our struggle for freedom. “Yellow” was a symbol of resistance against the cruel dictatorship who held us in grip for twenty long years. Marcos was killing people. No, he was not the “best President” we ever had. No infrastructure can ever justify any torture, killing and disappearances. It is the same yesterday as it is today. The EDSA Revolution was not a fake revolution. It was real. It was not a staged drama, as Mocha would like us to believe. People who went out were not forced; they went with their honest convictions. We were not manipulated by the so-called “oligarchs”. Ordinary and simple people, workers of all kinds, mothers, fathers, children , rich and poor, were all there. We all wanted change. When we went to EDSA, we were risking our lives. It was a revolution; unfinished revolution, for sure. But revolution just the same. This affirmation today is to give credit to the millions - all ordinary men and women - who risked their lives on the streets, in front of tanks, of soldiers with real guns, under helicopters ready to fire, during those four fateful days of February 1986.
I was a second year theology student then. We were NAMFREL members during the snap elections. We trained to watch the ballots and protect it with our lives. St. Vincent Seminary Chapel also held a novena of masses for a peaceful and honest election. We held hands, sang “One Little Candle” and “Ang Bayan Ko” in the Mass celebrations and on the streets. Our young minds were fed up with Marcos. Enough is enough. Cardinal Sin called the Catholic faithful to go to EDSA on Saturday evening (February 22, 1986). We had to finish our pastoral duties the whole of Sunday (February 23). The SVS community organized to go to EDSA only on Sunday evening. We spent a whole night in EDSA and Horseshoe Village. There was a short tense moment at dawn at the Horseshoe Village when we heard of teargas throwing in a street next to us. But it did not reach us. EDSA was a big party that. People were just there – singing, laughing, eating, talking. In the morning, we were able to enter Crame and saw some of the helicopters that landed. They said they were defections from the Marcos loyalist. I was in front of the stage when the most famous jump of General Fidel Ramos happened. Then, it was announced that Marcos has fled. We all shouted in joy. We decided to go home after that to rest.
People Power: An Eyewitness History (1986) On our way home, we heard on radio that it was a false alarm. It was February 24, Monday morning. That was still the start. On our way back, we saw military men strategizing a military attack outside the compounds of Channel 4 (now ABS-CBN) which was then occupied by the RAM (Reformed AFP Movement) forces. We later knew they were from a camp in Tanay and their mission was to recapture Channel 4 since it was occupied by the rebels as they were told. They were young, tired, hungry and did not know anything about what was going on. We went down from our van, started to sing the “Ama Namin” and pray the rosary. In the meantime, people came to join us. They brought food, flowers, water. We started to talk with them and let them listen to Radio Veritas. The crowd began to grow. The women volunteered to give flowers. Seminarians began hugging the soldiers. We made them rest and eat. Then tension-filled atmosphere calmed down.
People Power: An Eyewitness History (1986) We started to negotiate with Colonel Santiago and the RAM forces inside the Channel 4 compound who were then ready to attack. We pleaded with them not to proceed because the soldiers outside were just too tired. To our surprise, the the military commanders listened to us. All sides listened: the loyalists, the RAM boys, the mothers, the fathers and kids and all who were there. Everyone wanted to be of help. One feels God moving people’s hearts to gather, to listen, to share, to just be there when people struggle for life and freedom. For that alone, EDSA was already a revolution, an unfinished revolution but revolution just the same.
People Power: An Eyewitness History (1986) No one was documenting what we were doing except the journalists. Neither were we taking selfies like it is now. The man in his cassock who was hugging the soldier is Archie “Weng” Fernandez, a Vincentian seminarian at that time. This happened in the vicinity of Channel 4, now ABS-CBN, when we pacified a battalion of Marcos loyalists about to attack the Channel 4 building where the RAM Forces were. This photo was used by Philippine Airlines to spread the symbol of EDSA worldwide. It says: “Now, everything's right here in the Philippines.”
It was also used by Manila Times. “It's great work to be back where we left off on September 23, 1972. It was the day our last issue came out - an issue that never hits the street because of circumstances not of our own making.”
(In the meantime, Archie Fernandez was ordained a priest and is now serving as pastor in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma.) After we have pacified the Channel 4 friction, between the two forces, we stayed in the area until the next morning. We just kept on praying, singing and sharing. There was even a child who celebrated her birthday at the barricades and shared her food among us who were in the night vigil. I can still remember a house in the area who opened their gates for us to drink coffee, or use their toilets and take some rest. We were actually negotiating with the Marcos loyalist soldiers who were guarding the Channel 9 transmitter. This is the last communications TV channel Marcos will use the next day to broadcast his victory announcement.
People Power: An Eyewitness History (1986) We kept talking with the soldiers whole night. Mothers, grandmothers, fathers, seminarians and sisters. We leave our barricades and plead that they come down, eat, rest and talk with the other forces. But they did not listen. They even pointed their guns at us. They later indiscriminately shot at other people. But still we kept watch at the barricades. And then the RAM boys attacked the transmitter the next day, from the helicopters and from the ground. These men in the photo were with us at the barricades. We all rushed and fled for safety. In the stampede, I was pushed inside the garage of nearby hotel. After the scuffle, I was still wearing my sotana but lost one of my shoes. I had to walk home barefoot. :-) After the attack, one or two of the men who guarded the transmitter were killed. It was a sad moment when his body was hurled down the tower. We knew him. We have seen his face. We talked to him from midnight till dawn. We all watched in silence and prayer.Later in the day, Marcos and his family fled the Philippines for good. The rest is history. I invite our young people to read this history. “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan,” sabi ng mga matatanda. Or as George Santayana writes: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
Now, we already see that it is repeating itself.
Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, C.M.
St Vincent SchoolofTheology- Adamson University