1986 Overthrow of Marcos Dictatorship

Excerpts from Chapter 6 On the Fall of Marcos, The Philippine Revolution, Jose Maria Sison with Dr. Rainier Werning as interviewer.

Q4: Marcos’ ouster has been variably described as the feat of “people power,” a “peaceful revolution,” a “miracle of prayer or the rosary,” and a “pre-emptive revolution.” How do you evaluate the decisive four days–February 22 to 25, 1986–when the dictator Marcos was forced to leave the country?

A: Let me first comment on those pretty slogans used in the establishment media to hype Aquino’s rise to power and snipe at the revolutionary movement of the people.

Indeed the people’s uprising was decisive in bringing down the Marcos dictatorship. And the reactionaries prefer to call it “people power” as if it were something they can use and manipulate like horsepower. The revolutionaries would rather speak of people’s power–power belonging to the people.

The reactionaries speak of “peaceful revolution.” In fact, there were two armed camps–the Marcos-Ver camp and the Enrile-Ramos camp. These two camps came into a stalemate as various forces–the United States and the reactionaries as well as the organized progressive forces and the spontaneous masses–moved into the gap between the two armed camps.

While the military stalemate was on, more officers and men of the AFP swung to the Enrile-Ramos camp. At the same time, in view of the people’s uprising, the former military minions of Marcos could not by themselves decide who should replace Marcos. They had to accede to Aquino because she was the one with a legal claim to the presidency and had broad popular support at the time.

Cardinal Sin, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and the church-run Radio Veritas played a prominent role by calling on the people to protect the Enrile-Ramos camp. But it smacks of obscurantism to talk of a “miracle of prayers or the rosary” only to negate other political forces, especially the progressive forces, whose
absence would have made the overthrow of Marcos impossible. The notion of a pre-emptive revolution to avert the armed revolution is absurd. There was no revolution as there was no fundamental change of the political an d social system to the satisfaction of the people.

The armed revolution has continued against armed counterrevolution. And violence has even escalated among the reactionary factions of Aquino, Enrile, and Marcos which have their respective well-armed followings.

The military mutiny of the Enrile-Ramos camp and the RAM; and the people’s uprising, including the mass organizations of the national democratic movement and the spontaneous masses responding to the radio broadcasts, were the most conspicuous features of the process of oustin Marcos. Behind the scenes the United States exerted effective pressures on the Marcos-Ver camp to prevent it from making a more determined military offensive against the Enrile-Ramos camp. In the end, Washington intervened to fly Marcos and his retinue out of the presidential palace to Clark Air Force Base and onward out of the country to Hawaii.

There was a convergence of contradictory forces– progressive and antiprogressive–against Marcos. Although the people’s uprising played a decisive role, I must stress that the balance of strength between the revolutionary forces and the counterrevolutionary forces was such that the United States and the reactionary classes would still determine the character of the Aquino government at the top.

Q5: Wasn’t the February “revolution” a Metro-Manila centered affair? And what can you say about the claims of some people that BAYAN was absent from the uprising?

A: The most decisive and most dramatic mass actions were, of course, centered in Metro Manila.

But there were mass uprisings organized and spearheaded mainly by BAYAN in provincial capitals, cities, and towns outside of Metro Manila. The most dramatic among these was the one in Angeles City, which blocked the tanks of General Palafox from Camp Aquino in Tarlac. The mass uprisings in the provinces served to neutralize and paralyze the civilian and military followers of Marcos.

If the imperialists and obscurantists were to be believed, the people’s uprising was no more than that one on the EDSA, between Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame. And they invent the myth that the organizations of BAYAN were not present here despite the fact that they formed the bulk of the hard core of the uprising. Twenty percent of the mass uprising was hard core and 80 percent was spontaneous.

There can be no denying that more than 90 percent of the people who surrounded Malacanang Palace and the Malacanang Park came from the member-organizations of BAYAN, especially Kilusang Mayo Uno, League of Filipino Students, KADENA and so on. It was also more than 500 members of the Quezon City chapter of BAYAN who stormed Channel 4 (the government radio-TV station) at a crucial moment.

Such organizations as BANDILA, KAAKBAY, PDP-Laban, and UNIDO were very small then. Their members made a tiny fraction of the hard core of the mass uprising even at the EDSA highway.
Q6: What role did the United States play in toppling Marcos?

A: Soon after the assassination of Aquino, the U.S. State Department steadily took the stand of easing Marcos out and pushed the line that he would have to institute reforms or face serious consequences. U.S. pressures were made through threats of withholding bilateral economic and military assistance funds and freezing of requests for loans and loan rescheduling.

Close to the return of Aquino, U.S. Representative Stephen Solarz and U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs Paul Wolfowitz had advised Marcos to allow Aquino to return and not to harm him. U.S. state secretary George Shultz took the assassination as an affront to the U.S. government. As has been revealed in Raymond Bonner’s Waltzing with a Dictator, Shultz encouraged Michael Armacost, Stephen Bosworth, Wolfowitz, Morton Abramowitz and John Maisto to advocate the ouster of Marcos. The general feeling of outrage in the U.S. Congress helped the U.S. State Department in pushing for the ouster.

As the mass movement surged forward in an unprecedented way from 1983 to 1986, surpassing the mass movement in the early 1970s, the U.S. State Department became more convinced that Marcos had to go. There was the growing fear that should Marcos stay in power until the end of his term in 1987, the armed struggle and the united front would advance so greatly that the entire ruling system would be gravely jeopardized or at the very least the situation would become too difficult for the United States to manage.

It was the Pentagon that at first opposed the view of the State Department with the argument that if Marcos were to be removed before 1987 a split within the AFP would have to be made in order to break Marcos’ grip on it. The split was at first considered too high a cost to pay.

But even within the Pentagon, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs Richard Armitage and his deputy James Kelly issued, as early as September 1984, identical papers stimulating anti-Ver elements in the AFP. They were in effect accusing Marcos and Ver of mismanaging military affairs and impressing upon Marcos that he could no longer use the U.S. bases as a bargaining chip. Admiral William J. Crowe, commander-in-chief of the Pacific Area Command, also derided the mess in the AFP and warned against the growing armed revolutionary movement.

In November 1984 the National Security Study Directive (NSSD) signified that there was already a U.S. interagency consensus for weakening the position of Marcos through a demand for “reforms” and for easing him out. But there was the misleading diplomatic language about Marcos not being the target of removal and destabilization and his being a part both of the problem and the solution. In January 1985 Reagan signed the NSSD to become the National Security Decision Directive (NSDD).

The Pentagon encouraged the formation of the RAM, which was openly launched in March 1985. CIA director William Casey saw Marcos in May 1985 to propose a presidential election. It was obvious that at the level of the National Security Council, the plan was to ease or kick Marcos out before 1987 and pre-empt further public outrage at the anticipated whitewash of the Aquino assassination.

The formation of the RAM in early 1985 and the snap presidential election in 1986 worked as complementary devices against Marcos. Reagan appeared to vacillate on Marcos despite the interagency consensus until the chips were falling down and Philip Habib gave him the final explanation. At any rate, it was Reagan’s confidant and shield Senator Paul Laxalt who had succeeded in putting Marcos into the snap election trap in November 1985 and who would advise him to “cut and cut cleanly” in the end.

To effect the military stalemate between the Marcos-Ver and Enrile-Ramos camps, Ambassador Bosworth, the U.S. military attache and the CIA station chief picked General Rafael Ileto as the mediator between the two camps. It was Bosworth who would make sure that Marcos did not give the final order to fire artillery at Camp Crame from the University of Life campus and who would arrange the exit of Marcos. He would also be the first to greet Corazon Aquino as Madame President.

It is wrong to say that the United States had nothing to do with the toppling of Marcos just as it is wrong to say that the mass organizations of the national democratic movement had nothing to do with it.

But, of course, the two contradictory forces had different motivations and objectives.

Even while I was in prison, I did my bit in hitting hard at Washington for propping up the Marcos regime. In several interviews I repeatedly pointed out that Marcos would bring down the entire ruling system with him should he be allowed to stay in power up to or beyond 1987 and I demanded that the U.S. and local reactionaries had better drop a hot potato like Marcos.

But I was confident that even if Marcos had been removed and Aquino had assumed power, the crisis of the ruling system would continue to worsen and the armed revolutionary movement would continue to forge ahead.

On the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the EDSA Uprising that Overthrew the Marcos Dictatorship in the Philippines.
Prof. Jose Maria Sison
February 25, 2016

The most definitive end of the Marcos fascist dictatorship came on Feb. 25, 1986 when the despot Marcos and his family had to be flown out of the presidential palace by U.S. helicopter. There was no other way for them to escape the wrath of the people because tens of thousands of progressive workers and students belonging to Kilusang Mayo Uno and League of Filipino Students respectively had already massed up around the palace.

Since Feb. 22, 1986, hundreds of thousands of people, peaking at two million, had occupied the EDSA highway in order to support the breakaway of a military group from the dictatorship and in order to effect the complete isolation and downfall of the autocratic regime. The progressive multisectoral alliance BAYAN served as the hard core of the mass uprising.

Mass uprisings organized and spearheaded mainly by BAYAN also burst out in provincial capitals, cities, and towns outside of Metro Manila. The most dramatic among these was the one in Angeles City, which blocked the tanks of General Palafox from Camp Aquino in Tarlac. The mass uprisings in the provinces served to neutralize and paralyze the civilian and military followers of Marcos.

The doom of the Marcos fascist regime began in 1979 when international credit for the Philippines as well as for the third world countries started to tighten. As a result, the state corporations and the crony corporations – all big comprador enterprises – started to collapse in 1981. More and more groups of big compradors and landlords started to openly criticize Marcos and his cronies who were the only ones bailing themselves out of the crisis with state financial resources.

The regime had difficulties providing funds for the over-­expanded military establishment. The fascist dictatorship had failed to suppress the armed revolutionary movement. Instead, it succeeded in causing its accelerated growth in strength. The legal democratic movement had by then started to make conspicuous advances in the form of new militant mass organizations, increasing indoor and outdoor rallies and workers’ strikes.

In 1983 Benigno Aquino, who had been in exile in the United States since his 1980 release from prison, thought it was time for him to return home and seize the political initiative from Marcos. He decided to fly to the Philippines on Aug. 21, 1983. The Marcos clique got into a political panic and decided to have Aquino assassinated.

The Aquino assassination proved to be the biggest political mistake of the regime until then. The outrage over it unlid the long pent-up hatred of the broad masses of the people and resulted in unprecedentedly huge mass actions in urban areas and further intensification of the armed struggle from 1983 up to the fall of Marcos. At the core of the revolutionary mass movement was the Communist Party of the Philippines.

It was the revolutionary mass movement that had consistently and vigorously isolated and weakened the Marcos dictatorship over a long period of time. And it was fear of this revolutionary mass movement already making large strides that drove the United States and the majority of the big compradors and landlords, including the Catholic Church, to decide on preparing the way for Marcos’ replacement in anticipation of the whitewash of the Aquino assassination.

If we single out the most decisive factor that brought about the fall of Marcos, we must point to the revolutionary mass movement led by the Communist Party of the Philippines. This fact is, however,
obfuscated by the rise of Corazon Aquino and her pro-imperialist and reactionary cohorts to government positions. The balance of forces was such that the revolutionary movement could cause the downfall of Marcos but could not as yet seize political power or get a major share of power in a government headed by Aquino.

The EDSA uprising, which went far beyond the scale of the Edsa highway, was a sovereign act of the Filipino people in order to overthrow the Marcos fascist dictatorship, which had been instigated and supported by the United States. For a while, the Filipino people were euphoric about having liberated themselves from tyranny. They expected national independence and democracy to flourish. They hoped that violations of human rights would cease as political prisoners were released and a ceasefire agreement was forged between the new government of Aquino and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

But from month to month in 1986 ansd 1987, the Aquino government exposed itself as the chief agent of U.S. imperialism and the anti-Marcos section of the local exploiting classes of big compradors and landlords to which Aquino herself belonged. She upheld as valid the anti-national decrees of Marcos favoring U.S. economic and security interests. She agreed to pay the odious foreign debts incurred by Marcos. She retained and applied the anti-labor decrees of Marcos and she gave the go signal to her military minions to massacre the peasants in front of the presidential palace. Thereafter, she unleashed the so-called low-intensity conflict strategy against the people and the revolutionary forces.

The successors of Marcos, from Corazon Aquino to her son Benigno Aquino III who is the current president of the Philippines, have proven to be fundamentally no different from Marcos as oligarchs of the comprador big bourgeoisie and the landlord class. Their only difference is that Marcos blatantly proclaimed martial law to oppress the people, whereas his successors employ pseudo-democratic embellishments on the chains of the people. The EDSA uprising succeeded in overthrowing an autocrat but not the entire ruling system of big compradors and landlords beholden to U.S. imperialism.

As a consequence to this day, the Filipino people and the revolutionary forces continue to wage the people’s democratic revolution through a protracted people’s war. They celebrate the 30th anniversary of the EDSA uprising to call for the intensification of the revolutionary struggle, while the oligarchs headed by the ruling Aquino family celebrate the continuance of the semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system in the Philippines.

Prof. Jose Maria Sison is Chairperson of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle

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1986 Fall of Malacañang Palace