January 16 marks the start of a historic period in Philippine history known as the Edsa 2 People Power uprising which culminated in the ouster of then president Joseph Estrada from Malacañang on January 20. The protests started on the evening of January 16
when youth and students and different groups marched to the Edsa Shrine and held a protest program. Dormers from the University of the Philippines Diliman even marched from their school all the way to Edsa, arriving a bit late but just in time to claim their mark in history as among the first to march to Edsa that night.
I joined the protest actions on January 16, joining the march of UP students and teachers that some estimate to have reached 15,000 people. We stayed at Edsa till past midnight only to return early the following day.
We were part of the Estrada Resign Youth Movement (ERYM) at that time. There was Anakbayan, LFS, NUSP, CEGP, SCM and other student councils and organizations. We were joined by Mon Pagdangangan (may he rest in peace) and China Cojuangco (who hosted some of the meetings at her parents home in Forbes).
Our official ride was a passenger jeep from a driver in Sampaloc who lived beside the Anakbayan HQ. Our cell phones could be described as “pangkaskas ng yelo” by today’s standards. And we didn’t really have a lot of resources except for a portable table, some chairs, and a tent we borrowed from some local politician (God bless him). But we had that fire burning in us, the strong desire for change.
We had our speakers in the main program. We did our photo-ops, including the memorable brown envelopes at the steps of the Shrine.
We got by because of the support of many friends and allies. We had our field HQ at the 17th floor of some building in Ortigas through the help of some friends. Nope, not Linden Suites (that’s what Gloria used). We held office in a much older building. We could only use it after office hours of course. We had some late meetings at that place.
Black was the official protest color. I did hear some stalls in Robinsons’ galleria running out of black clothes, even the more expensive ones. I never did wear black though.
I remember a lot “balimbings” at that time, those who withdrew support from Erap at the last minute and went to Edsa. Some of them were booed by the people. Others were prevented from speaking on stage.
I spoke before the crowd on the fourth day, it was almost 6am. I was asked to provide some agitation before the march to Mendiola. At that time, not everyone was convinced we had to march to Mendiola, but a good majority was already raring to go. I could tell from the reaction of the crowd during the speech.
We already dispatched an advance team of several thousand activists from various sectors to go to Manila to prepare the people for the coming of the main march in the morning of January 20. That was at the dawn of January 20. The main body of the Bayan forces were already in marching formation from the corner of the POEA Edsa and up along Ortigas Avenue. It was a very formidable and solid looking contingent among the different forces assembled at Edsa on that day.
The signal to march was given at 6pm. Our forces were ready and in formation and we started moving. Some smaller group I think identified with Roilo Golez wanted to march ahead of everyone else. Some overeagerness I think.
It was a loooong march from Edsa, to Shaw, to Sta. Mesa then Nagtahan, then Forbes then Morayta then Recto. Everyone knew it wasn’t wise to go through San Juan.
It was still dark when we marched. The sun had not risen. None of us felt tired. The people of Mandaluyong lined up along the streets were giving us water and food.
We marched along Recto to Mendiola. The Estrada supporters scampered. We took Mendiola. We held a program on top of a flat-bed truck. We received news Erap left the Palace. In a few hours, Mrs. Arroyo was sworn in at Edsa. Nope, we didn’t go back to Edsa to witnesses the oathtaking. It wasn’t about GMA to begin with. The Mendiola march was the climax for us. Around 75,000 joined that march with started at 6am and ended by noon.
After the rally, I remember resting inside a movie house along Recto, watching the Joyce Jimenez-Rica Paralejo flick “Balahibong Pusa”. I slept through most of it. I also discovered I wasn’t the only activist who thought of taking a snooze in the movie house.
Some lessons I learned since that time include:
- There’s no single formula for people power. It’s always about the existing conditions at a given time and how subjective forces interact with these conditions. It is difficult to artificially replicate these conditions in the hopes of getting the same results.
- From its very name “people power”, we can conclude that the only thing constant in these upheavals are the people. The most decisive force is the people. Mass movement ang kailangan, more than anything. The fact that Malacañang is still terrified sh*tless by the mere mention and hint of people power tells us that this is still the most effective weapon in combating tyranny. What irony though that they are terrified by the force that brought them to power in the first place.
- It was never about Gloria. To those who say that Edsa 2 was about bringing Gloria to power, please, give us a break. It was never about her. She just happened to be the main beneficiary but we sure as hell did not spend four days shouting at Ortigas just so she could be president. Do we regret what we did? NO. But maybe one regret was the lack of a better alternative at that time. Sure, Gloria turned out to be a really bad president but at that time, people had high hopes and were willing to give her the chance to do some good. She blew are her chances.
- I don’t really subscribe to the theory of people power fatigue. That is a cynical way of trying to explain why the anti-Arroyo forces have failed to muster the people power necessary to replace Arroyo with a better government. There are many problems facing the anti-Arroyo front, but people power fatigue doesn’t even rank high among these problems. There’s the basic problem of unity and struggle within the anti-Arroyo front, the ability to unite on alternatives, the clashing political and economic interests and so on.
- The Arroyo government will do everything to prevent a repeat of people power, even if this means widespread bloodshed. We have seen it before. It gives us something to ponder on, and prepare for.