March 1, 2023 – The 1986 EDSA People Power uprising represents one of the most iconic moments in Philippine history.
Nearly four decades after the February 22-25 revolt ousted then President Ferdinand Marcos Sr., the event continues to be celebrated by many as a reminder of the need to uphold freedom and democracy.
However, one may wonder if EDSA remains relevant, especially in the aftermath of the 2022 national elections that saw Marcos Sr.’s son and namesake, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., elected as President.
It would seem that history has relegated EDSA to the dustbin, and that Filipinos have forgotten and moved on.
To Marcos Jr.’s credit, the new Philippine president signed in 2022 a proclamation listing non-working holidays for 2023, and the tally includes the anniversary of EDSA.
Canadian Filipino Net reached out to get a perspective from Erie Maestro, a Vancouver resident and democracy advocate originally from the Philippines. She retired professionally in Canada as head of the Kensington branch of the Vancouver Public Library.
In addition to other worthy causes, Maestro is also one of the leaders of MALAYA Canada, one of the groups that organized a forum in Vancouver to commemorate the 37th-year anniversary of the uprising.
Here’s our question-and-answer discussion with Maestro:
Canadian Filipino Net: What is MALAYA Canada and what is your title?
Erie Maestro: MALAYA Canada is also known by its longer name, which is the MALAYA Movement in Canada Against Killings and Dictatorship and for Democracy in the Philippines. As our name indicates, MALAYA (Filipino for “free”) seeks not only to broaden our opposition from Canada to fascism, but also to broaden Canada-based support for the cause of freedom and democracy in the Philippines.
I am one of the convenors for Malaya Canada and Malaya BC.
CFN: What's the idea behind the Vancouver commemoration of EDSA?
EM: It is to mark the 37th anniversary of the EDSA People Power, how the Filipino people ousted the dictator Marcos and his family from the country.
CFN: As an individual, how is EDSA connected to your personal experience?
EM: I was working then as a human rights worker with the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP). It was headed by Sister Mariani Dimaranan and TFDP workers included lay people like myself and members of the religious congregations (i.e. priests and nuns).
CFN: Did you participate in the EDSA People Power and what do you remember most from it?
EM: I would describe myself as a witness and a participant.
At the national office of the TFDP, we were keenly aware of what was happening. The office was busy, monitoring what was happening in EDSA. You could say that we were on “red alert.” Most of us, including myself, slept in the office during those days and did not go home. One of my co-workers went home and brought her small TV to the office. One of our biggest concerns was the situation of the political prisoners inside the military camps, like Camp Crame, Camp Bago Bantay, Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan and the military camps outside of Manila. We knew the detainees were also following the events, on their radios. Their families were also worried. The worst nightmare was a vision of the military taking the detainees out, lining them against the wall, and firing at them.
I remembered that at the national office, we were busy and occupied with making sure that the lists of the names of political prisoners detained all over the country were complete – that meant contacting the different offices of the TFDP chapters by telegram, long distance phone calls, and by fax, if they were lucky to have access to one! This was the time before cell phones, email, and the internet! As TFDP, we wanted to make sure that if Cory Aquino became president, we were ready with the lists of the names of political detainees to be released, including a number who were already at the National Penitentiary. We worked to make sure no political detainee would be left behind!
[Editor’s note: Cory Aquino is Corazon Coquangco Aquino, widow of assassinated Marcos opposed Benigno Aquino Jr. Mrs. Aquino was installed President of the Philippines after the ouster of Marcos.]
We took turns going to EDSA during those four days. We never went alone, we always had a buddy. I remembered going with Sr. Mary Radcliffe to join the crowd at EDSA. Sister Mary was also a TFD worker and a Columban missionary from the UK. She also became one of my very best friends. I do remember a big banner that said Free All Political Prisoners! That has always been our main call and demand.
I was just on the phone with a friend and former TFDP worker who also slept at the office during those Feb days. I said, do you remember being afraid? And she said, no. And I echoed the same sentiment. We knew a raid of our office was possible but when the call was made to be at the office, 24/7, we did it. Thinking back, the people who were at EDSA were not afraid either, not when you know you are one with hundreds of thousands at EDSA, and with others doing the same people power in other cities.
The days after February 25 were happy moments for all TFDP workers and KAPATID, the organization of families and friends of political prisoners. We saw newly released political detainees and their families in our office, for me that was one big part of what EDSA was about. Those were very happy moments, for the political prisoners, their families, and for us.
As human rights workers, we always said that we were those who would be happy if we lost our jobs as human rights workers, as TFDP workers. But that was not meant to be.
CFN: EDSA led to the ouster of then President Marcos Sr. Years later, his son Marcos Jr., became president of the Philippines. What are your thoughts about this comeback?
EM: Personally, I am angry, disappointed, sad, fearful about this turn of events, about this historical setback. The comeback of the son Marcos, Jr. is the comeback of the political dynasty of the Marcoses, a terrifying reminder that any hope for a fundamental change for genuine freedom, sovereignty, and democracy, essentially a better life for the Filipino people is not going to happen, without a fight. There is more work for freedom loving Filipinos in its continuing fight to create a future with true freedom, democracy, and peace based on justice.
CFN: With the return of the Marcos family to the peak of power with Marcos Jr. as president, why do you think it's still important to commemorate EDSA?
EM: It is important to commemorate EDSA because the spirit of EDSA lives.
Because EDSA remains a brief but shining moment in our people’s history. And one of the best ways to remember EDSA is by being not afraid, by taking the spirit of people power and wielding it as a weapon to strike down this government that remains indifferent to people’s needs and welfare, that continues to serve foreign interests rather than defend our national sovereignty and national patrimony, and continues to use anti-terror laws against the people .
CFN: What is the greatest lesson Filipinos and other freedom-loving peoples should learn from EDSA?
EM: It would be this: The issues and problems that galvanized People power against the Marcos Sr. dictatorship back then are still the same fundamental issues and problems that continue to challenge the people and that drives the people to fight the Marcos Jr. government. It is summed up in the popular chant we hear in many rallies and demonstrations: The people united will never be defeated.