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Dr. Ricardo Jose is a man who knows his history. He’s also participated in it—from keeping watch over the 1986 Snap Elections as part of the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), to joining the crowds at the height of People Power.
Every Filipino has heard of People Power: the peaceful revolution along Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) that restored our democracy and finally put an end to Ferdinand Marcos’ one-man regime.
When I spoke to Dr. Jose, I got the full history lesson: On February 22, the Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile and Constabulary of the Armed Forces Fidel V. Ramos broke away from Marcos’ chain of command. They went on the only media outlets available at the time—the mosquito press and Radio Veritas—to appeal to the people. They called for the public to support them and a small group of mutineers at Camp Aguinaldo. Within hours, people were at EDSA, and that was just the beginning.
Four days later—on February 25, now known as EDSA Day—People Power ended, solidifying itself as one of the most powerful events in Philippine history.
Here's what those four days looked like from Dr. Jose's perspective, and what he sees when he passes through EDSA today.
*Scroll to the bottom for the timeline of events leading up to EDSA Revolution (or click here!)
Can you tell us about your experience during the People Power, and the events surrounding it?
DR. RICARDO JOSE: I was there on the first night; I lived very near the Camp. I was still quite young, so when we heard about the breakaway and that they were calling for people to come, we went. It was me, some of my brothers, and my sister. That first night was very tense. We didn’t know what was going to happen. Even Marcos was caught off guard by this! But by the next day, more people came in after Cardinal Sin, the head of the Catholic Church, also appealed to all Filipinos to support Enrile and Ramos at EDSA. I think that was a Sunday.
I would go to EDSA, go home just to sleep, and go back to EDSA the next day. There were no phones or internet at the time, so this was all being done by word of mouth. We would hear more news [when we got there]: more people had joined up with Ramos and Enrile, there were a lot of civilians joining up, other military forces... International press was covering this, so Marcos’ hands were kind of tied, but it was apparent that he was going to use force. [We heard that] he was going to send the Marines to disperse us, he tried to send tanks and armored vehicles. We saw helicopters—some were gunships preparing to strafe the crowds and we had no idea; we thought the helicopters were friendly.
If you did not do anything, then the corrupt regime and its abuses were going to continue unchecked. It was our time to do something.
A major turning point was on February 24, when a group of helicopter pilots flew from Villamor Airfield to Camp Crame to join Ramos and Enrile. I was at home when they landed, but when I got the news very early in the morning, I immediately went to EDSA and saw it. [It was huge] because it meant that now Ramos and Enrile had air power.
Marcos was getting desperate. He called the US to seek help, but the US [refused] and urged him to get out of the Malacañang. So he left Malacañang, was eventually airlifted to Clark Field [before] flying to Guam then Hawaii. When we heard the news that he finally left the Philippines on February 25th, there was a major celebration. It was really like a fiesta; everybody was jumping for joy!
There was a really strong feeling of bayanihan. We didn’t know each other but everybody felt the same way. It was a very joyous popular feeling that we had ousted this dictator—and that we had ousted him without the use of force.
Political activism can be a dangerous arena, and even more so during that time. Why did you feel like you needed to speak out and actively participate in the protests?
DR. JOSE: It was obvious that in a dictatorship, you didn’t have checks and balances. We could see that the government was getting deeper and deeper into debt, and who was going to pay for it? Kami. The younger generations. My students were going to deal with [the consequences].
The initial years seemed okay. People believed that things were safe and [the Martial Law] was working, but that was largely because news was censored, and we didn’t know what else was happening. As Martial Law developed, it became obvious that things weren’t being solved. Basic socio-economic problems weren’t being [addressed], and the benefits did not trickle down to the majority of the people.
I taught Philippine History at the time, and it was [apparent] that if Bonifacio stood up and if Rizal sacrificed his life in 1896, if you had people who fought in World War II and in the Phil-American war… it was patriotic to stand up and join in the struggle against one-man rule.
I was also teaching History of the Press, and I saw how sad it was that the press we were so proud of—the La Solidaridad during the reform, the Kalayaan during the revolution, the La Independencia during the first Republic—we had a very proud history of journalism; a fighting journalism tradition. And that was destroyed by Martial Law.
I had many friends who were veteran journalists; people I admired and worked with... [we knew that] if we didn’t stand up, who else was going to? If you did not do anything, then the corrupt regime and its abuses were going to continue unchecked. It was our time to do something.
These days it is the main thoroughfare of Metro Manila, but that particular stretch of EDSA—from Ortigas Avenue to around Santolan or Boni Serrano—that was where a revolution took place.
As you’ve mentioned, People Power really was a culmination of many protests and events that came before it. At the height of the protests, were you optimistic that change was going to come?
DR. JOSE: It really was something we weren’t sure about—anything could have happened. If Marcos decided to use the Air Force against the crowd, if the Marines really pushed on, if the artillery had fired on Camps Aguinaldo and Crame... There was very little news, and how long it would take, we didn’t know, either. Was it going to take a week? A month?
The necessary support systems were being developed. Who was going to feed these people? It’s interesting because while Marcos had lifted Martial Law on paper in ’81, in practice, the military was still separate from the people. But on the first night, people who lived around the area brought food and gave some to the soldiers, so there was a sense of unity.
[The protesters] were preparing for a long haul. We were planning relief systems—”you go today, I’ll go tomorrow so we can get enough rest”—because there was no idea what would happen and how long it would take, but we all hoped it would end soon. February 25 came and we received news that Marcos left, that was really—we were so relieved na natapos na.
EDSA today takes on a lot of meaning. Some people see it as a symbol of protest and dissent, but to a lot of others, it’s really just a street. How do you view EDSA now, as someone who’s experienced the protests firsthand?
DR. JOSE: Of course, these days it is the main thoroughfare of Metro Manila, but that particular stretch of EDSA—from Ortigas Avenue to around Santolan or Boni Serrano—that was where a revolution took place. To me, every time I pass by, I still remember what happened.
The main action was in front of Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame. It spilled out to Santolan and Ortigas; that’s why you have the statue of Mother Mary. At the time, it was just an open field, and that was where people stopped the tanks that came. I was there that day; I didn’t see the tanks come in, but I saw them parked, surrounded by people. I [remember] seeing them leave—it was such a joyful moment for us.
It’s quite different from what it was then. You didn’t have Megamall or ADB—at the time, you had cows! Every time I pass by the area, I look back at what it was like before. It’s hard to believe that all of that happened, but every time I go, I think that such a historic event [took place] here.
It’s the people who wield power—not necessarily the people at the top.
We commemorate EDSA Day on February 25 each year, though you could say many people don’t fully understand its significance. In that respect, do you think it’s still relevant to commemorate People Power as a national holiday?
DR. JOSE: I think it’s important to do that, but whether it’s through a ceremony in EDSA or whatever—I’m not sure if that’s the right way to do it. Similar to Araw ng Kagitingan—people ask why we celebrate it, [not knowing] it used to be Bataan Day, when Bataan surrendered in 1942.
When you teach history, you shouldn’t force people to study the dates. February 25 isn’t really important by itself, it’s the whole process: How did we reach February 25? What led to that? That’s what I see is lacking. There’s a failure to educate people about what was really happening and why it’s so important.
Why do you think it’s important that the People Power and the events surrounding it are still taught to the younger generations?
DR. JOSE: Well, I think it should be taught because it’s an important moment in Philippine history. It’s a period that we should be proud of! We were the first country to overthrow an authoritarian government without violence, and a number of other countries followed that Philippine example. In fact, I think a year or so later, there was a conference on Newly Restored Democracies that we led. It was not only in the Philippines; it had worldwide impact.
It was very nice in the beginning because the whole world looked up to us... Later on, politics came in, and [many of] the gains that we had gotten were gradually lost. But [there are] a lot of lessons to be learned there, and it really is such a high point in Philippine history.
But it’s something that should be seen in context; you can’t just say “this happened on February 25.” You have to explain Martial Law, the snap elections... We have to look at the whole Martial Law experience and why people were so upset that it reached a boiling point at EDSA.
Over the last few years, there have been people who say it’s time for us to collectively move on from that point of our history. What can you say about that way of thinking?
DR. JOSE: We can’t really move on because there was no closure. In other countries, there were commissions created to try the people [in power] accused of atrocities and abuses. There were military officials who stood on trial and faced the people they tortured; many of them received a sentencing—there was closure.
In the Philippines’ case, there was no such commission. There was the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which accumulated a lot of documentation... but had gotten rather stuck on red tape. Some would say it was similar to the Japanese occupation. There were supposed to be trials after the war, but many of them were simply forgiven. There is no closure, no [accountability].
We are so quick to forgive and forget that we repeat the same problems, and to me, that’s really a tragedy. So if we don’t close this particular period—if there are no apologies, if the whole truth doesn’t come out—how can we say to move on?
What is something that you would like Filipinos to think about as we commemorate EDSA Day?
DR. JOSE: The one thing that we should focus on is how democracy works, and how the people have a strong voice in that democracy. There is a strong watchdog function that the people have, and that’s one thing that should be emphasized: it’s the people who wield power—not necessarily the people at the top.
This is a democracy; we’re supposed to be a democracy where the power emanates from the people. That’s what needs to be emphasized, and that the leaders at the top realize that they are there because the people put them there.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.