People Power Day

by Rodel Rodis
March 20, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – Along with Philippine consulates and embassies all over the world, the local Philippine Consulate celebrated the 25th anniversary of the “Edsa People Power Revolution” on February 25 and it did so with a concelebrated mass and a forum featuring as guest speaker a “son of Edsa” who described, from the eyes of a child, the historic event at Epifanio De los Santos Avenue (EDSA) in front of Camp Crame.

Verner Macaspac, now 33 years old, a Rotary Exchange Scholar at UC Berkeley studying Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies, paid tribute to the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos at Edsa who willingly put their lives on the line to overthrow the Marcos Dictatorship and restore democracy back to the Philippines.

As Verner was speaking, Vice Consul Reginald Bernabe approached me and invited me to say a few words.

In my remarks, I said that from a historical perspective, the Edsa uprising was the culmination of the Filipino people’s long struggle against the dictatorship that began on September 22, 1972 when Marcos declared martial law. What we should broadly celebrate, I said, is the victory of that heroic resistance and not honor only those who participated in the final chapter.

I drew attention to three people in the audience – Fred Aquitania, Gloria Navarrete, and Mark Castro – who joined about 20 other members of the Ninoy Aquino Movement (NAM) in occupying the Philippine Consulate on February 24, 1986 after word reached San Francisco of the People Power rally at Edsa.

Led by Ted Laguatan and his wife, Josie, and NAM chair Dr. Ruben Mallari and his wife Zeny, and their three kids (Alisa, Chip and Rowena), the NAM members followed KTVU Channel 2 reporter Lloyd LaCuesta on Saturday early evening, February 23, 1986, as he knocked at the door of the Consulate to interview consular officials. As soon as a consular employee opened the door, the NAM group barged in.

As Ted Laguatan recounts it in a recent column, “the occupiers destroyed nothing except the wall portraits of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos – and publicly, through the news media – called for the dictator to step down.”

While the “occupiers” were prepared to be arrested to show the world that the Filipino community in the United States supported the overthrow of the conjugal dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, the San Francisco police officers chose to allow them to leave the Consulate voluntarily.

Soon after the NAM occupation of the Consulate, San Francisco Consul-General Romeo Arguelles announced that he no longer recognized Marcos as the president of the Philippines, news which encouraged the people at Edsa.

The People Power uprising at Edsa was unquestionably the most significant factor in causing the downfall of the Marcos Dictatorship but it was not the sole factor.

When Marcos was beleaguered on all sides by the growing People Power forces at Edsa, he turned to the US for support. Press records show that on February 25, 1986, Marcos called the White House to speak with Pres. Ronald Reagan. who was reportedly unavailable. Instead, the phone was given to US Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nevada), who was monitoring the Philippine developments at the White House.

On behalf of Pres. Reagan, Laxalt advised Marcos to leave the Philippines and seek safe refuge in the US (“cut and cut cleanly”). While Marcos expressed disappointment that the US would not back him, as it did for 14 years, he dutifully complied with the US advice and left the Philippines, with his family and their cronies in tow, bound for Hawaii.

The intense and sustained lobbying pressure of Filipinos in the US was a significant factor in pushing the US to abandon its faithful ally in the Philippines.

On the very weekend Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines in 1972, Filipinos in the US quickly organized the National Committee for the Restoration of Civil Liberties in the Philippines (NCRCLP) and hosted anti-martial law pickets in front of the six Philippine consulates in the US on October 6, 1972.

As secretary-general of the NCRCLP, I met with Dr. Ellen Snow, foreign policy adviser of US Sen. Alan Cranston (D-California), to discuss the Philippine situation. Together with Craig and Lilia Scharlin and Michael and Elena Swanson, I provided Dr. Snow with documents from the Philippine underground describing the atrocities of the Marcos regime.

On April 12, 1973, Sen. Cranston delivered a speech on the floor of the US Senate denouncing Marcos and martial law and calling on the US government to cut off military assistance to the Philippines. “Foreign dictators seem to feel that all they have to do is proclaim their anti-communism,” Sen. Cranston said, “and we will rush to their side with dollars and guns. A few of them, such as Pres. Marcos, even pretend that they are strengthening democracy.”

A month after Cranston’s speech, Los Angeles Philippine Consul-General Ruperto Baliao defected from the Philippine foreign service and blasted Marcos as the “new Hitler”. What broke the camel’s back for Baliao, he said, was a cable he received from the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) ordering him to “blacklist” 100 Filipinos in the US whose passports were to be canceled (I was #12 on the list) and who were to be placed under consular surveillance.

As reported by Silayan, the NCRCLP newsmagazine edited by Catherine Tactaquin, Consul Baliao, who rejected a Marcos ambassadorial appointment before his defection, went on a  nationwide speaking tour denouncing Marcos for his “continued suppression of the people’s civil liberties.”

Other organizations opposed to Marcos soon sprouted all over the US including the Movement for a Free Philippines (MFP) under Sen. Raul Manglapus and Sonny Alvarez, the Katipunan ng Demokratikong Pilipino (KDP) under Melinda Paras and Bruce Occena, the Coalition Against the Marcos Dictatorship (CAMD) under Fely Villasin and the Ninoy Aquino Movement (NAM).

Special mention should be given to Alex Esclamado, the publisher of the nationally circulated San Francisco-based Philippine News which initially alone, among all Filipino US publications, opposed the dictatorship. Soon after Marcos declared martial law, his Tourism Secretary, Jose Aspiras, sent a letter to all Filipino-owned travel agencies in the US warning them that they would not receive favorable support from the Philippine government if they bought ads in the Philippine News.

As his paper relied primarily on travel agency ads, the loss of this major revenue stream caused Alex and his wife, Luly, to hock their two houses to continue publishing their newspaper. Eventually, the Esclamados lost all their real properties and virtually all their worldly possessions because of their commitment to the restoration of democracy in the Philippines.

Someday in the future, February 25 will be honored as People Power Day, not just Edsa Day, and all those who opposed the dictatorship in the 14 dark years of martial law, people like Alex Esclamado, not just the heroic thousands who marched at Edsa, will also be honored for their part in the People Power revolution against the dictatorship.

(Send comments to or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis @ 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334.7800).

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