From February 22 to 25, 1986, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos gathered on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue to protest President Ferdinand Marcos and his claim that he had won re-election over Corazon Aquino. Find out more about the People Power Revolution in the Philippines in this video written by Mark John Sanchez. Narration by Nicholas Breyfogle.
A textural version of this video is available at https://origins.osu.edu/milestones/people-power-revolution-philippines-1986
Video production by Laura Seeger and Dr. Nicholas B. Breyfogle. Audio production by Paul Kotheimer, College of Arts & Sciences Academic Technology Services. The Origins' editorial team includes Editors Nicholas Breyfogle, Steven Conn and David Steigerwald; Managing Editors Cameron Givens, Damarius Johnson, and Brionna Mendoza; Article Layout: Kristin Osborne
This is a production of Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective at the Goldberg Center in the Department of History at The Ohio State University and the Department of History at Miami University. For more information about Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, please visit https://origins.osu.edu.
We thank the Stanton Foundation for their funding of this and other Origins projects. http://thestantonfoundation.org/
For a moment, everything seemed possible.
From February 22nd to 25th, 1986, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos gathered on Epifanio
de los Santos Avenue to protest President Ferdinand Marcos and his claim that he had
won re-election over Corazon Aquino.
Soon, Marcos and his family were forced to abdicate power and leave the Philippines.
Many were optimistic that the Philippines, finally rid of the dictator, would adopt policies
to address the economic and social inequalities that had only increased under Marcos s twenty-year
This People Power Revolution surprised and inspired anti-authoritarian activists around
Ferdinand Marcos had been president of the Philippines since 1965.
After declaring martial law in 1972, he suspended and eventually rewrote the Philippine constitution,
curtailed civil liberties, and concentrated power in the executive branch and among his
Marcos had tens of thousands of opponents arrested and thousands tortured, killed, or
For two decades, Filipinos lived under authoritarian rule while Marcos and his allies enriched
themselves through ownership of Philippine press and industry outlets and through the
siphoning of funds from U.S., World Bank, and International Monetary Fund loans.
The People Power movement had been building since well before Marcos s declaration of
Committed activists who organized underground in the Philippines, in exile, and in the diaspora
worked tirelessly to broadcast news globally of the Marcoses human rights violations and
For many years, however, much of the world the U.S. government in particular was perfectly
willing to overlook the corruption of the Marcoses in exchange for an anti-Communist
bulwark in Southeast Asia.
By the mid-1980s, however, foreign policy calculations had shifted against Marcos in
The August 1983 assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. was seen by many around the world
as a particularly brazen act of political retribution.
Furthermore, rumors about Marcos s health (he was suffering from lupus and regularly
undergoing dialysis at the time) led many of his allies in the Philippines and beyond
to begin speculating about the dictator s successors.
When Ferdinand Marcos boldly called for a snap election in a 1985 interview with David
Brinkley, Marcos s opponents weighed whether this was an opportunity or a trap.
Many times before, Marcos had tipped the electoral balances in his favor, through a rewriting
of laws, outright violence, or other forms of manipulation and intimidation.
Much of the Philippine Left decided to boycott the election, fearful that participation would
only serve to further legitimize the regime.
The remainder of the opposition movement eventually coalesced around the widow of Senator Aquino,
Corazon, or Cory , Aquino.
Just as many feared, Marcos claimed victory in the election.
But this time, Filipinos refused to accept this lie.
On February 22, citizens took to the streets on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue.
Cardinal Jaime Sin, the Archbishop of Manila, called upon Filipinos to support the peaceful
Marcos ordered the military to repress the mass action.
However, a faction of military officers refused to clamp down on the protestors and chose
instead to defect.
This group included soldiers who had grown frustrated with corruption in the military
and the Marcos regime and had earlier formed a group known as the Reform the Armed Forces
Movement, or RAM.
When Marcos ordered the military to arrest detractors, Cardinal Sin called upon the people
to shield them.
The Catholic radio organ, Radio Veritas, became a major control center for protest communications
during the People Power movement.
Close Marcos ally President Ronald Reagan eventually sent word that it was time to cut,
and cut cleanly, signaling that Marcos no longer had the backing of his most powerful
On the evening of February 25th, the U.S. government facilitated Marcos s escape to
Hawaii, where he would remain until his death in 1989.
Later that same night, protestors stormed Malaca ang Palace, exposing the opulent wealth
that the Marcos family had amassed during their time in power.
As Corazon Aquino was sworn in as President, Filipinos were hailed around the world as
an example of peaceful revolution and the restoration of democracy.
The road ahead would not be so simple, however.
In the years since 1986, the legacy of the People Power Revolution has remained uncertain.
Aquino faced several coup attempts during her time in office, many of them led by the
very same RAM that had helped facilitate her rise to power.
The agricultural and economic reforms that many Filipinos hoped for in a post-Marcos
world did not come.
Peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines dissolved and leftists continued
to be maligned, attacked, and hunted.
Many Filipinos expressed nostalgia for the very dictator that had been overthrown.
And there have been ongoing projects of historical revisionism in the Philippines that sanitized
the Marcos years.
The Marcos family have returned to the Philippines and to positions of political prominence:
Ferdinand Marcos s widow Imelda became a congresswoman and his daughter Imee a governor.
Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos Jr., the dictator s son and evident successor to his father
s legacy, ran for vice president in 2016 and finished a close second.
Bongbong refused to concede and, to this day, continues his legal challenges to the election.
The most concerning outcome of the 2016 Philippine elections, however, was the election of Rodrigo
Duterte as president.
A close ally of the Marcoses, Duterte has drawn upon Marcos s script for authoritarian
He has arrested prominent opponents, curtailed civil liberties, and claimed that discipline
is what is most needed for the Philippine nation.
Most infamously, Duterte launched a campaign that has resulted in tens of thousands of
extrajudicial murders committed by police and military forces.
The People Power Movement offers several lessons.
We can see the courageous solidarities and coalitions that might mobilize against authoritarian
restrictions on civil liberties.
But we must also look at the importance of finding ways to build anew and address the
grievances and injustices that have made such authoritarians so popular in the first place.
The protests on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue in 1986 were a remarkable moment in Philippine
history, a moment filled with the sense of unlimited hope and possibility.
And for those with democratic dreams, it provides both a lesson and a warning for the battles ahead.