I was at the first EDSA rally, way back in 1986. I was all of eight years old then, but I knew something big was going on. My grandmother felt the need to go, and to take me. I remember her telling me to get dressed, to come with her and help distribute sandwiches because something important was happening.
I can tell you exactly where I was when the first People Power revolution began, because it was my birthday. My grandparents, my brother, and I were having dinner in Takayama to celebrate. Midway through dinner, the owner, who was a friend of my grandparents, came by our table and whispered something in my grandfather’s ear. My grandfather’s face was instantly serious and somber. “We have to go,” he said abruptly, signalling for the check. “But why,” I wanted to know, midway through a prawn tempura. “There’s something happening in EDSA,” was all he said.
I didn’t quite understand the situation back then, all I knew was there was a bad man, a dangerous man as president and there was some woman in yellow who was running against him. She was our way out of danger.
A week or two before my birthday were the snap elections. I remember my grandparent’s car pulluing up the driveway, me waiting by the door, and my grandmother emerging from the car, brandishing her ink-stained finger triumphantly. I felt elation. I didn’t quite understand the situation back then, all I knew was there was a bad man, a dangerous man as president and there was some woman in yellow who was running against him. She was our way out of danger.
But the regime didn’t want that woman to win. And as the results of the election (in the dark ages, before PCOS machines were invented, it took weeks for the votes to be tallied) trickled in and showed us that there were powers at play making sure that the voice of the Filipino would not be heard, people got angrier. Tama na, sobra na, palitan na. I had no idea things were getting so heated. My biggest concern at the time was that we couldn’t buy Magnolia ice cream anymore because we were boycotting any company that was supporting the current president.
The morning after my aborted birthday dinner, I was still miffed—I never got to my much-anticipated green tea ice cream since we had to so hurridley leave the restaurant. I entered the kitchen to find it in a frenzy. My grandmother had mobilized the entire household. We became a sandwich making factory. Egg sandwich, to be specific. It was the quickest, easiest thing to make without having to do a supermarket run, and from the looks of things, we were rushing.
I can’t remember how many hours we stayed in EDSA that day, but in those few hours, little eight-year-old me was getting an education. EDSA was a life-lesson I am sure never to forget, and I would always return to. Teach your children well.
In hindsight, I wonder why my grandmother decided to bring me. At that time no one was sure just how dangerous things could be—if the situation would devolve into a (literal) bloody mess. I asked her why we were going to EDSA. “Because this can’t go on,” was all she told me. “We must fight back.” Now, my grandmother is a very apolitical person. These were very unusual words for her to say. That’s why I understood that something big was happening, something that would affect every single Filipino in the country. This was an important moment in the life of every Filipino.
EDSA felt like a street fair when we got there. We were with the doctors of Medical City, who had set up a first aid station by the Petron gas station on EDSA, near Camp Crame. I was excited, a little scared, but with the hustle and bustle of doctors and the unpacking of boxes of sandwiches, I soon forgot the fear and tried to take in what was going on. I remember there was singing. People greeted each other with friendly hellos and a flash of the “L” sign with their thumb and forefinger. Was this my Woodstock?
Then I heard chanting. Marcos. Hitler. Diktador. Tuta. It sounded more menacing than the Tama na, sobra na, palitan na slogan I was more used to hearing. I looked around and there were demonstrators on the street, in front of a green gate I (now) assume was Camp Crame with paper mache effigies of Marcos and Uncle Sam. Then the protesters set the effigies on fire. I remember how large the flaming paper heads looked. That’s when I got scared. That’s when I threw up on my shoes. Not that it mattered since all the Medical City doctors were near me. I don’t quite remember what my grandmother did with me after that other than dismiss me to a spot near the ambulance, where a chair was found for me to sit in. “Stay with Tito Tico,” Mama said almost absently, gesturing to poor Dr. Sarmiento who took my hand and led me to one of his nurses, who immediately sat me down and told me to put my head between my legs—supposedly to calm me down, I’m still not sure how that was going to help calm me. My grandmother’s attention was elsewhere today. She was intent on making sure everyone who passed by got a sandwich, I guess.
Then I heard chanting. Marcos. Hitler. Diktador. Tuta. It sounded more menacing than the Tama na, sobra na, palitan na slogan I was more used to hearing.
One of the nurses was kind enough to sit with me and explain that those paper mache heads are symbols of greed, hate, and corruption, and that was why the people were mad and burning them. I can’t remember how many hours we stayed in EDSA that day, but in those few hours, little eight-year-old me was getting an education. EDSA was a life-lesson I am sure never to forget, and I would always return to. Teach your children well.
On February 26, 1986, it was over. The dictator was gone. He had fled. On that day, I learned that if the people stand together, things can change. Our voices can be heard. Mr. President, Mr. Marcos: Are you hearing us now?