Filipinos campaign to overthrow dictator (People Power), 1983-1986

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Time Period:  
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Quezon City
Overthrow president Marcos and, after the 1986 elections, the installation of Corazon Aquino as president

Ferdinand Marcos was elected president of the Philippines in 1965. Marcos was reelected in 1969 and when barred to run for a third term, he declared martial law and gave himself near absolute power. Marcos assumed full control of the military, dissolved congress, and had many of his political opponents and critics arrested. One of his more prominent critics had been Senator Benigno Aquino who was prepared to challenge Marcos in the 1973 election, had it occurred.

Aquino would spend seven years in jail in the Philippines before he developed a heart condition. The Marcos regime had falsely convicted Aquino of murder and sentenced him to death, but the United States stepped in to provide him with proper treatment for his condition. Marcos allowed Aquino to leave the Philippines and receive treatment. Aquino would spend three years in the United States before deciding to return to the Philippines in 1983.

Aquino decided to return in order to remove Marcos from power. He made this decision despite having heard that many people would be looking to kill him when he returned. After having read the writings of Gandhi while incarcerated, he was inspired to employ nonviolence to overthrow Marcos.On August 21st 1983, Benigno Aquino arrived in the Philippines and almost immediately after landing, police vans surrounded his jet and three police officers shot and killed him.

The news of Aquino's death received intense international coverage, but Marcos prevented any media outlets in the Philippines from covering his death. Radio Veritas, however, did broadcast news of Aquino's death and the somber news inspired myriad grief and demonstrations. Aquino's mother, Aurora, made sure to leave her son's body as it was, unaltered for all the world to see. For days, Filipinos visited Aquino's body and paid homage to him and his struggle against Marcos.

Hundreds of thousands of supporters gathered at a symbolic park that honored a Filipino that had fought for independence from Spain. As the rain poured down on them, they put their fingers in the shape of an "L" to represent Aquino's political party, Laban. Others took to the streets holding banners that read "Justice for All Victims of Political Repression and Military Terrorism!"

Beginning in the fall of 1983, Filipinos chose yellow as the color to represent the campaign and office building employees would release tons of yellow confetti onto the streets on a weekly basis. As the Philippines sunk deeper and deeper into debt, business leaders became frustrated with Marcos and demanded reforms. Consequently, Marcos reinstated the vice presidency and reduced restrictions on age qualifications to run for president and vice president.

A key organizer in the campaign was former Senator Jose Diokno, who Marcos had also arrested in the 1970s. He started Justice for Aquino, Just for All (JAJA), which was an activist organization partially funded by Aquino's brother Agapito. Aquino's wife, Corazon would also play an important role in the campaign. Corazon organized a rally at Malacanang Palace, the former house of the government, that fell on the eleventh-year anniversary of the declaration of martial law and the one-month anniversary of Aquino's assassination. 15,000 demonstrators marched from the palace to the Mendiola Bridge, where marines fired at them and killed eleven demonstrators and injured hundreds more. The violence only spawned more resistance from the people.

In May 1984, new elections for parliament took place and opposition parties claimed 58 of the 183 available seats even though there were large allegations of election fraud. Corazon had publicly endorsed all of the candidates running for the opposition parties. The candidates were united as part of the United Democratic Action Organization (UNIDO), which was a coalition lead by Salvador Laurel. NAMFREL a volunteer organization with many nuns and other religious officials, oversaw the tallying of votes in the election in areas where they were allowed. NAMFREL rallied 200,000 volunteers to work during election day.

In July of the same year, Agapito Aquino led 20,000 protesters to occupy the Mendiola Bridge where much violence had occurred the year before. On the one-year anniversary of Aquino's assassination, renamed "National Day of Sorrow," 3,000 protesters organized a candlelight vigil at the same bridge. Police eventually used tear gas and water cannons to forcibly remove the protesters from the area.

In 1985, an investigation took place regarding the assassination of Aquino and enough evidence was found to put Chief of Staff Ver and 24 of his soldiers on trial, beginning in February. During the trial, General Ver did not serve as Chief of Staff. In August, oppositional party leaders filed a motion to impeach Marcos, but their request was denied by his regime. Three months later, Marcos announced that there would be an election for president and vice president a year earlier than planned, in 1986. The following month, in December, all on trial for the assassination were acquitted and Marcos reinstated Ver as Chief of Staff.

Corazon seized the opportunity in December to declare her candidacy for president in the upcoming elections. After having discussions with Laurel, who also wanted to run, she decided she would run for president and he would run for vice president. Several rallies were held leading up to the election. Less than two weeks before the elections, opposition groups held rallies in over twenty-four cities, totaling 355,000 demonstrators. The largest demonstration was held three days before the election; one million Filipinos participated in a rally to support Corazon and Laurel.

On February 7, the rushed election was held and the voter turnout easily surpassed the numbers that anyone could have expected. As results began to be tallied, the government-sponsored organization COMELEC had determined that Marco was going to win the election. The volunteer organization NAMFREL, however, determined that Corazon had a decisive lead over Marcos. Allegations of election fraud were rampant and two days after the election, thirty COMELEC workers walked out, disgusted by the election fraud. On February 13, the Catholic Bishops' Conference dismissed the election as being tampered with by Marcos and his regime.

On February 15, the Filipino parliament officially declared Marcos to be the winner. According to the assembly, Marcos had won by a count of 10,807,197 votes to Corazon's 9,292,761 votes. In response, opposition leaders left the assembly in protest. NAMFREL's data, however, suggested that Corazon had won by nearly 800,000 votes. The following day, Corazon held a national rally at the Luneta Park in Manila where she called for nationwide civil disobedience to overthrow Marcos. 1.5 million supporters attended the "Triumph of the People Rally." Three days later, the United States Congress condemned the election and voted to cut military support until Marcos stepped down.

Corazon, in her call for action, asked Filipinos to boycott businesses and establishments that were supportive of Marcos. As a result, Filipinos boycotted pro-Marcos media and withdrew money from banks known to have a relationship with Marcos' regime. Schools shut down as well and Filipinos stopped paying their bills. Filipinos also held a one-day general strike. As more and more Filipinos began utilizing civil disobedience, the campaign picked up a lot of momentum and unlikely support.

On the evening February 22, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and General Fidel Ramos rescinded their support for Marcos. Afterwards, the two men took hundreds of soldiers and barricaded the Ministry of Defense near Camp Crame. The two military leaders were planning a coup against Marcos, but Marcos found out and sent troops to attack the rebel soldiers. Before this, however, Cardinal Sin asked people to come and support the revolution via Radio Veritas. Religious officials came out in masses to form a human barrier around the soldiers and their camp in order to stop any violent conflict from arising. They were successful (see "Nonviolent intervention in Philippines during military clash, 1986").

Meanwhile, Luneta Park once again became a site of protest and demonstrations; 50,000 Filipinos rallied at Luneta Park, cheering for Corazon and calling for Marcos to step down. Pro-Marcos soldiers later arrived at the park and demonstrators greeted them with hugs and prayers. Some civilians tied yellow ribbons around the soldiers' weapons. A separate helicopter unit was called in, but they defected and flew to support their fellow soldiers who had gathered at Camp Crame.

On February 24, Corazon visited her supporters at the park and inspired opposition members of parliament to write a new resolution that revoked the results of the corrupt election and declared her president. 150 citizens signed their names onto the new proclamation. The following day, Aquino's mother swore Corazon in as president of the Philippines and Marcos fled the country with the help of the United States. The remarkably successful campaign came to an end, having demonstrated the power of the people in the face of a repressive leader.

Research Notes
Inspired many of the other democracy campaigns of the time period (2) Benigno was inspired by the work and writings of Gandhi. (1)
Ackerman, Peter, and Jack DuVall. A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Mercado, Monina A, and Francisco S Tatad. People Power: The Philippine Revolution of 1986 : an Eyewitness History. Manila, Philippines: James B. Reuter, S.J., Foundation, 1986.

"Timeline of Rebellion." The Beginning of the Revolution. thinkquest, n.d. Web. 12 May 2011. <>

See also: Sharp, Gene. Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential. Boston: Extending Horizons Books, 2005.

Additional Notes: 
For more information on the campaigners' intervention to prevent violence between rebel troops and Marcos' loyalist troops, see the case "Nonviolent intervention in Philippines during military clash, 1986".

Edited by Max Rennebohm (02/06/2011)

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Julio Alicea 10/05/2011