It has been ten years since people power toppled President Ferdinand Marcos from office in the Philippines in late winter 1986. He had seemed entrenched in office because he controlled the federal government and many local governments, the military and the economy in a country that is divided into 7,000 islands. But nonviolent action reached into many of those islands and ended his dictatorship.
Fellowship of Reconciliation Played Key Role
Unlike many nonviolent struggles, the Philippine campaign had a religious base, and much of the organizing was done by the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR). It is a religious, pacifist organization that educates and acts to substitute nonviolence and reconciliation for violence. Father Jose Blanco, SJ leads the Philippine chapter of IFOR. Richard Deats led the chapter in the United States, but he wanted to help the action in the Philippines so he joined the IFOR effort there. He told us the story.
For a year and a half before the 1986 presidential election, The Fellowship had run workshops in the Philippines on nonviolence. Bishops and other Catholic and Protestant leaders and grassroots activists attended these workshops and spread the teachings through their clergy to many of the islands. Deats and Hildegard and Jean Goss-Mayr,vice presidents of IFOR, led some of the workshops. Mrs. Goss-Mayr met with Cory Aquino and Cardinal Sin prior to the election in which Mrs. Aquino ran against Mr. Marcos for the presidency. The workshops built on the fairly widespread nonviolence movement that had mushroomed in the Philippines after the death of Benigno Aquino, Mrs. Aquino's husband.
The fundamental point stressed in the workshops was that everybody is
somebody because he or she is a child of God. From this sense of dignity, which
the Marcos dictatorship had partly destroyed,
not submit to her opponents. Her guards urged her to stop dressing in yellow, her campaign color, because it made her a better target. She replied, "When my husband, Benigno, died, I lost my fear. I am willing to die for my country if necessary."
Marcos proceeded to steal the election. In an effort to prevent that, Aquino workers sat on the ballot boxes. Later, they said, "Because Cory had no fear, we had the courage to guard the ballot boxes and oppose the soldiers."
Soldiers' Courage Without Soldiers' Weapons
Then the activists stepped up their campaigns. The churches set up prayer tents for activists and offered the Eucharist. It raised the question of whether the activists were willing to risk giving their lives, as Jesus had done. Some were. That willingness to die helped bring the courage to demonstrate against the military.
The children of Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile said to him,
the rest flowed. Many Filipinos believed that the only ways to react to the Marcos dictatorship were with passivity or counterviolence. IFOR taught that there is a third way: active nonviolence, the way of Jesus. This means being friendly to opponents but refusing to submit to them.
In nonviolence meetings, rural Filipinos asked how to apply this principle to the problem of guerillas trying to recruit in towns at night and soldiers trying to find out during the day who was considering joining the guerillas. Leaders of the meetings advised such townspeople to form a fairly large group to confront the guerillas and the military to say politely that the town would cooperate with neither. Many towns did this and were not harmed or, in most cases, approached any more.
Not only these townspeople, but Cory Aquino did
can you support Marcos when he stole the election?" Child power. Enrile and Lieutenant General Fidel Ramos learned that Marcos planned to have them arrested. They defected and went to Camp Crame, where there were a mere 300 sympathetic soldiers to protect them against Marcos' 300,000. Enrile and Ramos took last rites.
Marcos ordered the camp attacked. Tanks rolled and planes started to dive-bomb, but nonviolence won. One hundred thousand people had surrounded the camp. The pilots pulled their planes out of their dives and did not drop their bombs; instead they dropped their allegiance to Marcos, saying that they were not butchers; they had joined the military to defend civilians, not atttack them.
Then the nuns and priests acted. Some of them had seen the film Gandhi and, inspired by it, they decided that they would oppose Marcos' military and would keep coming in waves, even if beaten down. Many expected to be mowed down or run over by tanks. They took last rites and prepared to die.
When the tanks came, the nuns and a few priests knelt before them and prayed, placing statues of Jesus and of Mary on the ground in front of them. The tanks moved forward, but stopped and eventually went back to camp. There were so many people around them that they could not move. Nun power. Priest power. Enrile and Ramos were saved.
In the event, not many people were killed. Filipinos experienced the paradox of staying alive by agreeing to die.
Governments of other nations participated in the nonviolence, refusing to loan money to the Philippines. President Reagan withdrew his support of Marcos. And with that final gesture, Marcos fled to Hawaii and eventually died. Cory Aquino became president, followed by Fidel Ramos.
John F. Taylor and Richard W. Fogg
Reprinted with permission from Civilian-Based Defense, Summer 96, vol 11, no 2.