Why EDSA Matters by Cristobal Zarco

This past February marked the thirtieth anniversary of the EDSA revolution. A generation has passed since Filipinos in the millions stared down the tanks and troops of the Marcos regime on Metro Manila’s main highway that the revolution was eventually named after. To those who lived through it, now reaching middle age, EDSA was an unbelievable, transformative, even spiritual experience of how faith and the people’s will could peacefully topple a dictator. For younger Filipinos without any memory of EDSA, it already seems dated and simply another chapter of the Philippines’ tumultuous political history. What exactly did EDSA accomplish? Thirty years on, why does it matter?It’s worth going back to September 1972 and the very beginning of martial law to fully understand the context of the events that toppled Marcos in February 1986. After a staged assassination attempt on Secretary of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile, Marcos declared martial law, granting himself powers far beyond those allowed to him under the Philippine constitution. Enrile was the architect of martial law, creating the legal and military framework for what would eventually be known as the Bagong Lipunan or “New Society.” According to Marcos, the New Society would transform Filipinos into strong, disciplined, and law abiding people. The instruments of change would be the armed forces and police, which Marcos would turn into the pillars of his regime.

Ferdinand Marcos and Juan Ponce Enrile By the early 1980’s, cracks began to appear in Marcos’ rule. The Philippine economy, once one of Asia’s fastest growing, was in free fall and tens of millions of Filipinos lived in grinding poverty. To add insult to injury, Marcos and his family flaunted their ill gotten wealth as Filipinos faced more hardships. But the weakest link in the system was Marcos himself. He was suffering from a debilitating case of systemic lupus erythematosus, requiring kidney dialysis and extensive treatment that interfered with his ability to govern. Worst of all, he had alienated key figures responsible for upholding his regime. Defense Secretary Enrile, author of martial law, was isolated and dissatisfied with his position within the government. Marcos had also passed over Fidel V Ramos, a distant relative and high ranking general, for promotion to AFP Chief of Staff in favor of the incompetent but loyal Fabian Ver.

Fabian Ver

An even more volatile element was added to this combustible mix of power politics. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan was a young, ambitious, and charismatic military officer whose career, along with many others in his generation, had been put on hold by Marcos’ preference for older, more reliable cronies. The President refused to allow Honasan and other young officers to rise in rank lest they displace the power and positions of older generals and admirals personally loyal to him. Honasan created a secret organization within the military which came to be known as RAM, the Reform of the Armed Forces Movement. RAM was filled by angry young officers, many from elite Special Forces units, all eager for a chance to shake up the military and government hierarchy. Defense Secretary Enrile was quick to see the potential in such a group and quietly cultivated Honasan as his protégé.

Gringo Honasin

As Marcos’ health declined, the power of the opposition grew, especially around the fiery and eloquent Senator Ninoy Aquino. Aquino had been imprisoned during the 70’s but released and sent to the United States for a life-saving operation. There, he became a lightning rod of opposition against Marcos’ regime. Upon his return to the Philippines on August 21, 1983, he was assassinated, with the culprits responsible for ordering his death unknown to this day. In the court of public opinion, Marcos was guilty of Ninoy’s death and rather than squelching the opposition, resistance to his rule increased, now coalescing around Ninoy’s widow, Corazon Aquino. This was the stage in the middle of the 1980’s in the waning years of the Marcos regime. Enrile and Honasan were biding their time for an opportune moment to strike at the ailing dictator, knowing the poor state of his health. At the same time, Cory Aquino had become the face of the opposition. Because of her status as a housewife, political outsider, and widow of the martyred Ninoy, she proved extremely difficult for Marcos loyalists to attack or defame. Showing one final spark of the political daring and intuition that brought him to the Presidency two decades before, Marcos called for a snap election to prove once again his popularity and mandate to rule. As Cory and Marcos began to campaign, Enrile and Honasan began planning a coup. All their destinies would come together during four spectacular days from February 22 to 25, 1986. Corazon Aquino waves to the crowds at the victorious conclusion of EDSA Fearful of the real result, Marcos and his loyalists rigged the election in their favor. The fraudulent Marcos victory was denounced by international observers and the Philippines’ own Committee on Elections, or COMELEC. The powerful Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines also opposed the result. But the real action would come from Enrile and Honasan’s disgruntled rebel officers. Sensing the regime’s weakness, Honasan planned a coup in which the commandos would seize Malacanang Palace, TV stations, and key military bases around Metro Manila. It’s an important point to remember that EDSA did not begin as a spontaneous expression of people power against dictatorship. In its original form, the toppling of Marcos would have been a violent takeover with Filipinos killing each other in the streets of Manila. Unfortunately for the would-be revolutionaries, and miraculously for the Filipino people, loyalist officers discovered Honasan’s plans and Marcos ordered the arrest of Honasan and the other coup leaders. Enrile and Honasan scrambled as Marcos turned the tables on them. It was now, that Enrile showed his skills as a consummate politician and insider. He contacted Fidel Ramos, head of the Philippine Constabulary (today the PNP) and asked for his support. The rebels who had once planned to attack the Presidential Palace now holed up inside Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo. Though Marcos could have ordered his vastly superior forces to crush the rebels immediately, he opted to negotiate. It was a critical error. Ramos and Enrile bought time negotiating with the dictator as Ramos convinced military units all over the country to change sides. Ramos was still resentful of being passed over for the top job in the Philippine military, AFP Chief of Staff, and was far more respected in the military than Fabian Ver, Marcos’ top crony in uniform. The most powerful endorsement of the rebels came from Jaime Cardinal Sin. Cardinal Sin and other church leaders urged their parishes and religious orders to go out and support the rebels, even at personal risk. Led by priests, monks, and nuns, some two millions Filipinos streamed onto EDSA, concentrating around Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo. Now, even if Marcos ordered his men to attack, they would not be able to defeat the rebels without killing untold numbers of fellow Filipinos. With Enrile, Ramos, Cardinal Sin, and the teeming millions of Metro Manila out in the streets against him, the balance of power had shifted decisively against Marcos. Military units faded away and joined the rebels until finally, Marcos was only master of Malacanang. A US military helicopter whisked him and his family out of the palace to a base in Ilocos, then to a plane towards exile in Hawaii. In the next few days, thousands of Filipino would wander wide eyed through Malacanang Palace, discovering Marcos’ dialysis machine and Imelda’s infamous shoe collection. After two decades in power, the most formidable President in modern Philippine history practically faded away. Though the plot devised to overthrow him called for violence and bloodshed, there had been virtually none. The most iconic images of this peaceful revolution would come from EDSA itself, where nuns prayed the rosary in the face of soldiers and tanks. It was not hyperbole for many Filipinos to describe the events of the EDSA revolution as a miracle. Continuing the dictatorship, civil war, and all the worst case scenarios involving bloodshed and loss of life had been avoided. Perhaps the political miracle was the involvement of millions of Filipinos once the revolution was underway. The presence of the masses in the revolution transformed what would have been a violent, selfish grab for power by Marcos insiders into a noble, heroic effort where the Filipino people were the true heroes. Because of “People Power”, Cory Aquino would become President and return legitimate, constitutional government to the Philippines. The age of martial law and military rule was firmly ended. Because of the unlikely, maybe even miraculous events of EDSA, young Filipinos grew up in a country that was not destroyed by civil war or still enduring a corrupt dictatorship. A fragile respect for the rule of law returned to the country after EDSA, spearheaded by Cory Aquino and other reformers, seeking to repair the damage done by martial law. Of course, EDSA did not right all the wrongs done during martial law. Many of those who disappeared were never found and many who had committed terrible crimes were never brought to justice. The Marcos family, for better or for worse, has returned to politics. Imelda Marcos is a representative in Congress, with son Bongbong a Senator, and daughter Imee governor of the province of Ilocos Norte. The Aquinos became a political dynasty of the first class because of the actions of Ninoy, then Cory once she was President. Corazon Aquino and her son Benigno Aquino III are the only mother and son to have become Presidents of the Philippines. For Ramos, because of his leadership during EDSA and the respect he commanded in the military, he became Defense Secretary under Corazon Aquino, then President in his own right in 1992. Gringo Honasan and Juan Ponce Enrile are still in politics as well, both as senators. Though some of its key figures are still with us, the EDSA revolution is gradually fading into the background. While it was imperfect, it remains an example of how a nation can avoid breaking upon the rocks of civil war and domestic strife. For Filipinos too young to remember or who were born afterward, we owe a peaceful childhood and upbringing to those three days in February thirty years ago.

EDSA will continue to be the standard for what Filipinos were at their best, what they should be, and what they can be again.

The Mysterious Cases Behind Pilipino Inventors


Groundbreaking Filipino Inventors- that was the title I envisioned when I first got the idea to write this article. It was going to have examples of Pilipinos who drastically changed the world through their innovations with brief bios on each of them. Simple enough. Once I started researching, however, finding the facts became much more complicated than I imagined. The Mystery of the Moon Buggy

I decided to check out Eduardo San Juan, who was listed in multiple articles on famous Filipinos as the inventor of the Lunar Rover a.k.a. the Moon Buggy.

The first website I landed on read: “He was the project leader for NASA in the buggy development: An underfunded and underappreciated engineering success…The moon buggy allowed greater exploration of the Moon, yet Eduardo San Juan’s contribution has been relegated largely to status as a footnote.” (Miele, 2009)

I continued researching more on his background…and that’s when things got strange.

According to many sites, San Juan contributed to a multitude of important inventions, such as the Articulated Wheel System and the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, and received one of the Ten Outstanding Men (TOM) awards in science and technology. He’s even lauded in Philippine textbooks as one of the most acclaimed scientists in the country.

Investigators on just as many a number of other sites, however, argue that the great Eduardo San Juan is but merely a myth. Some attest that although there was a man of that name that worked as a technician on the project, he was by no means its chief designer. Other accounts claim that there are no records connecting an Eduardo San Juan to the Lunar Rover at all. Then there’s this letter written by San Juan’s alleged daughter pleading to set the record of his life accomplishments straight, which curiously contains multiple inaccuracies.


Karaoke Crisis


A similar case emerged while I began researching the man who invented karaoke- a person whom I’ve been told countless times was, in fact, Pilipino. Several websites touted Roberto del Rosario as the original inventor of the karaoke machine who patented his “minus-one system” in 1975 and had his idea stolen by Japanese corporations. Many more, however, gave the crowning title to Daisuke Inoue, a Japanese musician who created the “Juke 8” machine in 1971, but never got a patent. Still, some Pilipinos defend that even though Inoue may have created the machine first, he never got a patent and therefore the invention is del Rosario’s by technicality.

In most accounts of the creation of karaoke del Rosario isn’t even mentioned, particularly if the source isn’t Pilipino. In 1999, Daisuke Inoue was recognized as one of TIME Magazine’s “Most Influential Asians of the Century” and was awarded the Ig Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. It’s clear in the eyes of the public who won out this round.


Battle of self-worth

The same wild goose chase for the truth tails the alleged Filipino inventor of the fluorescent lightbulb, Agapito Flores, and the supposed inventor of the Armalite or M-16, Agapito Flores Armando Literio.

So it comes down to a classic battle of one person’s word against another’s. Great inventors, just like Greek gods and war heroes, stand at the crossroads between legend and myth, where historical facts become blurred by different agendas. History is still a story, and whoever sells it best wins.

But of course, most people who aren’t trying to write articles on Pilipino inventors aren’t usually going to do this extent of research. Heck, even my research consisted of simply typing their names into Google and skimming through the first few pages that showed up in my search. Most people wouldn’t have the time, or the resources, or even care about who invented what. Most people do, however, enjoy their fun facts of the day, and will spread them as truth to whomever may care to listen.

So what does it really matter then, what’s real and what’s not? Stories will always be different depending on who’s telling and who’s listening. It all comes down to what we believe.

But I think that’s the important thing- it’s what we believe that’s the problem.  We latch on to mythical legends because we as Pilipinos feel like we don’t have enough definite champions that can show the world our people can exceed its expectations.

These battles over who invented what are not merely frivolous obsessions over the past, they are battles to prove our legitimacy- the fight for our own self-worth.

Let’s not be lost. We as Pilipinos need to take hold of our own narratives and make them clear again. Let’s find the true living legends here and now and celebrate them loudly and proudly so that there is no doubt over what we bring to the table.  By highlighting our real successes, we can debunk the sorry myth that Pilipinos are not born leaders and make the need to glorify lost legends unnecessary.



Photo credits: istorya.net, arnelpineda.ning.com 



SPAM: A Story of Love and Hate


A Hormel advertisement from the 1940's showing Americans how many different meals they can make with SPAM. For many Pilipinos, there’s nothing like the sound of sizzling SPAM on a hot frying pan just before brunch. When I was in college, a taste of home was never far away as I always made sure that a little rectangular can of SPAM was gleefully sitting in my kitchen cabinet. On lazy Sunday mornings I would throw it over a bed of white rice and enjoy the savory smell of spiced ham wafting in the air.

My (non-Pilipino) roommates, however, did not share the same sentiments as I did. Any mention of eating SPAM was met with a grimace and a resounding: “Ew! Why?”

One of them was so disgusted at the mere presence of SPAM that she wanted to forbid me from cooking it in the apartment while she was home. Sure, I understood that SPAM had a bad rep for being artificial mystery meat, but I was still offended. To me, SPAM was more than just processed meat in a can. It was part of my family and my culture. It was a part of who I was.

My grossed out friends did make one valid point, however: Why? Why did the Pilipino side of me identify so strongly with an American brand of canned pork shoulder and ham? And why was it so despised in its own country of origin?

During World War II, SPAM became the ideal candidate for food rations because it was a cheap and nonperishable good source of protein, and masses of it were sent overseas to American troops. After the Japanese invaded the Philippines, the American soldiers stationed there were able to give their surplus food rations to fleeing Filipinos who were forced to abandon their homes, and thus the SPAM sensation began.

Back in the United States, getting one’s hands on fresh meat during wartime was not easy. For the same economical reasons SPAM spammed its way onto everybody’s plates and eventually became so ubiquitous that everybody grew sick of it. According to Ty Matejowsky, “it was and will always remain an unappetizing reminder of the widespread deprivation brought on by the Great Depression and World War II."


But while SPAM became associated with poverty and unrefinement in the U.S., the very fact that it was an American product ironically elevated SPAM to a foreign delicacy in the Philippines, gratifying happy consumers spanning the working class to the wealthy. Today, SPAM has become so riotously popular among Pilipinos around the world that it is now considered a staple in Pilipino cuisine and inseparable from Pilipino identity. Pilipino obsession with SPAM has reached such a level a fanaticism that there is a restaurant in Manila entirely dedicated to it called the SPAMJAM Café (featuring SPAM Burgers, SPAM Spaghetti, SPAM nuggets, and oh so much more). Maharlika, the hot modern Pilipino restaurant in New York City, flaunts preparing SPAM with a sophisticated flare, including menu choices like beer-battered SPAM fries wittily described as “fresh from the can.”

Beer-battered SPAM fries are a popular appetizer at Maharlika in New York City.

Its history has evolved SPAM into a complex cultural symbol for both Pilipinos and Americans. SPAM is a symbol of love and hate, rich and poor. It’s a symbol of America’s colonial expansion into Asia and the Pacific and also a reflection of the Pilipino colonial mentality. For many Fil-Ams like myself, eating American SPAM is strangely an expression of my Pilipino identity that clashes against my American one. And although it can sometimes represent shame, SPAM has also become a symbol of pride, rallying Pilipino communities together with gelatinous cohesion.

In all essence, SPAM is the past and the future all globbed together in one little rectangular can. And gosh darn it, it tastes great too. I love SPAM. There, I said it.


Photo credits: 2.bp.blogspot.com, vintageadbrowser.com, thinrecipes.com, realcheapeats.com

10 Kundiman Songs You Should Know


The Philippines has a beautiful relationship and history with music. Kundiman, the Philippine art song, emerged around the late 19th and early 20th centuries during a movement against western musical traditions. The genre, which expresses courtship and irrevocable affection, was a platform for reclaiming nationalist Pilipino identity. Key composers like Francisco Santiago and Nicanor Abelardo acted as pioneers, writing songs that borrowed elements from traditional folk music and texts to protest Spanish and American imposition. When natives' patriotic expression was deemed taboo under Spanish rule, the kundiman emerged as a retaliation embodying the Pilipino's love for the country. The kundiman is marked by passionate, sweeping symphonies and romance. It is believed that the romantic object of affection in kundiman songs are symbolic of the country.

According to Nicanor Tiongson in The Encyclopedia of Philippine Art, Vol. 6, the kundiman plays up these essential roots of Pilipino psyche: "sentimentality, [...] yearning for freedom from want and deprivation, and the aspiration for a better future."

Dive into the beauty of original Pilipino music with 10 songs to add to your playlist now. This isn't a definitive or "best-of" list - just a start!

1. Minamahal Kita (1940) Mike Velarde Jr.


2. Dahil sa Iyo (1937) Mike Velarde Jr.


3. Bituing Marikit (1926) Nicanor Abelardo


4. Pakiusap (1921) Francisco Santiago


5. Ang Maya (1905) Jose Estrella


6. Usahay


7. Mutya ng Pasig (1926) Nicanor Abelardo


8. Madaling Araw (1938) Francisco Santiago


9. Buhat (1939) Mike Velarde Jr.


10. Irog Ako Ay Mahalin Ric Manrique Jr.