“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me, shall be my brother” (Shakespeare, King Henry the Fifth, Scene III, Act 4). This quote is the closest I have for describing this photograph. It is about being there and making a difference. This image is about the EDSA Revolution of 1986 in the Philippines.
The black-and white image was one of the many documentary photographs taken during the EDSA Revolution. Two nuns were kneeling down in front of a soldier. One nun was holding her rosary tightly, mouth wide open, probably urging the soldier not to shoot them or just reciting her prayers loudly. The other nun was in a contemplative mood, one hand touching her chin, the other arm crossed below her chest. In front of them was a soldier, his back half seen in the photograph. He was standing straight, brandishing a belt of bullets, his M-16 rifle held at slope arms. The contrasting image of the nuns and the cold harsh rifle of the soldier was the focus of this photograph. A huge crowd was behind the nuns. They were ordinary street Filipinos, men and women, parents and children, students, employed or unemployed, rich, middle-class or poor. Some of them were kneeling down, some standing, some with fists in the air, some looking nervously, unsure of what happens next.
I was part of this crowd. I was in the background. I also know what was outside the frame of the photograph because I experienced the same tension and activities. It was a bizarre mixture of more people coming and going in every direction, military tanks and cannons with their soldiers greeted by flowers and food, burning tires, activist flags and streamers, vendors, vehicles, portable radios, foreign correspondents and religious altars everywhere. Strangers flashed wide grins at each other. Motorists honked their horns. People were marching, praying, crying and singing all at the same time.
This documentary photograph was taken anytime during February 22 to 25, 1986, at a stretch of 54 kilometers Epifanio delos Santos Avenue, more commonly known by its acronym EDSA, in Metro Manila. It involved over 2 million Filipino civilians, as well as several political, military and religious groups. It was one of nonviolent protests that began in 1983 and culminated in 1986. The methods used amounted to a sustained campaign of civil resistance against the 20-year running authoritarian, undemocratic regime of the then President Ferdinand Marcos. It led to his departure from the Malacanang Palace to Hawaii and the re-establishment of the country’s democracy. Corazon Aquino was proclaimed as the legitimate President of the Philippines after the revolution (edsarevolution.com; philippine-history.org).
Nobody in the photograph was an expert. Nobody knew what they were doing. They were not organized in any form or manner. They did not really know what was going on beyond their field of vision, beyond the square feet their feet could walk. The image captured the emotion and the disoriented feeling of the subjects. There was a feeling of uncertainty and tension as the people seem to be waiting for the reaction of the soldier. They did not know what manner of harm he intends to inflict on them. Will he shoot them? Will there be bloodshed? There was also a feeling of defiance as their fists hit the air, or of faith as they recite their prayers. However, there was no plot, no Promised Land, no Utopia. At that time, Filipinos did not go there to make a revolution or establish a Brave New World. It can be argued that the chronology of the event forces us to admit that there was no miracle here, no reducing the whole experience to class, no organization that could take responsibility for the outcome.
Revolutions do not take place overnight. The Marcos years, characterized by the unscrupulous exercise of power preservation, fomented political unrest. Allegations of graft and corruption against the administration would forge a disproportion of wealth. The declaration of Martial Law on September 23, 1972 started a feeling of discontent which would make this act of resistance essential, even inevitable to the reinstatement of democracy (philippine-history.org). The EDSA Revolution of 1986 was about the people power that was of the spontaneous, disoriented, unorganized fluid and ambiguous kind. Filipinos from all walks of life discovered a collective will that they had never exerted before and a common bond they had never nurtured. Spontaneity, astonishment and interestingness were the very spirit of the vent. To conclude, people, when treated badly, can summon enough courage, solidarity and determination to stand up and resist.
“Old men forget, yet all shall be forgotten; But he’ll remember, with advantages, so what feats he did that day” (Shakespeare, King Henry the Fifth, Scene III, Act 4). Twenty eight years later, I know that these Filipinos will always be my brothers and sisters. I was there. I wanted to make a difference. I was part of that history.