Historians say the assassination of Aquino was a critical turning point for the nation, setting off a series of Watergates from which the authoritarian regime would not be able to recover. Though Ninoy had always been vocal about his opposition to Marcos’s deceptions and brutality, Marcos was also careful not to go too far with the well-loved Senator—and for good reason, it would seem. Upon seeing the lifeless body of Aquino on the tarmac, the Filipino people awoke and arose as one to topple the usurper of their democracy.
The story of the dictatorship’s end, rather ironically, may have begun with the dictator himself.
Faced with both local and international pressures, Marcos sought to prove that he still had the support of his people. Opposition had been steadily growing on multiple fronts, including the Communist guerilla movement which had swollen in size despite Marcos’s apparent intention to quell it by declaring Martial Law. In November 1985, Marcos called for snap elections to demonstrate that he still possessed the mandate to rule, even inviting US officials to observe and validate the process. To illustrate his confidence in his people’s trust, he told reporters that he would be disappointed if his opponents received even 30% of the votes.
Many observers were skeptical, however, of the sincerity of Marcos’s gesture. When Marcos was elected for his second term in 1969, there were many allegations of his having used “goons, guns, and gold” to sway election results. In certain precincts, he had even suspiciously garnered more votes than the total population in the area. The Communists, who had constantly played a key role in embodying resistance to the dictatorship, decided they would boycott the snap elections, to signify that they would not participate in a dishonest practice that would merely serve as a rubber stamp to legitimize Marcos’s continued grip on power.
The snap elections took place on February 7, 1986. As expected, Comelec declared Marcos the victor. However, an independent group known as the National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) held their own independent count and declared that it was in fact Corazon “Cory” Aquino, the late Senator Aquino’s widow, who had won. The housewife with virtually no experience in politics was fielded as the presidential candidate against Marcos because she was the sole figure who could unite the forces of the political opposition, otherwise fragmented since Ninoy’s death.
The effect of this victory was intoxicating. Crowds cheered as President-elect Cory, though not recognized by the official vote-counting body, declared before millions:
In 1972, our country was taken from us by force in the dead of night and kept from us by deception. We became exiles in our own land. Now we have our country back. And it is fitting that, as we lost it in darkness, we have regained it in the night. We are home again, in a country we can once more call our own. We have won back our country and won it with bravery, sacrifice, honor, and distinction. This night marks our true independence. We owe no one for our freedom but ourselves.
To embody their resistance to Marcos’s declared electoral victory, Cory and her followers staged a nonviolent campaign against the regime, which included a one-day general strike, a delayed payment of utility bills, and a boycott of all crony-owned establishments. Everything was to culminate with organized protests from the local level. Together, under the leadership of Cory Aquino, the Filipino people would peacefully—and in unity—end Marcos rule.
Parallel to Aquino’s call for nonviolent resistance, Marcos’s grip on power further loosened when he lost the allegiance of two of his most faithful followers: Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel V. Ramos.
By 1986, Juan Ponce Enrile had been a loyal Marcos follower for about 21 years, from even before Ferdinand was elected president for his first term. He had occupied key positions in government as one of Marcos’s most trusted cronies, eventually becoming Secretary of Justice then Secretary of National Defense at the height of his political power. It was an assassination attempt against Enrile that Marcos used as one of the final nails in the coffin to declare Martial Law in 1972.
The other defector Fidel V. Ramos also held many key posts under the Marcos regime. A graduate of the West Point Military Academy in the US, the general was named Marcos’s director general of the Integrated National Police and chief of the Philippine Constabulary. In a highly militarized state, this gave Ramos great influence during the Martial Law era.
But on February 22, 1986, these two Marcos disciples declared that they would no longer support their long-time leader. Enrile claimed that the assassination attempt at Wack-Wack had been a hoax, and he now wished to act in contrition for all the harm his actions had inflicted on the citizens of the nation. Meanwhile, Ramos admitted that he had been keeping in his feelings against the Marcos government for quite some time, and it was high time for him to express them. By resigning himself from the Marcos’s Armed Forces, Ramos said, he wanted to make himself available to serve the Filipino people.
Barricading themselves in Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame, they made it known to the people that their hearts were with Cory Aquino. They called on the support of armed forces that they praised as being loyal to the Constitution—even if they were to die fighting that day, they decided they could no longer recognize Ferdinand Marcos as Commander-in-Chief.
With revolution bright in the air, the final blow to Marcos rule came in a powerful move from above and below. As the rebels barricaded themselves at the camps, Cardinal Jaime Sin went live on the Catholic radio station Radio Veritas calling for the people to protect them against violence from the troops that remained loyal to Marcos. That night, about 50,000 people responded to the call. By the following morning, the crowd had swelled to about 2,000,000 people.
Ordinary Filipinos by sheer unity of their numbers turned the tide of history. As all the rebels consolidated at Camp Crame, it became difficult for Marcos troops to mobilize as the roads were completely blocked off. They could not risk attacking the armed defectors without killing thousands of civilians in the process. Nuns in their habits held their own against soldiers in uniform. Men coming out of their tanks were greeted by crowds giving them flowers. Such was the bloodless revolution.
Long-time crony General Fabian Ver and Ferdinand’s son Bongbong Marcos reportedly encouraged the failing Commander-in-Chief to proceed with the attack. Blowing the opposition to smithereens would neutralize the rebellion, they said, no matter if citizens would die too. However, US officials, previously supportive of the Marcos administration, discouraged Ferdinand from making such a drastic move. Instead, they advised him to cut clean. It was over, they said.
The night of February 25, 1986, the Marcoses fled Malacañang. The people had won.