The nuns and priests in the Philippines recounted their experience in the People Power Revolution of 30 years ago, people protesting in the streets, tanks and soldiers and police in the scene, a dictator who showed no signs of stepping down, saying the experience had a lasting impact on their faith and vocations.
One of the nuns at Daughters of St. Paul, Sister Porferia “Pingping" Ocariza, recounted the horror of Feb.23, 1986 to Catholic News Service.
“Because for me at that time when we were facing the tanks, I believed heavily that God was there," she said. “God was there as if the seed (of democracy) was being planted."
A three-day demonstration that saw millions of Filipinos gather on a main thoroughfare just outside the country’s military headquarters to oust dictator Ferdinand Marcos who had been in power for about 30 years. Marcos had ruled relatively well for his first term but began his second term by creating a personality cult of sorts around himself. Marcos’ second term was marked by economic turmoil brought about by factors both external and internal, a rising crime rate, and a growing Communist insurgency, among other things.
Marcos had ordered military forces to disperse angry crowds that claimed he stole a snap election from Corazon Aquino. It was that peaceful 1986 EDSA Revolution that forced Marcos into exile in Hawaii while Corazon Aquino became the 11th President of the Philippines on February 25, 1986. Under Aquino, the Philippines adopted a new constitution, ending the Fourth Republic and ushering in the beginning of the Fifth Republic.
The Philippine People Power Revolution was bloodless. The protesters fought with prayers, rosaries, flowers and even bribed the soldiers with food. Standing in pairs, Sister Ocariza and 16 other nuns led the rosary as soldiers escorted rolling military tanks with their turrets trained on the sisters. The nun said staring down those tanks has been the scariest experience of her life.
“I said, ‘Lord forgive me for all my sins and even the offenses of our Filipino people.’ If really the tanks would crush us, at least the two of us … kill us sisters, not the people because we (did not) want bloodshed. I love my country."
But the tanks stopped, and the ‘soldiers joined the protesters reciting the rosary,’ that was really a miracle!
Sister Ocariza said that God delivered them from the hands of a dictator and saved the country from what would have ultimately provoked a violent reaction. She said she looks back to that time as a source of courage and a reminder to stand for what is right always.
Sister Ocariza, along with hundreds of priests and religious, joined the 1986 protests after a message broadcast from then-Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila.
Fr Larry Faraon, a former Dominican, was station administrator for Radio Veritas, which at the time was one of a handful of broadcasters not controlled by the government.
Cardinal Sin “only called up once," Fr Faraon told CNS. “But then it was my decision to replay it … every 10 minutes."
Cardinal Sin had pleaded with the citizens of the Catholic country to pray and especially go and support the rebel forces led by then-defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Gen. Fidel Ramos, who both turned against Marcos and sided with the Aquino camp.
Fr Faraon said that, during the turmoil following the presidential elections, the Marcos military forces knocked down the Radio’s transmitter in Bulacan province. He said he learned from rebel troops guarding the station’s only temporary transmitter that their antenna stood the chance of being razed, so he had to choose between closing down the station or being killed.
Fr Faraon called that “a defining moment" in his vocation. He said, “I really had to make a choice between being a martyr or just living it off and returning to my convent and telling everybody, ‘Well, that’s all for you. That’s not for me.’"