EDSA III, or How Not To Run A Revolution

The Estrada ouster of January, 2001 left many Filipinos in shock. Things were moving too fast; suddenly there was a new President, a new Vice-President. The military was upended as deals were quickly made and broken; alliances were forged and enemies made. A month later there was a new hierarchy of generals on top of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, with the old Estrada right-hand man General Panfilo Lacson in disgrace and old allegations of human rights abuses being reopened in the courts. As befitting a separation of the executive from the legislative and judicial bodies, the Senate, Congress and the Supreme Court were still intact.

Estrada, after having left the Presidential Palace, goes home to Polk Street in Sta. Mesa, surrounded by dozens of die-hard supporters. His adoring fans (mostly from the urban poor communities of Taytay and Tondo) maintain vigil for nearly two months outside his mansion.

The arrest of Estrada on Thursday, April 26 (and a particularly inflammatory video of the ex-President getting photographed like a common criminal) sparks fiery speeches from opposition senators, calling for his supporters to gather at EDSA and show "the upper class that we are the true voice of the people". For five days, more and more supporters gather. Most newscasters comment on the preponderance of young men sporting gang tatoos, and wielding two-by-fours, pipes, and other makeshift weapons. Estrada is detained at Camp Crame, a few blocks down EDSA from the shrine.

The religious take a stand

Estrada's old allies, the breakaway Catholic sect El Shaddai (led by Brother Mike Velarde) and the powerful Iglesia ni Cristo (headed by Brother Felix Manalo) soon pledge their support, and the crowd grows even larger. The El Shaddai holds its traditional Saturday prayer rally, boosting the crowd by thousands. The INC members, mostly middle-class, also lend their support, although rumor had it that they had to disguise themselves as lower-class citizens by dressing in torn, ragged clothing, as they feared the crowd turning on them if they appeared to be well-to-do.

On Friday, the INC-owned TV station Net 25 and radio station DZEC begin a round-the clock coverage of the EDSA crowd. All other TV stations are chased away by angry protesters - they blame Estrada's downfall on biased media, especially TV stations ABS-CBN-2, GMA-7, and the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Reporters and camera crews who do not identify themselves as belonging to the two INC stations are pelted with rocks and physically assaulted.

However, Net 25 coverage is so extremely biased in favor of the pro-Estrada group (they report over 5 million people at the shrine, when the total population of Manila is just under 15 million) that outraged phone calls, text SMS messages and emails start pouring in.

On Saturday, Estrada is moved from Camp Crame to the Veteran's Memorial Hospital in Quezon City, for a medical checkup. Two decoy truck and ambulance convoys lure reporters and protesters away from the camp, while the patient is airlifted via helicopter.

Power grab

The critical point comes on Monday morning, April 30 - President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo holds a press conference at midnight and declares that an attempted power grab had just taken place that Sunday night, but it had been stopped. She reassures both local and foreign press that things are under control, and the crowd at EDSA would be allowed to protest as long as they do not try to break the law. She reiterates that if any opposition forces try anything, "I will crush you.".

More telling is the news that she had just been in talks with Brother Manalo and Brother Velarde of the Iglesia Ni Cristo and the El Shaddai, and that they have agreed to withdraw their support of the protest in exchange for a promise that the human rights of the jailed ex-President would not be violated. Net 25 and DZEC coverage immediately stop.

The crowds thin on Monday, as INC and El Shaddai supporters pack up and leave. Increasingly desperate as night falls, the crowd decides to take action.

Fighting in the Streets

The following is a blow-by-blow account of the events of May 1, 2001. All times are estimates, and are given as Manila time, GMT +8.

2:00 AM: The huge pro-Estrada rally at the EDSA shrine broke ranks after six days of waiting and began their march on Malacanang, the Presidential Palace. Police estimated their numbers ranged anywhere from 50,000 to 300,000 people. Strangely enough, the opposition politicians who had been exhorting the crowd to march stayed behind.

3:15 AM: Groups of rallyists converge on Malacanang from three directions, with what analysts would later describe as "military timing and precision". Police forces guarding the Palace are pushed back beyond Gate 7. Two six-by-six dump trucks are used to ram the barriers and gate, unsuccessfully. Angry protesters throw rocks and pieces of concrete at the police, who have been ordered to exert "maximum tolerance". By 3:15 AM, the crowd is banging on the gates of Malacanang itself.

4:30 AM: Police, bolstered by Army and Air Force units, push the protesters away from the Palace environs into Mendiola. Casualties are taken on both sides, but no deaths are reported as yet. News cameras show an angry mob beating up a lone police officer with two-by-fours.

5:30 AM: Ex-president Estrada, under hospital arrest at the Veteran's Memorial Hospital pending trial, is airlifted to Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, some 60 km outside the city.

7:30 AM: General Angelo Reyes, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, orders police and the AFP to disperse the crowd by noon. Troops mass at Mendiola and other critical points. Sporadic clashes with protesters still occur. Shortly after, government troops fan out and slowly begin to push the protesters down the street.

10:00 AM: The EDSA shrine, now deserted, is taken over by a "clean-up" crew consisting mostly of nuns and church workers organized by the Catholic Church.

11:30 AM: The crowd at Mendiola lashes out at local media, overturning, looting, and burning three news vehicles, as well as two police cars and a fire truck. A construction company's backhoe is also set on fire. Reporters are subjected to thrown rocks, pummeling, and other acts of physical violence from the increasingly desperate protesters. However, they have been pushed away from the Mendiola area, and many retreat into the Nagtahan Bridge slums, with police elements in pursuit.

12:00 noon: President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declares a "state of rebellion" existing within Manila. Hold departure orders for several prominent opposition senators are sent to the various international airports to prevent them from leaving the country pending arrest.

1:00 PM: A Red Cross ambulance is stopped and damaged by the crowd, but they are chased away before they succeed in setting it on fire.

4:00 PM: Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, one of the more vocal opposition senators, is arrested on charges of rebellion. He surrenders willingly. This is the second time in his career that he has been arrested for rebelling against the government.

Pro-government rallyists, including Cardinal Sin and most of the Catholic Church hierarchy, the labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno, and several activist student groups hold a prayer rally at the now reclaimed EDSA shrine.

As of 12 midnight, it seems to be quiet. The anti-government protesters seem to have dispersed, although small groups still hold vigil. The military is still on high alert. Arrests of 11 prominent anti-government leaders have been ordered, but only three are in custody, all having surrendered willingly.

Estimates of casualties stand at 6 dead (at least one police officer, shot with a homemade shotgun), and 113 injured, including police officers. The casualties are extremely low, considering that over 30,000 protesters (conservative police estimates) were crammed into Mendiola when the police started firing. All sides later agree that the police and armed forces conducted themselves admirably, except for a few instances of arrested protesters being beaten.


Although several senators are arrested, they are soon released on insufficient evidence. They lambast the government repeatedly on their treatment, calling it nothing more than a police state. There is a growing disgust, however, in the way the opposition senators initially egged the crowds on, and then disappeared conveniently when the fighting started.

Most people decide to wait until the May 14 elections to decide what the "voice of the people" really wants. It is now seen as a test of the new government - if a majority of administration or opposition senators wins, then they must have the "will of the masses".

Vox populi, vox dei

Times, dates, and events from watching GMA-7 and ABS-CBN-2 during the entire day, as well as some facts from the Philippine Daily Inquirer.