Scene Through the Lens | February 22, 2021

February 25, 1986. Maria Corazon "Cory" Cojuangco Aquino is inaugurated as President of the Republic of the Philippines.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
February 25, 1986. Maria Corazon "Cory" Cojuangco Aquino is inaugurated as President of the Republic of the Philippines.

It was thirty-five years ago this week that Corazon “Cory” Aquino became the 11th President of the Republic of the Philippines, after millions of Filipinos took to the streets in a “People Power” revolution. It led to the departure of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and was seen as a model for similar uprisings that occurred around the world in the following years, from the occupation in Tiananmen Square to the Fall of Communism to the Arab Spring.

Journalists like to say we’re creating the “first rough draft of history.” The truth is that historians are often dismissive of newspapers, preferring instead to study primary sources — diaries and journals, government documents, recordings (and photographs!). But there is no doubt that the opportunity to witness and document history as it unfolds is why a lot of us got into journalism.

This time of the year I always think of the Filipino people. I was just starting my junior year in high school, living in the Philippines while my father was stationed there in the military, when President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. It was lifted in 1981, but Marcos was essentially a dictator until he was ousted by the nonviolent revolution (also known as the EDSA Revolution) in 1986.

That’s when I returned to the country, as a staff photographer at the Inquirer, during the time when the newspaper had bureaus around the world, and we would “cover the news equally well in Karachi and Kensington.” And it was indeed one of the most exhilarating assignments of my journalistic career.

Philadelphia Inquirer staff photographer Tom Gralish, after loyalist soldiers fired their weapons into the air outside Malacañang Palace -the Filipino White House - where crowds had gathered to protest President Ferdinand Marcos, February 23, 1986.
BILL HOGAN / Chicago Tribune
Philadelphia Inquirer staff photographer Tom Gralish, after loyalist soldiers fired their weapons into the air outside Malacañang Palace -the Filipino White House - where crowds had gathered to protest President Ferdinand Marcos, February 23, 1986.

I arrived in January, 1986 to cover the country’s snap election on Feb. 7, announced suddenly by Marcos after alleged prodding from the U.S. I covered the campaign, with Aquino, the widow of an assassinated longtime Marcos political opponent, running against the president.

Marcos declared himself victor in the election marred by widespread reports of violence and tampering. Aquino led protests, and called for boycotts. Reformers in the military attempted a coup, before protesters supported by the Catholic Cardinal of Manila, took to the streets as senior members of the army rebelled against Marcos. American helicopters transported Marcos and his family to Clark Air Base (where I had lived a dozen years earlier) before heading on to Guam, and finally to Hawaii. He died there in exile in 1989. Aquino died in 2009.

The B & W images below are the original fixer-infused, poorly washed 8x10′s developed in the hotel bathroom I converted into a darkroom and transmitted back to the newspaper.

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