The Events Surrounding the 1986 Snap Elections

Published on February 12, 2021

The Events Surrounding the 1986 Snap Elections II

“I am ready to call a snap election,” Ferdinand Marcos announced. It was November 1985 during an interview with David Brinkley for the American Broadcasting Company.  “You raise the question of ineptness… the effectiveness of armed forces… perhaps other institutions of government… I think this should be brought to our people,” he said, addressing members of the opposition.[1]

Marcos’ announcement came as a surprise. Just one month prior he told interviewers that he would finish his term as president first in 1987, then concede to regular elections.[2] Now he was reverting to a statement he had made in August – in response to his family’s ill-gotten wealth scandal[3] and the impeachment bill that followed it.[4]

The Crown Building NYC

The Crown Building in Manhattan, New York was identified by the 1985 impeachment bill as a property of the Marcoses that may have been purchased with funds diverted from the Central Bank. (Photo Attribution: Rangilo Gujarati, CC BY-SA 3.0  via Wikimedia Commons)

The bill itself, however, had been rejected by the Batasang Pambansa’s Committee on Justice, Human Rights and Good Government. Less than 24 hours after it was passed they rejected it on the grounds that the charges lacked evidence.[5][6] Marcos thereafter had been shelving the idea of early elections, citing further a government-sponsored survey that a majority of Filipinos wanted to see him finish his term in 1987.[7] Losing his power after 20 years in office, for the time being, ceased to be a problem.

“Why the president could not wait”

So – why, in November 1985, did Marcos take back his words and decide to call for early elections?

A primer released by the Christians for the Realization of a Sovereign Society (CROSS) in January 18, 1986 identified eight developments in 1985 that reflected some of the biggest problems besetting the country These developments, according to the CROSS, provide perspective as to why Marcos could no longer wait for regular elections in 1987[8]:

  • Worsening economic situation – poverty, coupled with the ballooning prices of basic commodities, was an undeniable reality to the ordinary Filipino citizen in the year 1985;[9]
  • Increasing labor unrest – 348 labor strikes had taken place from the last quarter of 1984 to October 1985, affecting up to 130,231 workers and creating a loss of 9,344 working days – violence was commonplace at the picket lines, with hundreds having been arrested and/or injured, and 66 killed. Labor unrest was further expected to increase, “with the number of unemployed reaching 3 million;”
  • Intensifying Human Rights Violations – unsolved killings, massacres, kidnappings, and other atrocities marred the year 1985 more so than it had in the previous years;
  • The Hidden Wealth Scandal and Impeachment Proceedings – both of which took shape as the national debt reached a record $30 billion;
  • US Bases – In light of the US Bases contract’s expiration in 1991, having a Marcos victory in the 1986 elections would ensure that the country’s top political seat remained in the hands of a US ally up to 1992. It would also allay the US’ fears of intensifying Filipino militancy and nationalism, which “has threatened the future of American control over the country through the bases;”
    Sham Judiciary System – as manifested in the mass acquittal in December 1985 of the 26 individuals accused of the murders of Ninoy Aquino and Rolando Galman, including Gen. Fabian Ver, who had been promptly reinstated as Armed Forces Chief upon the case’s closure;
  • Intensifying Militarization – killings, displacement of families, and hamletting, all by state agents and their allied paramilitary forces, to enforce such projects as the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant were provoking, rather than subduing, an increase in militancy among civilians in the countryside;
    Disasters – killer typhoons, mining landslides, and the famine in Negros that took the lives of malnourished children were making international headlines.

“Clearing the political air” was indeed a massive undertaking that had to be done for political – and most especially moral – reasons. Marcos had the option to either step down and admit to having driven the country into an administrative trough, or try to see his term to the end and face the people and their anger. Avoiding either possibility, the president decided to call for an early election.

But it was not only him and the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan[10] who saw merit in this decision. Here was finally an opportunity to finally displace Marcos through peaceful and constitutional means. “If he does not hold a snap election,” said Assemblyman and United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO) vice president Homobono Adaza, “I don’t think we will be able to hold it in 1987 because of the deteriorating peace and order condition and the economic crisis.”[11]

The election quickly crystallized into a win-or-crash situation for both KBL and UNIDO. A Marcos victory meant yet another six-year term for the 20-year incumbent. On the other hand, an opposition victory meant the toppling of a dictatorship through electoral means.

A children’s demonstration for a better future during the snap election

A children’s demonstration for a better future, dated December 15, 1983. (Photo from the Filippijnengroep Nederland collection of the HRVVMC archives.)

The Legal Basis of the Snap Election

The call for a special presidential and vice-presidential election began on paper through KBL’s Cabinet Bill No. 7, which was approved by the Batasang Pambansa on November 27, 1985, and signed into law through BP Blg. 883.[12][13] Under Article VII, Section 7 of the 1973 Constitution, however, a special election can only take place “if the permanent disability, death, removal from office or resignation of the President occurs earlier than eighteen (18) months before the expiration of his term,” thereby creating a vacancy. Marcos went through none of the above, so there was no vacancy in the presidential seat. The call for election was therefore unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court still ruled in favor of the bill. In their decision, they stated that the issue had developed into “a political question which can truly be decided only by the people,” and that the court “cannot stand in the way of letting the people decide through their ballot.”[14] In the minds of the justices, the issue transcended the rule of law – the people wanted an election, and to deny it would deny them the chance to assert their democratic authority.

a candidate for the people

Marcos made his renewed call for elections at a time when the opposition was being torn by factionalism. Many names were being pitched for candidates who could run against him. They soon realized  that rallying themselves in unified support behind a single candidate was necessary “in the interest of common survival”.[15] In the end they would choose Corazon “Cory” Aquino, the wife of the assassinated Senator Ninoy Aquino.

“Only Cory can bind the factional wounds of the opposition, persuade it to close ranks, bestir it to march for the country, and rouse the Filipino to feats of dignity, honor, and courage,” said Chairman of the Cory Aquino for President Movement, Joaquin “Chino” Roces in a speech delivered on October 15, 1985.[16]

Cory was at first insistent on not running for president. When the possibility of a snap election emerged halfway through 1985, members of the opposition began marshalling for the people’s endorsement of her candidacy. “The frontrunners at the time were (Doy) Laurel, (Jovito) Salonga, and (Eva) Kalaw,” said Opposition leader Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo, “but the feedback was that we would have trouble winning with Laurel. The other two would also have problems getting the sort of popular support we needed. People began to think: Cory could do it.”[17]

True enough, the Cory Aquino for President Movement managed to gather one million signatures to petition her to run for president. A soft-spoken and concerned mother, wife, and victim of the regime, Cory’s image stood out in such stark contrast to that of the incumbent president – embodying the change that many Filipinos sought for.

Cory Aquino greeting a crowd of supporters during the 1986 snap election campaigns

Cory Aquino greeting a crowd of supporters during the 1986 campaigns [Photo by Andy Hernandez, published in Bayan Ko! Images of the Philippine Revolt (Kowloon, Hong Kong: Project 28 Days, Ltd., 1986), 70.]

the country post-february 7

Hope was arising now that a candidate for the people had been identified. When the election results were finally tallied in the province of Antique, Cory won by a margin of almost 9,000 votes through the persistent lobbying of such supporters as Evelio Javier, an opposition leader and former governor of the province.[18] Despite these hopes, the snap elections would be characterized by levels of violence and fraud that could only reflect the regime’s attempts to maintain its hold of power.

One well-known case of this is that of Evelio Javier. Javier served as governor from 1971 (at the age of 29) to 1980, but retreated from politics in part because of the factionalism of the opposition in his province. He pursued a master’s degree in public administration at Harvard and returned three years later to run as Antique representative to the Batasan. In 1985, he arrived at the same conclusion that only Cory had the ability to unite the opposition in challenging Marcos and the KBL, and so gathered up to 12,000 signatures for the Cory for President Movement.[19]

At around 11:00 AM on February 11, 1986, as he was sitting outside the provincial capitol, six masked gunmen arrived and started shooting at Javier and his companions.[20] In full view of everyone at the capitol grounds, Javier was shot on the right shoulder and chased in a zigzag line through the town square. Chaos ensued as people screamed and ran for cover. Javier fell in a pool but managed to get out and duck into Fornier Street, where he stumbled into the outhouse of Leon Pe, a Chinese merchant. The gunmen soon reached the tiny cement room and fired point blank as their victim lay on his back; they then paused to reload, and then fired another round at his body.[21]

Antique Governor Enrique Zaldivar, who was also a close friend of Javier, said that witnesses told him they saw the gunmen escape onboard a jeep belonging to Arturo Pacificador, a KBL member and majority leader at Batasan who had butted heads with Javier during the 1984 Batasan elections.[22]


The February 1986 issue of Antique Monitor baring the reality of their former governor’s gruesome death

Javier was only one among many victims of the violence that surrounded the 1986 election.

Another politician, 29-year-old Michael Sumilang of the UNIDO in Lucena City, was ambushed by gunmen while driving a jeepney that carried the UNIDO’s copies of the election returns. Alexis Parao, a volunteer of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) in Agusan del Sur, was gunned down while guarding the tallying of votes. An Aquino supporter in Manila was shot by a sniper while riding a truck that followed a pro-Aquino rally. Nine PC troopers and two teachers were killed by members of the New People’s Army in Bukidnon on election day.[23]

By February 16, up to 98 election-related deaths had been recorded across the country.[24] Many more were injured and harassed by gun-wielding men who went around precincts to intimidate voters and poll-watchers. According to a 44-member international delegation sent to observe the election proceedings, there were rampant and open efforts at vote-buying, intimidation, ballot-snatching, and tampering with election returns. The delegation’s leader, John Hume, said that these “were largely carried out in local areas by local officials who were supporters of the government.”[25]

An estimated 4 million voters were reportedly disenfranchised.[26] On February 9, two days after election day, about 350,000 voters found that the tally sheets onto which they placed their votes were not stamped with an inner seal, and so were not counted.[27] Millions of others who were able to vote in the 1984 Batasan elections failed to find their names in the official list of voters.[28]

This blatant, systematic manhandling of the electoral process by forces desperate to retain their authority was what compelled 30 tabulators monitoring the Comelec Quick Count at the PICC to walk out in protest on the 9th of February.[29] A computer programmer, Linda Kapunan, recalls, “There was pandemonium in the corridor. People were all around us clapping. Many were shouting: ‘It’s a miracle!’ There was a human barricade around us. We kept hearing: ‘You are protected. You are protected.’[30] Like a multitude of affected voters nationwide, they had had enough of what was taking place. Marcos’ 21-year rule disrespected their spirit as a people, and so the events surrounding the 1986 election affirmed their resolution that he should not be allowed to retain the presidency any longer.

a call to speak up and repair the wrong

On February 13 the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) released a statement on the elections which was launched on media the following day. “Now is the time to speak up. Now is the time to repair the wrong. The wrong was systematically organized. So must its correction be.”The same statement called out the fraudulence of the election as “unparalleled” and called on ordinary citizens to right the wrong that the government had committed but refused to acknowledge.[31]

In a few days’ time, the world would witness the culmination of a truly remarkable event in the history of the Philippines. The taumbayan at this point was undeniably changed. They had suffered in many, many ways the abuses of a power that believed it was invincible. Soon they were to prove that every dictator’s downfall is the unified power of the people.

Let these events teach us that freedom has never been delivered at a cheap price. Whole lifetimes ahead of us were dedicated so that we can enjoy the liberties we have today. As injustices remain abundant, let us be reminded that freedom, though difficult to achieve, can be withdrawn the moment it is left unguarded.  One way to protect the sovereign power of the people is to never forget.

And so, as we celebrate this year the 35th anniversary of the 1986 Snap Election and EDSA People Power uprising, #WeRemember.

Now is the time to speak up. Now is the time to repair the wrong

The statement of the CBCP in February 13, 1986, made public through such newspapers as Manila Time a week after the elections


[1] Ruben Alabastro, “Marcos Says He’s Willing to Hold Elections Soon,” Associated Press, November 4, 1985, accessed February 6, 2021,

[2] Basic Christian Communities-Philippines – Christians for the Realization of a Sovereign Society, Presidential Snap Election: A Primer, January 18, 1986 (Metro Manila), 5.

[3] A newspaper series by Pete Carrey, Katherine Ellison, and Lewis M. Simons of the San Jose Mercury News in June 1985 exposed how the Marcos family amassed millions of dollars of ill-gotten wealth and hid this overseas, causing an uproar in the Philippines and abroad.

[4] The impeachment bill charged Marcos for “taking undue advantage of his office and his authoritarian powers”. It cited multiple million-dollar estates in Manhattan, London, and Rome, as well as foreign-registered companies linked to the Marcoses and their associates. This prompted the president to consider early elections to “clear the political air” and seek a renewed mandate from the people.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Sixteen of the committee’s 25 members belonged to the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL). The KBL was the ruling political coalition in the Batasang Pambansa at the time, and was staunchly aligned with the Marcoses and their interests.

[7] Alabastro, “Marcos Says He’s Willing to Hold Elections Soon”.

[8] BCC-CROSS, Primer, 6-8.

[9] For further reference, read: Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, Essential Truths About 1972-1986: The Economy During the Martial Law Era (Philippines: 2020),

[10] Alabastro, “Marcos Says He’s Willing to Hold Elections Soon”.

[11] So entitled: An Act Calling a Special Election for President and Vice-President, Providing for the Manner of Holding Thereof, Appropriating Funds Therefor, and for Other Purposes, and approved on December 3, 1985.

[12] BCC-CROSS, Primer, 5.

[13] Philippine Bar Association v. COMELEC, No. L-72915, December 1985 (J. Teehankee), cited in National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Reforming the Philippine Electoral Process: Developments 1986-88 (1991), 8.

[14] Alabastro, “Marcos Says He’s Willing to Hold Elections Soon”.

[15] People Power: An Eyewitness History, ed. Monina Allarey Mercado (Manila: James B. Reuter, S.J., Foundation, 1986), 45.

[16] Ibid., 46.

[17] Belinda Olivares-Cunanan, “Evelio Javier: ‘Political Regal Baby’,” Philippine Daily Inquirer (copy undated).

[18] Ibid.

[19] “Another opposition leader slain,” Sunday Times, February 16, 1986.

[20] Francis X. Clines, “How Gunmen Killed a Philippine Opposition Leader,” International Herald Tribune, February 13, 1986.

[21] Ibid.

[22] “Another opposition leader slain.”

[23] Ibid.

[24] Reforming the Philippine Electoral Process, 13.

[25] “Anomalies may stop Cory’s win,” Malaya, February 10, 1986.

[26] “350,000 Manila voters disenfranchised,” Malaya, February 9, 1986.

[27] “Anomalies may stop Cory’s win.”

[28] Ibid.

[29] People Power: An Eyewitness History, 76.

[30] Statement of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Manila Time, February 15, 1986.