History and Culture

Before EDSA became EDSA: The Four Names of Metro Manila's Major Highway

Choose Philippines
Choose Philippines | Feb 25, 2016
Before EDSA became EDSA: The Four Names of Metro Manila's Major Highway

Ferdinand E. Marcos of the Nacionalista Party was elected President of the Philippines in 1965. He defeated incumbent Diosdado Macapagal by a slim margin of 670,000 votes. What followed was the exponential growth of the Philippine national debt from $2 billion to $30 billion (instead of allocating from the national budget) to fund infrastructure projects (and probably other projects for the Marcoses' pockets). What followed was a period of unrest, especially in the first quarter of 1970, composed of heavy demonstrations, protests, and marches against Marcos who's angling for a third term in office. What followed was the declaration of Martial Law on September 22, 1972. Congress was closed, the Constitutional Convention suspended, and the media muzzled. Amnesty International (AI) has estimated that during martial law, 70,000 people were imprisoned, 34,000 were tortured, and 3,240 were killed.

Fast forward to February 1986, the first-ever non-violent revolution took place on Philippine soil. For four days on the long stretch of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue in Metro Manila, Filipinos from every walk of life joined arms to condemn the snap election's fraudulent result and blatant treachery of the dictator's administration. Despite the presence of tank-riding soldiers, not a single shot was fired. Finally, the tyrannical and abusive Marcos regime ended on February 25, 1986.

Why EDSA? 

The Epifanio de los Santos Avenue is the main thoroughfare in Metro manila passing through six of the capital's 17 local government units. This includes the Santolan and Socorro districts, where the twin military bases of Camp Rafael Crame and Camp Aguinaldo, are located. Since it was the Martial Law, it was also where Marcos' main line of defense lies.

The 24-kilometer long Avenue, however, wasn't always called EDSA. It went through a long of history of changed names:


1) North-South Circumferential Road

Construction of what was intended to be a two-way highway started in the 1930s, during the term of President Manuel L. Quezon, and ended in 1940. The team was led by engineers Florencio Moreno and Osmundo Monsod.

The road started from the North Diversion Road (today the North Luzon Expressway) and ended at the current Magallanes Interchange of the South Luzon Expressway, thus the North-South in its original name.


2) Avenida 19 de Junio

After the independence of the Philippines from the American occupation (1946), the road was renamed Avenida 19 de Junio to commemorate the birthday of Philippine hero Jose Rizal.


3) Highway 54

It was again renamed by American administrators in the 1950s to Highway 54 because of the common misconception that the avenue stretches to 54 kilometers in length. The real measure is actually 30 kilometers less.


4) Epifanio de los Santos Avenue

By virtue of Republic Act 2140 in 1959, the road was renamed to honor Filipino intellectual and historian Epifanio de los Santos. Former Senate President Eulogio Rodriguez Sr. started this movement, and upon his death, Atty. Juan Francisco Sumulong completed the campaign. Besides NHCP, groups that approved of the name change included the Philippine Historical Association, the Philippine Library Association, and the Philippine National Historical Society.

Epifanio de los Santos or "Don Panyong" (1871-1928) was often regarded as the greatest Filipino genius after Rizal. Noted historian Gregorio Zaide described him as a rare genius because of his encyclopedic knowledge. He was a scholar, lawyer, historian, journalist, jurist, philosopher, bibliophile, biographer, philologist, painter, poet, musician, literary critic, politician, librarian, biographer, translator, linguist, researcher, and philanthropist. He wasn't only fluent in Spanish, English, French, and German but also has excellent command in Philippine languages like Ibaloi, Tingian, and Ita.

Despite being one of the best Filipino writers in Spanish and being the first Filipino to become a member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Language, Literature, and History in Madrid, he wrote extensively in Tagalog. He was a member of the Samahan ng mga Mananagalog, which was founded by Felipe Calderon. 

He championed Philippine independence through journalism and became the associate editor of the influential revolutionary paper, La Independencia, in 1898. He also co-founded patriotic publications like La Libertad, El Renacimienta, La Democracia, and La Patria. 

De los Santos also served as a member of the Malolos Congress. He was the first governor of Nueva Ecija in 1902 and again in 1904. He was then appointed provincial fiscal of Bulacan and Bataan. Interestingly, he wrote an essay "Fraudes electorales y sus remedios" (Electoral fraud and its remedies) for the Philippine assembly in 1907.



Intellectual triumph, bloodless revolution, protest against electoral fraud, Philippine independence—these are just some of the phrases often linked to the great Epifanio de los Santos. It is just fitting that a milestone in Philippine history that speaks of the same things happened on the avenue named after him.

Read Related Article: 

Did a Philippine Revolution Inspire the Fall of Berlin Wall?

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