Letter to friends overseas
By Isabel Caro Wilson
May 3, 1986–There are so many human interest stories of courage and glory! The women, I think, were the bravest. Many men I know were forced to follow their women – once out there, however, they more than made up for their timidity. The youth, young people who had known no President except Marcos, were passionately for change. Nuns, holding rosaries and holy water, playing a new role: that of negotiator, pleading with soldiers not to use tanks and guns on unarmed citizens. Priests and seminarians, in soutanes, helping to organize human barricades. The masses of people who kept vigil on a 24-hour basis with no thought of food or comfort. The soldiers. Give them credit for refusing to obey orders to shoot their fellow Filipinos. It was revolution of the spirit. People power at it best guided, no doubt, by God power so that in the end right prevailed over might.
It is said that our type of revolution would not succeed anywhere else. Perhaps we are truly unique. All know is that we have vindicated ourselves. We have cleansed our souls and it feels good.
My warmest appreciation for your thoughts and prayers – I know you were with us in spirit. Maraming salamat for stretching your hand in friendship when we most needed it.
Here then is a personal experience:
It was building up, yet when it finally happened we were surprised. I speak of the revolution which overnight (4 days actually) transformed our country and left us breathlessly, exhilaratingly free. I think what makes us so joyous (aside from the glorious feeling of having accomplished something great) is the knowledge that we have unburdened ourselves of a much-hated dictatorship. No more hatred, tension or negative vibes to sap our energies. Now we can face our problems with vigor and vitality.
The massive fraud and terrorism unleashed during the February 7th election was the proverbial straw which broke the camel’s back. Made insensitive by the arrogance of power, the Marcos regime miscalculated (for the final time) the people’s tolerance and patience. This total insult and disregard of the soverign will proved to be their undoing.
The revolution started, as far as I am concerned, on August 21, 1983. On that fateful day when Sen. Benigno Aquino was mercilessly assassinated, all decent Filipinos took stock themselves and realized that they were in part responsible for the abuses and corruption in government. We translated our disgust in varied ways – many took to the streets to demonstrate and protest. It is important to remember that rallies were started by concerned women’s groups, middle and upper class matrons, and previously uninvolved business executives- not by students or the radical left. Thus, street demonstrations, complete with yellow confetti (mostly shredded yellow telephone pages) became a weekly happening on Ayala Avenue, Makati’s financial district.
The intensity and duration of the rallies lasted for almost a year. The economic crisis, the need to work and maintain a semblance of normalcy lessened street protests. On the surface, life seemed normal, but the anger, frustration and alienation of the people against the government deepened. Sustained anger is debilitating so that most of us felt completely drained and helpless. Yet we were determined that Marcos, his wife, his cronies and his abusive officials would, sooner or later, have to go. The politization of the Filipino was going on despite fear of reprisals from the dreaded military, headed by Gen. Fabian Ver. Although we did not voice it, many of us who were openly opposing were constantly fearful of being picked up by the military.
The announcement by Marcos on the David Brinkley show last November of a “snap” election caught everyone off guard. After 20 years of one-man rule, the opposition was in a shambles. Given the Filipinos’ lack of discipline and extreme individualism, we were all pessimistic about the opposition parties uniting to effectively fight Marcos. The ballgame was in court, with his rules and his referees – it was impossible match.
Furthermore, with Christmas holidays, the actual campaign period was much too short. The time set for election was February 7, 1986. Marcos is a supertitious man and he considers 7, or any multiple of 7, as his lucky number. In this case, it proved to be his nemesis.
Cory Aquino accepted the challenge drafting her as Presidential candidate after more than a million signatures were gathered. Doy Laurel sacrificed his ambition to run for President and accepted 2nd billing as Vice-President. Both candidates ran under Doy’s Unido party. Cory did not have a political party. Cory did not have a political party, no machinery to organize her campaign, no money, no logistics. All she had were the Filipino people’s faith and commitment. She presented a symbol of hope and our desire for change. She was the antithesis of Marcos – simple, intelligent, clean and honest – a fresh breeze across our polluted landscaped.
Volunteers for the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) were mobilized across the country with Namfrel Chairman Joe Conception (on his white charger) leading over 550,000 pollwatches to brave the entrenched, power-mad Marcos political warlords. In Makati, I headed more than 2,500 volunteers—housewives, students, business executives and professionals. We were force to reckon with and worked very hard to master the duties of pollwatching. We were well organized, totally committed, determined with innocence and blind faith to effect peaceful change through the ballot. We did not realize how evil the forces were against us. From our experience as Namfrel pollwatcheers in 1984 (election for assemblymen) we were familiar with the harassment and intimidation tactics of Mayor Yabut’s barangay captains and henchmen. However, we were totally unprepared and ill-equipped to protect our volunteers against the massive onslaught of hooliganism, fraud and outright terrorism which marked the conduct of election in 1986.
The KBL (Marcos’s political party) strategists conceived a devilishly clever plot: the disenfranchisement of approximately 30% of the legitimate voters. This was effectively done by scrambling the voters’ lists as a result of which many, many voters could not find their names and were unable to cast their votes. Namfrel estimated that 3.3 million votes were lost, presumably a high percentage of which would have been cast for Cory Aquino and Doy Laurel.
Our election was well covered by local foreign correspondents and the world witnessed what happened here. I will not, therefore, go into detail. Suffice it to say that we were cheated badly and to add insult to injury, his rubber-stamp. Assembly proclaimed Marcos the winner.
The gloom was palpable. Those of us who naively hoped that by our commitment change could be effected were in a state of shock. We could not admit that we were helpless and in the grip of evil forces. Many expected to be picked up and jailed, or, at the very least, face continous harassment or danger. The prospects for the future looked grim, indeed! And then events took a different and unexpected turn.
Saturday – February 22nd. Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile is warned of impending arrests and calls General Fidel Ramos. Both barricade themselves in the Defense Ministry and announce their resignation from the Marcos administration. The politician and the professional soldier, side by side, finally proclaim their solidarity with the Filipino people.
Enrile goes on the air to appeal for help. He urgently asks people to come and surround the army camp, hoping to (1) prevent a military attack on unarmed civilians and (2) gain time to consolidate his forces and rally the military to the people’s cause.
Cardinal Sin also goes on a radio exhorting priests and nuns and all citizens to go to Camp Crame to assist the beleguered armed forces. By early Sunday morning the crowd has swelled to more than 40,000.
Marcos in Malacañang is stunned and, fortunately for us, does not take immediate action to squelch the rebellion. Had he done so, I would not be writing this today.
Sunday, February 23 – Masses of people assemble to protect the military. Barricades are set up in strategic ares to stop tanks and armored personnel carriers. Women (nuns are in the forefront with their rosaries, fatih spilling from their unlined faces) and children are stationed in front to negotiate with the soldiers and stop the tanks. It is inspiring to see whole families keeping vigil. People from all walks of life join hands while intersections leading to Camp Crame are jammed with buses alongside Mercedes Benzes as the first line of defense.
Marcos goes on the air to proclaim that he is in control and scolds Enrile and Ramos to stop their stupid and foolish acts of “treason.” Nobody pays attention.
Radio Veritas, the Catholic station, is broadcasting round the clock and keeps the nation alert. The announcers do a yeoman’s job of passing information and coordinating aspects of the revolution: food and water needed here; more people needed there; a boy lost and found; tanks approaching; General Ramos giving a progress report; bits of information to keep us going. Another day passes and the tension increases. Will Marcos order an attack on unarmed civilians? The early morning hours are the most dangerous and calls are made for more people to come and join the movement.
Monday, February 24th – my birthday and the height of our wonderful, glorious rebellion. What a birthday gift!
Early morning news has it that Marcos and his family have fled the country. Great rejoicing only to be crushed by the sight of the dreaded man on TV to bedevil us some more with his pronouncment that, contrary to reports, he is very much around and stresses that he has no plans to resign or concede. He also states that maximum tolerance has been junked and he will fight to the last drop of his blood.
A very subdued crowd resumes its vigil, somewhat desperate but totally committed. By now millions are in the streets guarding the military and blocking strategic intersections.
Radio Veritas is blasted off the air. Another radio station is secured, hook up is made so that news goes on after an ominous silence. How this is done is another saga of bravery and Filipino ingenuity.
Rebel forces take over Channel 4, the big government-owned TV station, with a minimum of violenc. Broadcasters who can get to the station take up positions behind and in front of the cameras. No one and everyone is in charge. Calls are made for TV technicians to report, post haste, to help operate the station.
Fear and tension escalate as helicopters and planes hover above the crowd. Someone starts to pray and the chnat is taken up. Somehow prayers are reassuring. No one moves. Lo and behold, the helicopters land at Camp Crame. Cheers and tears of relief. We did not know that the helicopter pilots had been instructed to strafe Camp Crame but disobeyed the command.
At around 7:00 pm Marcos announces a 6:00 am to 6:00 pm curfew. Our group is with the crowd guarding on of the entrances to Channel 4. We hear Marcos making stupid noises and ecide to disregard him- he has lost cotrol. Cory is our President after all!
Although millions of people are in the streets, there is total order: Courtesy and civility prevail – love flows and we are all supportive of one another. Filipinos of all shapes, color and creed, togetherr in a common cause. It’s indescribably heartwarming.
My children take the grave-yard shift (11:00 pm to 6:00 am) at Camp Crame. I join friends to man the barricades at Channel 4 from 6:00 pm to midnight. Without anyone orchestrating schedules, people assign themselves to various duties. Food brigades are on the ready. “Snap” toilets are installed by some concerned companies. A matress manufacturer distributes foam sheets for the sleeping “sentries” to lie on; water carts are located in various places; homes are opened so that ladies may use the bathroom; passengers are discharged by the busloads to help man barricades which are thinly covered; wet towels soaked in kalamansi are passed around to be used in case of tear gas; body count and human contact enable everyone to draw courage from one another.
Tuesday, February 25th – Cory Aquino is to be sworn in as the duly elected President of the Philippines at the Club Filipino (chosen because of its proximity to Camp Crame). The atmosphere is wild and filled with joy.
Marcos has his own inuguration on the same morning at Malacanang. By contrast, the atmosphere there is grim and heavy with foreboding.
After some rest, our group reassembles, this time to inside Camp Crame to feed the soldiers. The armed forces are defecting and Camp Crame has more soldiers than it can feed. Volunteers are cooking, kitchens are set up and we are on duty from 5:00 pm onward. We start out at 2:00 pm since it will take us 3 hours (due to barricades and crowds) to get into the Camp.
Inside the base canteen we split our group: four of us to help in the kitchen; the rest (26 more) sweep the camp. Thousands of peopl on an emergency basis can generate tons of garbage. ouR ladies (unused to doing such drudgery) take to their brooms with unusual vigor. By nightfall bonfires are lit to burn the litter. I am on K.P. and glad of it – feeding hundreds of soldiers is far better than sweeping dirt as far as I am concerned.
Going home that evening, boneweary and sort of despairing, we muse on the gim possibilities ahead of us. We feel we cannot go on much longer before violence erupts.
9:00 pm. The phone rings and a friend reports that Malacañang appears to be empty. People are going in, the Marcoses have fled the country. I am too tired and too stunned to react. There’s no confirmation on radio or TV.
9:45 pm. Friends call to confirm the report. Let’s drive to Malacañang and see for ourselves, they enthuse. No, I reply, I’ve had enough crowds and cars for the moment. I’ll celebrate quietly and take it all in by myself.
10:00 pm. It’s for real – Marcos has left! We are free at last! The heaviness is gone. The years of alienation and oppession are over. We are ecstatic, sad, hopeful, apprehensive, stunned. What next? Tomorrow will be another day of what?
So, dear friends, we must rebuild our shattered society. Twenty years of plunder have wreaked havoc on our economy, not to mention our national psyche. There is much to be done.
At thanksgiving rallies and appropriate occasions I wear a T-shirt which states “I am a veteran of the Philippine Revolution”. Our cars have stickers proclaiming for all the world to read: “I am proud to be a Filipino.” I am.