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Red flags and raised fists

Red flags and raised fists

By Dan Mariano

Special to the Century Book

DURING the 1950s and early 1960s, nationalism was equated with communism. Filipinos were, in general, perfectly content to be regarded as the Americans’ “little brown brothers.”

Yet, in this sea of colonial mentality emerged islands of nationalism that invoked the unresolved conflict between Philippine Independence and America’s Manifest Destiny at the turn of the century.

These nationalist pockets were initially manned by politicians such as Claro M. Recto, Jose P. Laurel and Lorenzo Tañada, who gave inspiration t o associations like the Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism (MAN). By the mid-l960s, nationalism began to attract a younger crop of Filipinos.

In l964, a group of university students founded the Kabataang Makabayan. By l968, the KM’s patriotic platform was reinforced by Mao Zedong Thought. Later, that same year, its leading members—who had previously been associated with MAN—and several Huk commanders disenchanted with the old PKP declared the “re–establishment” of the Communist Party of Philippines along Maoist lines on December 26.

On March 29 of the following year, the New People’s Army (NPA) was organized, announcing the CPP’s determination to capture state power through armed struggle.

IN 1969, with the relaxation of sexual standards came the proliferation of pornography. Local movie producers made a killing out of films that titillated previously conservative Filipinos with frontal nudity and graphic bed scenes. A mere decade was all it took for the local film industry to take a licentious leap from wholesome, family-oriented movies like “Ibiang, Mahal Kita” to the salacious “Ang Saging ni Pacing,” which left little to the imagination.

Adding to the Mardi Gras-like atmosphere of 1969 were the lavish parties that the elite threw, giving currency to the phrase “ostentatious display of wealth.” The grandest of these was a banquet staged by the Lopezes—kingpins of the sugar bloc and owners of the country’s biggest broadcasting network and electric utility—where champagne flowed, literally, from a fountain.

IF 1969 was Fat Tuesday, 1970 became the nation’s Good Friday when popular passions reached boiling point.

Ferdinand Marcos had just won an unprecedented second term in an election that his political rivals and independent observers alike claimed were the dirtiest in the nation’s political history. Nevertheless, Marcos felt that his reelection vindicated the “record of performance” of his first term, which witnessed an explosion of public works construction that, for the most part, was financed with Japanese war reparations.

Although the country had more roads, bridges, dams and irrigation systems than ever before, the economy had begun to nose-dive. The peso underwent 100-percent devaluation, with the exchange rate going from P2:$1 to P4:$1, then P8:$1. The prices of basic commodities rose out of the reach of the working population, whose wages were not allowed to keep up with inflation.

When he delivered his State of the Nation Address on the afternoon January 26, 1970 before a joint session of Congress, the popularity that allowed him to win reelection the year before was already badly eroded.

Outside the legislative building, hundreds of moderate student activists were demonstrating to urge the government to call a constitutional convention. As Marcos stepped out of the building and onto the driveway, a papier-mâché crocodile (representing government corruption) and a make shift coffin (symbolizing the death of democracy) flew in his direction. Security aides quickly hustled Marcos into his waiting limousine and sped off away from the angry mob. Moments later, Manila police armed with truncheons and rattan shields attacked the student demonstrators who fought back with empty soft drink bottle, rocks and the wooden frames of their placards.

The first encounter of what would later be called the First Quarter Storm (FQS) of 1970 ran for several hours with either side gaining, losing and retaking ground on. J. Burgos Street in front of what was then the congress building. Another phrase would gain currency that evening: “police brutality.”

Rarely did the protesters number more than 10,000 at any given demonstration, but the impression they left was of a whole generation rising up in rebellion.

THE main focus of 1971 was the election for eight seats in the Senate. The bloody events leading up to the voting would exert a marked influence on the outcome.

Emboldened by the phenomenal growth of the youth movement, UP students occupied the Diliman campus and barricaded its main roads. In this, they won the support of the faculty, non-academic personnel and virtually the entire UP community.

The campus remained under the students’ control for several days until the university radio station began broadcasting a tape recording purportedly of Marcos making love to an American starlet, Dovie Beams. That proved to be the last straw. The President ordered the PC Metropolitan Command (Metrocom) to retake the campus. The first thing the troops did after dispersing the protesters was to smash the transmission equipment of DZUP, which was never heard from again.

On the eve of the by-election, the opposition Liberal Party was holding its final rally at Plaza Miranda when all of a sudden the stage was rocked with an explosion that was soon followed by another. The grenade attack killed about a dozen people and injured scores of others, including LP senatorial candidates Jovito Salonga, Ramon Mitra, Eddie Ilarde and Eva Estrada Kalaw.

The blame quickly fell on Marcos, who merely encouraged the popular suspicion by suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus that same evening.

BY 1972, the feeling of dread that Marcos was up to no good had become so palpable that even sections of the press that had once given him favorable coverage began to turn critical and pro-opposition. Thus, when Senator Aquino delivered a privileged speech exposing an alleged plot to justify the declaration of martial law, the media painted the town red with the explosive disclosure.

The plot, codenamed Oplan Sagittarius, contained all the incidents that had already taken place that would lead the public to conclude that the situation was getting out of hand, the communists were running berserk, the political opposition was encouraging civil unrest and, therefore, the government had to step in to regain control.

All that needed to be carried out, according to the plot, was an attempt on the life of a high-ranking official of the Marcos administration.

That scenario unfolded one night in September 1972. The following day, the newspapers ran pictures of a car assigned to Enrile that bore so many bullet holes only a miracle could have made the defense secretary come out of it alive. Years later, after leading a coup against Marcos, Enrile would confess that the ambush had been staged.

Days later, Filipinos woke up to find their radios eerily silent. No newsboy came around to deliver the papers. Later in the afternoon, the television station owned by Marcos crony Roberto Benedicto went on the air and asked viewers to stand by for a very important announcement direct from Malacañang.

The talking head that eventually came into view belonged to Francisco Tatad. With all the solemnity that he could muster, the press secretary announced that Marcos had issued Proclamation No. 1081 placing the entire country under martial law.

The nightmare had begun.