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Erap brings home the bacon, August 3, 2000

Free Press cover story

August 3, 2000

 

Erap brings home the bacon

By Manuel L. Quezon III

 

IT wasn’t very fatty, in fact it was rather lean, but contrary to expectations President Estrada will be able to say, upon his return from his visit to America, that he’s brought home the bacon. Of course he wouldn’t have gone home at all if he hadn’t been sure of being able to brag about being able to bring back something in the first place; but a hundred refurbished trucks, eight second hand helicopters, and prospects of a much-needed addition to the Philippine navy’s fleet (and spare parts to boot, for the “new” second-hand largesse of Uncle Sam as well as for the PAF’s grounded Hercules transports) in this day and age aren’t anything to sneeze at. But the biggest piece of bacon of all was one no one expected: the President made a decent impression abroad.

Questions of timing were what had hounded the President right up to the moment of his departure for America. Why a trip now, of all times, when Bill Clinton is as lame a duck as a lame duck president can get, and when the Democratic party is too busy worrying about the candidacy of Al Gore? The President’s critics questioned the usefulness of a trip that had been earnestly wished for, but which now seemed destined to reap few benefits, if at all. In the end, what had been lobbied for from the start of Estrada’s administration only became possible now; that was all there was to it. It was now, or perhaps, never. Besides which, Filipino leaders have always had a feeling they do better with Democratic administrations, and far better to get a little from a sympathetic Democratic administration in office than possibly nothing from the next, possibly Republican, administration.

One thing is sure: Joseph Estrada is a lucky man; and all questions on the timeliness of his trip became academic when the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks collapsed at Camp David and Bill Clinton found himself with nothing better to do than play host to the President of the Philippines. Instead of being overshadowed by larger, geopolitical concerns, President Estrada became more of an honored guest than one just sort of squeezed in between other, more pressing appointments.

What was supposed to be a paltry 15 minutes with Bill Clinton became 20 minutes shy of a three hour session with the American President.

In typical Filipino style, Mr. Estrada arrived at the White House late; delayed by his visit to the Arlington National Cemetery.

He was  immediately whisked off  to hold a one-on-one meeting with Clinton at the Oval Office. This was followed by an extended bilateral meeting with legislators and Cabinet officials, government-speak for a quick run through a reception line.

The press further reported that Clinton and Mr. Estrada emerged from the Oval Office at 12:20 p.m., passing through the Rose Garden, to have lunch in the residence wing of the White House. The President said he enjoyed the “very modest lunch” of  just salad and chicken, though he did note he managed to gobble up two drumsticks.

Then came more photo opportunities, with Estrada being able to brag that Clinton “virtually became my tourist guide at the White House.”

The two emerged on the front lawn of the White House at 2 p.m. Clinton shook hands with our President near the door and went back in as Mr. Estrada walked to a podium to give his statement.

The result was a President Estrada so brimming-over with delight that he ended up burbling to reporters that he was “on cloud 9” after having been to the White House.  Or, to be precise, Estrada said, “I didn’t expect it to be like that…when I left the White House, I felt like I was walking on clouds.” The President continued  to regale reporters with ecstatic sound bites that sounded like reviews of films: sort of Joseph Estrada rating his latest tour de force, “Erap goes to Washington.”

In the lingo of showbusiness, the Presidents’ reviews of his own performance were what can only be called raves: “It was more than I expected”… “ most meaningful official visit I have ever had since I became president” … “Indeed, this is a significant way to start the third year of my presidency,” Siskel and Ebert could not have outdone our President on that day in lavishing praise on himself.

There were good words for his co-star, as well: “I was so impressed with the warmth and hospitality accorded me by the president of the most powerful country in the world,” President Estrada told representatives of the Fil-Am groups.  And like a good Hollywood extra, Philippine Ambassador Ernesto Maceda couldn’t help but provide his own thumbs-up:

“All the purposes of the visit had been achieved,” he gloated to the press. And, for that deliciously attractive human interest angle, Maceda even managed to recount that “They were like soul mates,” with Clinton noting that he and Mr. Estrada were both left-handed.

“President Clinton said that according to a brain doctor, the most intelligent people in the world are the left-handed,” Maceda said, thought whether or not he told this story with his tongue in his cheeck the press was unable to detect, just as Maceda’s noting the two Presidents immediately hit it off by talking about golf and basketball “among others” included the sort of things the rest of the public (American and Filipino) considers among the prime interests of their presidents.

But what did the President get, besides the usual military hand-me-downs? $20-million food aid for Mindanao, for one; and expanded health and medical benefits for Filipino war veterans, or at least promises of efforts for such, was another, to the extent of Clinton’s assurance that he would support the  lobbying going on for the passage of a bill filed by US Rep. Robert Filner for additional benefits for the Filipino war veterans. Estrada even got a promise from Clinton that the United States would try to live up to the expectations of their little brown brothers vis a vis the thorny issue of toxic waste in the former US bases in the Philippines.

Most significantly of all, Estrada was able to say that the United States was foursquare behind the government’s efforts to fight the Abu Sayaf in Mindanao. As the President’s jolly official version put it, “We considered the situation in Mindanao, [and] I informed President Clinton of the Philippine government’s commitment to peace. [Clinton] assured me of America’s support for our peace process.” President Estrada managed to condense things and make his summary of American policy toward Philippine policy in Mindanao even more concise later on: “He was happy about it and I told him we are opening talks again. He was very happy about it.”

How lucky can a Philippine president get?

 

And Estrada’s luck continued to hold; the threats of virulent protests by environtalists, both Filipino and American, either didn’t push through, or fizzled out altogether.

Nothing too embarrassing happened at home, except for the usual coup rumors that sprout whenever a President leaves home. And every single thorny issue –veterans’ benefits, the environment, Mindanao- that his critics thought Estrada would either not address or would find a frosty reception in the White House ended up being both discussed and supported by William Jefferson Clinton.

The President’s trip was a lobbying effort in the tradition of similar trips undertaken by Filipino leaders since the 1920s; indeed, Clinton’s enthusiastic support for veterans’ benefits and the resolution of the toxic waste issue are the sort of things lame duck presidents gladly say to visiting leaders: Clinton’s much earlier predecessor Woodrow Wilson unequivocally announced support for immediate Philippine independence in the closing days of his own lame duck administration.

Which means whatever Clinton has promised that’s not written down remains nothing but a feel-good statement of potential political benefit to himself and to Joseph Estrada; but nothing that should be considered binding on his successor, Republican or Democratic. But Joseph Estrada knows that, he is a player, too. The end of the matter –and what should be said of the President’s trip, is this: it went well, with hardly a hitch, and the bacon was delivered. That is good enough by any President’s book. There are more trips to look forward too, including that still-coveted State visit.

The rest? It’s like the movies. Look at the pictures accompanying this article and see our President at his best. Amiable. Affable. Smiling; even, despite his girth, looking rather dashing.

 

 

 

 

The anatomy of loyalty, August 27, 1988

The Anatomy of Loyalty

By Edward R. Kiunisala

August 27, 1988–WHEN word reached them that Malacañang was under attack, they both jumped out of bed, made a few quick phone calls and, assured of the President’s safety, decided to report to the besieged Palace in that unholy pre-dawn hour. Bound by a common commitment and loyalty, two different persons, acting independently of each other, came up with the identical response and decision at a time of grave national crisis.
On their separate routes, unmindful of the risks involved, each went out to check up on government facilities and to monitor what was going on. Before daybreak, they were at their respective desks in Malacañang, carrying out the orders of the President.

Beyond the Call of Duty

They could have opted to play it safe, to discharge their duties by remote control: they chose to be where their leader was. Their response to the national emergency was above and beyond the call of duty. It was no gung-ho, derring-do feat; they acted simply from an unwavering sense of duty.

Of the 24 Cabinet members, only Joker Arroyo and Teodoro Locsin, Jr., were at the side of the embattled President during the most crucial moments of the bloody August 28 Honasan mutiny. National Defense Secretary Rafael Ileto could not be reached during the early hours of the coup. Other Cabinet members, called to an emergency meeting at 5:00 a.m., could not come.

“We die at our post,” said Arroyo.

Worse, the hotline to the Armed Forces chief of Staff Fidel V. Ramos, who had earlier rushed to Camp Crame, was dead. Meanwhile, rebel forces had already penetrated Camp Aguinaldo and Villamor Airbase and taken over two television stations, Channels 9 and 13, while surrounding Channels 2 and 4. Rebels were reported to have also taken over the military camps in Pampanga, Legaspi City and Cebu.

In Metro Manila CAPCOM forces simply remained in their barracks, awaiting orders from high military command which had been immobilized by Honasan forces in Camp Aguinaldo. But for the timely arrival in Malacañang of a combat-ready brigade of marines and the prompt mobilization of the Manila police under General Alfredo Lim, the situation in the capital region looked bleak. The rebel forces seemed to have the upper hand.

Although the President had gone on the air early on to assure everyone that the government was on top of the situation, the people remained worried, especially when Channels 2 and 4 suddenly went off the air. The people’s apprehension heightened when Honasan himself cockily fielded questions from media even as the rebel-held Channel 13 telecast rebels’ claims of sure victory.

Some radio broadcasters readily sided with Honasan as they painted a grim picture of the government under siege.

Crush the Coup!

Another would have already capitulated or fled. But in her 18-month-old regime, Cory had seen enough of military mutinies and coup attempts—four, to be exact,—to be easily intimidated by another one. Determined to stay in Malacañang at all cost she assumed total command with only Arroyo and Locsin serving as her adjutants. Her iron will surfaced in the decision to crush the coup at once.

It was no impulsive judgement, but she had learned from the lessons of the February Revolution. Cory wanted to avoid the two big mistakes that led to the quick downfall of Marcos: loss of will to act immediately; and desertion of his post. The so-called “most decorated Filipino soldier of World War II” lost the biggest battle of his life because of failure of nerve.

President Aquino’s nerve didn’t fail her in the bloodiest ordeal of her 18-month-old administration. She knew that protracted negotiation could touch off an avalanche of defection. Her strategy was to bring the situation to a head, knowing as she did that the main bulk of the military, by training and tradition, would remain loyal to the flag unless forced by circumstances to defect.

Thus when Locsin motored to the “battle zone” to establish a direct line between Camp Aguinaldo and Malacañang, he knew exactly what to do: convey to the Chief-of-Staff the President’s orders as clearly and emphatically as possible. The rebels, led by Colonel Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, in Camp Aguinaldo, were to be crushed pronto! The President herself, in a telephone connection arranged by Locsin, verbally confirmed the order to General Ramos.

When the execution of the Malacañang order got delayed, Locsin minced no words: time was of the essence! A professional soldier, Ramos probably didn’t want to go half-cocked, knowing he didn’t have sufficient back-up troops to sustain an all-out attack. He might have even doubted that the soldiers around him would obey his order to attack the rebels they considered their brothers-in-arms.

But Locsin was only too well aware of the consequences of inaction and delay. Time was on the side of the rebels. Inaction could be taken as weakness, a situation that could trigger mass defection to the side perceived to be winning. He feared that if the government military forces held their fire longer, Honasan would gain more adherents—even from Camp Crame itself. Smelling defection, Locsin could only shake his head, muttering aloud to himself, “Somebody is going to get demoted for this.”

Righteous Indignation

There were other instances that caused Locsin’s blood pressure to shoot up. One such case concerned five Metro Manila radio stations which aired materials that, in Locsin’s view, constituted a clear case of treasonous disinformation. The presidential counsel contacted the National Telecommunications Commission to get those stations off the air. The commission immediately complied, except in the case of DZRH, which it allowed to continue operating upon the intercession allegedly of Sen. Agapito “Butz” Aquino and National Press Club president Art Borjal.

But what really raised Locsin’s hackles was the case of Channel 13, which had been seized by rebel forces, along with Channel 9. Locsin wanted the military to retake both stations or knock off their transmitters to prevent the rebels from telecasting anti-government stuff. What the military did was cut off the Meralco power supply of those two channels—forgetting that they had back-up generators.

What Locsin feared, happened. Channel 13 went on the air, showing in portrait fashion a group of rebels in full battle gear, with their spokesman, a certain Lieutenant Mendoza, claiming widespread military support and predicting final victory before the end of that day. Worse, Channel 7, left unmolested by the rebels, took it upon itself to tape the rebel telecast and to replay it immediately, giving the impression that the Honasan forces were in control.

The presidential counsel hit the roof. He picked up a telephone and asked for the Presidential Security Group. Within earshot of General Ramos and other high-ranking military officers, he told the other end of the line to get “some of your people” to bomb Channel 13 “because nothing is moving from this end.” That form of reverse psychology worked. The military eventually managed to put Channel 13 off the air—without having to bomb it.
If Channel 13 remained in rebel hands and continued to air pro-Honasan propaganda, the government would have found itself in great trouble. It would have caused more confusion not only in the military but also among the public, and created a bandwagon effect in favor of the Honasan mutiny. During the February Revolution, control of television stations by the anti-Marcos forces was vital in demoralizing the Marcos camp, loosening his grip on power.

Key Word: Action

In this light, Locsin’s publicly perceived impetuosity vis-à-vis the Channel 13 case was only a logical reaction to a clear and present danger to the Republic. Although it meant sailing too close to the wind, it helped preserve the integrity of the State. It would be plain stupid just to wait and be clobbered by one’s enemies without hitting back.

If the nation is to survive, it must be ready to use all means available to protect itself. It cannot afford to be negligent, squeamish or wishy-washy. That is the natural law of survival and those who ignore it will live to regret it, if they live at all. The iron rule in emergency situations, according to Henry Kissinger, is: “Whatever must happen ultimately should happen immediately.” The key word is action.

That is the message of the Locsin behavior, which some media practitioners and professional critics completely missed. It is the message that Arroyo wanted to underscore when he wondered aloud why it took the military about 16 hours to quell the mutiny of a small band of rebels. Like Locsin, Arroyo was bothered by the military’s hesitation to obey the Commander-in-Chief’s order to attack.

Opposite Reaction

The roles that Arroyo and Locsin played that August 28 became Metro Manila’s liveliest conversation piece for quite some time. While they eventually reaped more praise than criticism, their detractors obtained more mileage, coming as they did from the more influential and vociferous gentry, which included prelates, politicians, press people, businessmen and some members of the military. It was a masterfully orchestrated propaganda blitz to discredit the two whose no-nonsense, abrasive style had kept the hyenas, jackals and wolves away from the doors of Malacañang.

Arroyo and Locsin, who had stuck it out with the President, were being made to appear like heels, while the rebels who wanted to grab power, killing and wounding hundreds, were hailed as heroes. For obeying the President, they were charged with interfering in military operations, as if the Commander-in-Chief had no right to tell the military what to do.

Lamented Arroyo: “We should have rejoiced after winning, but suddenly, Teddyboy and myself were being treated like Gringo, as if we did the damage.”

In an appearance before a jampacked Congress, Arroyo brilliantly defended his and Locsin’s action during the Honasan coup as he put his critics to shame for wanting “to make decisions for us.” Then he started dropping bombs. To an overwhelmingly appreciative gallery, Arroyo and Locsin were heroes of the hour. It was Arroyo’s finest hour as he scored the greatest political performance of his life.

The first targets were three businessmen linked with the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference. Arroyo charged the trio with “treason of the highest order,” as he damned businessmen who wanted to take advantage of the country’s financial conditions to gain more economic power.

Arroyo then went on to deal with Vice President Salvador Laurel, Finance Secretary Jaime Ongpin and AFP spokesman Col. Honesto Isleta. He accused Laurel of “fomenting” trouble in the military, blamed Ongpin for the Planters Products fiasco, and dubbed Isleta as the Goebbels of the military establishment. Arroyo minced no words.

During interpellation, Arroyo took on a number of congressmen who wanted to test his mettle. One by one they fell as he demolished them by sheer force of logic. But that was to be Arroyo’s valedictory. The President accepted his resignation, along with Locsin’s, Ongpin’s and Laurel’s. Like a good soldier, Arroyo was ready to go.

But while the President accepted the resignations of Laurel and Ongpin with no more than a courtesy “regret,” she praised Arroyo to the skies and retained the services of Locsin as consultant, not to mention chief speechwriter. To let go of a long-time friend and defender must have been extremely difficult decision for the President to make but it had to be made in the interest of unity of the Cabinet.

The Green-eyed Monster

The enemies of Arroyo and Locsin did not surface all at one time. Some had been friends and allies in the struggle against the dictatorship. But somehow things changed right after Cory Aquino assumed power, especially after Arroyo and Locsin emerged as her closest advisers. But what really got some people angry with Arroyo and Locsin was that they were beyond manipulation or corruption.

There were other reasons that fueled the antagonism of their enemies: 1) envy; 2) differences in political perceptions; 3) variance in ethical principles; 4) contrast in styles. While some of the causes were peripheral, others were too fundamental to be glossed over. They touched the very basic issue of quality in the public service.

But first, let’s discuss cause number one: envy, the most common wrecker of human relations. Envy is the resentment one feels because someone else possesses or has achieved what one wishes to possess to have achieved.

In the case of Arroyo and Locsin, they were perceived to posses, or to have achieved, something enviable: the President’s respect and admiration and the distinction of being considered her closest advisers. No other Cabinet member enjoyed such rapport with the President.

More than rapport, Arroyo and Locsin also had the full trust and confidence of the President, who reportedly gave more weight to their counsel than to that of others. What’s more, they wielded not only the powers inherent in their offices but also those delegated by the President. In her foreign travels, she would bring Locsin along with her to top-level conferences not accessible to other Cabinet members, while leaving Arroyo behind to take charge of the government in her absence.

One of the saddest things about envy, says Karl Olsson, a noted thinker, is its smallness. To be envious, he points out, is to turn eternally like a caged rat within the tight radius of malice, an evil intent to injure others. Olsson believes that the biggest obstruction to a successful team effort is envy.

Basic Differences

Now to the basic differences in political perceptions. Arroyo and Locsin, though highly politicized, are non-politicians. They owed no allegiance to any political party and entertained no ambitions to any elective office. They seemed obsessed with the idea of restoring politics as the science of good government, not as an art of plotting and scheming and wheeling and dealing for personal power, glory and fortune.

While Arroyo, a human rights lawyer, is considered a leftist, and Locsin, a corporate lawyer, is believed to be a rightist, they are really both within the centrist fold.

They are intense believers in republicanism, while harboring deep-seated distrust of militarism, a condition that led many to suspect that they were anti-military. As technocrats, they were drawn to problems and issues rather than to rankings and personalities. They belonged to that rare breed of public servants who go about their tasks without fear, favor or fanfare. Playing ball with power brokers, influence peddlers and get-rich-quick schemers violated their sense of honor.

They were, therefore, both an enigma and an obstruction to traditional politicians.

Then there is the variance of ethical principles. The norms of political conduct of Arroyo and Locsin vary from those of traditional politicians. The duo embrace an ethic founded on the Fourth Commandment: Thou shalt not steal. With emphasis on the value of honesty, probity and integrity, they eschew the politics of accommodation as demonstrated in the common practice of scratching one another’s back.

Despite tremendous temptations that came with their territory, they remained upright and incorruptible in office. No one could accuse them of hanky-panky in the 18 months that they held power. While graft and corruption continued to bedevil the Aquino administration, they succeeded in keeping their noses clean. Honesty is the best policy; it is also, a dangerous policy. It is discouraging to think, says Noel Coward, how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit. So rare a commodity is honesty that people don’t easily believe it even if it’s staring them in the face.

At work, such people as Arroyo and Locsin are not usually fun to be with. They look for perfection in others as they demand it from themselves. Worse, they are not likely to hide their feelings or sweeten their language. Popularity means little to them. Consequently, they are often perceived as arrogant, discourteous, belligerent.

Thus, when Senator Ernesto Maceda and Congressman Emigdio Tanjuatco took the Cabinet to task, making a dig at Arroyo and Locsin, the latter promptly countered by telling the two solons “to keep their sticky fingers to themselves.” Arroyo hit back by describing some congressmen as “the best argument for birth control.”

To demagogues, such a style is outrageous because it leaves very little room for bargaining, the principal source of political power. The politician is powerful because of his role as patron of his bailiwick, the dispenser of largesse, like contracts, jobs, franchises, permits, grants, etc. If he loses his bargaining power, he loses his hold on his followers.

Honest officials are naturally on a collision course with some traditional politicians. Honesty, sincerity and uprightness in public service pose a real threat to demagoguery. But honest public officials, of course, constitute only a small minority in the government.

Said Shakespeare: “To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one picked out of ten thousand.”

Although they had done their duty as best they could, Arroyo and Locsin knew that “as this world goes,” their services were expendable, that in the business of running a government, choices are not limited to black and white, but include many shades of color in-between. Their loyalty to the President was unequivocal: They trusted her as much as she trusted them. When the President finally made her decision, Arroyo and Locsin understood.

Cory’s “Army”: Organizing People Power, January 10, 1987

Cory’s “Army”: Organizing People Power

By Edward R. Kiunisala

January 10, 1987–AS SOON as Cory Aquino let it be known that she was not against the formation of a political party, her true-blue leaders began regrouping, reorganizing, consolidating and coalescing their political forces. With the political realignment, the battle lines between the pro-Cory and anti-Cory parties were drawn.

As of the latest count, no fewer than 14 political parties , aggrupations and organizations have come out for Cory. Many regional and local political entities have also committed their support to the lady President. Their first political task is to campaign for the approval of the draft constitution.

Ratification = Cory!

Before Cory left for Tokyo, three massive organizations had already sprung up in support of her call for the ratification of the proposed charter. These are the Lakas ng Bansa, a powerful political movement, led by Cory’s cabinet ministers; the Conglomerate of Business Groups, composed of business and industrial leaders; and the Coalition for Constitutional Approval, a five-party entity, whose initials, CCA, correspond with those of Corazon Cojuangco Aquino.

The original plan was to put up a single, all-encompassing administration party that would provide Cory with strong political support in the task of normalizing and rebuilding the country. It was obvious that Unido, the party under which Cory ran for and won the Presidency, was more of an enemy than a friend of Cory’s, an obstacle rather than a help in the realization of Cory’s vision.

Again and again, no less than Unido’s top guns, “Doy” Laurel and Rene Espina, attacked Cory’s stand. Unido’s dubious allegiance to the President was intolerable. Then came “Doy’s” open flirtations with Cory’s No. 1 challenger, Enrile.

Like Enrile, Laurel battled for presidential election in case the electorate turned down the draft constitution. He also subscribed to Enrile’s belief that the repudiation of the proposed charter would constitute a repudiation of the Cory government. Worse, “Doy” even agreed with the Marcos “loyalists” that there was no documentary proof of a Cory-Doy victory in the last election, ignoring the overwhelming circumstantial evidence in favor of such a victory.

“Doy’s” liaison with the Marcos-Enrile gang and the muscle-flexing of the Marcos political tail, the KBL, and the so-called NP wings of Palmares and Cayetano prompted Cory’s supporters to do some seducing and muscle-flexing of their own. Lakas ng Bansa attracted to its fold political parties while the five-party coalition of the CCA underscored the political clout behind Cory. The lady President is clearly far from helpless as she sometimes appears to be.

The CCA’s lead party is the PDP-Laban, founded by the late Ninoy Aquino, now headed by Cory’s brother, “Peping” Cojuangco. Cory’s brother-in-law, “Butz” Aquino, with his militant Bandila, is also there. So is Salonga’s wing of the Liberal Party. Ramon Pedrosa’s Pilipino Democratic Socialist Party and Raul Manglapus’s Union of Christian Democrats complete the five-party coalition.

Another organization that has thrown its weight behind Cory is the Conglomerate of Business Groups, which draws individual members from different business and industrial organizations, like the Lions, the Rotary and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industries, among others.

Committed to Cory’s economic recovery program, the CBG counts with great influence in the world of business and industry, both here and abroad. Its support has given Cory a stronger moral authority to carry out her program of government.

The Greatest

But the grandest alliance of all is, perhaps, the Lakas ng Bansa, organized by Cory’s closest supporters, many of whom are members of the Cabinet. Although identified only as a political movement, it is considered as Cory Aquino’s “party of the future”. Right now, its top leaders are about the most visible, audible and credible spokesmen of the Cory government. Its president and seven of its 13 vice-presidents are all cabinet ministers.

The Lakas ng Bansa roster of officials reads like a Who’s Who in the government. Justice Secretary Neptali Gonzales, who bolted the Unido, is the movement’s president, Budget Minister Alberto Romulo, who threatened  to leave Unido, is vice-president of the National Capital Region.

Other ministers who occupy vice-presidential positions in the Lakas ng Bansa are Heherson Alvarez of Agrarian Reform, Region II; Ramon Mitra Jr., of Agriculture, Region VI; Luis Villafuerte of Reorganization, Region V; and Antonio Cuenco of Political Affairs, Region VII. The remaining vice presidential positions were vacated by Ernesto Maceda and Rogaciano Mercado but will be filled up by top political leaders of their respective regions who also hold high positions in the new dispensation.

Judging from its composition, the Lakas ng Bansa, also known as Laban, is virtually the political movement of the administration. No other single political entity is more conversant with the over-all thrust of the Cory government than Laban, whose principal organizers are also some of Cory’s most trusted advisers. It has the blessings of “Peping” Cojuangco and its day-to-day affairs are run by its secretary-general, “Ding” Tanjuatco, Cory’s cousin.

Laban looks like a stronger version of the Unido, although the latter is a duly-registered political party while the former is not. Its membership comes from a much-wider political spectrum than Unido can ever hope to have. It expects to absorb all the pro-Aquino political forces and groups, like the Cory Aquino for President Movement, Cory Crusaders, Bisig, Bayan, Lakas ng Pilipino, Bansa, Kaiba, and many others.

Its founding fathers come from different political parties, like the Liberal, Nacionalista, PDP-Laban and even Unido itself. Not a few KBL leaders have already expressed their willingness to join. Its membership, according to Tanjuatco, is open to “all Filipinos, here and abroad, young and old, rich and poor of whatever sector, religion or affiliation.”

Said Tanjuatco:

Lakas ng Bansa is People Power continued, institutionalized nationwide, and reinforced with a driving vision to emancipate the Filipino people from all forms of poverty and tyranny. The movement will not stand aside ad watch democratic gains eroded. It will not only rally to defend these gains but it will also mobilize to consolidate them.

“We must realize that although we have driven the former president away, he has left behind his destructive and dismal legacy. In many areas of our country, his clones and heirs apparent — but more seriously his distorted values — remain firmly entrenched. A great movement of People Power is needed to expose and bury once and for all these vestiges from a recent and unlimited past.”

Ready!

Many of Laban’s organizers hope to convert their movement into a duly-registered political party. If they haven’t taken positive steps towards that end yet, it is in deference to Cory’s wishes not to disturb the present so-called “rainbow coalition”. But they are ready. At a moment’s notice, when the movement’s directorate so wishes, Laban will be registered with the Commission on Elections as a full-fledged political party.

Its organizational set-up is virtually complete, including the draft of its constitution and by-laws. It has already adopted the slogan — “Lakas ng Pagkakaisa, Lakas ng Bayan” — a red dove in flight with a broken chain attached to its leg. The red dove, according to Laban officials, symbolizes a courageous and gentle people in their journey towards liberation as represented by the broken chain.

About 2,500 delegates attended the launching of Lakas ng Bansa at the Valle Verde Auditorium in Pasig, Metro Manila. PDP-Laban’s “Peping” Cojuangco and Jose Yap were there. So were Villafuerte and Cuenco of Unido. But “Doy” Laurel and Rene Espina, Unido’s “dynamic duo”, were conspicuously absent. All the delegates were one in their stand to protect Cory from what they called “remnants” of a horrible regime and other “adversaries.”

First Objective

Lakas ng Bansa was established, according to Minister Gonzales, principally to support Cory’s effort in rebuilding the nation, and its doors are open to all, even to card-carrying members of established political parties without their losing party membership. It was organized, he stressed, “not in opposition to, but in harmony with existing political parties that support President Aquino”. Its first major objective is to restore constitutional democracy “by working for the ratification of the new constitution”.

To repeat, the battle lines have already been drawn. On one side are pro-Cory parties, groups and aggrupations, numbering no fewer than 14 national entities, not counting the seven regional and local ones. On the other side are only two political parties: Enrile’s Nacionalista Party of Palmares and Cayetano and Marcos’s abominable KBL. You may add a third one, if you don’t consider Kalaw’s Liberal Party circus a mere nuisance.

As for Adaza’s Mindanao Alliance, forget it. Such an alliance is only between Homobono and Adaza, for, by and of Homobono Adaza himself. For all intents and purposes, Adaza is nothing more than an appendage of Enrile’s political gang. Kalaw and Adaza used to be “supporters” of Cory, but for one reason or another, they parted ways with her after she assumed power. Wittingly or otherwise, both have in effect aligned themselves with the Marcos-Enrile alliance while maintaining their individual political identity.

In the case of Unido, one has to play it by ear. After wagging against the draft constitution earlier, “Doy” Laurel is now wagging in favor of it. Perhaps, he is playing it by ear as he awaits the wigwag from his elder brother, “Pepito”, who calls the shot in his own wing of the Nacionalista Party. One thing is clear: “Doy” will zig when “Pepito” zigs and zag when “Pepito” zags. Expect Rene Espina to zigzag along with them.

But “Pepito’s” mind is made up. He is for the ratification o the proposed constitution, which, he believes, is an improvement on the 1973 Constitution, “designed for the one-man rule of Marcos”. While the draft charter is “an imperfect document” says “Pepito”, it can “satisfy the desires and even the demands of all the segments of our society”.

He adds:

“I would never have signed the draft constitution if I believed it would be inimical to the Filipino people. On the contrary, I felt that for all its imperfections and shortcomings, it would guide and inspire us in the fashioning of a freer and richer future after the ordeal of the past despotism from which we are still trying to extricate ourselves.

“It is a worn argument, I suppose, but it is no less valid for the telling, and so I repeat the ratification of this constitution will provide our country with the stability it needs to plan more realistically and to adopt more enduring policies for the days ahead.”

Blas Ople’s Partido Nacionalista ng Pilipinas is also for the approval of the draft constitution. While some PNP members are against it, Ople and his three PNP confreres, who were ConCom members, like Pepito, are duty-bound to uphold what they helped to formulate. Ople’s closest side-kick in the PNP, Teodulo Natividad, also a ConCom member, has already put himself squarely behind the ratification of the proposed charter.

In his typically bombastic manner, Ople announced that the ratification of the new constitution “will erect the sovereign ramparts” to foil all existing conspiracies against the Republic, making all “hidden agendas” obsolescent. He also warned that those who want to seize power still hope to abort the plebiscite and “prolong the constitutional vacuum” because they know that the ratification of the new charter will “foreclose their option of mass violence for toppling the government.”

Blasted Ople:

“All claimants to power, therefore, increasingly realize that the period for an unconventional challenge to the government is definitely capped by the cabinet deadline. Beyond that date, they will have to recast their plans to be able to stay in the game, by preparing for constitutional and peaceful elections.”

The Tried and Tested

But Cory will have to bank on her tried-and-tested supporters to hurdle one of the severest tests of her political career: the approval of the draft charter, whose repudiation could be perceived as a public rejection of her young administration. Such a perception, however, could only come from a distorted sense of logic. Cory had nothing to do with the formulation of the proposed charter, except to appoint the people who drafted it. Whatever flaws it has should not be blamed on Cory but on the people who produced it.

Unlike the 1973 Constitution, which was written for and in behalf of Marcos, the 1986 draft charter is the product of the free interplay of ideas among 47 commissioners insulated from Malacañang influence. Nobody can accuse Cory of doing to the 1986 proposed charter what Marcos did to the 1973 Constitution. In other words, if the people rejected it in the plebiscite, they would do so not because they had withdrawn their support from Cory but because they disapproved of the proposed constitution. So, let Cory call for an elected — this time — constitutional convention!

But the Marcos-Enrile political gangs do not see it that way. They had been peddling the idea that rejection of the new charter would mean the withdrawal of public support from Cory, and therefore, Cory must get a fresh mandate from the electorate to continue in office. And yet, they don’t want Cory to campaign for the ratification of the new charter. Where’s the logic there?

The Challenge

Logical or not, Cory has accepted the challenge — and she is campaigning for the ratification of the proposed constitution, partly because she wants to settle, once and for all, the fake issue of the legitimacy of her government, principally because she really believes that the approval of the draft charter is a giant step towards normalcy and national stability. What the means is that Cory is willing and ready to give up her vast powers under the Freedom Constitution in favor of the 1986 constitution, which establishes limitations on the powers of the Presidency. She’s not power-hungry.

If Cory were like Marcos, she wouldn’t give a hoot for the draft charter. Its rejection would be sufficient justification for her to continue wielding her plenary powers under the Freedom Constitution and call for an elective ConCom to draft another Constitution. Until the electorate approved a new charter, she could go on ruling under the mantle of a revolutionary government. She would be an all-powerful Chief Executive for as long as she continued to enjoy the trust and confidence of her people — which she does.

But Cory is not Marcos—and she is infinitely more perceptive than Marcos, who viewed things only in the light of his insatiable greed for power and self. Precisely because of that, she is working hard for the approval of the new constitution although it means the diminution of the powers that she currently enjoys. Cory’s support for the ratification of the new charter is proof to all that she is no power-hungry politician.

Self-Abnegation

When Marcos “lifted” martial law, he did it only on paper. He retained his vast powers, even the power over the lives and fortunes of his critics and enemies. This is not the case with Cory. If the proposed charter is approved by the people, Cory will have much less power than she would have under the 1935 Constitution. Hers will be a republican government answerable to the people, from whom government powers should emanate.

On this score, a large segment of the people are behind Cory all the way. Besides the Lakas ng Bansa, the Coalition for Constitutional Approval and the Conglomerate of Business groups, other large movements have recently organized themselves in support of Cory’s campaign for the ratification of the proposed constitution. Noteworthy are Bansa, composed of some 20 large farmer organizations, led by former Huk Supremo Luis Taruc, and Kaiba, the biggest women political party of the country today, led by Princess Tarhata Lucman.

Lakas ng Pilipino, headed by Charito Planas, is also campaigning for the approval of the new constitution. So are Partido ng Bayan of the late Rolando Olalia and the Lapiang Manggagawa of Jose Villegas. The Philippine Islamic Democratic Party has also come out openly in favor of the approval of the proposed charter. Even militant organizations , like Gabriela, Bisig and Bayan are behind Cory.

Cory’s Unarmed Forces

All these political parties, aggrupations, civic organizations and militant groups now constitute Cory’s unarmed army, which is committed to preserve the gains of the People Power Revolution. They are behind Cory in her quest for a stable and prosperous nation, as they stood by her in her struggle to oust the Dictator. Whether they will eventually fuse into a single political party for Cory or not, the fact remains that they are now solidly one behind her.

Their militant interest in the country’s welfare should serve as a warning to all those, particularly Enrile’s military coup-koos and the Marcos Mafia. These would kill the Filipino people’s newly-recovered rights and liberties — again! Having organized on its own free will, Cory’s “army” is out to prove that People Power remains a tower of strength for a people who loves justice and peace. How strong that Power is will be shown in the outcome of the plebiscite on the proposed constitution.

Kit and Larry: The boys in the back room, July, 1970

Kit and Larry: The boys in the back room

By Quijano de Manila

July 1970–THE boys in the back room will have been there a year come August and they’re moving towards their first anniversary amid distressing rumors that the first shall be the last.

The back room is the Malacañang Press Office and the boys supposedly besieged there are Kit and Larry—or, to give them their official titles, Press Secretary Francisco Tatad and Assistant Press Secretary Lorenzo Cruz. From their back room come the Palace bulletins on what’s happening in the front room, for their job is to report on the President, as well as hand out the chronicles on the Palace gathered for the front page. Their other job is to act as liaison between the press and the President.

How well have they been doing their twin job?

There is said to be some dissatisfaction with the President’s image these days and, of course, the Press Office gets part of the blame. Discontent with its work has been read into two recent happenings: the removal of the press secretary from the cabinet, and the appearance of Government Report as the publicizer of the executive office.

On the other hand, the newsmen whose regular beat is the Palace are also said to be not quite happy about how the Press Office facilitates their coverage and this has led to a guessing game on who among possible replacements could work more harmoniously with the press. Until recently, the name of Sweepstakes Chairman Nereo Andolong was most loudly dropped—but it now seems to have been dropped for good. No new names have cropped up; the names that plague the back room are mostly of old grudges spreading scareheads.

Last month, an interviewer even told Larry Cruz the exact date on which the Press Office to be revamped: June 23. The day has come and gone, but Kit and Larry are still in the back room. Nevertheless, there are people who go on insisting that a “big revamp” there is in the offing.

“It seems they are more sure about that,” smiles Larry, than the President. I think only the President knows when we are to be booted out, or if he wants to. I don’t think he wants a revamp. As far as I know there are no plans to revamp the Press Office. We have not had any inkling at all.”

As Larry sees it, the current intrigues are not news; they are merely the sequels of the power struggles that erupted last year when the ten press secretary, Joe Aspiras, decided to run for Congress and a number of people began jostling for the position about to be vacated. Since the contenders were veteran newsmen, the selection of so young an unknown as Kit Tatad—prematurely announced in Joe Guevara’s column—could not but arouse antagonism. The vets had been passed up for a little pup of an “interloper.” Larry Cruz happened to come on Tatad at the MOPC at around this time and he asked Kit if he really had been offered the Press Office. Kit Tatad said yes, but he had not yet accepted. And if he should accept, would Larry be willing to join him as assistant press secretary? It was Larry’s turn to flip. Kit was compounding his chief crime: he was only 28 and he would take on as assistant secretary somebody who was only 27! Together, Kit and Larry as the boys in the back room would be the Children’s Hour in the Great Again Society.

Not that Larry Cruz was a greenhorn, whether as deadline byliner or as political drumbeater. His father is the Daily Mirror editor and from college (FEU, liberal arts, unfinished) Larry had passed to the news desk of DZMT, later became news director of Channel 5. In 1961, during the last months of the presidential campaign, he worked briefly for the NP propaganda. “I had a very minor role preparing radio news; it was merely a technical job. When Garcia lost, we disbanded. We went to the office one morning and fount it abandoned: no more air-conditioners, no more typewriters.” Larry moved on to the news directorship of the Herald radio station, then to an associate editorship on the Graphic. In 1965 he became the Manila bureau director for Asia Magazine. After the 1965 campaign, Larry was introduced to Blas Ople, who was scouting for talent. “It was Blas Ople who actually ran the 1965 campaign; his was the strategy group. It was so effective the President decided to retain it. Blas got a bigger office, a bigger staff, and he was doing all the speeches of the President, major and minor. Actually his writers’ group was a technical service—Blas Ople & Associates—but after the 1965 campaign they had only one client: the President. And Blas Ople said to me: ‘Why don’t you join us? So I joined him on a part-time basis. In the 1967 campaign I was backstopping for Ariel Bocobo, who was NP spokesman. Just before the 1969 campaign I thought of resigning from Asia Magazine and I told Blas I could work full time for him. So I was deeply involved in the 1969 campaign.”

Larry had married young, in his teens (he’s the father of four), but the need for security was out-itched by a liking for new horizons. The Blas Ople group was such a frontier; now, in mid-campaign, Kit Tatad offered another.

Kit and Larry had known each other since the time they had covered the foreign office for their respective news agencies. A pioneer campus reb, Kit Tatad had left the UST without graduating, went to work for Agence France, then shifted to the Manila Daily Bulletin, where he became a columnist. Something he wrote attacking Kokoy Romualdez brought him to Kokoy’s attention. ’Tis said that Kokoy had known the young man only a few months when he proposed Tatad for the press secretaryship.

The move to revamp the Press Office, to gear it to the campaign, started in the summer of ’69. Joe Aspiras was still nominally the press secretary, but it was his assistant, Jake Clave, who was doing the work. Aspiras would have liked Jake to succeed him as press secretary—which would have meant that Johnny Tuvera, the “brain trust” of this group, the Ilocano bloc, would have been the assistant press secretary. Unfortunately, Jake Clave was not acceptable to the Waray bloc, which opined that “si Jake masipag, pero ang estilo niya nagsisilbe ng café.” The complaint was that no new ideas were coming from the Press Office; a new-idea man would have to be put there, preferably a young man with imagination.

Andolong clearly wanted the position, other names in the running were newsmen Johnny Perez and Gene Marcial. Then out of the blue dropped the name of Kit Tatad—and his backer was the Waray bloc. This almost united the other contenders in an effort to stop the “interloper” and “upstart.” Then Joe Guevara jumped the gun by revealing that Kit had already been offered the position.

“That was,” relates Larry Cruz, “when we met at the MOPC and I asked Kit how true was the rumor. He said: ‘It’s true. The President had me called to the Palace and he told me they were thinking of asking me to become press secretary and would I accept. I told him I felt very flattered and would consider the job a challenge. But first, I would have to talk to my publisher (Hans Menzi of the Bulletin).’ But before Kit could do that, the news came out in Joe Guevara’s column and Menzi was mad. Kit had to resign at once from the Bulletin.

“Then he found himself in a very embarrassing position, jobless for about two months. Andolong was campaigning hard to get the Press Office. So, nabitin ang appointment ni Kit.

“At that time I was working full time with Blas on propaganda. I was editing a magazine and a tabloid. Kit said: if he got the appointment, would I come in as assistant secretary. I told him the President didn’t know me; I did not know how the President felt about me. But Kit said: “Sigue na, if I take the job I would like to have somebody I can work with.’ We had worked together, we went around together. I read him, he reads me. We have the same likes and dislikes. I told him I would have to talk with Blas Ople.

“I explained the situation to Blas around June. ‘Blas,’ I said, ‘Kit is in a dilemma because he was offered his job, nabibitin, and he would not like to work with Gene Marcial [then rumored as a possible assistant press secretary], so there’s a problem. Blas said: ‘Let’s work for you.’ Afterwards, Kit asked Blas: ‘What about Gene Marcia?’ Gene Marcial was close to Kokoy but it was Kokoy who had named Kit for the Press Office. Then it was intended that Gene would take over at the Graphic when Luis Mauricio became NP spokesman. But when Mauricio was named the party spokesman he didn’t resign from the Graphic, he just went on leave. So, Gene Marcial was out again. According to the talk, he was so disgusted he had this rift with Kokoy and then he joined Osmeña.”

Meanwhile, in mid-campaign, he Press Office was becoming demoralized because the question of he secretaryship was still up in the air. Since the anti-Kit forces would not yield, a dark horse was sought.

“Blas Ople talked it over with the President on the telephone: ‘How about Johnny Gatbonton?’ [Gatbonton is the ex-editor of Asia Magazine.] Said the President: ‘Sound him out.’ So Blas called up Johnny, who was in Hong Kong, and Johnny turned it down flat. Then somebody said: ‘Why don’t we try Chitang?’ But Carmen Guerrero Nakpil said: ‘I don’t think I’m cut out for that kind of job.’ So, Kit na. Blas told the President: ‘Mr. President, you have to decide one way or the other soon.’ And the President asked Blas: ‘Whom do you support?’ And Blas said: ‘Kit, because we know how he works and we read him and he’s not so bad.’

“That meeting was in the morning. That afternoon I went to the movies and didn’t come home till ten in the evening. I found an order to report to the Palace at four the next afternoon to take my oath. Kit and I had already been appointed. We came in on August 16.

“What Jake Clave can’t forget is what Kit said in an interview just before his appointment. Kit said he wanted to invest the Press Office with a new style, a new image. Jake Clave said to Johnny Tuvera: ‘Tang na! What style and what image!’ They have not yet forgiven Kit. Terrific ang intrigue, which lasts up to now.”

 

The back room the boys took over in August of last year had been in crisis for two months and they waded into chaos.

“We were lost,” shrugs Larry. “We didn’t know how things were. Clave stayed just long enough to give me the key to his drawer ad brief us, but we found out later that there were so many things he failed to tell us. So, for the next three months we were groping. But the important thing was to get the stories across; the problem was how to handle the newsmen.”

Setting the back room in order had to wait while Kit and Larry concentrated on the task at hand: to report on the President’s campaign and to help the press cover it.

“The press was sounded out before our appointment and they had no objections to Kit. They had objections to Andolong and they still have up to now. The impression he tries to create is that he’s financing the radio commentators—and newsmen will be just as well off once he is press secretary.”

The appeasement of Andolong was to cost the Press Office some prestige and funds.

“Andolong was told: ‘Nering, paciencia ka na muna; we have a commitment to Kit.’ So there was this compromise. Inalis sa amin ang National Media. Before, the National Media was under the supervision of the Press Office. Its funds were taken away from us, they did not trust us with the money. So it’s now under the Office of the President. Aspiras, since he’s a favorite there, was the only one who really controlled it—which means Clave and Tuvera also, since they are with Aspiras; and the money was used during the campaign. You see, there’s inter-action.

“As Andolong told me, Kit was to be given pen and paper, no money. Anyway, Kit and I were glad that campaign funds were not to come from us. We would have, not money, but talagang press work, and that’s what we consider the challenge. Nering was in charge of the provincial press and the radio. Jake financing and Blas was in charge of special projects, of which we were a part. But Blas had to account for all our expenses—for example, if we ordered a thousand Imelda pictures. In other words, malinis ang pasok namin, clean slate.”

No extra funds, aside from its own budget, were transferred to the Press Office?

“A little, but not a fraction of what Aspiras and Clave had. We only got that little extra when we went out on campaign trips—say, five thousand for one week’s expenses.”

The expenses were bedding and boarding the newsmen who went along on the trip—and here Kit and Larry learned of a sly practice of the Press Office, the same practice exposed by Kerima Polotan in a recent article. Besides the legitimate bed and board while on the road, he newsmen might be treated to a night on the town and provided with the usual entertainment—but the Press Office kept an account of each newsman’s special entertainment: what it was and how much it cost.

“Why should you take a fellow out, say, to a night club and then keep his chit to use against him later on? That is foul. But it was the practice before. Kerima was not talking about us, she was talking above Clave. It was Clave who kept the chits. So, everyone is attacking the Press Office for doing such a thing.”

Another thing the new back-room boys learned was that certain newsmen who went along on a trip received a “baon” from the Press Office.

“When we came in, that was the system. On every trip the newsmen were given an allowance of a hundred pesos a day; so for five days that’s five hundred. We asked: Is that necessary; shouldn’t we try to remove a system like that? But it was accepted fact, inherited practice, and we could not change it during the campaign. That wasn’t possible then, but certainly we chose the people na bibigyan. They expected it, no longer as a bribe, but as part of the standard operating procedure.

“Then we discovered that, apart from these regular dole-outs, some newsmen were getting five hundred pesos a month from the Press Office. After the campaign we said: ‘Ihinto na ’yan at masama; dapat ma-stop.’ No more of these news photographers who, when they take a picture, tumataga. No more libre this and libre that. They don’t look on it as bribes any more but as our duty to them.

“We have stopped the regular dole-outs. Now when we go on a trip, our fund is very small, only for transportation, board and lodging. Night clubs, all right we take them out. I don’t want them to feel that nagmamalaki o nagmamalinis kami, no. When we are out in the provinces, we live together, we sleep in the same room, it’s my job to be with them.”

Though the new arrangement has caused gripes, Larry feels he can stomach the gripes better than he could stomach the system he inherited and had to continue during the campaign.

“That’s what we didn’t like about the job at first: to be party to corruption. That’s why we said: After the campaign, wala na, clean slate.”

 

 

The first year of Marcos II has, however, turned out to be more grueling than the campaign. Young, mod, restive, unconventional, and supposedly liberal and progressive of ideas, Kit and Larry were both to find themselves, during the demos, on the wrong side of the generation gap, an anomaly made flagrant by the kind of hair and habiliments the press secretary affects. The boys in the back room look as if they belonged behind the barricades instead.

“People who know us,” says Larry, “ask how we can take it—but they don’t know the situation from inside. We do. We know the President is not fascistic, definitely not. Pinagmumura si General Raval; pag ang military ay nagexcess, pinapatawag—but that’s not printed. We know what his instructions were on the students, on the activists: no shooting. When some students were killed, talagang masama ang loob namin, but these were individual actions. We knew what the President’s instructions were. So, no quarrel. The students say he is a fascist; we don’t think that the people are saying he is. The students make a mistake in thinking that their minority opinion is the majority opinion. I think the President has been held back a bit in his progressive policies (like trade with the socialist bloc) because of the troubles. He has to stop the anarchy that’s threatening the country and this can’t be done with wishy-washy stands. So I think he can’t help but abandon his liberal policies to firm up against the Communists.”

And against the Now Generation.

Would this explain the removal of The Hair from the cabinet?

Replies Larry:

“Two months before the actual de-cabinetization, Kit was told about it. The President called him and said: ‘There’s a move to reduce the cabinet.’ There were originally twelve cabinet positions created by law. In Magsaysay’s time, because then Press Secretary J.V. Cruz was so good at press releases, a cabinet position was created for him by executive order. Then, one cabinet position after another was created. President Marcos elevated some offices to cabinet rank, like the PACD, the SWA, the Panamin. One reason was to give them emphasis; another reason was political. For example, the PACD and the Panamin, if they’re not of cabinet rank, they could engage in politics; if they are of cabinet rank, they have to work in earnest.”

But the result was a swollen cabinet: 27 positions. After the elections the attacks began. Could a cabinet position be created by executive order? And there was pressure on the Palace to return the cabinet to the original size defined by law.

“The President asked Kit: ‘How do you feel about it?’ This was around February. Said Kit: ‘The rank is not important, Mr. President, except as it affects our operations. For instance, if we want other government offices to help us in disseminating information, we can summon the necessary people because we have cabinet rank.’ So, Kit submitted a position paper on why the press secretary should be retained on the cabinet. The President read it and said: ‘Okay, you stay.’ The original plan was to remove from the cabinet only those positions created during the campaign—and the Press Office was not one of them. But Maceda wanted us to be decabinetized. He had started this long before the attacks on the cabinet as a whole. He was singling out the Press Office.”

Why was then Executive Secretary Ernesto Maceda so hostile to the Press Office?

“Maceda wanted to be all powerful,” replies Larry. “He wanted to control everything under the executive department. Can you imagine an executive secretary going over the overtime operations of another office? One day he returned some overtime statements we had sent for his approval. Imagine an executive secretary writing our administrative officer to say: ‘Do you mean to tell me that all these people actually rendered overtime on holidays like Christmas and New Year? I can’t believe such patriotism. They should be given the Pro-Patria Award!’ But our office is manned 24 hours a day, even on Saturdays and Sundays. Of course, because walang hinto ang balita. It’s just like a newspaper office or a radio station. The drivers, the messengers, the typists, they work on holidays. So, Kit wrote Maceda: ‘Such remarks are uncalled for, are unbecoming to a person of your high position, are not fit in the company of gentleman.’ Kit pointed out that it was for him to decide whether the people in his office should render overtime or not. Then Maceda replied: ‘It may interest you to know that according to such-and-such a law or administrative order, your office is under my office.’ That was published. In other words, nagkaroon ng personal enmity. A very lively quarrel, and Kit had the upper hand because we proved that the people whose overtime Maceda questioned had really worked overtime.

“Then one day the President summoned the cabinet to what was supposed to be a meeting. One by one he called to a small room those who were to be removed from office. Kit was not called. But Maceda was called. He had no inkling at all he was to be removed as executive secretary. It was like a thunder bolt. He went into that small room and he came out broken.”

Maceda had a week more as executive secretary and during that week, if Larry Cruz is to be believed, he worked to get back at the Press Office. The President was warned that Pelaez was about to launch an attack on the validity of cabinet positions created by executive order. So, though the President had originally intended to de-cabinetize only those positions he had created during the campaign, the press secretary’s cabinet rank got included in the ax.

“Among the last acts of Maceda as executive secretary was to sign the de-cabinetization orders, which included the Press Office. I said to Kit: ‘Well, Maceda died fighting!’”

 

 

The current troubles are chiefly three.

First is the, until recently, continuing Andolong campaign to get the Press Office. When Andolong went on leave from the Sweepstakes, it was assumed that this was a terminal leave and that he had finally got what he wanted—but it now looks as if he has been told, more or less once and for all, that he’s not going to be press secretary.

Larry Cruz observes that if Andolong were appointable he would have been appointed long ago—like when the Press Office was revamped during the campaign.

“And after the campaign, with all the pressure, he should have been appointed—if the President thought he was competent. He was not appointed. Then the press began to hit him for how things were at the Sweepstakes. Matagal nang gustong alisin si Andolong, wala lang mapaglagyan, because he wanted the Press Office.”

Why was he so set on that?

“For prestige. He felt that, as press secretary, he would be strong with the President, he could get back the special funds. We don’t have those funds because of our attitude: that the Press Office is not to be the doler out or giver or money. But Nering believes he can make the same money at the Press Office that he’s making at the Sweepstakes and have more prestige besides. He said to me: ‘Bibirahin ko si Kit.’ He went on leave thinking he was going to be appointed. Now it seems he cannot get it, not even as a matter of saving face. So: ‘I’ll just ask for the PNB,’ he tells me now. Director of the PNB, that’s his new target.

The talk is that, whether or not Andolong has given up on the Press Office, he certainly has not dropped the grudge fight against Tatad: he is still set on getting Tatad yanked out and will back anybody who can topple Kit.

Trouble number two is the supposed animosity of certain newsmen toward the press secretary. It seems there’s a belief that the Press Office has a P10,000 fund for newsmen that it’s not spending on the newsmen. The resentful may be spreading the rumor that, even if Tatad is not replaced, the job of liaison between press and Palace will be removed from him and a special position created to take care of that.

Larry Cruz believes, of course, that the basic grievance is the stoppage of handouts. And he thinks that newsmen in general, especially those who resented the Andolong campaign line, are all for the new policy at the Press Office.

“But if you ask somebody who was getting money before and now wala, if you ask him: ‘Are you happy now?’—naturally he will say he’s not happy. In other words, if that’s to be the measure of our competence, then we are incompetent.”

Trouble number three is the feud raging between Tatad and the Clave-Tuvera group, who, says Larry, have never forgiven Kit for displacing them, though they were moved up to the President’s office as executive assistants.

One irritant is a body of research materials gathered by the Clave-Tuvera group while still at the Press Office, and which they still hang on to. Though the materials were gathered for the Press Office and continue to be housed in a Press Office room, the folk there say they have no access to those materials and have had to establish a research library of their own.

Another irritant is the Tuvera-edited Government Report, which, however the boys in the back room may pooh-pooh it, is a thorn in their side. Something that, logically, their office should be doing is being done by the competition. Tatad, in fact, is supposed to have claimed that he thought up the idea first and this has led to an amusing war of words between him and the Tuveras.

Larry Cruz says that he and Kit were really planning to put out a regular report on the doings of the government (a tentative name for the gazette was Ang Bansa) when, without their having been notified in advance, the Tuvera Government Report began appearing in March. The back room had to scuttle its project.

“What we were thinking of putting out was an information bulletin. Press work, not propaganda. We have done away with propaganda in the Press Office. Our work is legitimate press work; we are press officers. But Government Report is not an information bulletin. It is a pugnacious and combative publication. It is intended to answer the attacks of newspapers on the administration and to defend what image of the administration it feels has been distorted, even putting out distorted and malicious reports. But what we wanted was something more informative, like the bulletin the German government puts out, or the Scala of the Italians. We see ourselves as the legitimate information office of the Office of the President.”

Or as Kit Tatad puts it:

“What I did say was that I had an idea of government newspaper which would put forward government policies and/or positions before they were misrepresented, distorted or perverted by any sector; without, however, promoting an editorial policy of anger, superciliousness and intolerance.”

The boys in the back room weren’t just being envious.

“It is an injustice to me,” says the press secretary, “rather than to Mr. Tuvera to say that I should wish any part of Mr. Tuvera’s Government Report.”

Larry thinks this is an old fight.

“It dates back to our being ‘interlopers,’ because their ambition was thwarted, that of Jake and Tuvera. They saw it as a personal affront, that they were removed. I know this for a fact because every time I go up there they publicly shout that they’re supporting me and that they want me to be the press secretary—para mag-away kami ni Kit. But Kit wants this to remain a battle of words, and that it should not affect the President. This is a battle of personalities, but our role should be larger, beyond personalities.

“Kit and I are the type who will not remain a minute longer in office if we know we are not wanted. Actually, the President trusts us more than some people think. For example, we make recommendations for press releases: what should be said, what action on what problem should be announced. In a press release it’s the President who speaks. Therefore, we know how much the President appreciates our work from how much of our suggestions he uses. It was Kit who prepared three of the President’s most recent major speeches, including the Asia one.

“If the President feels we are competent enough, no mater what the intrigues, they will have no effect. Now, if the President feels we are not competent…Nobody is fighting for us, not even ourselves. Kokoy helped Kit get the appointment, but Kokoy has never influenced the Press Office in any way whatsoever. This is a very independent Press Office. He may fight for us—baka hindi. If we need a supporter at all, I would like to think we have one in Blas Ople.”

Asked how he sees the position of the boys in the back room, Ople replies:

“Well-entrenched.”

The Press Office has an annual budget of P1,300,000 and geographically, has moved closer to the Palace. It used to be in an outpost way out near the edge of the Palace compound, it now occupies a building (wasn’t it a cantina before?) right beside the executive offices.

The new location is swankier but it still feels like the kind of scene where Marlene Dietrich says to go see what the boys in the back room will have.

The January 26 Confrontation: A Highly Personal Account, February 7, 1970

The January 26 Confrontation: A Highly Personal Account

Jose F. Lacaba

 

February 6, 1970–IT WAS FIVE MINUTES PAST FIVE in the afternoon, by the clock on the Maharnilad tower, when I arrived at Congress. The President was already delivering his State of the Nation message: loudspeakers on both sides of the legislative building relayed the familiar voice and the equally familiar rhetoric to anyone in the streets who cared to listen. In front of the building, massed from end to end of Burgos Drive, spilling over to the parking lot and the grassy sidewalk that forms an embankment above the Muni golf course, were the demonstrators. Few of them cared to listen to the President. They had brought with them microphones and loudspeakers of their own and they lent their ears to people they could see, standing before them, on the raised ground that leads to the steps of the legislative building, around the flagpole, beneath a flag that was at half-mast. There were, according to conservative estimates, at least 20,000 of them, perhaps even 50,000. Beyond the fringes of this huge convocation stood the uniformed policemen, their long rattan sticks swinging like clocks’ pendulums at their sides; with them were the members of the riot squad, wearing crash helmets and carrying wicker shields.

I came on foot from the Luneta, which was as far as my taxi could go, and made straight for the Congress driveway. A cop at the foot of the driveway took one look at my hair and waved me away, pointing to the demonstrators beyond a row of white hurdles. When I pointed to the special press badge pinned to the breast pocket of my leather jacket, he eyed me suspiciously, but finally let me through the cordon sanitaire. The guard at the door of Congress was no less suspicious, on guard against intruders and infiltrators, and along the corridors it seemed that every man in uniform tightened his grip on his carbine as I passed by, and strained his eyes to read the fine print on my press badge.

The doors of the session hall were locked, presumably to prevent late entrances from disturbing the assembly listening to the President’s message. A clutch of photographers who had arrived late milled outside the session hall, talking with some men in barong Tagalog, pleading and demanding to be let in. The men in barong Tagalog shook their heads, smiled ruefully, and shrugged; they had their orders. I decided to go out and have a look at the demonstration.

Among the demonstrators it was possible to feel at ease. None of them carried guns, they didn’t stand on ceremony, and there was no need for the aura of privilege that a press badge automatically confers on its wearer. I took off the badge, pocketed it, and reflected on the pleasurable sensation that comes from being inconspicuous. It seemed awkward, absurd, to strut around with a label on a lapel proclaiming one’s identity, a feeling doubtless shared by cops who were even then surreptitiously removing their name plates. Also, I was curious. No joiner of demonstrations in my antisocial student days, I now wanted to know how it felt like to be in one, not as journalistic observer but as participant, and I wanted to find out what treatment I could expect from authority in this guise.

I found out soon enough, and the knowledge hurt.

At about half past five, the demo that had been going on for more than four hours was only beginning to warm up. The colegialas in their well-pressed uniforms were wandering off toward the Luneta, munching on pinipig crunches and dying of boredom. Priests and seminarians lingered at one edge of the crowd, probably discussing the epistemology of dissent. Behind the traffic island in the middle of Burgos Drive, in the negligible shade of the pine trees, ice cream and popsicle carts vied for attention with small tables each laden with paper and envelopes, an improvised cardboard mailbox and a sign that urged: Write Your Congressman. In this outer circle of the demo, things were relatively quiet; but in the inner circle, nearer Congress, right below the mikes, the militants were restless, clamorous, chanting their slogans, carrying the streamers that bore the names of their organizations, waving placards (made out of those controversial Japanese-made calendars the administration gave away during the campaign) that pictured the President as Hitler, the First Couple as Bonnie and Clyde.

There were two mikes, taped together; and this may sound frivolous, but I think the mikes were the immediate cause of the trouble that ensued. They were in the hands of Edgar Jopson of the National Union of Students of the Philippines, the group that had organized the rally and secured the permit for it. The NUSP dubbed its demonstration “the January 26 Movement”; its chief objective was to demand “a nonpartisan Constitutional Convention in 1971.” Demonstrations, however, are never restricted to members of the organization to which a permit has been issued. They are, according to standard practice, open to all sympathizers who care to join; and to the January 26 Movement the veterans of countless demos sent their representatives. Swelling the numbers of the dissenters were youth organizations like the Kabataang Makabayan, the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan, the Malayang Pagkakaisa ng Kabataang Pilipino, the Kilusan ng Kabataang Makati; labor groups like the National Association of Trade Unions; peasant associations like the Malayang Samahang Magsasaka.

Now, at about half past five, Jopson, who was in polo barong and sported a red armband with the inscription “J26M,” announced that the next speaker would be Gary Olivar of the SDK and of the University of the Philippines student council. Scads of demonstration leaders stood with Jopson on that raised ground with the Congress flagpole, but Olivar was at this point not to be seen among them. The mikes passed instead to Roger Arienda, the radio commentator and publisher of Bomba. Arienda may sound impressive to his radio listeners, but in person he acts like a parody of a high-school freshman delivering Mark Anthony’s funeral oration. His bombast, complete with expansive gestures, drew laughter and Bronx cheers from the militants up front, who now started chanting: “We want Gary! We want Gary!”

Arienda retreated, the chant grew louder, and someone with glasses who looked like a priest took the mikes and in a fruity, flute-thin voice pleaded for sobriety and silence. “We are all in this together,” he fluted. “We are with you. There is no need for shouting. Let us respect each other.” Or words to that effect. By this time, Olivar was visible, standing next to Jopson. It was about a quarter to six.

When Jopson got the mikes back, however, he did not pass them on to Olivar. Once more he announced: “Ang susunod na magsasalita ay si Gary Olivar.” Olivar stretched out his hand, waiting for the mikes, and the crowd resumed its chant; but Jopson after some hesitation now said: “Aawitin natin ang Bayang Magiliw.” Those seated, squatting, or sprawled on the road rose as one man. Jopson sang the first verse of the national anthem, then paused, as if to let the crowd go on from there: instead he went right on singing into the mikes, drowning out the voices of everybody else, pausing every now and then for breath or to change his pitch.

Olivar stood there with a funny expression on his face, his mouth assuming a shape that was not quite a smile, not quite a scowl. Other demonstration leaders started remonstrating with Jopson, gesturing toward the mikes, but he pointedly ignored them. He repeated his instructions to NUSP members, then started acting busy and looking preoccupied, all the while clutching the mikes to his breast. Manifestoes that had earlier been passed from hand to hand now started flying, in crumpled balls or as paper planes, toward the demonstration leaders’ perch. It was at this point that one of the militants grabbed the mikes from Jopson.

Certainly there can be no justification for the action of the militants. The NUSP leaders had every right to pack up and leave, since their permit gave them only up to six o’clock to demonstrate and they had declared their demonstration formally closed; and since it was their organization that had paid for the use of the microphones and loudspeakers, they had every right to keep these instruments ot themselves. Yet, by refusing to at least lend their mikes to the radicals, the NUSP leaders gave the impression of being too finicky; they acted like an old maid aunt determined not to surrender her Edwardian finery to a hippie niece, knowing that it would be used for more audacious purposes than she had ever intended for it. The radicals would surely demand more than a nonpartisan Constitutional Convention; they would speak of more fundamental, doubtless violent, changes; and it was precisely the prospect of violence that the NUSP feared. The quarrel over the mikes revealed the class distinctions in the demonstration: on the one hand the exclusive-school kids of the NUSP, bred in comfort, decent, respectful, and timorous; and on the other hand the public-school firebrands of groups like the KM and the SDK, familiar with privation, rowdy, irreverent, troublesome. Naturally, the nice dissenters wanted to dissociate themselves from anything that smelled disreputable, and besides the mikes belonged to them.

Now the mikes had passed to a young man, a labor union leader I had seen before, at another demonstration, whose name I do not know.

It had happened so fast Jopson was caught by surprise; the next thing he knew the mikes were no longer in his possession. This young labor union leader was a terrific speaker. He was obviously some kind of hero to the militants, for they cheered him on as he attacked the “counter-revolutionaries who want to end this demonstration,” going on from there to attack fascists and imperialists in general. By the time he was through, his audience had a new, a more insistent chant: “Rebolusyon! Rebolusyon! Rebolusyon!”

Passions were high, exacerbated by the quarrel over the mikes; and the President had the back luck of coming out of Congress at this particular instant.

WHERE THE DEMONSTRATION LEADERS STOOD, emblems of the enemy were prominently displayed: a cardboard coffin representing the death of democracy at the hands of the goonstabulary in the last elections; a cardboard crocodile, painted green, symbolizing congressmen greedy for allowances; a paper effigy of Ferdinand Marcos. When the President stepped out of Congress, the effigy was set on fire and, according to report, the coffin was pushed toward him, the crocodile hurled at him. From my position down on the street, I saw only the burning of the effigy —a singularly undramatic incident, since it took the effigy so long to catch fire. I could not even see the President and could only deduce the fact of his coming out of Congress from the commotion at the doors, the sudden radiance created by dozens of flashbulbs bursting simultaneously, and the rise in the streets of the cry: “MARcos PUPpet! MARcos PUPpet! MARcos PUPpet!”

Things got so confused at this point that I cannot honestly say which came first: the pebbles flying or the cops charging. I remember only the cops rushing down the steps of Congress, pushing aside the demonstration leaders, and jumping down to the streets, straight into the mass of demonstrators. The cops flailed away, the demonstrators scattered. The cops gave chase to anything that moved, clubbed anyone who resisted, and hauled off those they caught up with. The demonstrators who got as far as the sidewalk that led to the Muni golf links started to pick up pebbles and rocks with which they pelted the police. Very soon, placards had turned into missiles, and the sound of broken glass punctuated the yelling: soft-drink bottles were flying, too. The effigy was down on the ground, still burning.

The first scuffle was brief. By the time it was over, the President and the First Lady must have made good their escape. The cops retreated into Congress with hostages. The demonstrators re-occupied the area they had vacated in their panic. The majority of NUSP members must have been safe in their buses by then, on their way home, but the militants were still in possession of the mikes.

The militants were also in possession of the field. Probably not more than 2,000 remained on Burgos Drive —some of them just hanging around, looking on; many of them raging mad, refusing to be cowed. A small group defiantly sang the Tagalog version of the “Internationale,” no longer bothering now to hide their allegiances. Their slogan was “fight and fear not,” and they made a powerful incantation out of it: “Ma-ki-BAKA! Huwag maTAKOT!” They marched with arms linked together and faced the cops without flinching, baiting them, taunting them.

“Pulis, pulis, titi matulis!”

“Pulis, mukhang kuwarta!”

“Me mga panangga pa, o, akala mo lalaban sa giyera!”

“Takbo kayo nang takbo, baka lumiit ang tiyan n’yo!”

“Baka mangreyp pa kayo, lima-lima na’ng asawa n’yo!”

“Mano-mano lang, o!”

NOTHING MORE CLEARLY REVEALED THE DEPTHS to which the reputation of the supposed enforcers of the law has sunk than this open mocking of the cops. Annual selections of ten outstanding policemen notwithstanding, the cops are generally believed to be corrupt, venal, brutal, vicious, and zealous in their duties only when the alleged lawbreaker is neither rich nor powerful. Those who deplore the loss of respect for the law forget that respect needs to be earned, and anyone is likely to lose respect for the law who has felt the wrath of lawmen or come face to face with their greed.

The students who now hurled insults at the cops around Congress differed from the rest of their countrymen only in that they did not bother to hide their contempt or express it in bitter whispers. In at least two recent demonstrations—one at the US Embassy on the arrival of Agnew, the other at Malacañang to denounce police brutality and the rise of fascism—students had suffered at the hands of the cops, and now the students were in a rage, they were spoiling for trouble, they were in no mood for dinner-party chatter or elocution contents.

In the parliament of the streets, debate takes the form of confrontation.

While the braver radicals flung jeers at the cops in a deliberate attempt to precipitate a riotous confrontation, the rest of the demonstrators gathered in front of the Congress flagpole, listening to various speakers, though more often outshouting them. Senator Emmanuel Pelaez had come out of Congress, dapper in a dark-blue suit, and the mikes were handed over to him. Despite the mikes, his voice could hardly be heard above the din of the demonstrators. Because Pelaez spoke in English, they shouted: “Tagalog! Tagalog!” They had also made up a new chant: “Pakawalan ang hinuli! Pakawalan ang hinuli! Pakawalan ang hinuli!” Not after several minutes of furious waving from student leaders gesturing for quiet did the noise of the throng subside.

Pelaez made an appeal for peace that received an equal amount of cheers and jeers. Then he made the mistake of calling MPD Chief Gerardo Tamayo to his side. The very sight of a uniformed policeman is enough to drive demonstrators into a frenzy; his mere presence is provocation enough. The reaction to Tamayo was unequivocal, unanimous. The moment he appeared, fancy swagger stick in hand, an orgy of boos and catcalls began, sticks and stones and crumpled sheets started to fly again, and Pelaez had to let the police chief beat a hasty retreat.

With Tamayo out of sight, a little quiet descended on the crowd once more. Speeches again, and more speeches. The lull, a period of watchful waiting for the demonstrators, lasted for some time. And then, from the north, from the Maharnilad side of Congress, came the cry: “Eto na naman ang mga pulis!”

Thunder of feet, tumult of images and sounds. White smooth round crash helmets advancing like a fleet of flying saucers in the growing darkness. The tread of marching feet, the rat-tat-tat of fearful feet on the run, the shuffle of hesitant feet unable to decide whether to stand fast or flee. From loudspeakers, an angry voice: “Mga pulis! Pakiusap lang! Tahimik na kami rito! Huwag na kayong makialam!” And everywhere, a confusion of shouts: Walang tatakbo! Walang uurong! Balik! Balik! Walang mambabato! Tigil ang batuhan! Link arms, link arms! Ma-ki-BAKA! Huwag maTAKOT!

The khaki contingent broke into a run. The demonstrators fled in all directions, each man for himself. Some merely stepped aside, hugging the Congress walls, clustering around trees. The cops at this time went only after those who ran, bypassing all who stood still. Three cops cornered one demonstrator against a traffic sign and clubbed him until the signpost gave way and fell with a crash. One cop caught up with a demonstrator and grabbed him by the collar, but the demonstrator wriggled free of his shirt and made a new dash for freedom in his undershirt. One cop lost his quarry near the golf course and found himself surrounded by other demonstrators; they didn’t touch him—“. Nag-iisa’ yan, pabayaan n’yo ”—but they taunted him mercilessly. This was a Metrocom cop, not an unarmed trainee, and finding himself surrounded by laughing sneering faces, he drew his .45 in anger, his eyes flashing, his teeth bared. He kept his gun pointed to the ground, however, and the laughter and sneers continued until he backed off slowly, trying to maintain whatever remaining dignity he could muster.

The demonstrators who had fled regrouped, on the Luneta side of Congress, and with holler and whoop they charged. The cops slowly retreated before this surging mass, then ran, ran for their lives, pursued by rage, rocks, and burning placard handles. Now it was the students giving chase, exhilarated by the unexpected turnabout. The momentum of their charge, however, took them only up to the center of Burgos Drive; either there was a failure of nerve or their intention was merely to regain ground they had lost, without really charging into the very ranks of the police.

Once again, the lines of battle were as before: the students in the center, the cops at the northern end of Burgos Drive.

In the next two hours, the pattern of battle would be set. The cops would charge, the demonstrators would retreat; the demonstrators would regroup and come forward again, the cops would back off to their former position. At certain times, however, the lines of battle would shift, with the cops holding all of the area right in front of Congress and the students facing them across the street, with three areas of retreat—north toward Maharnilad, south toward the Luneta, and west toward the golf course and Intramuros. There were about seven waves of attack and retreat by both sides, each attack preceded by a tense noisy lull, during which there would be sporadic stoning, by both cops and demonstrators.

Sometime during the lull in the clashes, two fire trucks appeared in the north. They inched their way forward, flanked by the cops, and when they were near the center of Burgos Drive they trained their hoses on the scattered bonfires the students had made with their placards and manifestoes. Students who held their ground, getting wet in the weak stream, yelled: “Mahal ang tubig! Isauli n’yo na ’yan sa Nawasa!” Other demonstrators, emboldened by the lack of force of the jets of water, came forward with rocks to hurl at the fire trucks. The trucks hurriedly backed away from the barrage and soon made themselves scarce.

At one student attack, the demonstrators managed to occupy the northern portion the cops had held throughout the battle. When the cops started moving forward, from the Congress driveway where they had taken shelter, the demonstrators backed away one by one, until only three brave and foolhardy souls remained, standing fast, holding aloft, by its three poles, a streamer that carried the name of the Kabataang Makabayan. There they stood, those three, no one behind them and the cops coming toward them slowly, menacingly. Without a warning, some cops dashed forward, about ten of them, and in full view of the horrified crowd flailed away at the three who held their ground, unable to resist. The two kids holding the side poles either managed to flee or were hauled off to the legislative building to join everybody else who had the misfortune of being caught. The boy in the center crumpled to the ground and stayed there cringing, bundled up like a foetus, his legs to his chest and his arms over his head. The cops made a small tight circle around him, and then all that could be seen were the rattan sticks moving up and down and from side to side in seeming rhythm. When they were through, the cops walked away nonchalantly, leaving the boy on the ground. One cop, before leaving, gave one last aimless swing of his stick as a parting shot, hitting his target in the knees.

The cops really had it in for the Kabataang Makabayan. The fallen standard was picked up by six or seven KM boys and carried to the center of Burgos Drive, where it stood beside another streamer, held up by members of the Kilusan ng Kabataang Makati, bearing the words: “Ibagsak ang imperyalismo at piyudalismo!” When the cops made another attack and everybody in the center of Burgos Drive scattered, the KM boys again held their ground. The cops gave them so severe a beating one of the wooden poles broke in half.

I had taken shelter beneath the Kilusan ng Kabataang Makati streamer during the attack; we were left untouched. The KM boys had to abandon their streamer. One of them, limping, joined us, and when the cops had gone he asked me, probably thinking I was another KM member, to help him pick up the streamer. I thought it was the least I could do for the poor bastards, so I took hold of the broken pole and helped the KM boy carry the streamer a little closer to the Congress walls. There I stood, thinking of the awkwardness of my position, being neither demonstrator nor KM member, until a few other guys began to gather around us. I handed the broken pole to someone who nodded when I asked him if he belonged to the KM.

About this time, or sometime afterwards, Pelaez was down on the street, surrounded by aides and students all talking at the same time, complaining to him about missing nameplates and arrested comrades. He was probably still down there when the cops advanced once again. Panic spread, and I found myself running, too. In previous attacks I had merely stepped aside and watched; but I had already seen what had happened to the KM boys who refused to flee, and I had seen policemen, walking back to their lines after a futile chase, club or haul off anyone standing by who just happened to be in their way, or who seemed to have a look of gloating and triumph on their faces; and I realized it was no longer safe to remain motionless. I had completely forgotten the press badge in my pocket.

Meanwhile, it seemed that certain distinguished personages trapped inside the legislative building had grown restless and wanted to get on to their mansions or their favorite night clubs or some parties in their honor, but cars were parked up front. At any rate, some cars started moving up the driveway to pick up passengers. The sight of those long sleek limousines infuriated the demonstrators all the more; the sight of those beautiful air-conditioned limousines was like a haughty voice saying, “Let them eat cake.” Cries of “Kotse! Kotse!” were followed by “Batuhin! Batuhin!” Down the driveway came the cars, and whizz went the rocks. Some cars even had the effrontery of driving down Burgos Drive straight into the lines of the demonstrators, as though meaning to disperse them. All the cars got stoned.

One apple-green Mercedes-Benz, belonging to Senator Jose Roy, screeched to a stop when the rocks thudded on its roofs and sides. The driver got out and started picking up rocks himself, throwing them at the students. A few cops had to brave the rain of stones that ensued to save the poor driver who had only tried to defend his master’s car. The demonstrators then surged forward with sticks and stones and beat the hell out of the car, stopping only when it was a total wreck. “Sunugin!” rose the cry, but by then the cops were coming in force.

The demonstrators had hired a jeepney in which rode some of their leaders. It had two loudspeakers on its roof, was surrounded by students, and inched its way forward and backward throughout the melee. The cops, seemingly maddened by the destruction of a senator’s Model 1970 Mercedes-Benz, swooped down on the jeepney with their rattan sticks, striking out at the students who surrounded it until they fled, then venting their rage some more on those inside the jeepney who could not get out to run. The shrill screams of women inside the jeepney rent the air. The driver, bloody all over, managed to stagger out; the cops quickly grabbed him.

When the cops were through beating up the jeepney’s passengers, they backed away. Some stayed behind, trying to drag out those who were still inside the jeepney, from which came endless shrieks, sobs, curses, wails, and the sound of weeping. It was impossible to remain detached and uninvolved now, to be a spectator forever. When the screams for help became unendurable, I started to walk toward the jeepney, and was only four or five steps away when, from the other side of the jeepney, crash helmet, khaki uniform, and rattan stick came charging at me. The cop’s hands gripped his stick at both ends. “O, isa ka pa, lalapit-lapit ka pa!” he cried as he swung at me. I stepped back, feeling the wind from the swing of his stick ruffle the front of my shirt. In stepping back I lost my balance. Before I realized what had happened, I was down on my back and the cop was lunging at me, still holding his stick at both ends. I caught the middle of the stick

with my hands and, well, under the circumstances, I don’t think I can be blamed for losing my cool. “Putangnamo,” I shouted at him, “tutulong ako do’n, e!”

I jumped to my feet, dusted myself off angrily, and glared at my would-be tormentor. If my eyes had the gift of a triple whammy, he would be dust and ashes now. We stared at each other for a few seconds, but when I dropped my glance down to his breast, to see no nameplate there, he turned his back and slowly walked away. I had no intention of doing a Norman Mailer and getting arrested, so I let him go. By this time, the jeepney’s passengers had decided, screaming and swearing and sobbing all the while, to abandon their vehicle with its load of mimeographed manifestoes and various literature, and to look for a safer place from which to deliver their exhortations to their fellow demonstrators.

On two other occasions, I found myself running with the demonstrators. Once I jumped down with them to the golf course and got as far as the fence of the mini-golf range. Behind us, the cops were firing into the air. When it was the students’ turn to charge, I found my way back to the street. Another time, running along the sidewalk down rows of pine trees toward the Luneta, I saw a girl a few meters away from me stumble and fall. I stopped running, with the intention of helping her up, when whack! I felt the sting of a blow just below my belt and above my ass. When I turned around the cop was gone; he was swinging wildly as he ran and I just happened to be in the way of his rattan. The girl, too, was nowhere to be seen; there was no longer anyone to play Good Samaritan to.

As I stood there, rubbing that part of me where I was hit, I heard more screaming and curses from the golf course. A boy and two girls, who had decided to sit out the attack on a mound, had been set upon by the cops. People inside the mini-golf enclosure were yelling at the cops, shaking their golf clubs in helpless fury. “Tena, tulungan natin!” cried one demonstrator; but the cops had retreated by the time we got to the trio on the mound. The two girls were cursing through their tears; the boy was calm, consoling them in his fashion. “This is just part of the class struggle,” he said, and one girl sobbed, “I know, I know. Pero putangna nila, me araw din sila!”

IT WAS NOW EIGHT O’CLOCK. The battle of Burgos Drive was over, Burgos Drive was open to traffic once more. I decided it was time to go to the Philippine General Hospital for a change of scene. Crossing the street, on my way to Taft Avenue, I saw for the first time, on the Luneta side of the traffic island, a row of horses behind a squad of uniformed men.

At the PGH, confusion reigned. More than thirty demonstrators with bloody heads and broken wrists had been or were being treated along with three or four policemen hit by rocks. Other students kept coming, looking for companions, bringing news from the field. The battle was not over yet, they said, it had merely shifted ground. The cops were chasing demonstrators right up to Intramuros, all the way to Plaza Lawton; were even boarding jeepneys and buses to haul down demonstrators on their way home. There was a rumor that two or three students had been killed— did anyone know anything about it? (It proved to be a false alarm.) Even NUSP members were at the PGH. Some of them had called up Executive Secretary Ernesto Maceda, and he came in a long black car, mapungay eyes, slicked-down hair, newly pressed barong Tagalog, and all, accompanied by a photographer and scads of technical assistants or security men.

The next day came the post-mortems, the breast-beating, the press releases, the alibis.

“We maintain,” said MPD Deputy Chief James Barbers, “that the police acted swiftly at a particular time when the life of the President of the Republic— and that of the First Lady— was being endangered by the vicious and unscrupulous elements among the student demonstrators. One can just imagine what would have resulted had something happened to the First Lady!” Barbers did not bother to explain why the rampage continued after the President being protected had gone.

Manila Mayor Antonio J. Villegas commended Tamayo and his men for their “exemplary behavior and courage” and reportedly gave them a day off. Then he announced that Manila policemen would henceforth stay away from demonstration sites. “I’’m doing this to protect Manila policemen from unfair criticism and to avoid friction between the MPD and student groups.”

“The night of January 26,” said UP president S.P. Lopez, “must be regarded as a night of grave portent for the future of the nation. It has brought us face to face with the fundamental question: Is it still possible to transform our society by peaceful means so that the many who are poor, oppressed, sick, and ignorant may be released from their misery, by the actual operation of law and government, rather than by waiting in vain for the empty promise of ‘social justice’ in our Constitution?”

The faculty of the University of the Philippines issued a declaration denouncing “the use of brutal force by state authorities against the student demonstrators” and supporting “unqualifiedly the students’ exercise of democratic rights in their struggle for revolutionary change.” The declaration went on to say: “It is with the gravest concern that the faculty views the January 26 event as part of an emerging pattern of repression of the democratic rights of the people. This pattern is evident in the formation of paramilitary units such as the Home Defense Forces, the politicalization of the Armed Forces, the existence of private armies, foreign interference in internal security, and the use of specially trained police for purposes of suppression.”

From the Lyceum faculty came another strongly worded statement: “Above the sadism and inhumanity of the action of the police, we fear that the brutal treatment of the idealistic students has done irreparable harm to our society. For it is true that the skirmish was won by the policemen and the riot soldiers. But if we view the battle in the correct perspective of the struggle for the hearts and minds of our youth, we cannot help but realize that the senseless, brutal, and uncalled-for acts of the police have forever alienated many of our young people from our society. The police will have to realize that in winning the battles, they are losing the war for our society.”

While he deplored the “abusive language” he read in some of the demonstrators’ placards, Senator Gil J. Puyat said, “I regret the use of unnecessary force by the police when they could have used a less harmful method.”

IF the police had “kept their cool,” said Senator Benigno Aquino, there would have been no violence—“it takes two to fight.” Senator Salvador Laurel said he had witnessed “with my own eyes the reported brutalities perpetrated by a number of [police officers] upon unarmed students, some of them helpless women.” Senator Eva Kalaw warned: “The students set the emotional powderkeg that may become the signal for wave upon wave of unrest in the streets, in the factories, on the campuses, in our farms.”

“Students,” said President Ferdinand Marcos, “have a legitimate right to manifest their grievances in public and we shall support their just demands, but we do not consider violence a legitimate instrument of democratic dissent, and we expect the students to cooperate with government in making sure that their demonstrations are not marred by violence.”

Some of the students began talking of arming themselves the next time with molotov cocktails and pillboxes, of using dos-por-dos as placard handles, of wearing crash helmets. Everyone agreed that the January 26 confrontation was the longest and most violent in the history of the Philippine student movement.

And then came January 30.

Note: in an email on the Plaridel e-mail list, the author provided the following historical notes:

Maharnilad is what the Manila City Hall was called back then. Congress, not far from Maharnilad, was a single building that housed both the Senate and the House of Representatives; it now houses the National Museum.

Edgar Jopson, better known as Edjop, derided by radicals as a reformist during the First Quarter Storm, ended up in the martial-law period as a leading member of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines; he was killed in Mindanao in 1982.