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Red flags and raised fists

Red flags and raised fists

By Dan Mariano

Special to the Century Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The nightmare had begun.

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.

The outrage, September 4, 1971

The outrage

by Edward R. Kiunisala

September 4, 1971–SATURDAY, August 21, at about 9:15 p.m., barely seconds after the Liberal Party candidates for Manila’s elective posts had been officially proclaimed on jam-packed Plaza Miranda, two fragmentation, combat grenades suddenly exploded in what proved to be the most villainous, outrageous and shameful crime in the annals of local political violence. It was a night of national  tragedy and infamy as democracy—Philippine style—bared itself in all its terrifying ugliness.

For one dark, demented, damning moment of history, time stopped as tens of thousands of televiewers all over the country watched in utter horror the mass slaughter at Plaza Miranda. Miraculously, all top Opposition leaders who were there managed to cheat death. But not one of the eight LP senatorial candidates escaped injury. Sen. Jovito Salonga, as of this writing, is still fighting for his life, although the others were already pronounced “out of danger.”

Also on the critical list is Sen. Sergio Osmeña, who declined to seek reelection to pursue his electoral protest against Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Sen. Gerardo Roxas, LP president, and his wife, Judy, were badly injured.

So were Constitutional Delegate Salvador Mariño, chairman of the Manila LP chapter, and Ramon Bagatsing, LP mayoralty candidate for Manila.

LP senatorial candidates Edgar Ilarde and John Osmeña were badly wounded. Their damaged legs nearly had to be amputated. Ilarde may not be able to walk for from six months to one year while Johnny may be bedridden for about four months. Ilarde’s right leg was severely fractured while John’s leg’s artery was severed and his leg bones splintered.

Rep. Ramon Mitra, another LP senatorial aspirant, suffered multiple leg and body injuries. A splinter went through his left breast muscles, ripping off flesh. But he is now out of danger along with the rest of the LP Senate bets—Eva Estrada Kalaw, Melanio Singson, Salipada Pendatun and Genaro Magsaysay, who all suffered various degrees of injuries.

But others on Plaza Miranda that night were not so lucky. Slaughtered were nine persons, including Manila Times photographer Ben Roxas. Some were mangled beyond recognition while others were dead on arrival at the hospital. The latest count showed that 96 others were injured that night.

Ramon Vecina, Free Press photographer, was also seriously wounded in that bloody night of the LP proclamation meeting.

“I am holding President Marcos personally responsibly for the brutal and senseless carnage that took place on Plaza Miranda,” muttered the LP boss, Sen. Roxas in his hospital bed.

He continued:

“The Plaza Miranda incident has illustrated beyond doubt that there is not a safe place in the country where people may express their views without having to face the perils of assassination.

“I have only one message to leaders, followers and the electorate: Nothing will deter the LP nor dampen its determination to win the mandate of the people this election. We shall continue to fight for the right of our citizenry. I am grateful to the Almighty for those of us who were fortunate to have been spared.”

The gory incident happened so quickly no one among the victims knew what hit him. It took Manila police officers some two hours to know what went off on Plaza Miranda that night. The instant suspicion was that a bomb had been planted under the stage or had been lobbed in its direction from somewhere. Only after the grenade levers and pins were found did the authorities know the cause of the outrage.

Tragedy was farthest from the minds of the LP leaders when they ascended the Plaza Miranda stage that Black Saturday night on August 21. Of course, they were somewhat apprehensive of their safety, but such misgivings were not uncommon in public exposures in an election campaign. Sen. Benigno Aquino, Jr., LP secretary-general, Congressman Mitra and aides of Senator Osmeña had received threats over the telephone early that day, but all of them dismissed the threatening phone calls as the work of a crank.

Just the same, the LPs did not take any chances. Bagatsing sent his aides to secure the Plaza Miranda stage. Cesar Climaco, Manila’s new “garbage czar,” ordered the cleaning of Plaza Miranda that afternoon. Meanwhile, LP security officers kept an eagle eye on the stage to prevent sabotage. By about seven o’clock that night, a large crowd had already gathered on Plaza Miranda.

Former Sen. Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo was originally requested to emcee the LP proclamation meeting, but he declined, so, Mariño took over. The local candidates were given three minutes each to deliver their speeches. An oppositionist crowd applauded each speaker thunderously. At about 9:10 p.m., all the local candidates had already spoken and the National Anthem was played.

The next part of the program was the proclamation of the LP’s local candidates in Manila. Roxas stood up and approached the battery of microphones. The photographers spread out to get a good view. FP photographer Vecina moved back from the stage, about five heads away to get a vantage shot. It was a great moment for the LP local candidates as Roxas, “by virtue of the powers” vested in him as head of the Liberal Party, proclaimed the official LP candidates for Manila’s elective positions.

As the local candidates, their hands raised high, beamed and smiled and acknowledged the lusty cheers of the audience, fireworks bathed the Plaza Miranda crowd with incandescence. There was a festive atmosphere as the pyro-technics burned and crackled. The local candidates happily returned to their seat and emcee Mariño started to speak again. But before he could finish the sentence, a fist-sized solid object hit the edge of the stage. Meanwhile all eyes were glued to the fireworks display. Somewhere, someone shouted, “Ibagsak ang mga tuta ni Marcos!” Almost simultaneously, the solid object which had hit the stage went off, ripping the wooden planks and blasting the people near it. FP photographer Vecina winced and fell and was buried by falling bodies.

At that moment, Mitra, who was talking to Roxas, felt shrapnel pierce his breast muscles. Recalling the threatening phone call, he ran. John Osmeña, seated to the right of Singson, embraced Singson and they both fell behind Salonga, who remained seated. The other LP senatorial aspirants dove for the floor. Roxas tried to run; his aide jumped on him to cover him.

Before Mitra could reach the stairs of the stage, another blast came, hitting Mitra from behind, throwing him off the stage to the ground near a six-by-six vehicle. All hell broke loose. Those on the stage scampered in all directions as did those on the ground. It was survival of the fittest! The weaker ones fell and were trampled underfoot.

In a matter of seconds, Plaza Miranda was empty; except for police officers and plainclothesmen—and the wounded and the dead. John Osmeña tried to sit up but later fell on the floor unconscious. Aides and bodyguards of top LPs along with police officers rushed to the stage and carried the wounded to places of safety. Rattan chairs were stacked up in heaps to make way for vehicles which would bring the victims to the hospitals.

Senator Osmeña and Singson were rushed to the FEU hospital.

Mitra and Salonga were brought to Medical Center Manila and Roxas and his wife to Makati Medical Center.

John Osmeña and Magsaysay were rushed to the Manila Doctor’s Hospital while Ilarde was brought to the Singian Clinic.

Senator Kalaw was taken to the De Ocampo Hospital and later that night transferred to the Chinese General Hospital.

Pendatun limped his way to an ABS-CBN truck which brought him to ABM Sison Hospital.

Other wounded victims were brought to PGH and De Ocampo Hospital.

About 10 minutes after the Plaza Miranda bloodbath, Climaco arrived and brought a semblance of order. Along with the police, he helped carry wounded onlookers and the dead to waiting vehicles to take them to hospitals. Our Vecina was unearthed from a pile of blood and dying persons. Recovering consciousness, Vecina, bleeding and weakened from loss of blood, clambered back to the stage and took some more shots. Exhausted, he asked to be brought to Medical Center Manila. While there, he took pictures of some of the Plaza Miranda victims. Then he again lost consciousness and was taken to the operating room.

Back at Plaza Miranda, MPD Chief Gerardo Tamayo arrived. With Climaco, Tamayo investigated the incident, at the same time ordering his men to look for clues. He also sought the help of bomb disposal experts from the army. About an hour after the blasts, Metrocom troops came and helped in restoring order and looking for clues. An hour and forty-five minutes later, President Marcos signed the order suspending the writ of habeas corpus and blaming the Communists for the bombings.

Police investigators found two grenade pins at a distance of two and a half meters from each other, with both pins about 17 meters from the stage. Two grenade levers were also found on the plaza. Outside of the levers and pins, no other clues were found. Sometime later, however, police officers found a witness who testified that he saw a man pull out a solid object from a bag and hurl it in the direction of the stage.

Since the time-lag between the blasts was only three seconds, the police theorized that two men, not just one, threw the grenades. It is impossible for one man in a sardine-packed crowd to throw two grenades in three seconds, said Tamayo. But the police were in no position to identify the criminals. First they thought a mad man did it, later they junked the idea.

If two men committed the heinous crime, the police theorized, then it was a planned criminal act. The timing of the grenade-throwing with the display of the fireworks indicated planning. The type of the grenades used, used for combat in Vietnam, and the way the grenades were thrown showed that the criminals were professionals, doing a professional job.

Meanwhile, media men, after a round of hospitals, sped to Malacañang where they were met by the First Lady, who reportedly showed them a report of a certain disgruntled major who said that something bad was going to happen that night. At that time, the President was closeted in his study room, preparing a statement on the Plaza Miranda tragedy. Little did anyone know that Marcos was readying the ground preparatory to the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.

When pandemonium broke loose at Plaza Miranda, American Ambassador Henry Byroade was in his bedroom about to retire. His staff rang him up to inform him of the incident. Meanwhile Sen. Benigno Aquino, who had attended a party at the Jai Alai, was on the way home to get his bullet-proof vest. He was scheduled to speak at the meeting at about two o’clock the following morning. On the way home, Aquino heard the tragic news on the radio. He sped home, grabbed a pistol, put on his bullet-proof vest and a combat jacket on top of it, then told his driver to take him to the hospitals where his wounded colleagues were confined. Aquino went up the Medical Center Manila, pistol in hand. Interviewed on the air, Aquino said that he hoped the criminal or criminals behind the Plaza Miranda carnage were mad men or demented persons because otherwise the Plaza Miranda crime meant the death of democracy.

For others throughout the country, it was a sleepless night. Lights were on in many homes in Greater Manila. People stayed glued to their radio or TV sets, listening to the latest developments. Salonga and Osmeña were on the critical list, Pendatun and Eva Estrada were already pronounced out of danger. Radio reports captured the screams and agonized cries of victims in emergency wards.

Of the LP senatorial candidates, Salonga got it worst of all. He had no time to run after the first blast. The second one caught him sitting down, with the grenade going off only a few meters away. Salonga’s left cheek was shattered and a shrapnel imbedded itself in his left eye. His right arm was broken, with three of his fingers cut off. Shrapnel went through his left leg. All told, Salonga suffered some 30 wounds of various sizes and depths all over his body.

Senator Osmeña, too, was critically wounded. After the first blast, Osmeña turned around to duck, but the second blast came too soon and he suffered wounds in the back and the left arm. Shrapnel went right through Serging’s lungs. He was bleeding profusely when his aides picked him up. Upon arrival at the hospital, Osmeña’s heart stopped. The doctors had to massage his heart to revive him.

Singson, who sat beside Salonga, was lucky. When John Osmeña embraced him, he fell; John got most of the shrapnel from the grenade blast.

After the first blast, Ilarde tried to sprint for safety but the succeeding blast caught him in the leg and he fell unconscious. Mrs. Kalaw dove for the floor but shrapnel hit her right ankle and another got imbedded in her back.

Of the Manila local candidates, Councilor Ambrosio Lorenzo got it worst. The first blast came while he was on the way to his seat. The second blast hit him while he was trying to find out what hit him and he fell on the stage floor. Shrapnel saturated his body; one hit his left eye. As of this writing, Lorenzo, like Salonga, is still fighting for his life. A police major picked him up sprawled on the floor, stunned and bleeding.

Manila LP mayoralty candidate Bagatsing was hit on the left cheekbone and in the right heel. He also suffered several shrapnel wounds in his left side and back. He was under sedation for three days. His doctors have taken him off the danger list.

Other Manila local candidates were luckier—they had gone back to their seats about three rows behind when the first blast came.

National shock followed the Plaza Miranda bombings.

The question uppermost in the minds of the people was, of course: Who committed the crime?

Some blamed student activists; others, lunatics. President Marcos was quick to put up the blame on “subversives” who received “moral and material support from a foreign source, guided and directed by a well-trained, determined and ruthless group.”

Later, Marcos charged Senator Aquino with coddling and financing the “subversives.” The Marcos blast against Aquino created suspicion that Aquino might be behind the Plaza Miranda tragedy but people refused to believe in the innuendoes against Aquino. If Aquino had known what was going to happen on Plaza Miranda that night, he would surely have tipped off Senator Kalaw, who is his first-degree cousin.

In an interview, Senator Kalaw denounced the President for shifting the blame for the Plaza Miranda outrage to Aquino. The President’s move, she said, worked to deflect attention from the real perpetrators of the crime. A social work expert, Kalaw could not understand why Marcos was more concerned over shifting the blame to Aquino than looking for the real criminals. The President’s actuations, said Kalaw, were simply not fitting for the President, who should act as the father of the nation and not like Marcos.

Former Congressman Singson argued against the possibility that the Huks or the New People’s Army was behind the Plaza Miranda massacre. The revolutionaries, he said, anchor their hope of reforms on the Opposition. If they wiped out the Opposition, they would be doing a disservice to their cause. It just doesn’t stand to reason!

But whoever are the perpetrators of the horrible crime at Plaza Miranda, they have done a professional job. Which means that an intelligent mind was behind it. Climaco theorizes that two trained teams undertook the Plaza Miranda bombings. The two grenade throwers, he said, were encircled by their accomplices to give them elbow room to hurl the grenades. In other words, he said, the Plaza Miranda crime was the result of a team effort.

As of this writing, the Manila police are still in the dark as to identities of the Plaza Miranda criminals. But whoever and wherever they are now, the death of nine innocent persons and the injury to 96 others will haunt their conscience for as long as they live—if they have any conscience at all. They not only killed nine of their countrymen and wounded close to a hundred others, but also inflicted an irreparable injury on Philippine democracy.

It will take a long time before Plaza Miranda, the symbol of free expression, will be as it used to be. No one will ascend the Plaza Miranda stage again without fearing for his life. How much of the militancy, the courage, the national pride and the spirit of the Filipino people have gone that Black Saturday at Plaza Miranda?

The Long Week, February 7, 1970

The Long Week

By Kerima Polotan

Bombs, Guns, Stones—Violence, Hate, Death.

1.

February 7, 1970WHEN THE WEEK began, it seemed to hold no surprises. The country had seen how many Congresses open before and except for a mugginess in the afternoon, rare in January, the Seventh held no special portents. The young had, of course, taken over the streets and were on Ayala Street, thrusting leaflets at passerby: An Appeal for a Non-Partisan Constitutional Convention. All week the week before, they’d been pretty busy, demonstrating in front of Malacañang. A particularly “militant” group had roughed up an army sergeant moonlighting as a photographer; they had peppered the air with elegant language, the accepted idiom of student activism, amplified many decibels with the aid of loudspeakers, language like: Putang ina mo! Ikaw Marcos, bumaba ka rito, napakayabang mo, 27 ang medalya mo, halika nga dito at tignan natin ang galing mo! I am from Cabiao, kung talagang matapang ka, bumaba ka rito at papatayin ka namin! x x x

Bukas, ang aabutin mo rito kung akala mo ay minura ka na, ay hindi pa namin naaabot ang pagmumura sa iyo. Mumurahin ka namin ng gabi. Putang ina mo x x x Putang ina ninyong mga Americans kayo, sino ang pupuntahan ninyo diyan, ang demonyong Presidente namin? ‘Yang gagong Pangulo namin diyan, bakit ninyo pupuntahan, gago naman iyan?

True to their word, they had frothed umaga, tanghali, at gabi, heroically cursing Mr. Marcos to his face, in the house where he lived, shocking even the hardened veterans of the Presidential Guard Battalion, but now in the afternoon sun, their young, clear faces turned Congressward, they seemed indeed, ten deep, and miles and miles of them, the hope of the fatherland.

Inside Congress, however, the familiar peremptoriness of security guards greeted guests—even the most inoffensive looking specimen got thoroughly sniffed at from head to foot and if you didn’t smell at all as if you had legitimate business on the premises, you were quickly waved off to a side door where khaki’d arms blocked the way. You thrust a press card and the guard’s sangfroid remained undented—one prepared, therefore, to offer a fistful of identification papers: credit card, driver’s license, insurance bill, plumber’s reminder, grocery list, beauty parlor receipt, but remembering from somewhere that occasionally a double whammy worked, one fixed the fellow with a look: left eye shut, right eye open, and then a whisper: Tsip, puede ba?

It worked, and one was suddenly inside, to one’s utter disappointment. One had not fought one’s way through to stand guard over a half empty hall, along with half a hundred TV cameras, and the minor functionaries of this Republic, the second officials, the junior assistants, who strutted and poked and pointed—“Mahina ang audio!”—but there were compensations. Eduardo Cojuangco, the husband of Gretchen Oppen, was there, in expensive barong; and so was Joe Aspiras, the ex-press secretary, in barong; and also Joe de Venecia, whom the papers called a Marcos Liberal, who had just shed (again according to the papers) an old love and acquired a new one, in coat and tie; a dear friend from Dumaguete: Herminio (Minion) Teves, the younger twin of Lorence, in coat and tie; Rafael Aquino, the Sorsogueño from Butuan City, in coat and tie. All brand new diputados, eager to be of service to the country, but already practised in the art (and craft) of winning people and influencing friends. You could tell—they strode as though they belonged (and did they not?), crossed their legs, scratched their colleagues’ back, held languid cigarettes, laughed their rich solid laugh. But no Rufino Antonio, poor man, with all his troubles—he should have stuck to selling motorcycles. However, with Antonio not there, was Roquito far behind? One glimpsed through a clump of faces, the Northern congressman, short, dark, chubby, smiling a genuine Ilocano smile, winning, irresistible, the kind where the charm comes straight from the solar plexus. You could see where Special Forces was written all over him.

The old-timers were drifting in—Pablo Roman, who owns Bataan; Fermin Caram, who owns Filipinas; Ramon Mitra, who doesn’t own Palawan (yet), but does have a pair of sideburns reaching down to his knees and the start of a gross look; Carmelo Barbero, Carlos Imperial, Floring Crisologo, Constantino Navarro. On this side, the Supreme Court Justices, in black robes; across the floor from them, the cabinet: Carlos P. Romulo, Juan Ponce Enrile, Franciso Tatad, Gregorio Feliciano, Leonides Virata, and Manang Pacita, wearing her hair shoulder-length, dressed in a bright Bonnie frock. Beside the cabinet, the lady justices of the court of Appeals; Cecilia Muñoz Palma, in a green terno, and that stalwart of the legal profession, Lourdes San Diego, who is said to know her law like some women know their beauty ritual, in a wine colored terno.

Where one sat, craning behind the backs of security, one was hemmed in, on the right, by TV announcers—“our very own Henry Halasan” in an off-white suit, demure and dimpled—and, on the left, by the military (the navy, the army, the air force) all in white duck. An attractive woman in a brief checkered dress desired to hurdle the railing that separated her from the military and one gallant junior aide extended a strong arm. She stood on a chair and lifted a leg and one could hear the military gasp in delight; my, my! If only all the subversives in the country had thighs like those—but after a while, the lady began to prove a nuisance, because she desired once more to return to the floor, and so executed that Open Sesame exercise and then once more, back with the military; and so on, three or four times, like a see-saw, and by then, the TV announcers’ Adam’s apples were bobbing up and down, and the junior aides were beginning to weary of her dance.

Then the Senators—Roy, Sumulong, Pelaez, Aytona, Tañada, Laurel, Padilla, Puyat, Eva Kalaw, feminine every inch of her, who walked in like Isadora Duncan, in a blue terno, but instead of wearing the panuelo across her shoulders, she’d wrapped it around her neck, and, voila! it was a scarf. However, the most beautiful neck on the floor that afternoon belonged to the Senadora from Laguna, Mme. Helena Benitez, the great and good friend of the Filipinescas dance troupe, who works very hard to get them their dollars and their accreditation; such a good sport, every chance she gets, she puts in a good word for them, they ought to make her muse or something.

One neck that looked different was Father Ortiz’s, buttoned high like a proper cleric’s, and if one hadn’t known him from previous invocations, you’d mistake him for chairman of the board of some multi-million peso mining corporation. All that eloquent talk of revolution has not affected the good and comfortable lives that many priests live. One remembered Father Ortiz from the NP convention of ‘67—he wasn’t Rector then—when he had also read a stirring invocation. He was to repeat his warning here, this afternoon, but in stronger words: “Our unsafe streets,” he said, prompting a Church non-lover to ask: if our streets are unsafe, how’d he get here? A people awaited redress, the young wanted change, the Rector said, an entire country trembled on the edge of revolution, the priest went on, but one thought, skeptic as usual, there were many voices today telling Government what was wrong with it, how many were telling the Church what was wrong with her?

Lift your seat, Mother, and look beneath the holy ass with which you’ve sat heavily on Property and Privilege for centuries, your banks, your estates, your tax-free schools—in the town where one comes from, the bishop owns a department store, a printing press, a tailoring shop, a pawnshop that preys especially on students, but daily, like the Pharisee, he bestows the blessings of Rome on a populace that sniggers behind his back because ten years ago, his family could barely eat in the province where he was born, but when he became bishop, he transported his entire clan to his diocese, and now each is propertied and privileged. Dialogue and keeping one’s cool being the fashion these days, one confesses an instinctive distrust of many fashions, including the fashion of thinking the Church can ever be revolutionary; confesses, further, to a habit of equating all the Church says with what one knows about it, personally; knows with one’s blood and mind: the Church flashes a shibboleth and you think you can grasp it and fight the evils of the world with it? The Irish father who talks endlessly of social justice likes to eat and drink well, and rides only with the rich of his town. That luckless priest who led a strike two years ago in the South is out of a job and out of a reputation, and is teaching in a diploma mill in Manila because his superiors chased him out of the province: what sayeth the Church to this?

The leaders of the Christian Social Movement live in low cost housing villages like Bel Air and Urdaneta; they speak to their servants in Tagalog; to their children in English, among themselves in Spanish—when their wives go to market, they say Espera to the fish vendor: these will lead a revolution? The Church reminds one of a greedy old whore, and like a greedy old whore, she won’t get off her back, even with the house next door already afire, because a couple of visitors are still in the parlor jingling their money, and she must have that too before she takes off.

THE HOUR WAS late, Father Ortiz said, and how right he was, for here came now the ladies of the congressmen and their senators. Most favored was the terno, no one was in pantsuit, and muted colors predominated. Was that a diamond that sparkled on a breast? Impossible to tell from the distance, but by their chins and their humps your could identify them: Mesdames Lopez, Puyat, Aldeguer, Roy—and Virginia Veloso who sat in the last seat, front row, two arm’s lengths away from Imelda Marcos, exactly as they had sat together in class 20 years ago in Tacloban, when Mrs. Veloso had been the darling of the social swirl and Mrs. Marcos had partly paid her way through school working in the library.

Flanked by Senator Puyat and Speaker Laurel, both suited, Mr. Marcos stood on the rostrum, in a barong. He looked rested. He bowed to the Supreme Court, he looked up at the klieg lights, he glanced at his watch. He’d worked his way from the front door to the rostrum, shaking hands, murmuring greetings—the amenities. One after the other, the two gavels banged: “For my part, I declare the House open for the session,” said Speaker Laurel, an old sad man with long white hair who must now live with the memory of a Bicol hill and a dead son. “For my part,” rasped Senate President Puyat, “I declare the Senate open for the session,” then the invocation that would have the editorial writers the next day tripping over each other, praising it, but meaningless to this one citizen until the Church gives up its pawnshops. And finally, Mr. Marcos’s quick descent to the microphones three steps below and the State-of-the-Nation address that would all but be forgotten in the terror with which that long week ended…

Thirty-five minutes he spoke, forty, if you counted the applause before and after, to a hall that had been fuller in previous years. But the persistent talk of assassination had finally worked its poison, and the overzealous guards had kept out more people than they should have. Some nuns there were in the mezzanine, their arms folded, looking quietly at Mr. Marcos; a row of impassive-faced diplomats sat below, among them the Honorable Mr. Addis whose garage the students had burned down a couple of years ago; and no more than half a hundred citizens—non-military, non-political, non-official—brown, sober, thoughtful, scattered through the hall.

While Mr. Marcos and his retinue walked out of the hall, to their fateful encounter with the papier mache crocodile and the cardboard coffin, the reporters on the floor swarmed all over the Opposition, cornering Senators Salonga, Aquino, and Roxas, who dutifully cleared their throats and gave their verdicts. Aquino said it for the trio—“Mr. Marcos should have addressed his speech to his cronies.” One watched them, holding the reporters at bay, recoiling every now and then from a too obtrusive microphone—Senators Salonga is a fine man and a good Christian; he has a sharp mind, people think; is a legal luminary, and if all that means, does he offer you a cup of coffee when you call on him, he certainly does. In the privacy of his office, he sounds almost like an old friend and you can put your guard down, but not quite all the way down, because the warning bell in the back of your mind doesn’t quite stop ringing. Why is that? It’s probably the smile. Most people smile with eyes and lips together, and so, indeed, does the senator from Rizal, but not all the time. Often, he smiles only with his lips, and his eyes take on a waiting, wary look, and when that happens, it leaves the onlooker disquieted.

As for Ninoy Aquino, he looked as if he’d recovered completely from Caroline Kennedy’s devastating character sketch of him—walkie-talkie in the swimming pool. Now he shifted his roly-poly body from one foot to the other; he scratched his ear, he inclined his head, he tucked his hands beneath his armpits. Such a checkered, meteoric career Ninoy’s has been—at 17, youngest correspondent in the Korean War; at 19, Southeast Asian expert, even if much of what he turned out was, according to some, a rehash of other experts’ books. And then in rapid succession, mayor, governor, senator, and, who knows? In ’73, if the stars are kind and the cards are gentle, President? Some people are appalled at the possibility of a boy President, but why not? If the children have taken over the streets with their stones and their clubs and their gasoline-soaked rags, why not Ninoy in the study room, whittling a slingshot? Perhaps, it’s because there will always be something underdone about Ninoy—ambition or insight or judgment—something that skipped the slow, natural process of ripening (Kung baga sa mangga, kinarburo).

And that shaggy-maned Capiz senator, Gerardo Roxas, who has stopped at last talking of his illustrious father—now, he shook his head, and his thick crop of graying hair threatened to fall, but didn’t. “No controls?” said he, who had miraculously escaped an “assassination” attempt in Capiz last November. “Ask the travellers, the students abroad, or the banks.” He would take to the air later that night, at 9, in this continuing comedy skit of Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo, to deplore with much tongue-clacking, the violence outside Congress—“…The first President,” intoned Senator Roxas with ill-concealed glee, “to be stoned in the history of this country.” Well, better that, Senator Sir, than to be spoken of now as “…the first President in the history of this country to sign away Philippine patrimony,” or to be known as the son of such a President; better a stone on the head than the memory of such a treachery, and then to revel in that singular betrayal and make political capital out of it.

ONE EMERGED TO find confusion outside. The President and his wife had sped away—“Binato si Marcos!” and the crowd milled in the lobby. A Congress employee manfully paged cars through the loudspeaker, but the system was not working, and no cars came. The sky was dark; there was the smell of smoke, the ominous ascent of embers; the Congress flag flew at half-mast for Salud Pareño of Leyte. Who was the enemy and who, the friend, was not clear at all. Below, the students hooted. Upstairs, the helmeted police waved and pushed. All stood in the lobby, milling around like so many aging cattle: come and go, duck and dart. One crossed the driveway to the embankment overlooking the fray, there was some running, some stoning, some swinging of clubs, and then a flurry behind us, and we turned to follow two policemen, one of them with a profusely bleeding mouth, dragging a pale and frightened boy in a brown T-shirt. The police would bring them all up, those they’d caught, seat them briefly in the corridor, and then disappear with their catch somewhere, while one alternated between lobby and embankment, driven from one to the other by confusion, and then curiosity. The approach to the driveway was guarded by soldiers (you could tell by their long guns and their silence), but the center was a melee of cop, Metrocom, congressman, and onlooker.

“Do you have a child below?” asked a cop from the shadows. “Because if you don’t have any,” he said, “go home.” No, was one’s certainly reply, and felt a vague, grateful stirring where one had nourished ten of them.

Right or wrong, one had kept one’s children off the streets all their lives, a canon, one had warned them clearly, they were not to break while they lived under one’s roof. They went to school and then came home. They had duties and chores, and tonight, while the police chased some other mothers’ children down below, one’s own young were at home getting supper for the small ones, washing the dishes, and locking up the kitchen before turning to their books—altogether not a popular kind of activism, not any kind of activism at all, not modern, but one’s personal, though passe, idea of parenthood. Parents surrender quickly these days and pay for their easy abdication with the broken skulls of their sons and the crushed legs of their daughters.

2.

AT FIVE P.M. the following Thursday, one sat in a roomful of police officers, listening to them recount their own version of Monday’s affray. There were colonels, majors, captains; police, PC, Metrocom—aging men with thinning hair and heavy paunches, looking (for a change) like what they (perhaps) really were: fathers.

“I have a son at Araneta U and I was afraid he was there,” said someone. Senator Pelaez’s name came up and another snorted audibly: “That guy,” he said. “He stood there, waving his hands, pacifying the crowd, saying ‘Stop it! Stop it! We’re here to protect you! Go ahead and demonstrate!’ Binato ikamo, pati siya nag-cover.

The force that secured Congress January 26 was called Task Force Payapa and was under the command of Colonel Jasmin, assisted by Major Izon. It consisted of an indeterminate number of PC soldiers, Metrocom troops, a Marine complement, and firemen, but on the shoulders principally of MPD’s Colonel Gerardo Tamayo fell the job of policing the rally. “I fielded only 270 men, 30 of them anti-riot,” Tamayo said, and everything was going on peacefully, until the Kabataang Makabayan ng Makati, arrived. They marched in singing, driving a wedge through the crowd and moved up to where the convent girls were, right up front. Earlier, the police had given the students two concessions they’d asked for, according to one colonel—the demonstrators had resented the two loudspeakers broadcasting the proceedings from inside Congress and now desired that the offending amplifiers be turned off. “This was done.” They also asked permission to use what one PC officer, reconstructing the evening, kept calling the “foyer” but was probably the elevated platform just below the flagpole, beneath the embankment, but whatever it was, permission was given and the students moved nearer the driveway.

Luis Taruc spoke and was, thank God, booed. Roger Arrienda, the only “revolutionist” who wears diamonds on his fingers and holds rather noisy court at Front Page Restaurant, spoke, and was booed. There was a squabble over the demonstrator’s microphone. Edgar Jopson of the NUSP was sending his rallyists home but Gary Olivar of the U.P. wanted to speak, and then—Colonel James Barbers picks up the story—“at exactly 5:55 p.m., the President came out, with the First Lady.” They booed him, but Mr. Marcos reportedly smiled: “Kumaway pa,” says Barbers.

You could feel the restless current up front—hands tossed (that’s the word the police use) this cardboard coffin, “but you know how the security is, there could have been a bomb inside, and so we tossed it right back. It returned; we tossed it back, like volleyball, you know. Then, the crocodile.” When Barbers heard the first stones, he pushed the President inside the car so hard Mr. Marcos hit his head and came up with a bump (“Police brutality! Someone laughs), but the President pushed his way out again because “we had forgotten Imelda” who stood outside protected by now by someone called Big Boy. (Big Boy would get a pop bottle in the face.) Colonel Fabian Ver’s men gave the Marcoses “body cover” and the car rolled away.

Did Tamayo, at this point, order his men to charge the youngsters? A Manila Times employee insists he did—“Rush them!” or words to that effect, Tamayo’s supposed to have said—but Tamayo says he didn’t. What he ordered his cops to do was to arrest those who had breached the peace. “Look,” Tamayo explains, “they were throwing stones, bottles, and clubs—would you like a picture of one cop who lost four teeth, and a picture of another cop who had to have ten stitches in the head, and a picture of another cop who got a nail in his knee?” The police say the troublemakers—“extremists”—came prepared; they had brought stones, the kind you buy at rock gardens; and clubs, dos por cuatro, nailed together. When the melee started, the police say, the boys ripped the clubs apart, and they had a lethal weapon, a sturdy dos por dos topped by a vicious nail. “On the other hand, our truncheons are made of rattan.” All right, but did they beat up even the girls? Not true, the police say, those girls are trained to be hysterical at the approach of a policeman, to drop to the ground and scream “Brutality!” at the top of their voices. And the missing nameplates? “Torn off by the students themselves,” someone declares with a very, very straight face. “Those extremists moved according to plan,” says Barbers who opens a book, Riots, Revolts, and Insurrections by Raymond Momboisse, and proceeds to read aloud a few pertinent quotes: The professional agitators use children, women, and old people (in Monday’s affray, two old veterans) to embarrass the police. Their aim is to cause bloodshed, it doesn’t matter whose; “to manufacture martyrs,” to gain a cause celebre, to precondition the public mind about police brutality. If there are police horses, they stick them with pins, or roll marbles under their feet, or slash away with razors.

How about police brutality? The TV showed them clearly beating up the fallen… A police officer says, “The trouble with these TV people is they like to position themselves behind police lines—they run when we run. Why don’t they station themselves behind the KM and shoot their footage from there?”

“Did you notice the demonstrators had more cameras on their side than the legitimate press had?” asks a police officer. “How quickly they spread the rumor that three students had been killed, and one body was at the NBI, being autopsied!” When someone raised a clenched fist, the stoning began. “Their technique is getting better and better. Even that tight romantic embrace the girls give the boys when they’re about to be arrested is part of their technique.” Some rookies “perhaps” got carried away, admitted an officer, but this was no tea party, as the long bloody hours of Friday subsequently proved.

Meanwhile, as the police reviewed their “facts” Salvador P. Lopez was being roundly scolded by Mr. Marcos in the Palace. Tuesday, he had called his faculty together to pass a resolution condemning police brutality; holding the Administration responsible for Monday’s labo-labo; and decrying the growing pattern of Fascist oppression in the country. Then, he decreed a certain per cent of their month’s salary be put into a common fund to help the students—totally unnecessary, according to a later clarification, because the University has a regular fund that provides for this—and after telling his faculty “I want a 100% attendance tomorrow,” adjourned the meeting. Wednesday’s papers carried pictures of Lopez being cheered on the steps of the U.P. for joining the students’ noble cause, but as anyone who has heard of Lopez from his Herald days could have foretold, the denouement of this episode was quite a surprise.

Putting together everything that columnists and U.P. activists themselves said afterwards, Lopez didn’t exactly approach the altar of student militancy with, beg pardon, clean hands. He saw in Monday’s mauling a chance to throw a smokescreen over his own not-so-little troubles at the U.P., among them, a brewing rebellion of some faculty who thought his policies oppressive and wanted “democratization”—whatever that means in Diliman; his pay had also just been raised to P48,000 (he says without his intervention) amidst loud yelps from his underpaid employees; and—this is a beaut—Lopez wasn’t exactly the favorite anito of the campus radicals. They distrusted him, in fact, and as one student leader, speaking over the radio hours after Friday’s terror, put it: “He was like a Pontius Pilate (in the Palace), washing his hands of us when Marcos began berating him! Of those who went to see Marcos, we know who are really for us, and who aren’t.”

So Lopez and his safari went to the Palace, Thursday afternoon, hiring buses which they left at Agrifina Circle, walking from there to Malacañang, in buri hats, umbrellas, and scarves, taking care to give their better side to the camera—Lopez was always getting snapped doing something momentous, his broad face turned symbolically somewhere, that mouth open, his large hands spread, but, you see, he’d been taught all the tricks of success by a master, the great CPR himself, whose ashtrays he had probably fetched in his Herald and UN days, and he’d learned the fine art of accommodation. He was against whoever had just turned his back, and was for whoever faced him at the moment, and when he walked into Mr. Marcos who asked, first, if the resolution was the best the U.P., known for its proficiency in English, could master (“This reads like a student resolution!”); second, if in condemning police brutality, Lopez had all the facts?); and third, in “holding the Administration responsible for the pattern of repression and the violation of rights,” wasn’t Lopez making “a general gunshot accusation”?

If Lopez had been sincerely convinced about the justice of his cause, he would have stayed firm, wouldn’t he, now, but having patently espoused the students’ cause out of convenience, Lopez, again out of convenience, began to backtrack. He apologized to Mr. Marcos for the wording of the resolution and said it was not possible to “include all the specific issues”; moreover, it was not a resolution of accusation, Lopez now said, but “a declaration of concern.”

Lopez would have only one ally among the columnists in the next few days. Amando Doronila—who is not really as churlish as he sounds. If you took his column away, Mr. Doronila could still earn a living, assisting at Mass or lecturing on The Verities or chopping off the hands of those who pick their noses in public. The fact that Mr. Doronila alone saw in Lopez’s embarrassing docility the equivalent of an intellectual Tirad Pass or Custer’s Last Stand is not enough basis for concluding they’re two of a kind. Lopez, like a man who has worked hard all his life, looks forward only to retirement and a regular paycheck in the sunset of his life. Mr. Doronila, however, desires, above all, to die at the stake, sunset or sunrise, it doesn’t matter, for a belief he holds dear: the Doronila Monomania, part of the messianic syndrome, — a self-righteousness that makes you want to puke; the conviction that he alone is right all the time (isn’t Mrs. D. — ever?).

One recalls that curve one threw him about the word media, and the flurry with which he tried to hit it. Dr. Doronila, who likes to make these very important pronouncements above government, foreign affairs, economics, juvenile delinquency, the stock exchange, the penal system, democracy and similar topics, obviously didn’t know what hole media had crawled out of; probably thought it was Greek, as in Jason and Media (sic), and most Greeks may wear skirts but they’re not plural beneath, if you know what we mean. One’s concern for Dr. Doronila is such that one must warn him about bad grammar: it’s like bad breath, no one tells you about it, not even your best friend.

3.

THE CLIMAX of that long week came Friday, January 30, the inevitable finis to endless days of obscenity, ranting, and clubbing, but this time, the Putang ina mos came out of the barrels of guns, crackled above the sound of fire and breaking glass, exploded in the thud of truncheon against flesh.

The trouble erupted at 6:15 p.m., just as Edgar Jopson of the NUSP, and Portia Ilagan of the NSL, were leaving the Palace front door. Since 3:30 that afternoon, they had been closeted with Mr. Marcos in a dialogue, during which they had repeatedly demanded that Mr. Marcos put down in writing his pledge not to seek a third term. According to eyewitnesses, Mr. Jopson was particularly insolent, elementary courtesy obviously not being part of the standard equipment in the activist’s kit.

(In one’s youth, when you used obscenity, you washed your mouth with soap and water afterwards, but you can see how liberated the take-over generation is today: “All right ‘yan, brod, basta’t for the country, putang ina nating lahat!”)

Jopson and Ilagan had promised Mr. Marcos there would be no violence because the demonstrators had marshals to police the students, they said (they had demanded that the police—a few traffic cops—and the PGB be withdrawn), but in the lobby of the Palace what should greet the two but—irony, irony—the sound of bulbs breaking; and above the ominous rumble of running feet, the noise of exploding glass, rose the familiar obscenity of their fellow revolutionaries: Hoy, Jopson, putang ina mo, lumabas ka rito at tingnan natin kung ano ang mangyayari sa iyo!

By then, their brothers in militancy were ramming Gate 4 open with a commandeered fire truck whose driver they had first mauled. They set fire to another parked car inside the gate. They threw Molotov cocktails, pillbox bombs, and stoned the windows of the Malacañang clinic.

Back at the Palace front door, continues this eyewitness, “Jopson and Ilagan looked suddenly sick, like two kids who’d bitten off more than they could chew. The Palace grounds were dark, and at first, we thought they didn’t want to walk back to their friends because of the darkness. Colonel Ver offered to light their way with the headlights of his jeep. Jopson nervously refused.” This boy who, for hours, had ranted in the study room, talking to Mr. Marcos as though Mr. Marcos were his houseboy; who’d gestured floridly like some latter-day Napoleon dictating surrender terms to a beaten foe at Austerlitz-on-thePasig, would not walk, alone, in the dark, to his friends. His courage stopped short of that one simple act.

Hadn’t they, Wednesday that week, flaunted a sign outside Gate 3: “We too can suffer, we too can die”? Ah, yes, but not in the dark, and not alone, and not without the cameras. They clung like children to the very people their group had cursed without letup—accompanied by one PGB captain and a security man, Jopson and Ilagan were ferried across the river and seen safely out of Malacañang Park.

Before the wild night was ended, four students lay dead, innocent bystanders all, and four mothers weep today. Over a hundred were in hospitals, injured; and three hundred more, detained at the MPD and in Camp Crame. Most of the casualties fell in the see-sawing battled for Mendiola bridge. Driven from there, the demonstrators had retreated to old Azcarraga, in front of a Nawasa branch office. There, they set a Yujuico bus on fire and sent it rolling towards Mendiola bridge. They set fire to parked jeeps and cars, Meralco posts; upturning Yeba’s iron railings; Yeba who had said Thursday, his great big beautiful eyes mesmerizing his audience, that woman’s mouth of his pouting now and then, that he would lead the police, and the strategy they would employ would be one of “containment.”

Hours and hours later, the radio broadcast an appeal of two U.P. student leaders for food, for money, for help. They’d been set upon, one said, clubbed and shot and arrested. The Metrocom had blocked all exits in Sampaloc, in Quiapo, in España, and picked up, willy-nilly, all those they fancied, but kind people, people who sympathized with the revolution, had put up many students in their own houses, fed and bedded them—one reproduces here, as well as one can remember, that appeal, because two things about it disquieted the listeners: the U.P. student sounded too much like a parrot, sticking to just one jargon, and for one who would bring about a better world, he reasoned with a child’s petulance: Mga kababayan, kami po ay nangangailangan ng tulong n’yo, no, pagkain, o pera, no, pakidala lang ninyo sa U.P. Student Council, Diliman, no, at matatanggap namin iyan, no. Kailangan po natin ibagsak ‘yang Pascistang si Marcos, no, kami mga anak ninyo na binugbog, binaril, no, ng mga kawal ng Pascistang si Marcos, no. Magsamasama tayong lahat, no, magkaisaisa tayo, no, para sa bayan, para sa demokrasya, no.

And the violence?

Papano, sa ganyang demonstration talagang mayroong mga maiinit ang ulo, no, pagod na pagod na kami sa mga broken promises ni Marcos, no, totoo nga, namato ang ilan sa amin, no, nagsusunog ng kaunti, nagpaputok ng rebentador, no, ngunit ang lahat ba namang iyan ay sapat na upang kami ay bugbugin, sipain, barilin, at arestohin?

They’d stoned a little, burned a little.

Sow a little anarchy—reap a little death, and death (big or little or medium-sized) is always, alas, for real.

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.