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The Defiant Era
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Forty years ago, the First Quarter Storm rocked Manila, which had not seen anarchy on this scale since the Pacific War. A look back at the movement, where it failed and where it succeeded
January 30, 2010-–THE thrilling thing about the year “was that it was a time when significant segments of population all over the globe refused to be silent about the many things that were wrong with the world.” “And this gave the world a sense of hope that it has rarely had, a sense that where there is wrong, there are always people who will expose it and try to change it.”
That was Mark Kurlansky writing in his marvelous book 1968: The Year That Rocked the World. From Cuba to China to Czechoslovakia, France, Mexico, Poland and the United States, young people began to rebel against the establishment. Kurlansky believes the postwar generation was prepared to do so, ironically because of the relative security and comfort they enjoyed and their having been born after the privations and traumas of World War II. And so young people in communist countries challenged party dictatorship while their counterparts in the democratic world turned leftward to challenge the bourgeois certainties of their elders, for it was in that year, too, here in the Philippines, that an elite family celebrated a wedding anniversary with heedless ostentation.
Filipinos born after the war, who had no memory of that period or the succeeding era of the Huks, came to share the restlessness and iconoclasm of their counterparts around the world: students demonstrated against the Vietnam War (it was the year of the T?t Offensive), and for social reforms in the Catholic Church and in the schools.
In that year, Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr. published a commentary in the American publication Foreign Affairs, describing the country as “a land consecrated to democracy but run by an entrenched plutocracy. Here, too, are a people whose ambitions run high, but whose fulfillment is low and mainly restricted to the self-perpetuating elite. Here is a land of privilege and rank – a republic dedicated to equality but mired in an archaic system of caste.” Aquino was writing in response to the massacre of Lapiang Malaya ralliers on May 21, 1967. Democracy had survived the Huk rebellion; and yet, even the beneficiaries of the relative stability of the mid-Fifties to mid-Sixties left an increasingly better-educated and cosmopolitan urban middle class in discontent.
The First Quarter Storm came two years after the rest of the world was convulsed by student rebellions in 1968. By all accounts, 1969 was the year in which protesting in the style of the civil rights movement in the United States – peaceful, nonviolent, reformist – gave way to more militant protests and bluntly revolutionary aspirations among the youth, along with the flag hoisted with the red field up.
Ferdinand Marcos won an unprecedented full second term as president toward the end of that year. In those days, when presidential terms began on December 30, a newly elected president delivered his annual State of the Nation at the opening of Congress in January. In 1970, that address to Congress was scheduled on a Monday, January 26. A mere four weeks had passed since Marcos’s inaugural as the [Third] Republic’s first reelected president.
Recalling the era for The Philippine Century, an anthology of writings published in the Free Press, veteran journalist Dan Mariano writes: “Outside the Legislative Building, hundreds of moderate student activists were demonstrating to urge the government to call a constitutional convention.” Jose F. Lacaba, in “The January 26 Confrontation: A Highly Personal Account,” the first of his articles on the First Quarter Storm for this magazine, writes that student leader Edgar Jopson, who was then a moderate, had his group’s microphones kept away from radical student leader Gary Olivar, and the radicals wrangled with the moderates just as Marcos had finished his speech and was stepping out of the Legislative Building.
It was then, Mariano’s account continues, that “a paper mache crocodile (representing government corruption) and a makeshift coffin (symbolizing the death of democracy) flew” in the direction of Marcos and his wife, Imelda. “Security aides quickly hustled Marcos into his waiting limousine and sped 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 bottles, rocks and the wooden frames of their placards.”
The moderates tried to pacify by means of speeches the radicals, among them the Maoist Kabataang Makabayan. But the radicals, as Lacaba reports, were “spoiling for trouble” with the cops and were “in no mood for dinner-party chatter and elocution contests.”
From the battleground that was the vicinity of the Legislative Building on Burgos Drive, the demonstrations that now launched the First Quarter Storm moved on to the premises of Malacañang, after a relative lull of three days in which student groups still took to the streets to denounce the government. Then came Friday, January 30 – “so far the most violent night in the city’s postwar history,” as Lacaba writes in retrospect about these events.
The radicals were demonstrating again in front of the Legislative Building, as the moderates went to Malacañang for an audience with Marcos that turned into a tense confrontation. By the end of that meeting, the radicals had trooped as well to the Palace. As Lacaba reports in “And the January 30 Insurrection,” “[w]hat specific event precipitated the battle that spread out to other parts of the city, and lasted till dawn the next day, may never be known. The students who came from Congress claim that, as they were approaching J. P. Laurel Street, they heard something that sounded like firecrackers going off. When they got to Malacanang, the crowd was getting to be unruly. It was growing dark, and the lamps on the Malacanang gates had not been turned on. There was a shout of ‘Sindihan ang ilaw! Sindihan ang ilaw!’ Malacañang obliged, the lights went on, and then crash! a rock blasted out one of the lamps. One by one, the lights were put out by stones or sticks.”
Firefighters arrived at the scene, literally to extinguish the political conflagration at the Palace gates, but the hose they aimed at the protesters yielded a “sputtering spurt,” then the comical became tragic as the protesters ran after and roughed up the fleeing firefighters, then rammed the fire truck into Malacañang’s Mendiola gate. The very center of power suddenly became a tear-gassed arena, as the presidential guards at once engaged the protesters who were lobbing Molotov cocktails into the Palace grounds.
Amid the blaze of a parked vehicle that had been set on fire, the presidential guards managed to drive out the mob, and the battle shifted again to downtown Manila where, this time, not just cops, but “constabulary troopers” confronted the protesters, reports Lacaba. There were also looters among this defiant crowd, who exploited the situation, smashing shop windows and spiriting away “jewelry and shoes.” Soon enough, “the soldiers started firing with Thompsons into the ground,” the dreadful staccato intended as warning, and yet some protesters were hit by shrapnel. Lacaba himself became caught up in the frenzy of rushing some of the injured to the nearby hospitals, and it is remarkable, going by his account, that not a few residents in the area helped hide the protesters who, fleeing from their pursuers, had wandered into the maze of Manila’s dark alleys.
By dawn, the revolution of January 30 was quite over, hundreds had been arrested and an eerie, smoke-filled silence was restored in the city. But this was just the beginning of the Storm. Marcos did not immediately issue his infamous dire warnings – his threats to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and declare martial law. He still maintained that air of equanimity, as opposed to the spitefulness attributed to him since. Nevertheless this period became his transition to authoritarianism. Vice President Fernando Lopez resigned from the Cabinet the next day.
These events were chronicled by the Free Press writers in what has since been widely acclaimed as “literature in a hurry.” Lacaba’s articles for this magazine and Asia-Philippines Leader remain in print in a book titled Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage: The First Quarter Storm and Related Events, which harks back to a time when protesting in front of the US Embassy was daringly new and not the ossified ritual that such actions became since; when communism and socialism were daring new thought and not bogged down in debates over whether they’re old cant; when the established social order was besieged and a generation of Filipinos thought it was possible to push it to the wall so that it would either reform or suffer destruction through revolution.
In contrast to Lacaba’s reportage, Kerima Polotan, sympathetic to Marcos where Lacaba was brilliantly antipathetic, recounted the same events but with hardly any sympathy for Marcos’s critics, whether old or young. Instead, she wrote of those in whom the radicalism of the youth inspired not admiration but fear.
“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,” went Polotan’s “The Long Week,” published alongside Lacaba’s accounts of the January 26 and 30 riots in the Free Press of February 7, 1970. “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 passage, 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.”
Lacaba’s book recaptures the ferment, the freshness, of a period of agitation that resulted, alas, in dictatorship and in a generation robbed of their chance to lead. Yesterday’s FQS protesters are today’s middle-aged baby boomers with grown-up children of their own, often ensconced in the establishment, either in business or government. Yet the historical verdict seems clear: Lacaba’s articles have survived, Polotan’s, forgotten; youthful idealism continues to be honored; the New Society generally acknowledged to be a sham.
To read Lacaba’s book is to be able to answer a crucial question about that generation: Have yesterday’s activists-turned-today’s fat cats been able to totally jettison their radical youth, or is there something in them ingrained by that period that bears watching as they now handle the levers of power? I would argue that those FQS veterans now in high places cannot avoid a radically different outlook, with its quiet but perceptible impact on how power is wielded in the present day.
Reading eyewitness accounts of great events also points to the depressing reality that some things never change. The reactionaries remain so; the reformists stuck, too, in a rut of self-doubt; and the radicals in a time warp. And, indirectly, Lacaba’s book raises a question no one has ever been able to answer in a satisfactory manner. Did the agitation of idealistic and romantic youth in the late-Sixties and early-Seventies make dictatorship more appealing? For the shameful fact is that martial law was greeted with relief by a majority of Filipinos, at least from the upper and middle classes, who rejoiced in the curfew, in the cutting of hippie hair, not to mention the padlocking of Congress and suppression of liberties. For, if so, the Filipino may be innately reactionary – with all that such a conclusion shockingly implies.
Recalling that eventful first quarter of 1970, Dan Mariano writes, “Although the country had more roads, bridges, dams and irrigation systems than ever before, the economy had begun to nose-dive. The peso underwent a 100 percent devaluation, with the exchange rate going from P2.00 to P4.00, then P8.00. The prices of basic commodities rose out of the reach of the working population, whose wages were not allowed to keep up with inflation.”
By April that year, a general strike was held protesting against increases in oil prices and transportation costs. The next year saw the Diliman Commune, the revolt by University of the Philippines students in February. But the sign of those times was not the Diliman Commune itself, which continues to throb gloriously in the memories of FQS veterans, but a parallel effort overlooked because it’s inconvenient. As students barricaded the campus and broadcast a recording of the President’s postcoital croonings to Dovie Beams, some residents in the area banded together and hunted down the radical students in the defense of order and their property rights.
And it was Ferdinand Marcos, the last product of the American educational system, but a mutant one in that his political maturity took place during the confused, corrupt and corrupting circumstances of the Japanese Occupation, who gambled on form trumping substance. So long as the trappings of legitimacy were maintained, the upper and middle class would embrace his “Revolution from the Center” and tolerate, if not actually accept with enthusiasm, his “New Society.”
The Plaza Miranda bombing took place on August 21, 1971. Two days after, 20 people were arrested as Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus. Martial law followed a year and a month later, restoring order on the surface but fueling the already underground radical movement that Jopson himself would at last join and sacrifice his life for. Yet, when revolution finally came, it wasn’t what the young radicals dreamed of in 1970. It was an entirely different creature, what came to be known as People Power in 1986, and Velvet Revolutions elsewhere since.
Note: this essay was commissioned for The Philippine Century: 1900-2000, published by the Philippines Free Press
Memories of a martial law minor
By Charlson Ong
I was twelve when Martial Law was declared. Too young for activism but old enough to have followed Ronnie Nathanieslz’ live updates on demonstrations in Plaza Miranda over radio; to have read Pete Lacaba’s scintillating reportage on the ‘Battle of Mendiola;’ to have been fascinated by my elder brother’s accounts of teach-ins at the Ateneo and the U.P.; to be intrigued by the presence of firearms and Maoist literature at our neighbor’s bodega; and be captivated by Ninoy’s eloquent put downs of Marcos on TV.
If I were older and in college, I too might have been caught up in the romance and rage of the times, gone to the hills when the time came to choose or settled down eventually to a comfortable mid-life with memories of the ‘First Quarter Storm’ and the ‘Diliman Commune.’ As it is I must contend myself with listening to the reminiscences of the ‘veterans’ of those days, feeling oddly that I had missed out on the most exciting period in this country’s post war history by a few years and increasingly convinced that our generation had been denied its place in history, had in fact become the subject of a most comprehensive, if not cynical, social experiment.
Still, I remember Damian Sotto, large and swarthy, cursing to high heavens, spewing venom, fouling up the airwaves with his diatribes against all and sundry. His every other adjective would likely be bleeped off today’s language sensitive primetime TV. We were never clear on his politics or advocacies, it was simply fascinating to listen to an adult using such language on TV that would have earned for us kids a dressing down from parents and teachers.
There was Soc Rodrigo and his Kuro Kuro, sober and thoughtful, his Tagalog sublime. There was Ninoy, clean cut and chubby, showing us scenes from a fast growing Taiwan, saying how this country could similarly take-off once his Liberal Party assumed power. There was Eddie Ilarde on Student Canteen, Orly Mercado on Radyo Patrol, Akong on Kwentong Kutsero. There was my father staying up to the wee hours hoping to catch the x-rated flicks that communists propagandists were supposedly broadcasting clandestinely as part of their destabilization campaign. There was Yvonne centerfolded in Pic magazine, another publication whose early demise we truly mourned. There was the Quintero expose and the Jabbidah Massacre. There was Rossana Ortiz, Jessica, Saging ni Pasing all at the mini-theatre along Recto. There was Bayside, Wells Fargo, the Flame, and other joints along Roxas Blvd. where my elder siblings and uncles went to for booze, roulette and slot machines. Rock was heavy and grass was cheap. It was crass, vulgar, decadent and exciting.
And then it ended. Not at once but sudden enough to catch the best of them off guard. I remember the tension that pervaded our household. The older people cautioned against discussing politics over the phone. School was suspended indefinitely and the streets, empty. Downtown Manila became a ghost town. The world had ended while we slept through the night of Sept. 22-23, 1972.
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.
Have Rock, Will Demonstrate
By Napoleon G. Rama
“The Greater The Evils in a Society, The Harsher The Repercussions.”
March 7, 1970–NOTHING is more symbolic of the sad and uncertain state of the nation than the sight of row upon row of buildings in Manila and suburbs, windows and doors patched with plywood, like so many bandaged casualties of some violent happening.
To new arrivals there is no sight more startling, more eerie—so suggestive of dark danger lurking somewhere nearby, or imminent, invisible doom fast descending on the most noble and loyal city of Manila. The whole scenery is not without its comic effects: tall, elegant buildings propped up by marbled columns ludicrously wearing a patchwork of thin, unpainted wooden sheets, crudely and carelessly put together as if by clumsy carpenters, giving the once sleek and shiny structures the tattered look of a barong-barong. Poetic justice. The vengeance of the barong-barong, at last?
It could be a portent of the upheaval ahead—the levelling of status and conditions, the equalization of men through violence and vendetta. Or perhaps the brutalization of society.
Those steeped in the history of the nation and versed in the chemistry of the Filipino in our time can only survey with amused and knowing eye the unseemly scenario—the blending of the comical and the sublime, the solid and the sham, the silly and the sinister, hinting at the confusion and contradictions within.
Rich country, poor people; great country, small leaders—is the sum of the contrasts afflicting the nation.
Future historians will write how this nation was the first to drive away its colonizers only to become a colony of its own government run by crude and callous politicians who could not hear the tick-tock of the clock of history.
The question is not why the demonstrations, why the rumbling of revolution in the streets. Truth to tell, we have been asking for it for a long, long time. Or didn’t we know? The sins of omission and commission have over the years, over the decades, accumulated. Something simply has to give. The warning was sounded years back. But nobody paid any heed. The wonder is that violence in the streets has been rather late in coming.
The young are merely trying to do the things that their elders, by default, have left undone. Or put it another way, trying to undo the things that the leaders have done to the nation. Now we, the elders, can only weep like children over the loss of opportunities, rights and values that like men we didn’t know how to defend.
It’s too late now for bellyaching. Many complain that the demonstrations are attended by violence. What did one expect? The greater the evils in a society, the harsher the repercussions. The studentry seeks to remedy such evils. It has opted for a formula it thinks will bring results. Grandes males, grandes remedios.
In the past, peaceful demonstrations were largely ignored, both by the press and the people in the saddle. The students have merely discovered that a stone thrown here, a molotov cocktail there, plus broken glass windows and bashed-in heads, could get some results, and inspire, if not fear, nervous concern in the Establishment.
This is not to say that violent or vandalistic demonstrations are the best strategy for getting results or reforms, as things stand now. But when previous demonstrations were ignored and their politely-stated grievances remained unheeded and unheard, one could only expect the thunder and fire next time. Recall how, before the bloody rallies became a fad, a group of well-behaved demonstrators had to camp night and day for weeks at the Agrifina Circle before it could get an audience with and some concessions from administration people.
Consider the anti-congressional allowances rally years ago, which included a march on Congress and Malacañang by both students and elderly members of the Philconsa; the delegation of Bulacan fishermen, deprived of their livelihood by illegally constructed river dikes of the greedy rich and politically powerful; the delegation of tobacco farmers and traders from Ilocos Sur pleading with the President in Malacañang to stop the economic blockade in that province, and scores of other protest rallies. They were all peaceful demonstrations. Nothing came of them.
Thus, even the new violent twist to recent demonstrations was not the exclusive and original making of the students. It was the unconcern and inaction of the administration leaders that gave rise to the riotous rallies.
But the Marcos Administration should consider itself lucky that the students are still demonstrating although with some violence, and have not yet decided to go underground or found a Fidel Castro or a Che Guevarra and have not yet gone to the mountains from where they can mount a real revolution.
For the men in the saddle the situation is not hopeless as long as the students continue to demonstrate or plan rallies. It’s the best evidence that they still, in their hearts, believe, despite the noisy outbursts of the extremists among them, that it is still possible to wring reforms from the Establishment through processes within the framework of the system, and that resort to the ultimate measure—revolution—is not yet necessary.
The students are intelligent enough to know that it would be senseless to go on demonstrating if there was no hope left, or that the system and men whom they denounce are beyond formation or redemption.
But time is running out and such hope and such faith, getting fainter each day, could be extinguished by stupidity, bullheadedness and panic on the part of the Administration. It’s time for urgent action instead of pious pledges.
For one thing, the biggest single problem and handicap of the President is his credibility gap. Hence, his sworn statements and speeches will not do. A dialogue between him and the students is out of the question. But to tackle the demonstration problem he has to establish some communication with the students.
The dilemma can be solved by a presidential committee composed of the most prestigious and respected men he can find in our outside the government to represent him in the negotiations with the student leaders. The committee, it must be announced beforehand, will be invested with full powers to make decisions, act on the legitimate demands of the students and implement its decisions as quickly as possible.
They are still, in this country, men of integrity and intelligence whom the students can trust and respect. They can hold fruitful and intelligent dialogues with the demonstrators. A dialogue through press releases and speeches at Plaza Miranda won’t do. There’s a need for a face-to-face discussion of demands and grievances, of what is negotiable and what is not, a spelling out of the solutions and actions to be taken—and a truce, a ceasefire during which the agreements are implemented, a testing of the good faith of the negotiators.
Above all, the situation calls for swift, dramatic action on the part of Malacañang, not so much to meet the demands of the students as to bridge the credibility gap.
The major demands of the demonstrators include limiting the term of the President to one without reelection and iron-clad guarantees that President Marcos himself would not try for a third term or an expansion of his present term. After the unfortunate January 30 conference in Malacañang where the students had to wring out of a reluctant and sore President the pledge not to seek a third term, the students are convinced that the President will somehow rig the Constitutional Convention to secure for himself, if not a third term, an extension of his present tenure.
This is one issue that has fueled the demonstrations. More solemn abjurations and sworn affidavits by the President at this stage of the game will have little effect on the doubting Thomases. Resolute, dramatic action is what’s called for. And the President, whose powers are vaster than what are stipulated in the Constitution and the laws has few dramatic options open to him.
He could jump the gun on the students by asking Congress to approve a constitutional amendment limiting the term of the President to one starting from 1974 and disqualifying the incumbent from seeking a new or extended term.
On clearly meritorious and popular constitutional proposals like no reelection for the President, Congress need not wait for the Constitutional Convention to be constituted two years from now. Such a move would not queer the task of the Convention, for Congress has the power to amend the Constitution by a three-fourths vote of all members of both chambers voting separately.
This is what the President can do. He can see to it that Congress limit its constitutional proposals to a few non-controversial amendments, generally accepted as necessary. The Constitutional Convention can still properly undertake its task of overhauling the Constitution in 1971 and will still have the power to revise or reject amendments inserted by the present Congress.
The point here is that the sullen, restless populace may not have enough patience to wait for two years before seeing the institution of drastic reforms in the system. Swift action by the President and Congress to meet the legitimate demand for these reforms may be the formula for defusing the demonstration timebomb.
Of course the more orthodox but necessary course of action has still to be done. The President still has to institute a no-nonsense revamp of major offices of the government known for their shenanigans and venalities.
The conduct of the last elections is one of the major issues raised by the demonstrators. The President can employ the persuasive power of his office to get Congress to act quickly on the major electoral reform measures now pending in the legislative department.
It’s also time the President put his foot down on the big deals and the kickbacks about which everybody knows. He should know by this time that there’s no way of keeping certain deals secret when these involve millions of pesos of the people’s money. Like truth, the stink will out, like it or not. The Special Forces, the main instrument of terrorism in the last elections, must go, if he cannot prosecute the ringmasters. His austerity program must be implemented and made meaningful by his own example and those on the high perches of government properties such as Fort Bonifacio to finance the vital land reform program.
These are some of the necessary things that the President can do in the face of demonstrations. He is racing against time. The art is no longer matching urgent action to urgent words. The situation calls for urgent action—and more urgent action.
And the January 30 Insurrection
by Jose F. Lacaba
February 7, 1970–JANUARY 26 seemed explosive enough—but it was a whimper compared with the horrendous bang of January 30. The papers called January 26 a riot. January 30 was something else. “This is no longer a riot,” said a police officer. “This is an insurrection.” And the President called it a revolt—“a revolt by local Maoist Communists.”
January 26 was a Monday. On Tuesday the students met to plan a series of new rallies denouncing police brutality, and the President conferred with police officials. On Wednesday the President had a talk with some student leaders in Malacañang. On Thursday four groups of demonstrators, one of them led by U.P. President S. P. Lopez himself, staged simultaneous demonstrations at Malacañang, Congress, and Maharnilad. On Friday several other student groups held a sit-in outside the Malacañang gates—and just as their manifestation was about to end, all hell broke loose.
Tuesday, about 120 leaders, representing 36 schools and at least a dozen national youth organizations, gathered at the Far Eastern University. NUSP President Edgar Jopson, of the Ateneo, presided over the three-hour meeting, during which a resolution was passed demanding the resignation of certain officials of law enforcement agencies, and Friday was set as the starting date of the series of rallies. While the students were conferring at the FEU, the President was in a huddle with law enforcement officials in Malacañang. He told them to be “more tolerant to the future leaders of the country,” and ordered them to drop the charges against the students arrested on January 26.
Wednesday, Mayor Villegas announced that the Manila police would stay away from future demonstrations to avoid trouble, but that they would stand by, “within beck and call of violence erupts.” The NUSP and the National Students’ League rejected an invitation to meet with the President in Malacañang, saying they preferred to have the talks on Friday. Another group of student leaders went there anyway and heard the President say: “I personally do not want to have anything to do with the Constitutional Convention.” The Senate and the House created a committee to investigate the “root causes of demonstrations in general.” The Manila police filed complaints of alarm and scandal against 18 students caught in the battle of Burgos Drive. “The whole world is in ferment and youth is on the march,” said Brigadier General Vicente Raval of the PC. “It is essential that, in our country, we take the greatest care in dealing with the problem.” He proposed the immediate acquisition of “non-lethal equipment” for the police and urged that they be re-trained in “the highly sensitive science of dealing with demonstrators.”
Thursday, there were four groups of demonstrators. Students from the Philippine Normal College and members of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines held separate rallies. Students from the University of the East gathered first at Malacañang, then moved on to Maharnilad, where trouble was avoided when a policeman whose jeep was stoned simply drove away without a fight. When the UE students left Malacañang, the UP professors, led by S. P. Lopez, arrived and were angrily reprimanded by the President: “You yourselves are vague and confused about the issues you have raised against the government.” The President challenged any Communist in the group to a debate, and when a student leader accused him of using the army and the Special Forces in the elections, he asked: “Are you a Liberal?” Meanwhile, police reporters agreed to wear distinctive uniforms when covering demonstrations, to avoid being stoned by students and clobbered by cops.
And then it was Friday, January 30.
Again, there were simultaneous demonstrations. To Congress went members of the KM, the SDK, the MPKP, and other militant groups. The NUSP and the NSL marched on Malacañang.
At about three in the afternoon, Jopson, Portia Ilagan of the NSL, and other student leaders went into Malacañang for a meeting with the President.
Sometime past five, the rally at Congress came to an end, and the demonstrators marched on to Malacañang, arriving there at about six.
What specific event precipitated the battled that spread out to other parts of the city, and lasted till dawn the next day, may never be known. The students who came from Congress claim that, as they were approaching J. P. Laurel Street, they heard something that sounded like firecrackers going off. When they got to Malacañang, the crowd was getting to be unruly. It was growing dark, and the lamps on the Malacañang gates had not been turned on. There was a shout of “Sindihan ang ilaw! Sindihan ang ilaw!” Malacañang obliged, the lights went on, and then crash! A rock blasted out one of the lamps. One by one, the lights were put out by stones or sticks.
A commotion was now going on at the Mendiola gate of the Palace. A firetruck inside the Palace grounds advanced and trained its hoses on the student rebels. The students retreated, and a brief period of lull followed. At about seven, a truck from the Manila Fire Department, responding to an alarm, came up from Sta. Mesa, its sirens dead, and slowed down in front of St. Jude Church. The firemen probably intended to blast away at the students, but water must really be scarce. Nothing but an ineffectual, sputtering spurt came out of their water cannon. The students charged, the truck backed off—but not fast enough. The firemen who were not quick to flee got beaten up.
The rebels now had a captured firetruck at their disposal. They drove it toward the Mendiola gate and used it as a battering ram of sorts until the locks gave away, the chains broke, and the gate clanked open. Into the breach surged the more daring demonstrators. They had apparently come prepared for the assault. They lobbed molotovs and pillboxes into the Palace grounds; the flames spread down the road when the molotovs crashed to the ground, the nails and broken pieces of glass scattered when the pillboxes exploded.
Once inside the gate, the rebels stoned the buildings and set fire to the truck and to a government car that happened to be parked nearby. Before they could wreak more havoc, however, the Presidential Guard Battalion came out in force. They fired into the air and, when the rebs held their ground, fired tear gas bombs at them. The rebs retreated; the few how were slow on their feet, or were blinded by the tear gas, got caught in the Palace grounds and were beaten up with rifle butts and billy clubs and good old-fashioned fists and feet.
About this time, reinforcements from the Constabulary arrived, later to be joined by the army, the navy, and the Metrocom. The pattern of the January 26 battle was repeated: the military would attack, the students would retreat; the students would counterattack, the military would draw back. At about nine, the soldiers had gained control of Mendiola and J. P. Laurel. The students were holding Tuberias, Legarda, and Claro M. Recto; some had retreated down Arlegui and into Quiapo, where looters took advantage of the situation in the Lacson Underpass, breaking display windows and grabbing jewelry and shoes.
On Tuberias, when I got there at about nine o’clock, the students were turning away all vehicles. The soldiers were at the corner of Tuberias and Mendiola, and steadily advancing. The students held their ground, hurling rocks, until they heard the sound of rifles being cocked. Then they scattered, some jumping over high walls into the yards of houses, others being voluntarily let in by apartment inhabitants. I fell in with a small group that took shelter at the mouth of a dark alley. A boy of about 12, in slippers, obviously a resident of the place, said there was a way out if we wanted to take a chance. He guided us down the long dark winding alley, down narrow catwalks, past walls smelling of urine, past accessorias with crumbling facades, until we came out, to our surprise, on Claro M. Recto.
At the end of Recto, where it hits Legarda, the students were massed, tense, turbulent, flinging rock and insults at the men in uniform—they looked like Constabulary troopers—guarding the bridge that leads to Mendiola. In the center of the cross formed by Recto, Mendiola, and Legarda was a burning jeep, its flames a bright yellow curtain separating the combatants. From the left side of Legarda came more shouts; there were other demonstrators there, and the troopers had to guard the bridge against two armies of students, one attacking from the front, the other attacking from the side.
It was at this point, with the students closing in from Recto and Legarda, that the troopers started firing—rat-tat-tat-tat-tat, the sound of a Thompson submachine gun—into the ground. Dust and tiny pebbles exploded from the cement and, where I stood, two rows behind the front lines, I felt a sudden sharp stinging pain in my chest. I’m hit, I thought, when I saw spots of blood on my shirt front; but since I didn’t fall, I gingerly unbuttoned my shirt. Imbedded right below my right nipple was an itty-bitty piece of cement. I carefully pulled it out and was examining it like a jeweler scrutinizing some precious gem from the moon when, before my eyes, there passed a student, supported by his comrades, one of his hands—the right, I think—now nothing more than a mess of blood and burning flesh, the fingers dangling like dead worms attached to his wrist only by a few threads of broken bones.
I was standing there in horror when another student, limping, fell into my arms. I recognized him to be one of the students who had come with us through the alley from Tuberias. He had one wound on his right leg, below the knee, and another on the outer ankle bone. A bystander watching from the sidewalk helped me carry him up Claro M. Recto, where we found a white car—a Taunus, I think—whose owner was good enough to take us to the UE Memorial Hospital. There they treated my very minor wound, but they could do nothing, they said, for the boy who had been shot in the leg. We then took a taxi—the owner of the car had gone back to the battle scene, looking for some fraternity brods—and brought our ward to the Orthopedic Hospital, where, at that very moment, as bad luck would have it, a small fire was raging on one of the upper floors. The fire did something to the X-rays, and the interns had to put the wounded boy’s leg in a cast, unable to check if a bullet was in his system.
The doctors at the Orthopedic Hospital agreed to let the wounded student stay for the night, until his friends or relatives could be contacted; and the bystander who had helped me carry the boy now invited me to his apartment house in Sampaloc for coffee and conversation. It was about midnight. When we were near his place, we saw that Legarda was still in tumult. So we forgot all about the coffee and off to the battlefield we went again.
The demonstrators had captured an army truck near the market, near a PNB branch, and a noisy debate on what to do with it was going on. Some wanted to push the truck into the line of Metrocom and army men down the road, but its wheels had been punctured and this proved to be a difficult task. Others wanted to burn the truck down, and indeed someone threw a lighted match into the sheets of paper that had been dumped inside the truck. Another demonstrator, however, quickly jumped onto the truck and stomped out the fire; the houses were too close, he said, “h’wag na nating idamay ‘yong mga tao.”
While the debate continued, two more army trucks beamed their headlights on the demonstrators and started moving forward, followed by the soldiers. The students started throwing stones. Some toughies in the area who had come out to join the demonstrators used slingshots, but kept swearing under their breath because they had no stock of homemade arrows. “Metrocom!” went the shout. “Sumuko na kamo! Bato ini!” The soldiers kept advancing, and then they started firing with Thompsons into the ground. We all scattered, except for one boy who did not even flinch and called to everybody to return. “Balik kayo, balik!” he cried. “Hindi magpapaputok nang deretso ‘yan!” I don’t know what happened to him, because when another round of firing started, I found myself in another dark alley, with a new group of companions.
When I got out again, the army truck was gone, and the soldiers were back at the corner of Recto and Legarda. A long lull followed, about 30 minutes. Then the soldiers started to advance again, someone hurled a molotov cocktail at them, they charged, cocking their guns and following us right into dark alleys where, as before, the demonstrators found doors being opened to them, or people at second-floor windows warning them with gestures about the presence of soldiers in alleys the demonstrators would enter. I somehow got separated from all my companions and found myself all alone under a kulahan, sitting on damp cement. The resident of an apartment house across the alley saw me and discreetly turned off his lights.
Quiet once more. I emerged from my hiding place and walked out into a street from which I could see the church on Earnshaw. There was a small group of students clustered at the door of an accessoria, talking animatedly, and I joined them. I was listening to them relate their experiences when, at the corner of Earnshaw and this street we were in, a squad of Metrocom men appeared. Everybody fled, except myself, two students, and the occupants of the accessoria, who worriedly told us to get in if we didn’t want to get hurt. In that dark, dingy, cramped accessoria, the two students and I stayed for a whole hour, seated on the steps of very narrow stairs, gulping down glasses and glasses of water, smoking, talking in whispers—“Rebolusyon na ito, brod,” they said—until the coast was clear.
It was three o’clock in the morning when we came out. Later that morning, the papers said that four students, some of them non-demonstrators, had been killed: Feliciano Roldan of FEU, Ricardo Alcantara of UP, Fernando Catabay of MLQU, and Bernardo Tausa of Mapa High School. Almost 300 demonstrators and bystanders were arrested; most of them were detained at Camp Crame.
That night, the President appeared on television to inform the nation of the “premeditated attack on the government, an act of rebellion and subversion,” which the military had successfully repulsed. “The mob that attempted to burn Malacañang,” he said, “was not a mob of students, nor were they simply arsonists.” They waved red banners, carried the flag with the red portion up, called the streets they occupied “liberated areas,” and shouted “Dante for President!” Therefore, said the President, “these men dedicated to an evil purpose, and that is to destroy Malacañang Palace and/or take it over.” The plan to take over Malacañang, he went on, was hatched by either one or both of two groups—“one of them Communist-inspired and the other one not Communist-inspired.” Both groups were under surveillance.
To his nation, the President had a message: “Rest assured that the situation is under control. Rest assured that we will maintain peace and order. Malacañan Palace is well guarded, but more than this, the country and our government is well guarded. There is no takeover by any group of the military or of the civilian government. In the matter of the preparation of the plans of reaction against any attempt to take over this government, the action that will be taken will be well-studied, deliberate, cautious, and legal, and there will be no attempt to curtail constitutional freedom.”
To the “insurrectionary elements,” he gave warning: “Any attempt at the forcible overthrow of the government will be put down immediately. I will not tolerate nor will I allow Communists to take over.”
The same day, the nation learned that the retirement date of General Raval of the PC, which was supposed to be on February 1, had been postponed to April 1. The entire Armed Forces of the Philippines were on red alert.