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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.
“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 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 Presidents 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 didnt 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 ones 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 Anthonys 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 oclock 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 nyo!
Baka mangreyp pa kayo, lima-lima nang asawa nyo!
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 demonstrationsone at the US Embassy on the arrival of Agnew, the other at Malacañang to denounce police brutality and the rise of fascismstudents 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 didnt touch him. Nag-iisa yan, pabayaan nyo 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 retreatnorth 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 nyo 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 masters 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 senators 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 jeepneys 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 cops 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 dont think I can be blamed for losing my cool. Putangnamo, I shouted at him, tutulong ako don, 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 jeepneys 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 OCLOCK. 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 violenceit 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.