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Is he? August 23, 1986
by Teodoro M. Locsin
Reflections on Ninoy Aquino’s “The Filipino is worth dying for”
August 23, 1986–WHEN NINOY AQUINO was arrested, together with thousands whose only crime was love of truth, justice and liberty, no voice of protest was heard; there were no demonstrations by those still “free.”
Traffic flowed smoothly. Business went on as usual. The Church went on in its non-militant way, preaching submission, by its silence, to the brutal rule. Marcos’s Iglesia was all for it, of course. Thus was upheld the judgment of the Communist Prophet: “Religion is the opium of the people.” Politicians went on their, to use Shakespeare’s term, scurvy way. But what else could be expected of them? But what was heartbreaking was the general indifference to the death of liberty. The Filipino people did not give a damn.
Except a few. The unhappy few who found their cries against the death of liberty met with indifference if not scorn. Ninoy and Cory would afterward speak of how those they thought their friends pretended they did not know them!
There were no demonstrations of any consequence for years and years. When Ninoy, in ultimate defiance and despair, went on a hunger strike, masses were held for him at St. Joseph’s Church in Greenhills. A hundred or two showed up. An American Jesuit, Reuter, and a Filipino, Olaguer, said mass for Ninoy, witnesses to his cause. The currently most conspicuous member of the order busied himself with constitutional law and judicial resignation to Marcos’s “revolutionary” government. A banker showed up. No other demonstration for what Ninoy was slowly, painfully, starving himself to restore: the rule of law, not the rule of one man.
To be a prisoner is to be dehumanized. It is to be no one. Nothing. You have no rights, no control of your life, no existence except what your jailer allows you. You eat, sleep, and live at his pleasure. You remain human only by saying No!
From Camp Bonifacio, Ninoy and Diokno were taken to Fort Laur where they were stripped naked and kept incommunicado in separate rooms, singing the best way they could to tell the other that they were still alive. After weeks and weeks in their sweatboxes, they were taken back to Bonifacio from which Diokno was finally released after two years. Leaving Ninoy alone. Thus he lived for five more years. Years during which he would watch the trail of ants on the wall and try to make friends with a mouse and go into a frenzy of physical exercise in that windowless room to keep his sanity. But still No! to Marcos and his rule.
Years more of solitary confinement, then a heart attack, with Imelda showing up at the hospital with a rosary (not the one with the inverted cross or the other with the face of an animal that were found in Malacañang after her hurried departure) and permission granted for Ninoy to leave for the United States for heart surgery. Freedom at last—freedom in exile. A death in life for one who misses his people. A sense of total irrelevance. For what is a Filipino like Ninoy—not one who went there to make it his home, to be an American—in that country? Home he must go.
Against all the warnings: Imelda’s, Ver’s….Against the advice of friends. What did he hope to accomplish by his return? Reconciliation, peace, restoration of Filipino liberties. He would address himself to the “good” he believed was still in Marcos. Did he ask his children what they thought about his going back? Yes, and his children said they would abide by his decision. Did he ask Cory what she thought?
“You are the one who will suffer, Ninoy,” said that long-suffering woman. “You decide.”
So he went home to death.
Why did Ninoy go so willingly enough to a fate he must have considered a possibility if not a probability? Why do men—and women—say No! to injustice and force? Why do they opt for good at the cost of their lives?
For love of country? Out of sheer patriotism?
Here is a mystery of human nature that defies solution while humbling us. Evil we know, and understand, knowing our nature. But good is something else. As martyrdom, it has had, history shows, a fascination for some. The cynic would say it is mere inflation of the ego. But how explain the slow martyrdom of Damien who lived among lepers, ministering to their needs, and finding a mystical fulfillment when he could say: “We lepers.” Ego-inflation still? If that is the supreme desire, then the cynic might try life in a leper colony. He should never think more highly of himself then. But cynicism is only fear—fear of knowing what one is. To debase the good is to rise in self-estimation. If all men are vile, then you are not worse than you might think you are. You just know the human score. To face and recognize goodness is to sit in judgment on oneself. Avoid it.
For us? Because, as he said, “The Filipino is worth dying for”? In spite of his indifference or submission to evil until the final sacrifice that reminded him of what he should be? Because Ninoy expected neither appreciation nor gratitude for what he did for until then a graceless breed? “He who would be a leader of his people must learn to forgive them,” he once said. Look not for praise or reward. The daring is all.
For what good is for all, whoever they are?
The mystery of human goodness is—according to one who has thought long and hard on the question—the final proof that, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, God is good. For from whom else could what is good in man have come if not from Him?
If, editorial, August 23, 1986
August 23,1986–If they had sent a limousine to the airport instead of a van, Marcos and Imelda would still be in Malacañang. The Conjugal Dictatorship, as the author of the book with that title called the regime, would still be in dictatorial power – to imprison, torture, murder whoever opposed the Monstrous Duo while the looting of the nation went on. The author of the book now lies in an unknown grave but Marcos and Imelda would be living horribly on.
Why the van? To take the body of Ninoy after his execution at the airport to a military camp where it would be dumped by his killers on the cement floor. (Why killers, not killer? Because he was killed by all those who plotted his assassination, not just by the soldier or officer who fired the shot. Only a conspiracy made possible the “salvaging”.) And so it came to pass.
But just think what would have happened to Ninoy – if he had been taken safely from the plane and escorted to a waiting limousine and brought to Malacañang. There Marcos and Imelda would be waiting to welcome him! Ninoy would have gone unsuspectingly and fallen into the trap. He would be alive today but politically dead. There would have been no millions accompanying his body for kilometers and kilometers to its grave, in outrage and grief at what they had done to him. No mass demonstrations against the dictatorship. No fearless confrontation of its clubs, guns and gas. No ceaseless cry for justice for Ninoy – and all the other victims of the regime. No People Power that drove the Two into headlong flight with their awful family and retainers and no such freedom as the Filipino people now enjoy.
Ninoy would be still alive but politically dead. And dead, politically and economically, would be the Filipino people with the exception of Marcos and his KBL Gang. (They would still be looting and killing together.) But why would Ninoy be politically dead?
He had been warned by Malacañang before his departure for Manila that there was a conspiracy to kill him if he went back. If Marcos et.al. had knowledge of such a conspiracy, why did they not go after the conspirators? Imelda had previously warned Ninoy that if he went back, there were those “loyal” to Marcos and her whom they could not control and who would, presumably, do him grievous harm. Kill him, in short. She offered him money to stay away. Afterward, she was quoted by Newsweek magazine as saying: “If Ninoy comes back, he’s dead.” How could she have been so certain of his death? How, if she and her husband were not set to kill him on his return?
Ninoy decided to return, anyway. He brushed aside all advice, Filipino and American, not to go back. He would bring peace and democracy back to a suffering people. He gave the Communists five years to seize power if the Marcos dictatorship went on in its usual way. Then, blood would flow. He would seek a meeting with Marcos, talk to him about the need for a peaceful; and orderly restoration of democracy in their and our country, forestalling a Communist take-over. Think of the Filipino people, in God’s name, and of his Marcos’s – place in Philippine history!
“I believe that there is some good in Marcos, and it is to that good that I shall address myself,” Ninoy said to the Free Press editor, who argued against his return in a long talk in New York, shortly before Ninoy went, fearlessly and hopefully, to meet his appointment with death in Manila.
Ninoy’s naivete cost him his life. He believed there was some good in Marcos! Yet, though there was nothing good in Marcos, there was, surely, a way to get rid of Ninoy without killing him. Perhaps, Marcos was too sick at the time to make the final, fatal decision on what to do with Ninoy. He was too sick then, perhaps, and besides, he was surely too clever, too smart a politician to do such a stupid thing as to order Ninoy’s killing; he would have foreseen the consequences, being so clever, so smart. So went a column of the American political “pundit” Max Lerner. On what basis, on what evidence of Marcos’s innocence, the American wise guy rendered the verdict acquiting Marcos, it is difficult to ascertain. Who is so clever as never to make mistakes? Marcos politically infallible? Why the rush to verdict? Why not just keep one’s mouth shut? But Marcos was sick at the time, perhaps, near death. Could he have ordered the killing of Ninoy?
If Marcos was well enough, however, to order Ninoy killed, would he have done so, considering his alleged intelligence? He was able to terrorize and rob the Filipino people as he pleased, to the extent he wanted, and he never ceased wanting. This is intelligence? This is what those who collaborated with his regime called brilliance, turning away from those who opposed his regime. Isn’t the better part of valor prudence in the face of such a master intellect? Al Capone ruled Chicago for years and there was nothing the U.S. government could do all that time except, finally, get him for income tax evasion. Capone ruled – robbing and killing at will – so, he, like Marcos, was brilliant? Anybody could be “brilliant” – with a gun.
So, Marcos was brilliant – at the start. He did not have a gun, then: martial law enforced by the Armed Forces of the Philippines with his Number 1 hood, Ver, as chief-of-staff. Then, martial law! Brilliant he was, okay, or just cunning, unprincipled, a thinking son of bitch? All right, brilliant Marcos was. But the intellect deteriorates not meeting real challenge. The gun makes all challenge ineffectual. The mind becomes dull. Absolute power does not only corrupt absolutely, it stupefies. There is no need for intelligence when the guns serves. The blade of the mind rusts. Absolute power brings absolute stupidity. Such is the lesson of all dictatorships. Except the Communist challenge to contend with, and so remains as sharp as ever. Marcos, if in control when Ninoy was killed, had become just plain stupid.
Anyway, if Marcos did not order Ninoy killed, he must have at least considered that option when Ninoy announced his return. Marcos had a military mind and a commander considers all the options that may be taken in case of an enemy attack. And Ninoy was enemy. A political enemy. The most formidable one. Tañada and other Opposition leaders had been reduced to political impotence and pleading with Ninoy to come back and bring the opposition back to effective life. What should be done with Ninoy? The options before the Marcos regime were: house arrest for Ninoy upon arrival; solitary confinement in prison again; freedom – to lead the Opposition against the regime and then shot while campaigning, blaming the Communists for it, or while allegedly trying to escape from prison if he should be so held by the government. If, though allowed to live and campaign freely against Marcos, he should prove ineffective, not much of a threat, then, let him live.
These were the options of Malacañang on what to do with Ninoy. There was another option obviously not considered. What? Hell, welcome him! He’d be dead politically, and Marcos and Imelda could live happily with that. Before Ninoy’s arrival, the Liberal Party leadership held a council during which a top Liberal leader said with the utmost conviction:
“I am betting my last peso that Ninoy has made a deal with Marcos!”
If Marcos or, if Marcos was too sick at the time to be consulted, Imelda had ordered Ver to send a limousine to bring Ninoy from the airport to Malacañang, instead of having him shot there and his body taken to a military camp in a van, Ninoy, with his faith in the goodness of human beings beyond understanding, would have gone trustingly to the palace. And there he would have been met Imelda, not to mention Marcos if he could get up from his bed, assuming he was sick, and not only welcomed but even – anything is possible – embraced by the Two. Television and press cameras would, of course, record the touching scene: Ninoy, grinning boyishly – the Free Press editor always thought of him, because of the difference in their ages, as a kid, knowing the world, he thought, more than Ninoy in his innocence did – and the cameras clicking and exposing him to future ignominy. For the general conclusion would have been that Ninoy had, as the Liberal leader had bet, made a deal with the enemy of the People and would serve that enemy’s purposes thenceforth, surrendering manhood and principles for peace for himself and his family. For an end to exile, the worst fate for one who loves his country, who would never be at home anywhere else.
Ninoy having thus apparently surrendered, having thus made peace with the Enemy, what else could the Filipino people have done but do the same? Peace without liberty, peace without dignity, peace without honor – peace at any price! The peace of the grave.
But they killed Ninoy.
If, August 23, 1986
If they had sent a limousine to the airport instead of a van, Marcos and Imelda would still be in Malacañang. The Conjugal Dictatorship, as the author of the book with that title called the regime, would still be in dictatorial power – to imprison, torture, murder whoever opposed the Monstrous Duo while the looting of the nation went on. The author of the book now lies in an unknown grave but Marcos and Imelda would be living horribly on.
Why the van? To take the body of Ninoy after his execution at the airport to a military camp where it would be dumped by his killers on the cement floor. (Why killers, not killer? Because he was killed by all those who plotted his assassination, not just by the soldier or officer who fired the shot. Only a conspiracy made possible the “salvaging”.) And so it came to pass.
The Conscience of the Filipino: The Sacrifice (1986)
The Conscience of the Filipino: The Sacrifice
by Teodoro M. Locsin
“WHEN my blindfold was removed, I found myself inside a newly painted room, roughly four by five meters. The windows were barred and covered with plywood panels from the outside. A space of six inches had been left between the panels and the window frame to allow a slight ventilation. A bright daylight neon tube on the ceiling was on day and night. There was no electric switch and the door had no knob, only locks on the outside. Except from an iron bed without a mattress, the room was completely bare. No chairs, no table, nothing.
“I was stripped naked. My wedding ring, watch, eyeglass, shoes, clothes were all taken away. Later, a guard in civilian clothes brought a bed pan and told me I would be allowed to go to the bathroom once a day in the morning, to shower, brush my teeth and wash my clothes. In case of emergency, I must call a guard. I was issued two jockey briefs and two T-shirts which I alternated every other day. The guard held on to my toothbrush and toothpaste and I had to ask for them in the morning. Apparently the intention was to make me really feel helpless and dependent on everything on the guards. . . Diokno, who was brought in with me and locked up in an adjoining cell, later told me that he had gone through the same thing.
“They took my eyeglasses away and I suffered terrible headaches. For the first three or four days, I expected my guards were the ‘Monkeys’ who were licensed to kill. Suspecting they put drugs in my meager ration, I refused to touch it. I subsisted on six crackers and water for the rest of my stay. I became so depressed and despondent. I was haunted by the thought of my family. . .”
He came to question the justice of God. A friend had told him that God never slept. But what if He’s taken a siesta, Ninoy thought, “and when He finally wakes up, I’ll be gone?”
That was early in 1973 when he and Diokno, blindfolded and handcuffed, were taken by a helicopter emblazoned with the Presidential Seal to Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija and kept in solitary confinement in adjoining sweatboxes. To let the other know he was still alive, they would occasionally sing to each other. Neither could carry a tune.
After 30 days, he and Diokno were whisked out of their cells and returned to Fort Bonifacio. There they endured again solitary confinement, broken only by rare visits by their families. After a year or more, Diokno was released. Ninoy stated on in prison — for a total of seven and a half years.
“I would watch a line of ants go down the wall of my cell and another line going up and I would make a mental bet on which line, when the two met, would give way. I tried to befriend a mouse that ventured into my cell. When I felt my mind giving way, I would do a hundred pushups and then take a shower and I would be myself again.”
Every year in prison is a year thrown away out of the limited span of man’s life; it is the death penalty by installment: life without freedom is not life. Ninoy decided to fast and, if not given his freedom, die. His death would be on Marcos’s head. A terminal cry for justice, it would be an ultimate act of life.
On the 38th day of his hunger strike, his mother pleaded with him:
“My son, are you trying to outdo our Lord?”
Only one argument convinced him to break his fast and leave the divine record intact. He was told that the government would not let him die. A few more days of fasting would inflict irreparable damage on his brain and then the government would force-feed him. But he would be a vegetable by then. The government would be blameless.
It was during his hunger strike that he was made to stand trial before a military commission for all kinds of crime against the regime. I remember him, at one session, being lifted by two guards to the stage. He sat there and listened, without saying a word, as a government witness, a Huk commander, raged at him for being a Huk-coddler. Ninoy, he sputtered angrily, had helped him — yes, him, a Huk commander—when he was in need. Previously, another government witness had also accused Ninoy of helping the rebels. He was a man whom Ninoy had brought bleeding from gunshot wounds to a hospital in Manila. “The classic Filipino,” Ninoy said of this witness.
During the fast, one of Ninoy’s lawyers went to the newspapers and asked them to print Ninoy’s answer to the charges against him, charges those newspapers were playing up. Their answer was “no”. He asked if Ninoy’s answer could appear as an ad, which would be paid for, of course. The answer was still “no”. Later, the regime would accuse the American press of breach of journalistic ethics for “one-sided” reporting of the conduct of the regime.
When masses were being said for Ninoy during his hunger strike, only a hundred or so would attend. Nobody else seemed to care.
Now he was going back to all that.
“I am going home,” he said to me shortly before his departure from the United States for Manila.
He would seek an appointment with Marcos, he said. (He would get no further than the tarmac.)
“Have you thought of what would happen to you?”
We discussed the possibilities: arrest on arrival, followed by imprisonment again or house arrest or execution. Perhaps, freedom — who knows? I asked him if he seriously believed that he would be set free — to campaign in the coming elections against the regime, or as one of the Opposition candidates? I reminded him of his conviction by the military court for murder which bears the death penalty.
“I don’t think they’ll shoot me. As for that conviction—if I were guilty, would I be going home? My return would be the best proof of my innocence. How could they shoot me then?”
I asked him what good his return would do. His arrival would be made a non-event by the government. He would be either imprisoned or kept under house arrest—in either case , isolated and neutralized. What could he hope to do when he got back?
“I’ll go to Marcos, if he’ll see me. I’ll appeal to his sense of history, of his place in it. He would not be publishing all those books of his if he did not care for the judgment of history, if he did not want to look good in it. And that would be possible, I’ll tell him, only if there was an orderly restoration of democracy and freedom for our people. Otherwise, there would be only revolution and terrible suffering. I give the moderate opposition five years to restore democracy, after that there will be only the Communists as an alternative to Marcos or his successor. I’ll offer my services to him, but my price is freedom for our people.”
“Do you seriously think,” I asked, “that if you are able to see him, he will listen to you?”
“I can only try. If he is as sick as they say he is, then, more than ever, I must talk to him. If he dies suddenly, there will be a brutal struggle for power. Orderly succession is possibly only under a democratic regime. He must set up a system to make such succession possible before he goes. I must talk to him if I can. Who know, he may listen. He will know he is talking to a man who does not care for life and its comforts and must be telling him the disinterested truth. On the 38th day of my hunger strike, I though I was as good as dead. A dead man. I have regarded the years that followed as a second life that I should be able to give up. I have already lived and died and I am ready to go. I cannot spend that extra life here in American just living well, while our people are suffering. I must go home.”
He was hopeful.
“Maybe Marcos will listen to me. He would not want to appear in our history as a man who took away the liberties of our people and gave them only suffering in return. I am making a bet that there is good in him, deep inside him, and I shall talk to that.”
“Have you ever thought of the record.”
“I must take the chance. Think of the good that will come to our people if he listens to me. What have I got to lose? My freedom? He can have it. I’ll do anything, I’ll be his servant, but my price is freedom for our people..”
Freedom wasn’t the only thing he could lose, I reminded him.
“I have died, I told you. This is a second life I can give up. Besides, if they shoot me, they’ll make me a hero. What would Rizal have been if the Spaniards had not brought him back and shot him? Just another exile like me to the end of his life. To the end of my life. But if they make that mistake…”
“I’d rather have a live friend than a dead hero,” I said, then asked myself what I was doing arguing with a man in determined pursuit of his destiny whatever that might be.
He talked about his meeting with Mrs. Marcos, of her warning that there were people loyal to them whom they could not control and who might kill him. Financial help was offered if he did not go home. He politely said nothing. As for the loyalists . . .
“So be it,” Ninoy said.
“What will you ask Marcos if you do get to see him?”
“I’ll propose a caretaker government to be set up composed of independent and respected men so that free and honest elections could be held and democracy finally restored.”
“Do you think he will agree to that? Do you know what that would mean?”
“Yes. First, he must step down. Resign. He has had so many years of power! Now, he can resign. He can retire from public office to the thanks of a grateful people that will forget what it had suffered in its joy at being free again. We are a forgiving people. What a graceful exit that would be from power. He’ll go with honor.”
Was it this identification that moved millions of Filipinos to follow Ninoy’s body to its simple grave? Hundreds of thousands lined the long road to Tarlac when his body was brought to his hometown, before the funeral in Manila. When the cortege passed Clark Air Force Base, American fighter pilots revved their engines in tribute.
This massive outpouring of people and emotion had as much to do with what Filipinos had become once more, as with the national incredulity over the official version of the murder.
Soon after the imposition of martial law, a high American official reportedly described the Filipino people as composed of 40 million cowards and one son of a bitch. Otherwise, they should have risen as one against the destroyer of their liberties, the American must have reasoned. Yet, six million Jews went like sheep to the slaughter, stopping only to bicker over an extra crumb of bread that might keep one alive an extra day. The Nicaraguans swallowed 40 years of indignity and official thievery from the Somozas before putting an end to their rule. And the Poles, to date, have done nothing but picket. The Hungarians, after a brief spasms of prideful revolt, have traded the hope of liberty for that extra roll of toilet paper in the Soviet showcase of a consumer society.
The Filipino people rose in revolt against Spanish rule again and again through 350 years until the Revolution had cornered the last Spaniards in Manila. Then they fought the Americans, who had suddenly snatched the freedom that was almost in their grasp. Ten percent of the Filipino people died in that war. When the Japanese drove out the Americans, the Filipinos fought the Japanese.
Then came martial law, if not with American fore-knowledge and approval, definitely with American support after the event. First, submission. (Cowardice?) Resignation. (Not the Communists, for sure.) Almost 11 years after that, August 21, 1983, and Ninoy’s body bleeding on the tarmac.
The Filipino people are themselves again. And it took less than 11 years for a nation of “cowards” to be the men and women they are now.
So he went home, with these words:
“According to Gandhi, the willing sacrifice of the innocent is the most powerful answer to insolent tyranny that has yet been conceived by God and man.”
Before boarding the plane from Taipei for Manila, he said to a television crew that was accompanying him on that fatal day:
“You have to be ready with your hand camera because this action can come very fast. In a matter of three, four minutes it could be all over and I may not be able to talk to you again. Now I am taking precautions. I have my bulletproof vest. But if they hit me in the head there’s nothing we can do.”
Then he gave a gold Swiss watch he prized to his brother-in-law.
“I think it’s victory if we just land,” he said as the plane came in on final approach.
And a victory it was, if death is ever a victory.
He had come home to Filipinos rejoicing at the economic privileges and political offices that the death of Filipino liberty had procured for them. To a people weakly submissive to authority whatever it be. The arrest of thousands of their countrymen and imprisonment for months, years, without charge or trial, had failed to move them. The torture inflicted on so many was ignored. “No one, but no one has been tortured,” Marcos said. But Amnesty International reported a state of terror at 84 prisons where interrogation was marked by use of “fists, kicks, karate blows, beating (with) rifle butts, heavy wooden clubs, and family-sized soft-drinks bottles. . . the pounding of heads against walls or furniture, the burning of genitals and pubic hair with the flame of a cigarette lighter, falanga (beating the soles of the feet), and the so-called ‘lying-on-air’ torture.” The last consists of being made to lie rigid with one’s head on the end of one bed and the feet on that of another then the body beaten or kicked when it sagged from weakness or exhaustion.
“When we start to feel the pain of those who have been victimized by tyranny,” Ninoy said, “it’s only then we can liberate ourselves… The feeling right now is ‘Fred was tortured, thank God it’s Fred, not me.’ That’s the tragic part. Society is atomized. Until the Filipino nation can feel the loss of one life as if it was their own, we’ll never liberate ourselves.”
Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. Man of the Year, 1971
Man of the Year
by Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr.
January 8, 1972–There was rice shortage again. Prices were never higher. Unemployment was appalling, lawlessness reigned. Justice was compartmentalized, with one law for the rich and powerful, another law, a sterner one, for the poor and weak. Graft and corruption in the government was more rampant than ever. Demonstrators against the administration were shot at by government troops as if they were game and the President shed crocodile tears. Lip service was paid to reform while chaos if not revolution threatened. Who could challenge the regime? It seemed irresistible, controlling as it did not only Congress but the local governments. How could the Opposition hope to win against the Marcos candidates in the senatorial election? Their victory would be taken as a national endorsement of the Marcos idea of government—and his perpetuation in power. Who would lead the resistance? The privileges of the writ of habeas corpus had been suspended and martial law continually mentioned if not actually threatened. Democracy was going down, down, down. Who would stop the fall? He would be the Man of the Year.
IN a conversation which took place about a week before the Plaza Miranda bombing incident on 21 August 1971, Sen. Benigno Aquino, Jr., said to this writer:
“President Marcos has threatened again to charge me with subversion. It’s a bluff, but who knows?”
“Can he have forgotten so quickly how the Yuyitung affair backfired on him?” one said. But then, one thought, Marcos is not a machine weighing dispassionately the chances of success in this or that adventure but a vain and ambitious man with a great deal of power.
“A very dangerous man,” said Ninoy. He went on to say that he had a feeling of something big about to happen.
Some Ilocano politicians were in the room, among them the young Chavit Singson. They were reporting the steep rise of violent incidents in the North. Army-trained professional killers had been unleashed on the population of Northern and Central Luzon in preparation for the elections in November. They spoke in particular of a certain “Major” whose expertise in the art of assassination had earned him a license to kill. This assassin did not have to answer for his deeds to anyone and could kill at his own discretion. He had done a fine job in the North and was moving south. According to the latest reports then, he was operating in Mountain Province. Soon, they said, he would be in Manila.
They looked apprehensive and had come to Ninoy to see what he could do for them. “Nothing,” Ninoy answered them. He had neither the money nor the muscle to help them with. But he wanted to know for certain if they would stick it out with the Opposition to the end or succumb to the threats of the authorities. So long as they identified with the Opposition they were marked men. He would not hold it against them personally if they backed out at that moment but he did not want to waste time with anyone who would have a change of heart later on. A little reluctantly they all agreed to stick it out to the end. “You are dead men on leave,” Ninoy said. They nodded their heads in acknowledgment of the fact.
“If Singson makes it in Ilocos Sur and Dy in Isabela, I don’t care if we lose everywhere else,” said Ninoy. “Our cause will have been vindicated. These are the two spots most cruelly oppressed by the Marcos military machine. If we win in them, then we know we have pierced his armor. That’s consolation enough.”
That far back, Ninoy Aquino was already drawing the lineaments of the persona he would assume after the Plaza Miranda bombing and the President’s suspension of the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus, when the country tottered on the brink of dictatorship: that of the resistance-hero. Within a week Ninoy would serve as the symbol of democratic man confronted with forces that seek to suppress his individuality and freedom.
Expressing his forboding that the forces of reaction and dictatorship were ready and eager to break out in a wave of repression that would sweep away all our rights and liberties, frankly, he said, he did not know how anyone could meet, with the hope of overcoming, the threat to the Republic.
“The secret is not to be afraid,” one said. Not that one knew for certain that courage overcomes all obstacles but that to be brave and defiant is the only way consonant with human dignity to face tyranny.
A week later two fragmentation bombs were tossed onto the stage of the Liberal Party’s proclamation rally held in Plaza Miranda. Nine persons were killed and 95 others were wounded. The leadership of the Liberal Party could have been wiped out that fateful night of 21 August. Not one politician was killed but many of those who stood on the stage were seriously hurt. One lost a foot and, for a week or so, Sergio Osmeña, Jr., and Senator Salonga fought for their lives on operating tables.
Upon hearing of the tragic event the first thought that occurred to one was that this was the perfect pretext to liquidate Philippine democracy “in the interest of order and security.” The question of who perpetrated the crime seemed irrelevant in the light of the knowledge that only the government had the power to use the incident to its own advantage.
One could suspect the Communists. How often had one heard them declaim that in the confrontation between capital and labor, between the bourgeoisie and the common people, discussion is futile and serves only as an intellectual sport for the upper class, peaceful reform is a pipe dream and society’s contradictions can only be resolved through bloody revolution! The Communist argument is logical enough. There may be other ways to improve social conditions but the Communist way has an impressive record of success. But what one should do is not necessarily what one would do—especially when the conditions are far from favorable. In the present context, a total breakdown of social order could only favor the “fascists”—if one may be allowed to use that term, with its strict historical associations, to designate all who are hostile to and have no use for the democratic way of life, holding it too inefficient—meaning to say, it breeds a climate that is not always healthy for rich thieves.
The Left is noisy but basically powerless. Were it not for the protection afforded it by the liberal bourgeoisie, the Left would be either dead, in jail or scratching out a bare existence in the mountains. It has neither the talent nor the muscle to command popular respect and obedience. It cannot, therefore, impose its kind of order on the country should anarchy break out and a power vacuum appear. Since constant self-criticism is the hallmark of the Marxist movement, no doubt the Left in this country is fully conscious of its limitations. What to do about them is the question.
The rumor that Ninoy Aquino had masterminded the bombing to rid himself of rivals for his party’s nomination for Presidential candidate spread swiftly throughout the country. The press in time discredited that rumor but what was puzzling then was the celebrity with which the story spread. The bombing and the rumor seemed connected, parts of one clever scheme whose aim was to destroy the Opposition. The Opposition was bombed and the Opposition was to be blamed.
On Monday, 23 August, President Marcos made the announcement that he had as of midnight, Saturday, suspended the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus. The reason for this extraordinary measure, he said, was that there was a Maoist rebellion in progress.
Twenty persons had been arrested and were being detained in Camp Crame. All but one of them could not by any stretch of the imagination be described as Maoist. That was an oversight on the part of the President none made a note of the. His suspension of the writ had stunned the nation. The people felt, anyway, that is was not a question of whether he was rationally justified in the action he had taken. The power at his disposal could “justify” anything he did. The question was how far could he go, how far would he go. Hardly anyone believed the President’s words, but everyone paid heed to his power. From the outset it was a contest of nerves between the power of tyranny and the courage without arms of democratic men.
From noon onwards, on the day of the President’s announcement, the hours passed slowly in deathly calm. It was like a foretaste of life under a dictatorship: a life of quiet fear. A little longer the nation might have becomed accustomed to the situation, so easy is it to acquire the habit of obedience!
Suddenly the tense calm was broken. The voluble and tireless Ninoy Aquino began his counter-offensive and the spell of fascism was broken. Wherever he appeared, he carried a submachine gun at a time when no one outside the Administration would have dared be seen with one.
At the Manila Medical Center, the milling crowd at the entrance parted to admit the rotund frame of Senator Aquino come to check up on the condition of his colleagues. He passed by the government troops without even glancing at them, tight-lipped and looking confident of his ability to stand up to the Administration.
It was that picture that crystallized the people’s timid resentment against the Marcos Administration into an unshakeable determination to resist. The people fixed their eyes on Ninoy. If he got away with defying the President, how much better would they—the whole nation—fare!
The Administration caught on fast. Before it could expect the nation to submit, it would have to break the will of Senator Aquino. An object lesson would have to be made of him.
On Tuesday, President Marcos went on television. He laid the blame for the bombing of the LP rally on the Communists, who were planning, he said, to stage a revolution, of which the first act was the bombing incident at Plaza Miranda. He charged Senator Aquino with lending support to the Communist insurgent movement. He had “reliable” information that Ninoy Aquino had frequently met with such Huk field commanders as Dante, Mallari, Alibasbas, Freddie and Ligaya. He brought out a carbine with telescopic sight and a nickel-plated grease gun, which, he claimed, had been given by Ninoy to Huk commanders.
President Marcos presented two men, Max Llorente and Hernan Ilagan, who had been, he said, close friends of Senator Aquino until they discovered what he was really up to. Neither of them spoke a word all the time they were on TV. They just stood before the cameras with blank expressions until the President motioned for them to go away.
The evidence against Senator Aquino, he said, was overwhelming. It was only because he had hitherto “erred on the side of generosity” that he had not yet arrested the senator. But his tone suggested that that was a fault he would soon correct.
A raid on a Communist camp in Tarlac had uncovered a master plan to raze Manila and kidnap or assassinate prominent persons, the President went on. The bombing in Plaza Miranda was merely the prelude to a wave of Red Terror and a general civil war. He warned the radicals that the armed forces could cope with any situation they might create. He asked them to abandon the rest of their master plan, since it had no hope of succeeding, anyway. To avoid a costly confrontation between the Communists and the army, he would not hesitate to declare martial law and crush the insurgents before they had time to stage their planned insurrection.
Once more the Administration had the psychological advantage. People started losing heart. It was rumored that before the night was over, Senator Aquino would be arrested. After him, it would be only a question of time and accommodations in the stockades before all persistent critics of the Administration were in their turn arrested.
Later that night, Ninoy Aquino appeared on Channel 13. For once he looked serious. Opposite him, Juan Ponce Enrile, secretary of national defense, sat, grinning.
“I have been charged,” said Ninoy Aquino, “with the most serious crime against the Filipino people by President Marcos. I have, he has charged, subverted the state and planned the overthrow of the government in a conspiracy with the Communists. I have armed and funded the Huks, he told a press-TV-radio conference earlier tonight. And he hoisted before the people what he asserted was military intelligence information to nail down these charges.
“I say to him now: these are devious lies. I deny them flatly.
“He also hauled up arms I supposedly gave to the Huks. These, I charge him back, are his fabrications. Likewise, he brought before the TV cameras two supposed witnesses against me, one a longtime friend. I tell him: I will confront his witnesses.
“I say his charges are fabrications. And I challenge him to prove they are not.
“I say these are part of a sinister plot to obliterate the Opposition. And his very act is my proof. I say his motive is, far from securing the security of the people and the Republic, rather to secure the politics of his Party. This—again—is proven by his unholy timing.
“He says he has had the goods on me—that I have armed, funded and comforted the enemies of the state since 1965 and 1966. Why did he wait until tonight to unwrap the bill?
“I say that where the black bombers failed to wipe out the Opposition at Plaza Miranda, he would now succeed. This is his motive.
“I tell him: Mr. President, don’t do me any favors. Do your duty—and file your charges against me.
“Your duty is clear. And don’t forget your oath to apply the law evenly—if harshly. I know Lady Justice has worn a peek-a-boo since you came to power, but let Justice be blind once again in my case and let Justice take her full course in the charges you have leveled against me.
“I demand, in fact, Mr. President, that you bring to court—and prove that I am guilty or be shown as the biggest liar in Philippine political life.
“I ask him to charge me formally so he and I can meet before the bar of Philippine justice.
“If I am guilty, I will pay for my alleged crimes.
“If I am innocent, he must face the people and account for the lies, the plots, the smears he has so freely and ruthlessly waged against me. But if this is the price I must now pay for having abided unflinchingly with the faith you have put in me, I say: So be it. It is a privilege, not a sacrifice.”
Aquino stood up. Enrile squeezed his arm and gave him a reassuring smile, as though to say it was all a game, a show, and no real harm would come to him. But Ninoy’s dark expression did not change. If the President was in earnest, he did not like being threatened. If the whole thing was a ploy to save the President from having to make embarrassing explanations concerning the bombing incident and the measures he had adopted, he did not like being used. He walked out of the room without saying a word. We drove to his house in his car.
“Jesus Christ!” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “Imagine the canard he is trying to foist. Ako pa ang nag-bomba together with the New People’s Army.”
On the night of the bombing he had not been on stage with the other Liberals. He was at a goddaughter’s despedida de soltera. His absence had lent some credence to the speculation that he had planned the bombing.
“Christ’s sake, this guy is really determined to send me to jail,” he said.
He leaned back in the seat. The ordeal there was over. He looked contented. Now there was no more having to choose. He had flung the President’s threat back in the man’s complacent face and he was happy with his decision. All that remained was for the authorities to pick him up.
“So what? So one or two years in a stockade. At least I’ll died with my boots on.”
Had he plans of escaping into the hills? I asked.
“Ha, oblige him? Nah, I’ll stick it out here.”
If they came for him, what would he do?
“Aba, I’ll go. Christ’s sake! And tell your father not to forget the pocketbooks when he’s brought in, too. I’ll bring in the Philippine Reports and resume my law studies in jail and when I come out, take the bar. This is the only chance I’ll have.”
At this we started laughing.
“ ‘I erred on the side of generosity,’ did you hear that? Boy oh boy, what a shit of bluffer. He’s thrown everything at me, but I’m numb. I told you that even before all this, at the Inter-continental. I’m really numb.”
I asked him about the two witnesses Marcos had presented.
If one added up all the time he had seen Hernan Ilagan, it would amount to three hours, he said. As for Max Llorente, he saved the man’s life once and his skin several times over. This was how the man repaid him!
“The classic Filipino,” said Ninoy. It was a favorite phrase of his. He had used it in previous conversations to describe Filipinos who lived off the fat of the land but refused to pay for any of it.
I asked him about the affidavits made by other witnesses implicating him in the crime of subversion.
“All his witnesses are dead, anyway. Putang ina. Hahahaha. Naku linabas ang mga baril, ayong mga lahat na…. Hahahaha. Jesus, what a farce! Aye, God! Goddamned this guy, he’s good, this Marcos. He almost convinced me I’m a Huk.”
Every day from then on the Marcos Administration hurled a new charge or threat at the senator, who exposed every charge as a lie and met each threat with smiling nonchalance. And yet the threats were real enough. One night the PC ringed his house to frighten his family. Members of the medical staff of the Central Azucarrera de Tarlac were picked up and questioned by the PC, who tried to force them into signing affidavits implicating Ninoy with the Huks. Houseboys and cooks were also arrested. His brother-in-law, Antolin Oreta, Jr., was “invited” by the army and then detained.
That he had had dealings with the Huks, Ninoy did not deny.
“What can I do about that? I have lived in Tarlac where the Huks operate most. The point I’m driving at with my frequent mention of Huks is that as governor of Tarlac I tried to arrive at a condition of peace that was not reached through bloodshed. In my six years of governorship, I don’t think there were more than 21 Huk killings. It was not until Mr. Marcos arrived on the scene that these things began to escalate. From 1966 up the present about 1,500 have been killed. My policy as governor had been to let everyone come to my office and talk things over: Huk and non-Huk, Nacionalista and Liberal. I believed that was the only way I could maintain peace in the province. I told the Huks, ‘This is a free country. So long as you don’t kill anyone this is a free country for you. You can speak against me, attack me in the barrios. Go ahead. I believe in our democracy. You have the right to air your views. If the people should ultimately prefer your system to the one I espouse, who am I to oppose the people?’
“The Army calls this co-existence.
“I call it survival. Moreover I have extreme faith in our democratic way of life. I firmly believe that exposed to both the democratic and Communist ideologies, the people will opt for democracy.
“When the Huks complained about bad roads, I immediately repaired them. When the Huks said a landowner was abusive, I immediately approached the landowner, and if the Huks were speaking the truth, I asked him to mend his ways. The landowners have called me a radical but all I did was ask them, ‘Which would you prefer? To negotiate with the Huks or get your head chopped off?
“The Army called it co-existence. Well, they can call it anything they want, but the Army was happy then. There was peace.”
As for his frequent meetings with the Huks, he had arranged these meetings not to solicit Huks support for his candidates but, on the contrary, to ask the Huks not to interfere in Tarlac politics. One such meeting had been at the request of Danding Cojuangco, the President’s right hand man, who was then running for governor, according to Ninoy.
To deprive the Liberals of support from any sector, the Marcos Administration continued its smear campaign against the spokesman for the Liberal Party. The charge of Communism dangling over Aquino’s head kept the Chinese, for one, from giving him any aid. The memory of the fate of the Yuyitung brothers was still fresh in their minds. To deny the Liberals American support, President Marcos invited a New York Times correspondent to interview him. He repeated his charges against Ninoy and said that if the Communists fielded a candidate in 1973, meaning Ninoy Aquino, he would be compelled to field his wife, Imelda, as his party’s candidate for President.
In answer, Ninoy said that eight years of Marcos are enough and to inflict six more years of Imelda on the country would be unthinkable! Addressing himself to the President, Ninoy said:
“If Mr. Marcos is fielding his wife in ’73 just to stop Ninoy Aquino, I’m telling him now, I’m not running. Keep your wife home, Mr. Marcos, do not tire her out with a gruelling campaign. I would like to spare her the hardship. I will not run in 1973, so long as Imelda’s doesn’t run either. Let Imelda and I make a blood compact, vowing not to run in 1973 as Presidential candidates.”
Asked to comment on Ninoy’s proposal, President Marcos answered:
“I refuse to comment on a speech by a comedian.”
Ninoy Aquino’s audacity and defiance bore fruit on November 8. The Liberal senatorial candidates swept the elections. In Ilocos Sur, Singson won as governor and in Isabela, despite the presence of Task Force Lawin, Dy won as well. Ninoy’s cause had, indeed, been vindicated. Even the poorest and most downtrodden emulated the example he had set. In Tarlac, the barrio folk themselves went out to protect the ballots they had cast, forming long processions to escort the ballot boxes to the municipalities. The senator had given a new lease on life to the democratic idea, which cynics had dismissed as an empty catchphrase incapable of firing anyone’s imagination, let alone convincing anyone to risk his life for it. The “people’s victory,” as Ninoy called it, of November 8 proved them wrong.
Because he stood for the people’s will to resist tyranny, drawing upon himself all the fury of its wrath without flinching, Sen. Benigno Aquino, Jr., did more than anybody else to make that victory possible and is, therefore, the Man of the Year 1971 in the Philippines.
Again? Editorial for January 23, 1971
January 23, 1971–THOSE who lived through the Japanese Occupation, and that includes Pres. Ferdinand Marcos himself, know what a total horror it was, how people were tortured and heads cut off on mere suspicion of resistance to Japanese military rule—and how it did not discourage resistance. Everybody was a guerrilla, or claimed he was.
President Marcos keeps hinting at the imposition of military law on the Filipino people when he does not hint at the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. With the suspension of the writ, President Marcos could order the arrest of anyone and keep him or her in prison or in a concentration camp at his pleasure—that is, indefinitely. With the imposition of martial law, that is, the establishment of a military dictatorship, “Congress might as well close up,” as one congressman has observed. And the courts might as well close up, too, for Marcos would have absolute power. The independence of Congress and the Judiciary would be a thing of the past. Marcos’s rule would be absolute. He would be king.
Is the fate in store for the Filipino people to live under the sovereign will of “King Ferdinand”—and “Queen Imelda”?
As noted in the article beginning on page 2, the demonstrations in the United States have been marked by violence which makes the demonstrations here models of law and order by comparison. A magazine, Scanlans, features in one of its issues “Guerrilla Warfare in the U.S.A.,” and presents, in a most graphic fashion, the almost countless acts of sabotage, dynamiting, attacks on persons in authority and other acts of war against the government and the Establishment it is supporting—yet the American president, Richard Nixon, has never ventured to speak of the possibility of suspending the writ or imposing martial law. Were he to do so, he would be promptly impeached and removed from office.
Why does President Marcos keep on talking about suspending the writ or imposing martial law? One would think he could hardly wait to do so. And what good would that do? What good would that do him? Never mind what good it would do the country, but what good wold to do him? Having imposed martial law and become a dictator, how could he ever leave Malacañang and rejoin a people finally free of his rule? He must be a dictator for life to be secure.
He’d never be safe otherwise, no more than the Japanese—what was his name?—who headed the Kempetai could have lived with any sense of security among Filipinos once the Japanese forces had been disarmed. As a matter of fact, the Marcos Administration is reaching the point of no return to a democratic regime, for with so many young Filipinos killed merely for demonstrating against the manifest injustices of the government, how safe would Marcos & Co. be when no longer in power? Could Marcos afford to be no longer in Malacañang if more of the young should be slaughtered?
Was it necessary or wise to arm government forces with Armalites to maintain order during the demonstration in Plaza Miranda last week? Armalites are used in war. (The Americans use them in their war in Vietnam.) Has Marcos declared war on demonstrators, whose right to demonstrate he continually affirms—after all, it is a constitutional right and he is supposed to uphold the Constitution—that he must have his forces armed with Armalites when they confront the demonstrators?
Is there a war on?
The British, confronted with rampaging Chinese Communists in Hong Kong at the height of the Cultural Revolution, kept their cool. They sent police with only truncheons to meet the mob. If the mob should break through the police lines, it would be met with police armed with tear gas and riot guns. Only if the demonstrators should be able to overwhelm the second police contingent would the government give them the works. Armalites are the works—and the Marcos regime resorted to their use last week, killing four and wounding many others—almost as a matter of course.
After “Black Wednesday,” military rule and a Marcos dictatorship would seem to be an inevitable development. The further use of Armalites against demonstrators and the slaughter of more who cannot stomach the Marcos Administration would make it certain.
What would life under Marcos dictatorship be like—and its political and other consequences of the Republic?
With the courts and Congress reduced to impotence and the independent press shut up—with publishers who dare to disagree with Marcos placed under house arrest or in concentration camps where they would be joined sooner or later by outraged justices of the Supreme Court, senators and representatives who would not lick the boots of Marcos, as well as others who would not submit to tyranny—the nation would be “polarized.” the Philippines would be divided into Marcos collaborators and those who love liberty and are branded “misguided elements” (as during the Japanese Occupation) and declared enemies of the Marcos state.
Marcos, as a former guerrilla leader, should know how the Japanese failed to stop the Resistance against their rule. The more atrocities the Japanese committed, the more Filipinos they tortured and killed—the more joined the Underground. It became a matter of honor to do something against the oppressors, whether it be merely to contribute money to the guerrillas or to commit some act of sabotage against the government if not actually to go to the mountains and take up arms against the regime. Filipinos in tremendous numbers found they were not afraid to die for freedom. They were suddenly free from fear. Marcos himself got a lot of medals for not being afraid, and many more showed the same lack of fear though they got no medals for it. The country became one vast concentration camp except when men dared to be free.
Life under a regime of martial law or a Marcos military dictatorship would be little different from life during the Japanese Occupation. How many would submit to it? And how would Marcos ever dare restore civil law? Would he dare to leave Malacañang? Would he not be compelled to declare himself President for life, that is, a dictator forever? And how long would “forever” be?
Our republican institutions suffer from corruption but they do guarantee certain civil liberties—like freedom from arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention without trial and the right to demonstrate peaceably against the government for redress of grievances and to write an editorial like this. The denial of such liberties in all-too-many cases does not argue against the goodness of the institutions. Because there are thieves does not make the law against theft a bad one but only makes enforcement of the law more necessary than ever. Under our republican institutions we enjoy certain liberties, to repeat—if not too much economic progress. Justice is often mocked, true, but under a military dictatorship, there would be no justice at all, no liberty at all, and even less progress than ever. The entire economy would be organized into a government corporation run by Marcos & Co., and one has just to contemplate how Nawasa, the Philippine National Railways and other government corporations are run to know how the people would suffer under such a regime.
Only Marcos & Co. would profit from martial law. They should. They would be the law. The rest of us would be mere subjects—or outlaws.
Those who wish the President well should advise him to stop talking about martial law. Whatever he and his friends get out of it—would it really be worth it?
The January 26 Confrontation: A Highly Personal Account, February 7, 1970
The January 26 Confrontation: A Highly Personal Account
Jose F. Lacaba
February 6, 1970–IT WAS FIVE MINUTES PAST FIVE in the afternoon, by the clock on the Maharnilad tower, when I arrived at Congress. The President was already delivering his State of the Nation message: loudspeakers on both sides of the legislative building relayed the familiar voice and the equally familiar rhetoric to anyone in the streets who cared to listen. In front of the building, massed from end to end of Burgos Drive, spilling over to the parking lot and the grassy sidewalk that forms an embankment above the Muni golf course, were the demonstrators. Few of them cared to listen to the President. They had brought with them microphones and loudspeakers of their own and they lent their ears to people they could see, standing before them, on the raised ground that leads to the steps of the legislative building, around the flagpole, beneath a flag that was at half-mast. There were, according to conservative estimates, at least 20,000 of them, perhaps even 50,000. Beyond the fringes of this huge convocation stood the uniformed policemen, their long rattan sticks swinging like clocks pendulums at their sides; with them were the members of the riot squad, wearing crash helmets and carrying wicker shields.
I came on foot from the Luneta, which was as far as my taxi could go, and made straight for the Congress driveway. A cop at the foot of the driveway took one look at my hair and waved me away, pointing to the demonstrators beyond a row of white hurdles. When I pointed to the special press badge pinned to the breast pocket of my leather jacket, he eyed me suspiciously, but finally let me through the cordon sanitaire. The guard at the door of Congress was no less suspicious, on guard against intruders and infiltrators, and along the corridors it seemed that every man in uniform tightened his grip on his carbine as I passed by, and strained his eyes to read the fine print on my press badge.
The doors of the session hall were locked, presumably to prevent late entrances from disturbing the assembly listening to the 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.
Second Mandate: January 10, 1970
by Jose F. Lacaba
Or, Can Spiro Agnew Forget The Marcos Inauguration And Find His Way Back To The Affluent Society?
January 10, 1970–AUSTERITY was the order of the day, but assassination was the talk of the town.
The advance ballyhoo promised that, for once, the program for Inauguration Day would be “brief and austere.” The parade would be a worm compared with the snakes of previous inaugurations; civic participation had been scrapped and military display, normally lasting a full two hours, had been cut down to 40 minutes. Even words and saliva were affected by the general parsimony: reelected President Ferdinand Marcos would deliver “possibly the shortest inaugural address in the Republic’s history.” Afterwards, there would be the traditional dinner for the guests from across the seas, headed by no less than Spiro T. Agnew, household word and Vice President of the United States of America; but there was to be no expense for Spiro in a waste of shame, the dinner would be not as before — lavish, extravagant, ostentatious — but simple and frugal. Probably limited to two courses: salabat for soup and pinakbet for viand. After the most expensive elections in Philippine history, the Ilocano in Marcos had come out.
Though austerity dictated the veto on custom and ceremony, the fear of assassination demanded that there be no skimping on security. Astrologers and soothsayers are said to have warned the President that he would be killed during his second term, and there was a great deal of talk about Oswalds and Sirhans before Inauguration Day, talk that Malacañang encouraged with its disclosure that a Huk liquidation squad was out to get Marcos. No expense was spared, therefore, to secure the President from suicidal assassins. A helicopter hovered over the Luneta to the end, the navy patrolled the bay, machine guns were perched atop the Independence Grandstand (what where they there for? would they have fired at the crowd if one crackpot had drawn a pistol?), walkie-talkies were everywhere, and the fuzz was a thick as flies in mango season. Uniformed policemen of Manila and suburbs lined the streets, Malacañang guards in barong Tagalog were deployed on the grandstand, constabulary troopers lolled behind it. Special Forces men crouched on the roof, NBI agents skulked around motorcycle cops raced up and down the boulevard, Metrocom cars were parked at street corners, helmeted members of riots squads gripped their rattan sticks, four of five rows of soldiers in civvies manned the front lines of the sparse crowd, “a modest crowd on unenthusiastic spectators” (Chronicle), “smaller than the usual crowd that packs the park during national holidays” (Times), perhaps the smallest crowd since the Philippines became independent” (Bulletin) — everybody was there, including , of course, Spiro’s Secret Service complement, on the lookout for an effete corps of impudent snobs brandishing molotov cocktails.
Only a “fanatical fool” would have dared “penetrate the security cordon,” Brigadier General Vicente Raval of the FC was quoted as saying, and he explained why: “He would never get past the security line; he would nevertheless emerge alive.” (Figure that out, if you can, and if you can’t put it down as one of the best and most cryptic non sequiturs of the past decade.”)
It was cold in the morning of Inauguration Day, hot towards noon, an uncertain weather all the way. Sun alternated with clouds and shadows, and even while the sun shone brief showers fell, brief and austere. Umuulan, umaaraw, nanganganak ang bakulaw. Umaaraw, umuulang, nanganganak ang tikbalang. Out in the park the little children played, called by their parents when they wandered too far afield, calling after the balloon man, far and whee; and were utterly oblivious of the occasion, unmindful of Rizal, whose day it was, and even more unaware that at that very moment another hero, the country’s most decorative war hero, was on his way to his second inauguration.
There was earlier a question about the proper way for Ferdinand Marcos to go to his inauguration. No postwar Philippine President had ever been reelected, as the press daily reminded us, and so a thing like this had never happened before. Usually, there was an incoming President and outgoing President to receive him and then accompany him to the Independence Grandstand, like a father giving away the bride. When the bride is without a father, what must be done? Ferdinand Marcos came accompanied by his son.
And of course, by his senior aide, Brigadier General Hans Menzi, resplendent in a white uniform with all braids, badges, and accoutrements in place. Ferdinand Marcos, his hair slick-and-span as usual, was in a barong Tagalog, and so was Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., better known as Bongbong, who had gotten rid of his crewcut and now sported a mod hairstyle, hair down low over his forehead, a la early-Beatles. Together, the father, the son, and Hans Menzi set forth from Malacañang, surrounded by scads of security men, to receive, in formal ceremony, what had been bestowed in November: a second mandate.
When they arrived at the grandstand, everybody else was there. Vice-President Fernando Lopez was there, grinning happily and now slouching towards the President to be the first to shake hands; he had himself, when he arrived, shaken hands with all the foreign and local dignitaries within reach, except Rufino Cardinal Santos, whose hand he kissed. Spiro Agnew, whose seat was right behind the President’s was there, looking like a slim, squint-eyed panda. Eugene Cernan was inconspicuous but the dailies swear he was there (when you come to think of it, do you have a district picture in your mind of the face of any astronaut, cosmonaut, or space explorer besides Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood in 2001: A Space Odyssey? Even John Glenn is difficult to visualize; astronauts all look alike, and they are the faceless heroes of the age). Gil J. Puyat, Senate President as of this writing, was there, and so was Jose B. Laurel, Jr., Speaker as of this writing, his white hair absent from the dome but becomingly long at the nape. Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion wore the black robes of his office, Secretary General Carlos P. Romulo acted as master of ceremonies, Executive Secretary Ernesto Maceda beamed in the background, Congressman Floro Crisologo was in a white (ramie?) suit, the kind austerity-conscious grandfathers used to wear when they had their pictures taken. A host of lesser known VIPs was there, too, and there was even a small group of whites in top hat and tails, looking like fugitives from a Broadway musical.
Never forget the women. Mrs. Imelda Marcos was there, and the Misses Imee and Irene, dressed in what, from a distance, look like identical ternos. (“Signs of austere times?” went a society page item “. . .Mrs. Marcos wore a strikingly simple terno and single pearl earring. No jewelry.” The terno “had a wide front panel of rich hand embroidery reportedly taken from a gown she had worn at the first inauguration of the President in 1965.”) Mrs. Mariquit Lopez was only a little less austere. (She “also picked a jusi terno, slightly embroidered more than that of the First Lady. She also wore a gold bracelet, a single pearl pendant and a pearl ring in addition to pearl earrings.”) And the Blue Ladies were conspicuously in attendance — the bakya crowd among them down on the ground, in a corner behind the platform crammed with TV cameras and technicians, and therefore unable to see a thing; and the blue bloods among them up on the grandstand, occupying the space reserved for, but disdained as too distant by, the press. You could tell they were the blue-blooded Blue Meanies by the lift of their eyebrows, the color of their skins, and the austerity of their hairdos. The bakya crowd Blues, meanwhile, had to be resourceful; every now and then a couple of them would slip past the snarling policemen and get closer to the action, mingling with the press photographers, all the while giggling and chattering like schoolgirls on a holiday.
“Ang ganda talaga ni Imelda, ano?”
“Naku, si Ramil O, ‘ando’n pala si Ramil Rodriguez!”
“Alin ba d’yan ‘yung astro. . . ‘yung nagpunta sa buwan?”
“Si Agno, hindi ko makita si Agno.”
“Sabi ko na sa ‘yo mag-high heels ka, ayaw mong makinig.”
After the solemn preliminaries — 21 gun salute, national anthem, invocation — came the small parade. No need to bore you with the gaudy details. Suffice it to say that the parade boldly gave the lie to the charge that the country has fallen victim to a creeping militarism. Militarism isn’t creeping in this country, it’s marching proudly, head held high, chest out, stomach in, and a finger on the trigger. The Special Forces and the Philcag contingent weren’t cringing nor hiding their heads in shame because of the controversy that swirled about them; they even got more applause than the PMA cadets, and it is reported that when the Philcag passed by, Agnew stood up as a gesture of respect. Note also that whoever prepared the program, when they decided that austerity call for a shortened parade, kept the soldiers and kicked out the civilians. Civic participation’s would have been a bore, of course, but the choice of what to exhibit on Inauguration Day sent tiny chills down the spine as one watched the parade of men and armaments unreel. Garrison state, anyone?
Throughout the parade, Ferdinand Marcos and Fernando Lopez stood on the proscenium (or whatever they call it) of the grandstand stage, each in his fashion. Marcos was ramrod straight, a true military man, saluting smartly when the colors passed by. Lopez had the sick look of a man who has been forced to forego his morning ablutions, if you know what I mean, and when the colors passed by he had his hand over his heart as if his heart was itchy. Obviously, the Vice President was bored by the whole affair. While Marcos struck a heroic pose from the beginning and struck to it to the end, squinting into the sun like Clint Eastwood without the slim cigar, a premature monument if ever there was one, Lopez couldn’t keep still. He scratched his nape, scratched his crotch, scratched his ears, picked his nose, rubbed his fingernails, folded his arms, dropped them to his sides, held his hands together before him, dropped them to his sides, held his hands together behind him, dropped them to his sides, stared morosely around, scowled, tried to hide his scowl by puckering his lips, and probably wished he were splashing around in his swimming pool. He was at least very human, which made him rather endearing. Besides, this was his third time to review a parade as Vice-President; he expected no surprises.
Happily for Mr. Lopez, it was all over in about the time it would have taken Barbra Streisand to finish singing Don’t Rain on My Parade and When the Parade passes By. As a matter of fact, it was over so soon that the program committee found itself with time on its hands. Things had gone so smoothly the program had rushed ahead of schedule. A little time had to be killed before the Vice-President could take his oath of office at 11:55 a.m. This — not para magpalad ng papel, as it seemed at the time — was the reason why the mixed choir and the Manila Symphony Orchestra that had already sung Bayang Magiliw and the Marcos March or something, now burst into an unscheduled singing of Dahil Sa Iyo. Naturally the First Lady, delighted, joined in the singing.
When the singing stopped, it was time for the swearing in. The oaths of office, administered by the chief Justice, were in Pilipino. Lopez and his Ilongo accent struggled manfully, but charmingly, through his oath. The President, as if to reinforce his heroic image, recited his from memory. Ako, si Ferdinand Marcos ay nanunumpa, etc., etc. patnubayan nawa ako ng Panginoon. Historical footnote: it was the first time the two highest officials in the land said their oaths of office in Pilipino.
Like the bright grade-school kid who knows the capital of every province in the country and can recite Psalm of Life at the drop of a hint, Ferdinand Marcos is something of a show-off, and he showed off superbly in his inaugural address, which again he delivered from memory. His memory is terrific but, as even so loyal a partisan as J.V. Cruz noted, ‘the President looked far more concerned with making sure that his memory did not fail him than with the substance of what he is saying.” I used to be a school orator myself and I know that, after the rigorous rehearsals, once you get on stage you’re no longer aware of what you are saying, and you won’t even care, so long as you enunciate the practiced syllables clearly and remember when to raise your voice, when to lower it, when to pause, when to make a gesture, when to take a few steps forward, and when to give the audience a long piercing look (when you can’t remember the next word that will cue you on the next sentence and the rest of the speech). Marcos delivering his inaugural address reminded me of my high school days; he looked like an earnest Voice of Democracy contestant in the elimination rounds, taking great care not to muff his lines. In fact, he ended his speech like a VOD contestant: “The wave of the future is not totalitarianism but democracy.”
The inaugural address itself sounded like a high school declamation piece. It was entitled “To Transform the Nation — Transform Ourselves” (even granting the titles need not be complete sentences, isn’t there something grammatically fishy here? We Must Transform Ourselves? Let Us Transform Ourselves?) , and it contained such gems of sophomore oratory as “. . .in the inexorable march of history no tears are shed for the fallen, no sympathies wasted on the weak. . . .” Besides being studded with high-sounding clichés (“billowing fields of green,” “faint of heart,” “in this spot of the universe, a people strong and free”) and pious platitudes (“we labored to transform this nations”), it sounded like a parody of the John F. Kennedy speeches, especially in passages such as: “, , ,cross the frontier of the new decade. . .”, “Now in all humility we inform all Asia that we know the nature and quality of our tenuous peace; and that it is also a demanding piece. . .”, “I ask not sacrifice from the self-sacrificing. . .”‘ “Let not this generation pass without seeking to learn anew that in this great meeting place of eastern wisdom and western advance . . . “, “. . .seek not from government what you cannot find in yourself. . . .”
Rumor has it that Mr. Marcos discarded all the drafts submitted by his speech-writers and labored over a draft of his own. It is not hard to believe the rumor.
This speech begins with the kind of high-flown literary Tagalog even the serialized novels and the movie tearjerkers are beginning to abandon: “Ang aking dinatnan ay isang pamahalaang nasa bingit ng kapahamakan at pagkariwara, isang pamahalaang nag-udyok ng takot bago ito nagbigay ng pag-asa; sakbibi ng pag-aatubili, hinamak ng kawalang-tiwala sa sarili, lugami ang kanyang kabuhayan, hungkag ang kanyang kaban,” etc., etc. That isn’t even constructed the way a Tagalog sentence should be constructed, and the reason is that it is a transliteration of what follows next in English: “We found a government on the brink of disaster and collapse, a government that prompted fear before it inspired hope; plagued by indecision, scorned by self-doubt, its economy despoiled, its treasury plundered,” etc., etc. If the same thing was going to be said in English all over again, what was the point of saying it in Pilipino? To impress Spiro Agnew?
He may have been impressed by what Mr. Marcos said next.
The President demanded “sacrifice” and “self-discipline” from the powerful and the privileged, demanded of society that it “chastise the profligate rich who waste the nation’s substance — including its foreign exchange reserves — in personal comforts and luxuries,” and made it clear that under his administration “wealth, position or power will not purchase privilege; wealth and power shall not outrage the conscience of our people.”
The beginning of a new decade, said the President, called for a lot of new things: “new national habits, nothing less than a new social and official morality”; “a new ethic” with which “we will surmount most of the grave problems we are confronting now; “a new heart, a new spirit that springs out of the belief that while our dangers are many, and our resources few, there is no problem that cannot be surmounted given but the will and courage.” Under this new morality, “any act of extravagance in government will be considered not only as an offense to good morals but an act punishable with dismissal from office.”
The President promised to set the example.
“I pledge a leadership of the severest quality in integrity, morality and discipline.”
(The day after his inauguration, “moved,” he said, “by the strongest desire and the purest will to set the example of self-denial and self-sacrifice for all our people,” the President decided to give away “all my worldly possession so that they may serve the greater needs of the greater number of our people.” All his properties, “by a general instrument of transfer,” were to go “to the Filipino people through a foundation to be organized and to be known as the Ferdinand E. Marcos Foundation,” the purpose of which was to advance “the cause of education, science, technology, and the arts.” As Gene Magsaysay would say, no comment — not yet.)
After the inaugural address, the President and his family went back home to Malacañang, where they signed the registry book again, as they had done the first time they moved into the place.
“Glad to be back,” Ferdinand Marcos reportedly wrote:
And Bongbong: “Me next, I hope.”
Nobody got assassinated, but Metrocom men, according to report, arrested two men they said were loitering near the grandstand on suspicion they were on an assassination mission.” One man was said to have a tear-gas gun; the other wore a PC lieutenant-colonel’s uniform and brown civilian shoes. They were taken to Camp Crame.