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“They were out to kill me!” September 19, 1987

“THEY WERE OUT TO KILL ME!”—Pres. Corazon C. Aquino

September 19, 1987–THE mutiny staged by the Reform Armed Forces Movement (RAM) headed by Lt. Col. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, former chief of the security group of about 600 men assigned to then Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile, was the fifth coup attempt in the 18 months that President Corazon C. Aquino has been in office. It was the same group behind the failed coup attempt against then President Marcos last year. Only Cory’s People Power Revolution saved the leaders of the “revolt” from the guns of the dictator. Anyway, Gen. Fidel Ramos cited Honasan as “hero” of the Revolution.

The first coup attempt was in July 1986, when Arturo M. Tolentino, who was Marcos’ s running mate in the February 7 snap election which they lost, declared the existence of a rebel government with himself as Acting President. About 400 Marcos loyalist troops, led by four generals, took over the Manila Hotel to serve as Tolentino’s “Malacañang”, only to be washed up within two days, along with Tolentino’s fantasy, after all its telephone lines and electric and water supply were cut off. As punishment for all the military personnel involved, Gen. Ramos ordered 30 pushups for the “rebels”.

The second attempt, set in November last year when President Aquino was visiting Japan, fizzled out after General Ramos called the plot leaders and engaged them in a bull session that lasted all night.

The third coup attempt took place in February this year, timed with the announced return of deposed President Marcos — which did not materialize. Rebel soldiers numbering about 300, most of them coming from military camps in Central Luzon and led by officers assigned to the area, took over GMA 7, the television station along EDSA in Diliman, Quezon City, and occupied it for two days.

The fourth coup attempt took place last April, when rebellious troops from a military camp in Central Luzon forced their way into Fort Bonifacio in the early hours of Easter Sunday and freed the soldiers involved in the GMA 7 takeover who were being detained in the stockade near the headquarters of the Philippine Army. Both rescuers and those whom they rescued from detention were rounded up.

Nothing serious. Petty misadventures and nothing more.

Something Else!

But this fifth coup attempt is something that cannot just be shrugged off. If it succeeded, a military junta was to be set up after killing Aquino and ousting General Ramos as Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff. The military junta would be headed by Honasan.

And for a time it did look like the RAM mutiny would succeed.

The surprising, nay, puzzling thing about this RAM mutiny was that it was known well in advance that a putsch was brewing but nothing effective was done to abort it.

Key officers in scattered military camps in various parts of Metro Manila, the regional command areas in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were in frequent radio contact with the key plotters. These communications were monitored. Except to hide their identities under flimsy guise of NPA commanders operating somewhere in Quezon, the plotters transmitted their messages seemingly without any care for secrecy on police frequency radios.

Kill Cory!

One such radio transmission was intercepted by the lady radio operator at the Pasig, Metro Manila headquarters of the Eastern Police District, Metropolitan Police Force. The radio message, intercepted at five o’clock in the morning of August 27, spelled out the grim terms of the plan and the timetable for its execution:

ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT AQUINO BEFORE THE END OF THE MONTH (AUGUST).

Informed of the interception of the radio message, the command duty officer of the Integrated National Police (INP) circulated the intelligence information among higher armed forces and police authorities. A Metro Manila-wide red alert was issued.

Malacañang and the commanders of the major armed services were alerted Thursday afternoon, August 27, to an impending mutiny from the direction of Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija. Why was no counter-effort made?

Between eleven o’clock and midnight of Thursday, August 27, the movement of troops from Nueva Ecija on board commandeered passenger buses as well as Army trucks bound for Metro Manila was already known to some civilian officials. They did try to alert GHQ, AFP to this grim development but there was no one around to receive their frantic calls although the electronic alert system was functioning.

Metro Manila Governor Jejomar Binay at midnight hied to the home of Executive Secretary Joker P. Arroyo in Dasmariñas Village in Makati to confer with the Malacañang official on the upsetting report of unauthorized troop movements he had received earlier in the night. There they were joined by the President’s only son, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, who had also received similar reports.

It was 1:30 a.m., Friday morning, August 28, when the report came in that shooting had begun at Malacañang. Noynoy, accompanied by his security escort of three soldiers belonging to the Presidential Security Group (PSG), all in a back-up car, and a civilian agent who sat beside him in his white Mercedez Benz car which he himself drove, rushed back to Malacañang to “link up” with his family. Driving down Nagtahan Bridge, they saw civilians milling about the rotunda and thought that the troops they saw there were friendly forces. Approaching Arlegui Street (where President Aquino stays in a government guest house) across Jose P. Laurel, Sr. Street from the Malacañang compound, they saw heavily armed soldiers in combat position, and Noynoy, still thinking that they were friendly forces, introduced himself. They fired at him and his companions, killing the three PSG men on the spot and seriously wounding the civilian agent who shielded Noynoy’s body with his own. Though also wounded, Noynoy managed to call for help on his car’s two-way radio.

At that very moment. Col. Voltaire Gazmin, commander of the PSG, was maneuvering the tanks to the Malacañang defense perimeter. He dispatched two armored vehicles to rescue Noynoy’s group. The attackers hurriedly left the area but not before collecting the firearms of the slain PSG men and that of the civilian agent and divesting Noynoy of his wallet which contained some P4,000.

The shooting at Malacañang, which started at about 1:30 that Friday morning, lasted up to three o’clock in the pre-dawn hours. Though greatly outnumbered by rebel troops at the start of the battle, Gazmin’s PSG force succeeded in repelling the attack. About one-fourth of the PSG force had left Manila the day before for four Central Luzon provinces (Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales and Bulacan) to secure President Aquino who was scheduled to go on a consultation tour of the four provinces and meet with local officials and development officers. The PSG men deployed in these four provinces were to serve as the President’s advance parties. They were immediately recalled to Malacañang.

Marines to the Rescue

It was the Marines who saved the morning for the PSG. They responded with lightning speed to the PSG’s SOS call and effectively helped in repelling the rebel troops’ attack on Malacañang. After a while, past three o’clock, when it was clear that the rebel troops were not mounting a counterattack, Brig. Gen. Rodolfo Biazon, commandant of the Marines, got the order from President Aquino to send his men after the rebel troops who had moved to Camp Aguinaldo.

“Hit them!” the President ordered General Biazon. “I don’t care how you do it, but do it!”

About that same time, quarter of an hour past three o’clock, the main body of rebel troops that came from Central Luzon divided into two groups — one converging at Camp Aguinaldo, and the other at the ABS-CBN compound at Bohol Avenue, both in Quezon City. The rebel troops converging at Camp Aguinaldo were directly led by Honasan, those converging at the ABS-CBN compound by Col. Eduardo Matellano, PC provincial commander of Nueva Ecija.

In the glowing skylight of the pre-dawn hours, the rebel troops displayed their mutinous sign of the RAM: the inverted Philippine flag with patch of red above the color blue. They flew this sign of the RAM on their armored vehicles or wore the miniature flag above the breast pockets of their combat uniform.

Rebel Flag

Earlier that morning, the inverted flag flew over Camp Olivas in San Fernando, Pampanga, where renegade Col. Reynaldo Berroya and renegade Maj. Manuel Divina, former PC provincial commander and assistant provincial commander, respectively, had taken Brig. Gen. Eduardo Taduran, chief of PC Regional Command (Recom) 3, along with his six senior staff officers, hostage. The takeover of Camp Olivas by the rebel troops was effected at one o’clock, Friday morning. Basa Air Base in nearby Floridablanca, home of the Philippine Air Force’s fighter planes, also fell under rebel control.

Held hostage by the rebel troops along with Gen. Taduran were Col. Miguel Fontanilla, deputy Recom 3 commander for operations; Col. Wilfred Nicolas, Recom 3 chief-of-staff; Police Lt. Col. Agusto Cuyugan, deputy Recom 3 commander for police matters; Major Enrique Galang, chief of the civil relations service; Maj. Abdul Rahaman Abdulla, commander, Headquarters Service Co.; Maj. Vidal Querol, Recom 3 assistant chief of staff for operations; and Lt. Rufino Mendoza, aide-de-camp.

They were held hostage while meeting in the office of General Taduran for an emergency staff conference on reports of unauthorized troop movements from Nueva Ecija to Metro Manila. The hour was 2:30 a.m. when the renegade officers confronted them. It was only then that they learned that Camp Olivas had been under rebel control as of 1:00 a.m. that morning. Colonel Berroya and Major Divina had been AWOL (absent without official leave) since their involvement in the February take-over by Marcos loyalist troops of GMA 7 in Quezon City.

At Villamor

At 1:30 a.m. that Friday morning, in Villamor Air Base, headquarters of the Philippine Air Force (PAF), negotiations started between Maj. Gen. Antonio E. Sotelo, PAF chief, and Brig. Gen. Federico Pasion, Jr., PAF vice commander and camp commander of the base, for General Sotelo to yield command to the other. Sotelo, a true soldier and authentic hero of the February 1986 EDSA Revolution, bluntly told Pasion that only President Aquino could relieve him of his post. The negotiations lasted for five hours.

Later in the day, taking the fire escape route after leaving his office on the third floor of the PAF headquarters building through a window, along with a group of officers loyal to the government, General Sotelo reached the office behind the headquarters building of Col. Leopoldo Acot, A-2 (Air Intelligence) chief. And whom would he find there but General Pasion, holding an Uzi machine pistol in one hand and a .45 caliber service pistol in the other? General Sotelo disarmed him easily.

At Aguinaldo

It was 3:15 in the pre-dawn hours of that Friday morning when Honasan entered Camp Aguinaldo with some 800 heavily armed men, mostly from the Special Forces training camp, of which he was the commander, in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija. He had wanted to enter Camp Aguinaldo through Gate I but was not allowed by Col. Emiliano Templo, commander of the National Capital Region Defense Command (NCRDC) which was tasked with the defense of the camp.

The two had a long argument at Gate I, which infuriated Honasan. He told Colonel Templo that he did not want any further argument. To avoid a bloody showdown, Colonel Templo relented but would allow Honasan and his men, along with their equipment, to enter the camp only through Gate 5.

The idea was to let them into Camp Aguinaldo but to isolate them at a certain section while a defense perimeter was established to prevent them from overrunning the whole camp. Col. Honesto Isleta, AFP spokesman, also explained over the radio later in the morning that the plan was to confine the mutiny inside the camp to avert or at least minimize civilian casualties in case a shooting war broke out between Honasan’s men and the pro-government troops.

Initially, Honasan chose a spot under the trees in a section of the Camp Aguinaldo golf course as a kind of command post where he was joined by his deputy, Col. Melchor Acosta, commander of the 14th Infantry Battalion; a Colonel Erfe and Commander Jimmy Lucas of the Philippine Navy who later led the rebel troops in the occupation of the General Headquarters building; and Lt. Gabby Dizon, aide of Defense Secretary Rafael Ileto and a son of Brig. Gen. Benjamin Dizon, commander of the Constabulary Highway Patrol Group (CHPG), among many others.

Waking Up

At 4:45 a.m. that Friday morning, roused from her sleep three hours earlier by the sounds of gunfire during the firefight at Malacañang, President Aquino went on the air to announce that the attack on Malacañang by mutinous soldiers had been repulsed and that she was safe and well. She urged the people to stay indoors until the rebellion was quelled. She announced the suspension of classes in all schools in Metro Manila and for her own scheduled trip to Central Luzon that morning. Hers was a reassuring voice, unhurried and unemotional.

Legaspi Strike

In Legazpi City, it was not until six o’clock that Friday morning that the rebel troops made their move. Led by Capt. Ludovico Dioneda, commanding officer of the PC company in Albay’s first district, Lt. Diosdado Balleros, CO of the PC company in the second, and Capt. Reynaldo Rafal, CO of the PC company in the third, the rebel soldiers, numbering about 80, sought official permission from Brig. Gen. Luis San Andres, chief of PC Recom 5 based at Camp Bagong Ibalon, to secure the Legazpi airport, only to hoist the inverted Philippine flag upon their arrival there. It turned out that the troops were promised a transport plane that would arrive from Villamor Air Base to ferry them to Metro Manila to augment Honasan’s forces. Four truckloads of soldiers from Camp Bagong Ibalon left that same hour bound for Manila. Nothing was heard of them afterwards.

Gen. San Andres sometime later in the day sent emissaries to the mutineers at the Legazpi airport to urge them to return to camp. As the day wore on and the promised Air Force cargo plane did not arrive, the weary mutineers returned to camp only to find nobody to welcome them back. Captain Dioneda spoke over the radio owning full responsibility for their mutinous act.

Honasan’s Broadcast

At Broadcast City, which was occupied briefly by Honasan’s boys, Honasan’s message explaining the coup attempt was read at midmorning. The message said:

“We the young officers and enlisted men of the Armed Forces of the Philippines wish to inform our countrymen that this is not a loyalist, leftist, or rightist move. This is a move of young officers led by Col. Gregorio Honasan, Col. Red Kapunan, Col. Tito Legaspi, Navy Capt. Felix Turingan, Maj. Noe Wong, and majority of idealist young officers of the AFP.

“We have taken it upon ourselves to initiate the fight for justice, equality, and freedom which our senior officers failed to do or refused to undertake.

“We wish to inform our countrymen that we are now in control of Camp Aguinaldo, Villamor Air Base, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, the entire Regions 1, 2, 3, 4, and that the entire Philippine Military Academy cadet corps has already withdrawn their allegiance to the government. They are now on their way to Manila under Colonel Kapunan.

“We are also in control of the Broadcast City and we are committed to die for our country and fellowmen. We are inviting other professional and freedom-loving officers and enlisted men to join us and let us have a new direction.”

Some Idealist!

President Aquino would later mock Honasan for his unabashed reference to his group of mutineers as “idealist young officers fighting for justice, equality and freedom.” In a brief speech at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Fort Bonifacio on Sunday, August 30, during the observance of National Heroes Day, she said:

“Let not idealism be used to cover the darkest crimes and ambitions of men whose actions only showed their hatred of democracy and their contempt for the lives of the people. One cannot be idealistic and a liar. They dishonor that name. They dishonor the word.”

The capture of PTV-4 was a priority objective of the mutineers. This task fell on Col. Eduardo Matellano, PC provincial commander of Nueva Ecija, who had a glamorous record in soldiering. PTV-4 had earlier been placed under heavy security, following intelligence reports of the impending coup, and Col. Warlito Sayam, who the month before captured renegade Col. Rolando Abadilla, directed its defense. About 85 young regular soldiers took positions inside the ABS-CBN compound at Bohol Avenue in Quezon City, where the government tv station is housed.

The attack came at 1:45 that Friday morning. This followed closely the attack on Malacañang which was repulsed and involved the same rebel troops at Malacañang who had retreated to Quezon City. They came on two trucks led by a police jeep. The exchange of heavy gunfire lasted throughout the morning. The station went off the air.

President Aquino, roused from sleep by the sound of gunfire at about 1:30 that Friday morning, was determined to crush the mutiny at the earliest possible time. From the start she was resolved that there would be no negotiations, no prisoners. At 4:30 that morning she had gone on the air, yet at seven o’clock there was still that eerie absence of contact with Gen. Ramos, her Armed Forces’ chief-of-staff. She wanted an attack launched against the rebel forces immediately. She had even taken the risk of having an inadequate secrity force in Malacañang by releasing the Marines, telling General Biazon, the Marines commandant, to “hit them, no matter how you do it, but hit them!”

The Malacañang hot lines to the office of the Secretary of Defense and to the office of the chief of staff at the AFP general headquarters, both in Camp Aguinaldo, had been cut.

“What was going on?” the President asked impatiently. “When is the attack?”

Presidential Special Counsel Teddy Boy Locsin volunteered to go to Camp Crame to personally deliver to General Ramos or to his deputies, Gen. Renato de Villa, PC chief, or Gen. Eduardo Ermita, AFP vice chief of staff, the President’s order to attack. It was eight o’clock and the weather had turned balmy, but Locsin found it stifling hot inside General Ramos’s command post in Camp Crame. General Ramos was there all right. But at ten o’clock the attack ordered by the Commander-in-Chief had still not been launched.

President Aquino called Governor Binay and through him got Gen. Alfredo S. Lim, superintendent of the Metropolitan Police Force’s Western Police District General Lim’s mission:

“Retake Channel 4!”

General Lim’s original order was actually to “reinforce” the beleaguered defenders of Channel 4. Brig. Gen. Rene Cruz, deputy director of the Integrated National Police (INP), told General Lim to take his men to Camp Crame for their high-powered weapons and ammunition. General Lim had gathered about 70 uniformed cops and plainclothes men for the task assigned to him. When they were ready to move out, their number had been swelled to 139.

A block away from Channel 4, General Lim and his men saw a pathetic sight: the young regular soldiers who were defending Channel 4 were staggering out of the ABS-CBN compound, their guns left behind in abject surrender to Colonel Matellano’s forces entrenched at nearby Camelot Hotel which they had used as their fortress in attacking Channel 4. The defenders told General Lim that they had run out of ammunition and even when they had they could not match the superior fire-power of the rebel troops. They had been on the line for 10 hours and they had not received any reinforcement or resupply of ammunition.

As it turned out, according to General Lim later, this was a tactical advantage. He said: “Had the pro-government troops remained inside Channel 4, we would have been on the defensive side, and the rebel troops mostly encamped at the Camelot Hotel, would have been on the offensive. And we scored psychologically against the rebel soldiers. We retook Channel 4. This demoralized the rebel soldiers who had briefly occupied Channels 9 and 13 at the Broadcast City into surrendering.”

Turning the Tide

The tide turned against the rebel troops of Honasan as the afternoon of that Friday began. With the retaking of Channel 4, at no bloody cost to the government side except for one policeman killed and two wounded, a psychological momentum toward an early victory began to swing the tide of battle for the government side. Government troops arrived at the scene to mount an attack against the rebel troops that had taken positions inside the Camelot Hotel. It was now clear to the curious onlookers at the Channel 4 area, many of whom had earlier in the day flashed the Marcos loyalist V sign as they provided cover to retreating and wounded rebel troops, and to those following the situation reports on the radio, that the government was on top of the situation.

Aguinaldo Regained

The decisive phase of the battle that bleak Friday, August 28, came around two o’clock in the afternoon when Colonel Templo, who was in command of the defending forces in Camp Aguinaldo, together with Colonel Sayam, made a final effort to convince Honasan’s men at the Department of National Defense building to surrender. But Honasan’s boys there, Colonel Erfe and Navy Commander Lucas, stood pat. They had already made known their position, they said, and that was that. Their position was for President Aquino to step down and for General Ramos to resign.

General Ermita and Gen. Ramon Montaño maintained their position on the third floor of the GHQ building where the offices of the AFP general staff were located, but now, as the afternoon dragged on, they wanted to get out. The first and second floors of the building, however, were in the hands of the rebel troops. Colonel Templo received a Capcom radio message that Capcom reinforcements would enter Camp Aguinaldo through Gate 2.

The final battle was about to begin. Honasan’s side refused to negotiate so cockeyed sure of victory were the mutineers. President Aquino had declared there would be “no terms”.

At 4:15 p.m. that Friday afternoon, as she spoke on a nationwide radio-tv hook-up, two Tora-Tora dive bombers of World War II vintage from the Sangley Point Air Station attacked me rebel troops’ positions inside Camp Aguinaldo. Tanks crashed through the walls of the camp to enable the Marines led by Col. Braullio Balbas, Jr. to link up with the NCRDC forces under Colonel Templo. A helicopter gunship strafed rebel troops’ positions in die Camelot Hotel area.

The left wing of the GHQ building billowed with heavy smoke after retreating rebel troops set it afire by pouring gasoline all around and firing smoke grenades at it. The day after, against the bright morning sun, die gutted ruins of die building’s left wing presented a stark reminder to all who viewed it of what the madness of Honasan and his group had done.

As for Honasan, reports said he was flown out of Camp Aguinaldo as the Friday afternoon battle raged on. The latest report was that he had formed a provisional government under a junta composed of himself and his fellow renegade officers who had founded RAM.

The shoot-to-kill order issued on him has been lifted “to allow Honasan to surrender peacefully.”

Does this mean that President Aquino had softened on the mutineers? Would that not invite another coup attempt?

At the solemn rites held last August 30 at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, during the observance of the National Heroes Day, President Aquino dared rebellious troops still in the armed services to attempt another coup:

“They should expect once again to be crushed!”

The Friday, August 28 uprising of Honasan’s RAM boys, she said, “taught them the most bitter lesson and we will teach them again if they want it.”

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Editorial cartoon: Enrile: Nothing to do with it, September 19, 1987

Enrile: Nothing to do with it.

Enrile: Nothing to do with it.

Have rock, will demonstrate, March 7, 1970

Have Rock, Will Demonstrate

By Napoleon G. Rama

Staff Member

 

“The Greater The Evils in a Society, The Harsher The Repercussions.”

 

March 7, 1970–NOTHING is more symbolic of the sad and uncertain state of the nation than the sight of row upon row of buildings in Manila and suburbs, windows and doors patched with plywood, like so many bandaged casualties of some violent happening.

To new arrivals there is no sight more startling, more eerie—so suggestive of dark danger lurking somewhere nearby, or imminent, invisible doom fast descending on the most noble and loyal city of Manila. The whole scenery is not without its comic effects: tall, elegant buildings propped up by marbled columns ludicrously wearing a patchwork of thin, unpainted wooden sheets, crudely and carelessly put together as if by clumsy carpenters, giving the once sleek and shiny structures the tattered look of a barong-barong. Poetic justice. The vengeance of the barong-barong, at last?

It could be a portent of the upheaval ahead—the levelling of status and conditions, the equalization of men through violence and vendetta. Or perhaps the brutalization of society.

Those steeped in the history of the nation and versed in the chemistry of the Filipino in our time can only survey with amused and knowing eye the unseemly scenario—the blending of the comical and the sublime, the solid and the sham, the silly and the sinister, hinting at the confusion and contradictions within.

Rich country, poor people; great country, small leaders—is the sum of the contrasts afflicting the nation.

Future historians will write how this nation was the first to drive away its colonizers only to become a colony of its own government run by crude and callous politicians who could not hear the tick-tock of the clock of history.

The question is not why the demonstrations, why the rumbling of revolution in the streets. Truth to tell, we have been asking for it for a long, long time. Or didn’t we know? The sins of omission and commission have over the years, over the decades, accumulated. Something simply has to give. The warning was sounded years back. But nobody paid any heed. The wonder is that violence in the streets has been rather late in coming.

The young are merely trying to do the things that their elders, by default, have left undone. Or put it another way, trying to undo the things that the leaders have done to the nation. Now we, the elders, can only weep like children over the loss of opportunities, rights and values that like men we didn’t know how to defend.

It’s too late now for bellyaching. Many complain that the demonstrations are attended by violence. What did one expect? The greater the evils in a society, the harsher the repercussions. The studentry seeks to remedy such evils. It has opted for a formula it thinks will bring results. Grandes males, grandes remedios.

In the past, peaceful demonstrations were largely ignored, both by the press and the people in the saddle. The students have merely discovered that a stone thrown here, a molotov cocktail there, plus broken glass windows and bashed-in heads, could get some results, and inspire, if not fear, nervous concern in the Establishment.

This is not to say that violent or vandalistic demonstrations are the best strategy for getting results or reforms, as things stand now. But when previous demonstrations were ignored and their politely-stated grievances remained unheeded and unheard, one could only expect the thunder and fire next time. Recall how, before the bloody rallies became a fad, a group of well-behaved demonstrators had to camp night and day for weeks at the Agrifina Circle before it could get an audience with and some concessions from administration people.

Consider the anti-congressional allowances rally years ago, which included a march on Congress and Malacañang by both students and elderly members of the Philconsa; the delegation of Bulacan fishermen, deprived of their livelihood by illegally constructed river dikes of the greedy rich and politically powerful; the delegation of tobacco farmers and traders from Ilocos Sur pleading with the President in Malacañang to stop the economic blockade in that province, and scores of other protest rallies. They were all peaceful demonstrations. Nothing came of them.

Thus, even the new violent twist to recent demonstrations was not the exclusive and original making of the students. It was the unconcern and inaction of the administration leaders that gave rise to the riotous rallies.

But the Marcos Administration should consider itself lucky that the students are still demonstrating although with some violence, and have not yet decided to go underground or found a Fidel Castro or a Che Guevarra and have not yet gone to the mountains from where they can mount a real revolution.

For the men in the saddle the situation is not hopeless as long as the students continue to demonstrate or plan rallies. It’s the best evidence that they still, in their hearts, believe, despite the noisy outbursts of the extremists among them, that it is still possible to wring reforms from the Establishment through processes within the framework of the system, and that resort to the ultimate measure—revolution—is not yet necessary.

The students are intelligent enough to know that it would be senseless to go on demonstrating if there was no hope left, or that the system and men whom they denounce are beyond formation or redemption.

But time is running out and such hope and such faith, getting fainter each day, could be extinguished by stupidity, bullheadedness and panic on the part of the Administration. It’s time for urgent action instead of pious pledges.

For one thing, the biggest single problem and handicap of the President is his credibility gap. Hence, his sworn statements and speeches will not do. A dialogue between him and the students is out of the question. But to tackle the demonstration problem he has to establish some communication with the students.

The dilemma can be solved by a presidential committee composed of the most prestigious and respected men he can find in our outside the government to represent him in the negotiations with the student leaders. The committee, it must be announced beforehand, will be invested with full powers to make decisions, act on the legitimate demands of the students and implement its decisions as quickly as possible.

They are still, in this country, men of integrity and intelligence whom the students can trust and respect. They can hold fruitful and intelligent dialogues with the demonstrators. A dialogue through press releases and speeches at Plaza Miranda won’t do. There’s a need for a face-to-face discussion of demands and grievances, of what is negotiable and what is not, a spelling out of the solutions and actions to be taken—and a truce, a ceasefire during which the agreements are implemented, a testing of the good faith of the negotiators.

Above all, the situation calls for swift, dramatic action on the part of Malacañang, not so much to meet the demands of the students as to bridge the credibility gap.

The major demands of the demonstrators include limiting the term of the President to one without reelection and iron-clad guarantees that President Marcos himself would not try for a third term or an expansion of his present term. After the unfortunate January 30 conference in Malacañang where the students had to wring out of a reluctant and sore President the pledge not to seek a third term, the students are convinced that the President will somehow rig the Constitutional Convention to secure for himself, if not a third term, an extension of his present tenure.

This is one issue that has fueled the demonstrations. More solemn abjurations and sworn affidavits by the President at this stage of the game will have little effect on the doubting Thomases. Resolute, dramatic action is what’s called for. And the President, whose powers are vaster than what are stipulated in the Constitution and the laws has few dramatic options open to him.

He could jump the gun on the students by asking Congress to approve a constitutional amendment limiting the term of the President to one starting from 1974 and disqualifying the incumbent from seeking a new or extended term.

On clearly meritorious and popular constitutional proposals like no reelection for the President, Congress need not wait for the Constitutional Convention to be constituted two years from now. Such a move would not queer the task of the Convention, for Congress has the power to amend the Constitution by a three-fourths vote of all members of both chambers voting separately.

This is what the President can do. He can see to it that Congress limit its constitutional proposals to a few non-controversial amendments, generally accepted as necessary. The Constitutional Convention can still properly undertake its task of overhauling the Constitution in 1971 and will still have the power to revise or reject amendments inserted by the present Congress.

The point here is that the sullen, restless populace may not have enough patience to wait for two years before seeing the institution of drastic reforms in the system. Swift action by the President and Congress to meet the legitimate demand for these reforms may be the formula for defusing the demonstration timebomb.

Of course the more orthodox but necessary course of action has still to be done. The President still has to institute  a no-nonsense revamp of major offices of the government known for their shenanigans and venalities.

The conduct of the last elections is one of the major issues raised by the demonstrators. The President can employ the persuasive power of his office to get Congress to act quickly on the major electoral reform measures now pending in the legislative department.

It’s also time the President put his foot down on the big deals and the kickbacks about which everybody knows. He should know by this time that there’s no way of keeping certain deals secret when these involve millions of pesos of the people’s money. Like truth, the stink will out, like it or not. The Special Forces, the main instrument of terrorism in the last elections, must go, if he cannot prosecute the ringmasters. His austerity program must be implemented and made meaningful by his own example and those on the high perches of government properties such as Fort Bonifacio to finance the vital land reform program.

These are some of the necessary things that the President can do in the face of demonstrations. He is racing against time. The art is no longer matching urgent action to urgent words. The situation calls for urgent action—and more urgent action.

And the January 30 Insurrection, February 7, 1970

And the January 30 Insurrection

by Jose F. Lacaba

 

February 7, 1970–JANUARY 26 seemed explosive enough—but it was a whimper compared with the horrendous bang of January 30. The papers called January 26 a riot. January 30 was something else. “This is no longer a riot,” said a police officer. “This is an insurrection.” And the President called it a revolt—“a revolt by local Maoist Communists.”

January 26 was a Monday. On Tuesday the students met to plan a series of new rallies denouncing police brutality, and the President conferred with police officials. On Wednesday the President had a talk with some student leaders in Malacañang. On Thursday four groups of demonstrators, one of them led by U.P. President S. P. Lopez himself, staged simultaneous demonstrations at Malacañang, Congress, and Maharnilad. On Friday several other student groups held a sit-in outside the Malacañang gates—and just as their manifestation was about to end, all hell broke loose.

Tuesday, about 120 leaders, representing 36 schools and at least a dozen national youth organizations, gathered at the Far Eastern University. NUSP President Edgar Jopson, of the Ateneo, presided over the three-hour meeting, during which a resolution was passed demanding the resignation of certain officials of law enforcement agencies, and Friday was set as the starting date of the series of rallies. While the students were conferring at the FEU, the President was in a huddle with law enforcement officials in Malacañang. He told them to be “more tolerant to the future leaders of the country,” and ordered them to drop the charges against the students arrested on January 26.

Wednesday, Mayor Villegas announced that the Manila police would stay away from future demonstrations to avoid trouble, but that they would stand by, “within beck and call of violence erupts.” The NUSP and the National Students’ League rejected an invitation to meet with the President in Malacañang, saying they preferred to have the talks on Friday. Another group of student leaders went there anyway and heard the President say: “I personally do not want to have anything to do with the Constitutional Convention.” The Senate and the House created a committee to investigate the “root causes of demonstrations in general.” The Manila police filed complaints of alarm and scandal against 18 students caught in the battle of Burgos Drive. “The whole world is in ferment and youth is on the march,” said Brigadier General Vicente Raval of the PC. “It is essential that, in our country, we take the greatest care in dealing with the problem.” He proposed the immediate acquisition of “non-lethal equipment” for the police and urged that they be re-trained in “the highly sensitive science of dealing with demonstrators.”

Thursday, there were four groups of demonstrators. Students from the Philippine Normal College and members of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines held separate rallies. Students from the University of the East gathered first at Malacañang, then moved on to Maharnilad, where trouble was avoided when a policeman whose jeep was stoned simply drove away without a fight. When the UE students left Malacañang, the UP professors, led by S. P. Lopez, arrived and were angrily reprimanded by the President: “You yourselves are vague and confused about the issues you have raised against the government.” The President challenged any Communist in the group to a debate, and when a student leader accused him of using the army and the Special Forces in the elections, he asked: “Are you a Liberal?” Meanwhile, police reporters agreed to wear distinctive uniforms when covering demonstrations, to avoid being stoned by students and clobbered by cops.

And then it was Friday, January 30.

Again, there were simultaneous demonstrations. To Congress went members of the KM, the SDK, the MPKP, and other militant groups. The NUSP and the NSL marched on Malacañang.

At about three in the afternoon, Jopson, Portia Ilagan of the NSL, and other student leaders went into Malacañang for a meeting with the President.

Sometime past five, the rally at Congress came to an end, and the demonstrators marched on to Malacañang, arriving there at about six.

What specific event precipitated the battled that spread out to other parts of the city, and lasted till dawn the next day, may never be known. The students who came from Congress claim that, as they were approaching J. P. Laurel Street, they heard something that sounded like firecrackers going off. When they got to Malacañang, the crowd was getting to be unruly. It was growing dark, and the lamps on the Malacañang gates had not been turned on. There was a shout of “Sindihan ang ilaw! Sindihan ang ilaw!” Malacañang obliged, the lights went on, and then crash! A rock blasted out one of the lamps. One by one, the lights were put out by stones or sticks.

A commotion was now going on at the Mendiola gate of the Palace. A firetruck inside the Palace grounds advanced and trained its hoses on the student rebels. The students retreated, and a brief period of lull followed. At about seven, a truck from the Manila Fire Department, responding to an alarm, came up from Sta. Mesa, its sirens dead, and slowed down in front of St. Jude Church. The firemen probably intended to blast away at the students, but water must really be scarce. Nothing but an ineffectual, sputtering spurt came out of their water cannon. The students charged, the truck backed off—but not fast enough. The firemen who were not quick to flee got beaten up.

The rebels now had a captured firetruck at their disposal. They drove it toward the Mendiola gate and used it as a battering ram of sorts until the locks gave away, the chains broke, and the gate clanked open. Into the breach surged the more daring demonstrators. They had apparently come prepared for the assault. They lobbed molotovs and pillboxes into the Palace grounds; the flames spread down the road when the molotovs crashed to the ground, the nails and broken pieces of glass scattered when the pillboxes exploded.

Once inside the gate, the rebels stoned the buildings and set fire to the truck and to a government car that happened to be parked nearby. Before they could wreak more havoc, however, the Presidential Guard Battalion came out in force. They fired into the air and, when the rebs held their ground, fired tear gas bombs at them. The rebs retreated; the few how were slow on their feet, or were blinded by the tear gas, got caught in the Palace grounds and were beaten up with rifle butts and billy clubs and good old-fashioned fists and feet.

About this time, reinforcements from the Constabulary arrived, later to be joined by the army, the navy, and the Metrocom. The pattern of the January 26 battle was repeated: the military would attack, the students would retreat; the students would counterattack, the military would draw back. At about nine, the soldiers had gained control of Mendiola and J. P. Laurel. The students were holding Tuberias, Legarda, and Claro M. Recto; some had retreated down Arlegui and into Quiapo, where looters took advantage of the situation in the Lacson Underpass, breaking display windows and grabbing jewelry and shoes.

On Tuberias, when I got there at about nine o’clock, the students were turning away all vehicles. The soldiers were at the corner of Tuberias and Mendiola, and steadily advancing. The students held their ground, hurling rocks, until they heard the sound of rifles being cocked. Then they scattered, some jumping over high walls into the yards of houses, others being voluntarily let in by apartment inhabitants. I fell in with a small group that took shelter at the mouth of a dark alley. A boy of about 12, in slippers, obviously a resident of the place, said there was a way out if we wanted to take a chance. He guided us down the long dark winding alley, down narrow catwalks, past walls smelling of urine, past accessorias with crumbling facades, until we came out, to our surprise, on Claro M. Recto.

At the end of Recto, where it hits Legarda, the students were massed, tense, turbulent, flinging rock and insults at the men in uniform—they looked like Constabulary troopers—guarding the bridge that leads to Mendiola. In the center of the cross formed by Recto, Mendiola, and Legarda was a burning jeep, its flames a bright yellow curtain separating the combatants. From the left side of Legarda came more shouts; there were other demonstrators there, and the troopers had to guard the bridge against two armies of students, one attacking from the front, the other attacking from the side.

It was at this point, with the students closing in from Recto and Legarda, that the troopers started firing—rat-tat-tat-tat-tat, the sound of a Thompson submachine gun—into the ground. Dust and tiny pebbles exploded from the cement and, where I stood, two rows behind the front lines, I felt a sudden sharp stinging pain in my chest. I’m hit, I thought, when I saw spots of blood on my shirt front; but since I didn’t fall, I gingerly unbuttoned my shirt. Imbedded right below my right nipple was an itty-bitty piece of cement. I carefully pulled it out and was examining it like a jeweler scrutinizing some precious gem from the moon when, before my eyes, there passed a student, supported by his comrades, one of his hands—the right, I think—now nothing more than a mess of blood and burning flesh, the fingers dangling like dead worms attached to his wrist only by a few threads of broken bones.

I was standing there in horror when another student, limping, fell into my arms. I recognized him to be one of the students who had come with us through the alley from Tuberias. He had one wound on his right leg, below the knee, and another on the outer ankle bone. A bystander watching from the sidewalk helped me carry him up Claro M. Recto, where we found a white car—a Taunus, I think—whose owner was good enough to take us to the UE Memorial Hospital. There they treated my very minor wound, but they could do nothing, they said, for the boy who had been shot in the leg. We then took a taxi—the owner of the car had gone back to the battle scene, looking for some fraternity brods—and brought our ward to the Orthopedic Hospital, where, at that very moment, as bad luck would have it, a small fire was raging on one of the upper floors. The fire did something to the X-rays, and the interns had to put the wounded boy’s leg in a cast, unable to check if a bullet was in his system.

The doctors at the Orthopedic Hospital agreed to let the wounded student stay for the night, until his friends or relatives could be contacted; and the bystander who had helped me carry the boy now invited me to his apartment house in Sampaloc for coffee and conversation. It was about midnight. When we were near his place, we saw that Legarda was still in tumult. So we forgot all about the coffee and off to the battlefield we went again.

The demonstrators had captured an army truck near the market, near a PNB branch, and a noisy debate on what to do with it was going on. Some wanted to push the truck into the line of Metrocom and army men down the road, but its wheels had been punctured and this proved to be a difficult task. Others wanted to burn the truck down, and indeed someone threw a lighted match into the sheets of paper that had been dumped inside the truck. Another demonstrator, however, quickly jumped onto the truck and stomped out the fire; the houses were too close, he said, “h’wag na nating idamay ‘yong mga tao.”

While the debate continued, two more army trucks beamed their headlights on the demonstrators and started moving forward, followed by the soldiers. The students started throwing stones. Some toughies in the area who had come out to join the demonstrators used slingshots, but kept swearing under their breath because they had no stock of homemade arrows. “Metrocom!” went the shout. “Sumuko na kamo! Bato ini!” The soldiers kept advancing, and then they started firing with Thompsons into the ground. We all scattered, except for one boy who did not even flinch and called to everybody to return. “Balik kayo, balik!” he cried. “Hindi magpapaputok nang deretso ‘yan!” I don’t know what happened to him, because when another round of firing started, I found myself in another dark alley, with a new group of companions.

When I got out again, the army truck was gone, and the soldiers were back at the corner of Recto and Legarda. A long lull followed, about 30 minutes. Then the soldiers started to advance again, someone hurled a molotov cocktail at them, they charged, cocking their guns and following us right into dark alleys where, as before, the demonstrators found doors being opened to them, or people at second-floor windows warning them with gestures about the presence of soldiers in alleys the demonstrators would enter. I somehow got separated from all my companions and found myself all alone under a kulahan, sitting on damp cement. The resident of an apartment house across the alley saw me and discreetly turned off his lights.

Quiet once more. I emerged from my hiding place and walked out into a street from which I could see the church on Earnshaw. There was a small group of students clustered at the door of an accessoria, talking animatedly, and I joined them. I was listening to them relate their experiences when, at the corner of Earnshaw and this street we were in, a squad of Metrocom men appeared. Everybody fled, except myself, two students, and the occupants of the accessoria, who worriedly told us to get in if we didn’t want to get hurt. In that dark, dingy, cramped accessoria, the two students and I stayed for a whole hour, seated on the steps of very narrow stairs, gulping down glasses and glasses of water, smoking, talking in whispers—“Rebolusyon na ito, brod,” they said—until the coast was clear.

It was three o’clock in the morning when we came out. Later that morning, the papers said that four students, some of them non-demonstrators, had been killed: Feliciano Roldan of FEU, Ricardo Alcantara of UP, Fernando Catabay of MLQU, and Bernardo Tausa of Mapa High School. Almost 300 demonstrators and bystanders were arrested; most of them were detained at Camp Crame.

That night, the President appeared on television to inform the nation of the “premeditated attack on the government, an act of rebellion and subversion,” which the military had successfully repulsed. “The mob that attempted to burn Malacañang,” he said, “was not a mob of students, nor were they simply arsonists.” They waved red banners, carried the flag with the red portion up, called the streets they occupied “liberated areas,” and shouted “Dante for President!” Therefore, said the President, “these men dedicated to an evil purpose, and that is to destroy Malacañang Palace and/or take it over.” The plan to take over Malacañang, he went on, was hatched by either one or both of two groups—“one of them Communist-inspired and the other one not Communist-inspired.” Both groups were under surveillance.

To his nation, the President had a message: “Rest assured that the situation is under control. Rest assured that we will maintain peace and order. Malacañan Palace is well guarded, but more than this, the country and our government is well guarded. There is no takeover by any group of the military or of the civilian government. In the matter of the preparation of the plans of reaction against any attempt to take over this government, the action that will be taken will be well-studied, deliberate, cautious, and legal, and there will be no attempt to curtail constitutional freedom.”

To the “insurrectionary elements,” he gave warning: “Any attempt at the forcible overthrow of the government will be put down immediately. I will not tolerate nor will I allow Communists to take over.”

The same day, the nation learned that the retirement date of General Raval of the PC, which was supposed to be on February 1, had been postponed to April 1. The entire Armed Forces of the Philippines were on red alert.

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

The January 26 Confrontation: A Highly Personal Account

Jose F. Lacaba

 

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

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

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

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

I found out soon enough, and the knowledge hurt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pulis, pulis, titi matulis!”

“Pulis, mukhang kuwarta!”

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

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

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

“Mano-mano lang, o!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then came January 30.

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

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

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

The Other Manila, December 13, 1952

The Other Manila

by Quijano de Manila 

the other manila-1

December 13, 1952—AROUND 1860, three Europeans visited Manila and recorded their impressions of the city in mid-19th century. One of them was en Englishman; the other two were Germans, one of whom was the unknown author of the waters reproduced on this and the following pages.

These watercolors have been in the possession of the Zobel family for the last hundred years; they believe the author to have been a visiting relative from Germany, who later married into the Manila Zobels. The original Zobels were Germans, who came to the Philippines to deal in drugs—and liberal ideas, too, incidentally. (The unknown watercolorist did a sketch of the old Zobel drugstore on Calle Real—a magnificent but rather puzzling establishment, with a sort of communion rail instead of a counter, and with a sort of altar in the center, arrayed with medicine bottles instead of candlesticks.)

By the end of the 19th century, the Zobels had intermarried with Spanish and Filipino families and were already regarded as naturales del pais. The first Jacobo Zobel considered himself Filipino and was so fully identified with the cause of reform that his name was implicated in the so-called Cavite Revolt that cost the lives of Fathers Burgos, Zamora and Gomez. As mayor of Manila, this Zobel beautified the city by planting Japanese flame tress all over town. His chief claim to fame, however, is that he gave Manila its first horse-drawn streetcars.

Among his modern descendants is the young painter Fernando Zobel, whose obsession with Philippine art and culture led to the rediscovery of these 1860 watercolors. Fernando remembers that when he was a child, his father used to show him these sketches, which had been gathered into an album. A family treasure, the album was always kept in a safe. After his father died, the family forgot about the album. They supposed it had perished during the Liberation, when the Zobels’ Manila house was destroyed.

A few months ago, Fernando was ransacking a Zobel bodega for relics of the past when he came upon the lost album. The binding had decayed, but the sketches were unharmed, dazzling his eyes with their clear beauty as he turned the yellowed pages; the album was intact. He now guards it with his life; to every historical-minded Filipino,  it is certainly priceless—a glimpse of a city that vanished a hundred years ago.

Whoever the author was (he left no signature), he had wit and a keen eye, an ironic intelligence, and consummate skill. His colors sparkle as brilliantly today as when he first laid them on; a dead city lives again in jeweled sketch after sketch. But we of this generation turn the pages with increasing bewilderment; with shocked surprise; even, perhaps, with faint terror. For this is a Manila of which we have no memory, no knowledge at all. It is terra incognita, newfoundland, a strange unrecognizable place.

All of us have the same general idea of what is meant by “the old Manila, the Spanish Manila.” We instantly see the sagging balconies of Calle Real, the Gothic spires of Sto. Domingo, the silver Romanesque dome of the Cathedral. Against that unchanging background, we naively pose the conquistadores of the 16th century, the missionaries of the 17th, the grandees of the 18th, and the rebel patriots of the 19th century. But now, confronted with these watercolors, we feel like the archaeologists who, searching for the “real” Troy, found seven different Troys, one beneath the other. And we realize how many, many Manilas have come and gone, unknown to us.

The Manila that perished during the Liberation was not the old Manila, the Spanish Manila: it was only the most recent in a series of cities, each completely different from the others. Repeatedly destroyed, this tough city was never recreated in its own image—and those who now propose to rebuild Intramuros “as it was in Spanish times” still have to learn that they are dealing with a most chameleon city.

the other manila-2c

In the Manila of these watercolors, nothing is familiar, everything seems “wrong”—Sto. Domingo is not Gothic nor the Cathedral Romanesque; the Governor’s palace stands in the cathedral square, which has an iron fence running around it; San Agustin has two towers; and the Escolta, with its whitewashed one-story buildings, looks like the main street of a minor Andalusian village. We gasp with astonishment—and we wonder: what did the other, the even earlier Manilas look like?

We will never know now; the descriptions in historical chronicles cannot give us the concrete image. But the Manila of 1860 was fortunate: a sensitive artist saw it and seems to have fallen in love with it. And he has arrested its face forever in the mirror of his art.

While he was doing that, another German was observing the city, though with a far more captious eye. Mr. F. Jagor visited Manila in 1859-1860, and found cause for complaint even before he had stepped off the boat. Apparently, getting a customs clearance in Manila was as vexatious for tourists then as it is now. Mr. Jagor had to leave his luggage behind on the boat.

He thought the Walled City dreary and hot, “built more for security than for beauty.” Life there was “vanity, envy, empleomania and racial strife.” The arrabales were picturesque; but the water was bad, the streets were dusty, and the clogged riverse and canals repulsive. Moreover, everything was too expensive, more expensive than in Singapore or Batavia. And the natives showed no awe of Europeans, which Jagor blamed on the low type of mot Spanish immigrants to the Philippines and on the absence here of “that high wall reared by disdainful British arrogance” to separate the Europeans from the natives.

The city was poor in entertainment. “During my stay, there were no performances in any of the Spanish theaters; in the Tagalog theaters, there were representations of dramas and comedies, most of them translations.” There were no nightclubs; one could find no books to read; and the newspapers were atrocious. A typical issue of El Comercio, a four-page daily, carried on its front page, as news from Europe, two articles reprinted from old books.

The botanical gardens were in a sad state, the few plants withering. Fashion decreed as a diversion, in spite of the dust, an evening ride along the bay. A few minutes from town, the countryside was green and fresh, but it was not quite the thing to go there. “One went riding to show off one’s clothes, not to enjoy the contemplation of nature.” He went to a cockfight and was nauseated. “Indios sweating in every pore of their bodies; their faces expressing the evil passions that enslaved them.”

Nothing, in fact, impressed Mr. Jagor about Manila except “the beauty of the women who animate its streets.” In this, “Manila surpasses all the cities of trans-Ganges India.”

If Mr. Jagor did not enjoy his visit to Manila, another visitor of the time certainly did. Sir John Bowring, a former governor of Hong Kong, vacationed in Manila toward the end of 1860, as a guest of Governor-General Fernando de Norzagaray.

“I have heard it said,” wrote Sir John afterward, “that life in Manila is extremely monotonous; but, during my stay, it seemed to me full of interest and animation.”

He was charmed the moment he landed: a “brilliant native band,” assembled under the Magallanes monument, was playing “God Save the Queen.” He was taken to the Governor-General’s palace in the Walled City, beside the cathedral park, then called La Plaza de Manila, which reminded Sir John of the parks in London—“with the difference that this park in Manila is adorned with the lovely vegetation of the tropics, whose leaves offer a great variety in color, from the most intense yellow to the darkest green, and whose flowers are notable for their splendor and beauty.”

Every day, in the afternoon, he explored the fascinating city. And: “Every day, a new surprise.” Each arrabal of Manila seemed to have its own “characteristic distinction.” Malate was full of clerks and seamstresses; Sampaloc, of printers and laundresses. Ermita was famed for its embroidery; Pasay, for its betel nuts. In Sta. Ana were the summer villas of the rich. Tondo supplied the city with milk, cheese and lard—or so thought Sir John; more probably, the milk came from Mariquina and the chief industry of Tondo as well as of Sampaloc was to “multiply” the milk. Binondo was “the most important and opulent town of the Philippines and its true commercial capital.” On Arroceros, he watched the fleets of rice-loaded bancas and he saw a great procession of cigar girls from the nearby factory. Entering the factory, he noticed that the workrooms of the women resounded with gay chatter while complete silence reigned in the workrooms of the men.

He visited, too, the Governor-General’s “summer house by the Pasig, Malacañang,” which had “a pretty garden, a convenient bath that could be lowered into the river, a birdhouse and a small zoo, in which I saw a chimpanzee that later died of pneumonia.”

He wondered why so few people cared to enjoy “the beautiful panorama of rivers, roads, and villages” in the suburbs. Even for the Pasig, which so revolted Jagor, he has a nice word: “The aspect of the river is delicious; and no little would be the merit of the artist who could transfer to canvas, with its proper hues, so lovely a picture.” In the evenings, he joined the paseo on the Calzada; at night, there was usually a tertulia or a reception at the Palace. He had been a soldier in Spain during the Napoleonic wars and he rather regretted that the Spanish ladies in Manila had abandoned their native costume; the city’s fashionable world had adopted Parisian styles and manners.

During the fiesta of Sampaloc, which he attended with some British ensigns, he was enchanted by the vivacity of the native girls. “The styles of Paris had not yet invaded those places; but the native decorations had taste and variety, and there was as much fun and flirtatiousness as in the most sophisticated gatherings. Our young ensigns were among the gayest in the crowd and, although unable to speak the language, managed to make themselves understood by the charming girls. The feast lasted until the small hours of the morning.”

the other manila-2Like Jagor, he noticed the absence of racial barriers. “I have seen, at the same table, Spaniards, mestizos and Indios, priests and soldiers. To the eyes of   one who has observed the repugnance and misunderstandings caused by race in various parts of the Orient and who knows that race is the great divider of society, the contrast and exception presented by so mixed a population as that of the Philippines is admirable.” At that year’s ceremony in honor of the Immaculate Conception, which was attended by the entire city, from the Governor-General down, a native priest was selected to deliver the principal speech.

Other details mentioned by Sir John are tantalizing. He speaks of a Chinese cemetery in downtown Sta. Cruz and of a bridge with seven arches, the Puente Grande, on the present site of Jones. The city seems different in more important respects, too. It then had a population of 150,000, and had had only one conviction for murder in five years. (The provinces had the same crime rate—“with the exception of the Island of Negros, where, of 44 criminal convictions, 28 were for assassination.”) But people—especially the Chinese—were already complaining of too many lawyers: there were almost 80 of them practising in Manila at that time. Besides a university and numerous convent-schools, the city had a nautical college and an academy of fine arts—“which has not, so far, produced a Murillo or a Velasquez.”

At some time in their peregrinations around so small a city, our three travelers of 1860 must have brushed against each other; one imagines them being caught up in a nasty traffic tangle on, say, Santo Cristo,  among the screaming pigtailed Chinese, the carabao carts, the black-shrouded beatas, and the laughing bare-shouldered ladies in crinolines, driving past in swank victorias. The angry Mr. Jagor would be stomping past, fuming at the stinks and the dust; Sir John would be leaning eagerly from his carriage, cooing over the quaintness of it all; while on the pavement, leaning against a wall, would be the mysterious Zobel artist, smiling pensively as he studied the effect of light upon the scene and the relations of the colors. None of them knew it, of course, but our three travelers were looking upon a doomed city—a city that was very soon and very suddenly to perish, leaving only a few wracks behind.

At seven o’clock on the night of June 3, 1863, after a day of intense heat, the ground shook suddenly and violently. The quake lasted only half a minute; but, in that split minute, the entire city crumbled into ruins, burying hundreds alive in the wreckage. It was the eve of Corpus Christi. The lone survivor was, as usual, the church of the Augustinians, which had merely lost a belltower. Their palace reduced to rubble, the Spanish governors-general transferred to Malacañan, which became their permanent residence. The foundations of the old palace survive to this day.

From the ruins of that other Manila—that odd city smiling at us from the Zobel watercolors—arose the Manila we remember,  the Manila of Rizal and the Revolution, the last great creation of Spain in the Philippines.—QUIJANO DE MANILA

Malacañan memoirs, February 28,1949

Malacañan memoirs

by Ernesto T. Bitong

290 España, Manila

February 28, 1949–FEBRUARY 3, 1945 is a date to remember.

The day was depressing. The sun shone briefly at noon and later was lost among the low-hanging clouds. I felt that something was going to happen. The air seemed to be charged with something ominous.

Early in the morning, I learned that the Kempeitais  had paid another visit to the CO’s office in Malacañan Annex and got the roster of the Presidential Guards and a list of the arms in the PG Armory. The strength of the Guards then was greatly depleted. The exodus to Baguio of Dr. Laurel and his cabinet in the latter part of December 1944 had left Malacañan with only a skeleton force. It was this small band that neutralized the efforts of the Japanese marines to appropriate for themselves the use of the Palace.

Count Kano, the liaison officer of the Japanese Military Administration in Malacañan, came late in the morning and left hastily a little later for parts unknown. This was something irregular. Kano usually came to the office early and left late in the afternoon.

Guard mount was held at two o’clock instead of the usual five. This further enhanced my suspicion that something was in the air.

In the growing dusk, I kept to my post in the Executive Building. My senses were cocked to everything around me. Then it happened. I heard desultory firing in the northern part of the city. The phone near my position rang. It was from an agent from the Bureau of Investigation. He reported that there was street fighting in the vicinity of Blumentritt. I contacted the Sergeant of the Guard and apprised him of the situation. He ordered the closing of the gates and directed the men to take the best positions.

The crackle of gunfire and the rumble of tanks drew nearer and nearer. A single column of big tanks painted drab green lumbered into view. While the column rounded the corner of Mendiola and Aviles, a truckload of Jap heitai-sans followed by a sedan of Jap officers came upon the scene. They were greeted by 75’s and .50 caliber machine guns. The armored column came to a halt in front of Gate 4.

We were in a quandary. They could not be Americans, for according to the latest “dope” from the guerrilla grapevine, the Yanks were somewhere in Bulacan. Surely, they could not be here so soon. And supposing they were Americans, would they fire on us if we opened the gates, thinking that we were Nipponese marionettes? These thoughts raced through our minds as the armored column waited outside the gate.

Then I heard wisps of conversation from the tank column. The nasal twang was unmistakable. I felt immensely relieved. A big hunk of a GI detached himself from the column and walk boldly to the iron gate. He unscrewed the bar that held the two leaves of the gate in place. My heart was beating like a tomtom. I kept rooted to my position.

The lead tank pushed the gate open and clanked in, followed by the rest of the armored unit. The turret of the lead tank opened and out came a crash–helmeted figure. Apparently, he was the leader of the tank column. I learned later that he was Capt. “Bud” Hickman, of the Second Squadron under Lt. Col. H. L. Conner.

Sgt. Carlos San Pedro rose from his concealed position and approached Capt. Hickman. After they exchanged salutes, the tank man told him, “I’d like to see your Commanding Officer.”

Our commanding officer, Maj. “Jess” Vargas (now chief of staff of the Philippine Ground Forces, AFP) was in the Executive Building. While Vargas and Hickman introduced themselves, they were joined by Maj. Napoleon Valeriano, who led the armored unit to Malacañan. (Maj. Valeriano is now PC Provincial Commander of Pampanga.)

Associated Press Correspondent Richard Bergholz, expressing astonishment at the feebleness of the Jap opposition to the American drive toward Manila, said: “It’s definitely a race between forward elements of the First Cavalry and the 37th Division to see who enters Manila first.” In this race the mechanized First Cavalry won.

Meanwhile, the GIs rigged .50 caliber machine guns at Gate 4 and around the periphery. They dug in and awaited Banzai attacks. The medics cleared the southern section of the Executive Building of the desks and other office paraphernalia and set up a hospital… Two tank men were wounded in the encounter near Gate 4: one was hit near the pulmonary region and died before midnight, the other was grazed in the neck. Mrs. “Mommie” Pecson (now a senator) made herself useful by serving the GI “dogfaces” cookies and hot coffee and entertaining them with her stories about her experiences in the good old USA.

The next morning, February 4, the Japs must have found their bearings. They rained murderous artillery and mortar fire on the Malacañan compound. Several American casualties were brought in for treatment. The medics were kept busy.

For tactical purposes, Malacañan was divided into two sectors. The Palace and the immediate grounds were assigned to the Guards. The Americans were assigned to the Executive Building and the surrounding areas including the Annex Building. The Palace grounds were swept with Jap machine gun fire from the San Miguel Brewery. Sorties were sent out to destroy the Jap stronghold. The Americans in their sector had enough trouble on their hands to keep them busy. Strong Jap positions in the Malacañan Park across the Pasig river menaced the Yanks with their knee mortars. All through the day there were exchanges of gunfire. Before nightfall American firepower asserted itself. The Jap ammunition dump in Pandacan was hit. All night long shells in the ammo dump exploded. It was like a New Year’s Eve and July Fourth celebrations rolled into one. For several days thereafter fighting continued intermittently.

On February 7 we had a distinguished visitor, that almost legendary figure—General Douglas MacArthur. There was no mistaking the tall, handsome, stern military bearing, the distinctive cap. With him was Col. Andres Soriano. They visited the Palace and the Executive Building. The General paused at the slit trencher and “battled the breeze” with the GI dogfaces. Later he walked up to the San Miguel Church escorted by Maj. Valeriano.

Two hours after General MacArthur’s departure, the Palace was subjected to the heaviest shelling since the arrival of the Americans.  The families that took refuge in the Palace had to be evacuated to the Executive Building. The Palace shook from the effect of the terrific shelling. The southwestern side of the Palace was destroyed. All the windows in the Executive Building were broken. Many casualties were brought in.

Malacañan was left to the Guards when the tank column moved to Santo Tomas University Camp in accordance with orders from higher headquarters. The only Americans left in the compound were a platoon of signal corpsmen who lost no time in establishing themselves in the presidential air-raid shelter behind the Executive Building. The Japs stationed at the Hospicio de San Jose continued to threaten the Malacañan fortress. Camouflaged with water lilies and other plants, the Japs attempted crossings at night. But they were always checked by the Guards who peppered them with rifle fire.

The first crossings to the southside of Manila of amphibious tanks through the Uli-Uli Road wrote finis to the attacks on Malacañan. The Guards played a stellar role.

 

Ruby in a new setting, August 17, 1946

Ruby in a new setting

By Ligaya Victorio Reyes

August 17, 1946 –TAKE a delicate, gentle girl from the ordered existence of a ladies school and plunk her in the midst of a palace’s social whirl, and you have a girl more than slightly bewildered. You have Ruby Roxas.

Ruby came home from Vassar not so long ago. She came home to a room done all in blue, to the muffled halls of chandelier-lit rooms, the incessant  hustle and bustle of state life. She came home to a mother to whom she is devoted, a father whom she adores, a brother who is also a friend. And in coming home to them, she came back to a life completely new, the kind of life she had not planned on living, even she whose life had been a series of changes.

“I never dreamed of living in the Palace,” Ruby laughed. “only a year ago, we were so concerned about just being able to live that we never bothered about where we lived. We were running in the mountains then, and this dream was too remote for every one of us.”

But now that it had actually happened, how did she like being a President’s daughter?

“It carries with it a lot of responsibilities,” Ruby answered the question. “So many people who come to us have troubles, and if you are at all the sympathetic type, you cannot help but feel for them. But this life is such a drastic change from my well ordered school life. Here we have no regular hours for anything! We never know when we shall eat—yesterday we had lunch at four o’clock. That is no longer a lunch, is it? That is a merienda. We sleep late and we get up early.

“I do not know how we all stand it,” she sighed. “I am surprised that Mother, whose health is not very good, has borne it so well. But  I am most worried about Father. One must be a superman to be able to stand the life he leads. He works all the time, he has no time at all to rest. With mother and me, though, there are compensations. One of these is the thought that we are helping Father in helping the people, that we are doing our little part. And so many people need help. Many are so down and out. We want to help everyone. We cannot do it, but we can try.”

And in trying, does she ever have time to concern herself with her own dream, her own ambitions.

Ruby laughs at her dreams and ambitions. “At one time,” she said, “I had planned on following in Father’s footsteps. I was going to take up law and become a politician. That was when I was about ten. Now I have changed my mind. Politics is a dirty and a difficult game, and unless one is prepared to sacrifice himself to the service of the people, he should not attempt it. there are so many heartaches involved in it. Your friends of today become your enemies of tomorrow, and your enemies of yesterday are your friends today. It is a hard life, especially for a girl. Now I am content to stay with my family as much as I can, to lead as quiet a life as is possible for me. Then, later,” and here Ruby paused in serious thought, “I plan to write. My greatest dream is to be able one day to write a biography of my father.” I cannot stop talking of my Father,” Ruby laughed in slight apology. Don’t let me. He is my favorite subject and I am his greatest admirer.”

With a valiant effort, she tore herself away from talk of her father to talk of something else. Of Katherine Cornell and Shaw’s “Candida.” Of Laurence Olivier and his magnificent “Henry the IV.” Of Miriam Hopkins who was hoarse when she played “Laura.” Of Frank Fay and his wonderful acting in “Harvey.” Of bobbysoxers and Frank Sinatra. Of books and movies—these last she loves but she seldom seem s to find time for them.

And she talked of Vassar and the life she led there. Everything was so ordered, even fun. Studies took up a great deal of the time, companionship made it to smoothly, and parties highlighted existence in general. She remembered election time and how jittery her friends were about election returns, and the aftermath for her, personally, of her Father’s being proclaimed President. Fan letters poured in, there was a round of entertainment, and she basked, slightly uncomfortably for one so quietly inclined as she is, in a good portion of reflected glory. And she looks back wistfully to a life so comparatively full and simple, and wonders if she could ever return to it. For now she is the President’s daughter, and much though she would like to be just another beloved , pampered girl, she knows she cannot be. For her Father had chosen to serve, and she must sail along with him in the unsettled ship of state.

Hundred thousand greet governor, October 11, 1913

Hundred thousand greet governor

October 11, 1913–THROUGH loud leagues of cheering people, through a city thronged as never before, acclaimed by waving flags and banners, by blaring bands, and by the tumultuous roar of welcome which met him wherever he moved, Francis Burton Harrison on Monday drove to the grandstand on the Luneta, where he spoke to a nation from a nation, to the Philippines from the United States, whose representative he is. In all the history of the Islands, there has been no such demonstration as ushered him into his place as Governor General, for one hundred thousand from Manila, and from the provinces of the archipelago, met in the great gathering which did him honor.

The parade

All through the day the city was keyed to expectancy. On all the thoroughfares in the morning hours the press of vehicles, and of pedestrians in holiday attire, was such that only with difficulty and at a snail’s pace could the street cars make way from point to point. The long blast of the ice plant whistle which should tell of the sighting of the Manchuria, the vessel bringing the new chief executive, was eagerly awaited, and when, at 1:30 p.m., the signal sounded, there was an instant setting of the tide of traffic toward the Luneta, and to those points which Mr. Harrison would pass in his progress. Organizations, schools, societies, districts—all those bodies which sought special prominence on the line of march—ranged themselves about their banners on the sidewalks, and there stood patiently while the long minutes passed before the vessel should have reached Pier 5, and the party should have landed.

Meanwhile, out on the waters of the bay, there was also preparation and parade. A torpedo flotilla, with the Dale (commanded by Lieutenant Ernest Burr) at the head of the line, awaited the time when the big liner should pass Corregidor, and then steamed into their places at bow and stern. Thus convoyed she met the fleet of gaily decorated launches which had adventured several miles out into the bay, and took on board from Jolo the members of the committee of reception. So while the sirens screamed, and the band on the little craft chartered by New Yorkers played “Give my regards to Broadway,” the big vessel made her way to the pier, and made fast.

Then it was that the enthusiasm of the day really began. No sooner had the Governor General made his appearance than a roar of greeting went up, and it broke in wave on wave of sound while he moved with Mrs. Harrison down the gang plank to where Vice Governor and Mrs. Newton W. Gilbert awaited him. There greetings where exchanged, and the party moved to the carriages sent for them. In the first Mr. and Mrs. Harrison took their seats, to find themselves faced by a regular bank of flowers, while in the second came Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert, and in the third sat Speaker Osmeña and Resident Commissioner Quezon, for whom the cheers and the greetings were especially hearty.

The route along which they passed was walled by waiting crowds. By Calle Aduana and Bagumbayan they went to the Luneta, preceded by two troops of the 7th Cavalry, and as they moved Governor General Harrison raised his hat to the cheers and the music that welcomed him, while his charming wife bowed and smiled a delighted recognition. There were surprises in store for them, as when the students of the college of law of the University of the Philippines let loose the full throated Yale college yell, and the Governor thanked them for a tribute which recognized his old alma mater, but at every step of the way there was enthusiasm, and the distinguished occupants of the carriage received it with evident pleasure.

Denser and denser grew the crowds as they neared the Luneta, where their places on the grandstand from which the speeches were to be made were ready for them. The structure had been erected in front of the statue of Jose Rizal, and it was bright with the Stars and Stripes of the country whose emissary Mr. Harrison is. In a roped space the Constabulary Band stood ready, but it was shut from view as the people in thousands surged across the open space, and packed the roadway so closely that only the cavalry could make a way for the carriages. One by one the vehicles of the party drove up and discharged their occupants, but that of the Governor General and Mrs. Harrison came last, and the cheers and hand-clapping which had been given the others swelled to a roar as they appeared.

It was a remarkable sight that lay under the eyes of the Governor General as he took his place on the stand. Before him, covering all the green space of the Luneta, the people were crushed into a solid mass, and out of a sea of faces there rose here and there the head and shoulders of the taller Americans. The ubiquitous photographer was there, with hand camera and with moving picture machine, but it must have been well nigh impossible to take pictures when all about the crowd surged and swayed, ebbed and flowed. One fact was patent—that, no matter what the discomfort, absolute good humor was to prevail. The people were expecting good tidings, and they had determined to hear it in becoming fashion.

There was silence while Commissioner Palma introduced Governor Gilbert, and there was applause when, smiling with the warm geniality which always characterizes him, Mr. Gilbert presented to the people their Governor General. But when Mr. Harrison rose and moved forward to the front of the stand, Resident Commissioner Quezon (who was to interpret his speech) at his side, there was a yell of uncontrollable enthusiasm, continued while, manuscript in hand, Mr. Harrison waited an opportunity to speak. It was at this moment that the press from behind became so heavy that the great throng flowed forward like a wave to the grandstand, and it seemed for a while that an accident was inevitable. Major General Bell stepped into the breach. He strode to the side of the Governor General, an erect and soldierly figure, and called in the great voice he can summon for occasions of need: “Attention!” “Stand still!” This had the effect intended, for the throng stood steady again, and Mr. Harrison began the reading of his momentous message.

When the speeches and the excitement were over there came an informal reception on the grandstand, and then Governor General Harrison and Vice Governor General Gilbert seated together, and Mrs. Harrison, and Mrs. Gilbert in a carriage following, drove away to Malacañan, bringing to an end the first great event of the day.

The ball

The evening, however, had been reserved for the inaugural ball, and to this it seemed indeed that all Manila had gathered. The Marble Hall of the Ayuntamiento had been transformed for the occasion, and toward the building long before nine o’clock an endless line of carriages and automobiles made their way. Not a section of the most cosmopolitan community in the East was unrepresented in the throng of men and women who crowded the building, and moved slowly by the broad staircase to the ballroom. The flowers and flags of the decorations, the brilliant colors of the dresses, the sparkle of jewels, and the brilliant light in which everything was bathed, made the scene unforgettable, and there was a spirit of eager anticipation everywhere which made the atmosphere electric.

When Governor General Harrison appeared with his wife there was a murmur of admiration on all hands. Superbly tall, holding herself with rare dignity and grace, Mrs. Harrison was exquisitely gowned, and were jewels of a luster and value seldom seen here. She was a gracious and beautiful figure, admirably set off by the brilliant scene in which he moved, and her pleasant warmth of greeting won her instantly the regard, as she had already captured the admiration of all who met her.

With the arrival of the central figures of the evening a receiving line was instantly formed. Governor General and Mrs. Harrison, Vice Governor and Mrs. Gilbert, Mr. and Mrs. Clive Kingcome, Commissioner Rafael Palma and Mrs. Palma, and Commissioner Juan Sumulong and Mrs. Sumulong composed it, but after an hour in which hundreds had been introduced, Mrs. Harrison was obliged to retire. The strain of a long day of excitement, the heat and the stress of receiving, were too much for her, and, with Governor General Harrison, she left for the Malacañan.

Thus it came about that the rigodon de honor was danced without the presence of the couple whose participation was chiefly desired. There was general regret that their departure should have been necessary, but a sympathetic understanding of the reasons which had brought it about, and the great company set itself to the pleasant task of dancing through the hours that were left.
End