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The Defiant Era, January 30, 2010
The Defiant Era
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Forty years ago, the First Quarter Storm rocked Manila, which had not seen anarchy on this scale since the Pacific War. A look back at the movement, where it failed and where it succeeded
January 30, 2010-–THE thrilling thing about the year “was that it was a time when significant segments of population all over the globe refused to be silent about the many things that were wrong with the world.” “And this gave the world a sense of hope that it has rarely had, a sense that where there is wrong, there are always people who will expose it and try to change it.”
That was Mark Kurlansky writing in his marvelous book 1968: The Year That Rocked the World. From Cuba to China to Czechoslovakia, France, Mexico, Poland and the United States, young people began to rebel against the establishment. Kurlansky believes the postwar generation was prepared to do so, ironically because of the relative security and comfort they enjoyed and their having been born after the privations and traumas of World War II. And so young people in communist countries challenged party dictatorship while their counterparts in the democratic world turned leftward to challenge the bourgeois certainties of their elders, for it was in that year, too, here in the Philippines, that an elite family celebrated a wedding anniversary with heedless ostentation.
Filipinos born after the war, who had no memory of that period or the succeeding era of the Huks, came to share the restlessness and iconoclasm of their counterparts around the world: students demonstrated against the Vietnam War (it was the year of the T?t Offensive), and for social reforms in the Catholic Church and in the schools.
In that year, Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr. published a commentary in the American publication Foreign Affairs, describing the country as “a land consecrated to democracy but run by an entrenched plutocracy. Here, too, are a people whose ambitions run high, but whose fulfillment is low and mainly restricted to the self-perpetuating elite. Here is a land of privilege and rank – a republic dedicated to equality but mired in an archaic system of caste.” Aquino was writing in response to the massacre of Lapiang Malaya ralliers on May 21, 1967. Democracy had survived the Huk rebellion; and yet, even the beneficiaries of the relative stability of the mid-Fifties to mid-Sixties left an increasingly better-educated and cosmopolitan urban middle class in discontent.
The First Quarter Storm came two years after the rest of the world was convulsed by student rebellions in 1968. By all accounts, 1969 was the year in which protesting in the style of the civil rights movement in the United States – peaceful, nonviolent, reformist – gave way to more militant protests and bluntly revolutionary aspirations among the youth, along with the flag hoisted with the red field up.
Ferdinand Marcos won an unprecedented full second term as president toward the end of that year. In those days, when presidential terms began on December 30, a newly elected president delivered his annual State of the Nation at the opening of Congress in January. In 1970, that address to Congress was scheduled on a Monday, January 26. A mere four weeks had passed since Marcos’s inaugural as the [Third] Republic’s first reelected president.
Recalling the era for The Philippine Century, an anthology of writings published in the Free Press, veteran journalist Dan Mariano writes: “Outside the Legislative Building, hundreds of moderate student activists were demonstrating to urge the government to call a constitutional convention.” Jose F. Lacaba, in “The January 26 Confrontation: A Highly Personal Account,” the first of his articles on the First Quarter Storm for this magazine, writes that student leader Edgar Jopson, who was then a moderate, had his group’s microphones kept away from radical student leader Gary Olivar, and the radicals wrangled with the moderates just as Marcos had finished his speech and was stepping out of the Legislative Building.
It was then, Mariano’s account continues, that “a paper mache crocodile (representing government corruption) and a makeshift coffin (symbolizing the death of democracy) flew” in the direction of Marcos and his wife, Imelda. “Security aides quickly hustled Marcos into his waiting limousine and sped away from the angry mob. Moments later, Manila police armed with truncheons and rattan shields attacked the student demonstrators who fought back with empty soft-drink bottles, rocks and the wooden frames of their placards.”
The moderates tried to pacify by means of speeches the radicals, among them the Maoist Kabataang Makabayan. But the radicals, as Lacaba reports, were “spoiling for trouble” with the cops and were “in no mood for dinner-party chatter and elocution contests.”
From the battleground that was the vicinity of the Legislative Building on Burgos Drive, the demonstrations that now launched the First Quarter Storm moved on to the premises of Malacañang, after a relative lull of three days in which student groups still took to the streets to denounce the government. Then came Friday, January 30 – “so far the most violent night in the city’s postwar history,” as Lacaba writes in retrospect about these events.
The radicals were demonstrating again in front of the Legislative Building, as the moderates went to Malacañang for an audience with Marcos that turned into a tense confrontation. By the end of that meeting, the radicals had trooped as well to the Palace. As Lacaba reports in “And the January 30 Insurrection,” “[w]hat specific event precipitated the battle that spread out to other parts of the city, and lasted till dawn the next day, may never be known. The students who came from Congress claim that, as they were approaching J. P. Laurel Street, they heard something that sounded like firecrackers going off. When they got to Malacanang, the crowd was getting to be unruly. It was growing dark, and the lamps on the Malacanang gates had not been turned on. There was a shout of ‘Sindihan ang ilaw! Sindihan ang ilaw!’ Malacañang obliged, the lights went on, and then crash! a rock blasted out one of the lamps. One by one, the lights were put out by stones or sticks.”
Firefighters arrived at the scene, literally to extinguish the political conflagration at the Palace gates, but the hose they aimed at the protesters yielded a “sputtering spurt,” then the comical became tragic as the protesters ran after and roughed up the fleeing firefighters, then rammed the fire truck into Malacañang’s Mendiola gate. The very center of power suddenly became a tear-gassed arena, as the presidential guards at once engaged the protesters who were lobbing Molotov cocktails into the Palace grounds.
Amid the blaze of a parked vehicle that had been set on fire, the presidential guards managed to drive out the mob, and the battle shifted again to downtown Manila where, this time, not just cops, but “constabulary troopers” confronted the protesters, reports Lacaba. There were also looters among this defiant crowd, who exploited the situation, smashing shop windows and spiriting away “jewelry and shoes.” Soon enough, “the soldiers started firing with Thompsons into the ground,” the dreadful staccato intended as warning, and yet some protesters were hit by shrapnel. Lacaba himself became caught up in the frenzy of rushing some of the injured to the nearby hospitals, and it is remarkable, going by his account, that not a few residents in the area helped hide the protesters who, fleeing from their pursuers, had wandered into the maze of Manila’s dark alleys.
By dawn, the revolution of January 30 was quite over, hundreds had been arrested and an eerie, smoke-filled silence was restored in the city. But this was just the beginning of the Storm. Marcos did not immediately issue his infamous dire warnings – his threats to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and declare martial law. He still maintained that air of equanimity, as opposed to the spitefulness attributed to him since. Nevertheless this period became his transition to authoritarianism. Vice President Fernando Lopez resigned from the Cabinet the next day.
These events were chronicled by the Free Press writers in what has since been widely acclaimed as “literature in a hurry.” Lacaba’s articles for this magazine and Asia-Philippines Leader remain in print in a book titled Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage: The First Quarter Storm and Related Events, which harks back to a time when protesting in front of the US Embassy was daringly new and not the ossified ritual that such actions became since; when communism and socialism were daring new thought and not bogged down in debates over whether they’re old cant; when the established social order was besieged and a generation of Filipinos thought it was possible to push it to the wall so that it would either reform or suffer destruction through revolution.
In contrast to Lacaba’s reportage, Kerima Polotan, sympathetic to Marcos where Lacaba was brilliantly antipathetic, recounted the same events but with hardly any sympathy for Marcos’s critics, whether old or young. Instead, she wrote of those in whom the radicalism of the youth inspired not admiration but fear.
“Right or wrong, one had kept one’s children off the streets all their lives, a canon, one had warned them clearly, they were not to break while they lived under one’s roof,” went Polotan’s “The Long Week,” published alongside Lacaba’s accounts of the January 26 and 30 riots in the Free Press of February 7, 1970. “They went to school and then came home. They had duties and chores, and tonight, while the police chased some other mothers’ children down below, one’s own young were at home getting supper for the small ones, washing the dishes, and locking up the kitchen before turning to their books – altogether not a popular kind of activism, not any kind of activism at all, not modern, but one’s personal, though passage, idea of parenthood. Parents surrender quickly these days and pay for their easy abdication with the broken skulls of their sons and the crushed legs of their daughters.”
Lacaba’s book recaptures the ferment, the freshness, of a period of agitation that resulted, alas, in dictatorship and in a generation robbed of their chance to lead. Yesterday’s FQS protesters are today’s middle-aged baby boomers with grown-up children of their own, often ensconced in the establishment, either in business or government. Yet the historical verdict seems clear: Lacaba’s articles have survived, Polotan’s, forgotten; youthful idealism continues to be honored; the New Society generally acknowledged to be a sham.
To read Lacaba’s book is to be able to answer a crucial question about that generation: Have yesterday’s activists-turned-today’s fat cats been able to totally jettison their radical youth, or is there something in them ingrained by that period that bears watching as they now handle the levers of power? I would argue that those FQS veterans now in high places cannot avoid a radically different outlook, with its quiet but perceptible impact on how power is wielded in the present day.
Reading eyewitness accounts of great events also points to the depressing reality that some things never change. The reactionaries remain so; the reformists stuck, too, in a rut of self-doubt; and the radicals in a time warp. And, indirectly, Lacaba’s book raises a question no one has ever been able to answer in a satisfactory manner. Did the agitation of idealistic and romantic youth in the late-Sixties and early-Seventies make dictatorship more appealing? For the shameful fact is that martial law was greeted with relief by a majority of Filipinos, at least from the upper and middle classes, who rejoiced in the curfew, in the cutting of hippie hair, not to mention the padlocking of Congress and suppression of liberties. For, if so, the Filipino may be innately reactionary – with all that such a conclusion shockingly implies.
Recalling that eventful first quarter of 1970, Dan Mariano writes, “Although the country had more roads, bridges, dams and irrigation systems than ever before, the economy had begun to nose-dive. The peso underwent a 100 percent devaluation, with the exchange rate going from P2.00 to P4.00, then P8.00. The prices of basic commodities rose out of the reach of the working population, whose wages were not allowed to keep up with inflation.”
By April that year, a general strike was held protesting against increases in oil prices and transportation costs. The next year saw the Diliman Commune, the revolt by University of the Philippines students in February. But the sign of those times was not the Diliman Commune itself, which continues to throb gloriously in the memories of FQS veterans, but a parallel effort overlooked because it’s inconvenient. As students barricaded the campus and broadcast a recording of the President’s postcoital croonings to Dovie Beams, some residents in the area banded together and hunted down the radical students in the defense of order and their property rights.
And it was Ferdinand Marcos, the last product of the American educational system, but a mutant one in that his political maturity took place during the confused, corrupt and corrupting circumstances of the Japanese Occupation, who gambled on form trumping substance. So long as the trappings of legitimacy were maintained, the upper and middle class would embrace his “Revolution from the Center” and tolerate, if not actually accept with enthusiasm, his “New Society.”
The Plaza Miranda bombing took place on August 21, 1971. Two days after, 20 people were arrested as Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus. Martial law followed a year and a month later, restoring order on the surface but fueling the already underground radical movement that Jopson himself would at last join and sacrifice his life for. Yet, when revolution finally came, it wasn’t what the young radicals dreamed of in 1970. It was an entirely different creature, what came to be known as People Power in 1986, and Velvet Revolutions elsewhere since.
Business & Cory: An affair to remember, August 23, 1986
Business and Cory:
An Affair To Remember
A BRIGHT September 1983 afternoon, Business Executive looked out his window along Ayala Avenue. He knew something strange was happening. What was causing all the racket? It was only 3 p.m. People were still trying to work. And those scraggly lines of men and women with placards, where wer they headed? The placards said Resign! Some had drawings of an octopus clutching coconuts, sugar canes, banks. The jeepney alongside blared its announcement loud enough to hear through the thick tinted glass the invitation to join the rally at Ugarte Football Field at 5:30. Time enough to close the books, finish up meetings and lock up for the day.
August 23, 1986–After the Airport Assassination, Business Executive knew that politics would be invading his air-conditioned office. He would have to make some kind of decision, surely.
At a business club meeting, Business /executive noted that the topic was on repression of media. A panel of publishers was introduced and when it was the turn of the publisher of a leading daily, there was lusty booing from the audience. Was this the ordinarily sedate business group? It was. In overflow numbers, some bringing along their spouses and their spouses’ coffee group. The questions from the floor were hostile: why was the Aquino funeral not given any coverage? (Applause punctuated the speakers’ denunciations – no answers were expected to the rhetorical questions.) Why did we have to get our news on our country from xeroxed periodicals? Why did our cousins abroad know more than we did about what was going on here?
Even the usually dry and statistics laden setting of the economic briefing by the establishment think-tank CRC flamed with passion. The presentors talked about a forecasted negative growth rate for 1984 – a peculiar euphemism for the expected decline in economic activity. They ticked off the causes: Crony capitalism which favored the Malacañang-connected few who were allocated loanable funds on the basis not of project viability and importance but hand-written notes on the margin. Graft and corruption which raised the cost of doing business. Take-over of healthy companies by the powerful after these were pummeled with debilitating legislation. Capital flight which indicated a lack of confidence in the business future and caused a succession of devaluations of the local currency.
The economy was being mauled.
Inflation threatened to be triple-digit. The peso-to-dollar exchange rate shot up 200%. The flourishing Binondo black market was being tolerated and “controlled” by Government as an alternative gray Central Bank, making a lot of money for its masters and, the Government claimed, contributing to the stabilization of the currency. Even the official unemployment figures were rising. Income distribution had worsened. Businesses were folding up. Multinationals like Ford, General Motors, Baxter were phasing out Philippine operations. Representative offices of international banks wee relocating out of the country.
The economic sky was falling. And there were many Henny Pennies to confirm the fact.
The economic bullet
The School of Economics of the University of the Philippines, the State University itself, came out with its own white paper analyzing the structural causes of the economic decline – “An Analysis of the Philippine Crisis: A Workshop Report” (June 1984). It made its findings public. The report spread through the xerox grapevine. The UP findings: Government was too involved in the economy through its own corporations and banks. If government influence was extended to the crony links, its hold on the economy was almost total. Prices of agricultural goods were regulated by fiat rather than by the marketplace. Because regulation favored keeping down prices, the effect was to starve the purchasing power of the countryside to keep the urban centers quiet. Decision-making was centralized in the national government and regional development was being left out of the priorities. The countryside was being dried out of cash.
There was too much politics in business.
It was not really the gun of August at the airport that shattered the barrier between politics and business. The relationship was there all along. So when one of the Siamese twins was shot, his brother also died. The bullet for politics also killed economics.
But the disaster was not to be so clearly contained. The metaphor of the bullet did not capture the cataclysm that followed. No – the effect was seismic.
The political plates started to move, the earthquake’s epicenter rippled out from the Manila International Airport to the whole country, and along with it the business sector.
Business Executive attended forums which discussed the political-economic situation as a business case. Participants broke up into workshop groups, compared notes, raised their voices in debate and presented to the plenary session their analysis and recommendations.
Again the business analysis reiterated the economic problems. Again they traced the labyrinth to the starting point at the airport. Again they came to the conclusion that the solution was indeed political. The objective was clear – there was a need to change the political leader. But with whom? They did not have the answer yet. Instead the businessmen talked of the process of selection, the criteria, and finally the strategy for unseating the incumbent.
And that’s where they were bogged down.
Meanwhile, Business Executive was getting calls from his associates. Was he joining the rally at 5:30 p.m.? it was getting to be as regular as the afternoon news or the clerks going off for coffee breaks. Every Friday, Business Executive would look out his office window. The yellow confetti would start at 4 p.m. – he could almost set his watch by it. some firecrackers, and then the awelling crowd from all sides. No, Business Executive could not just keep watching them. He subscribed to their cause. It was time to join.
Business Executive would wind up his meeting promptly at 5 p.m. He did not want to give the self-appointed guardians of the company’s “political neutrality” grounds for saying he was politicking during office hours. He went down to the basement car park, deposited his briefcase, shucked off his barong and put on his yellow shirt.
Clark Kent transformed to Superman!
It was his first time at a rally and he took his cues on what to do from the three month veterans. He sat down on the grass, crossed his legs in semi-lotus, and listened to the speeches. He mwt incredulous secretaries from his office, and the friends who kept calling him up. They flashed the L-sign and he flashed back. No, it wasn’t bad.
The business groups meantime had subdivided into cause-oriented splinters with acronyms that came out of the heroes’ gallery or synonyms for struggle. It did not matter that the memberships overlapped and the platforms all had phrases like restorian of democracy and freedom, and struggle for human rights. One thing was clear – they all wanted the tenant at the Palace out of there. Somehow.
The businessmen were using MBA methods to attack the problem. They came up with a list of potential standard bearers and a convenors’ group to manage the selection process. The fast track route asssumed a snap election and a process of self-selection among the short-listed cnadidates. The slow-track, which nobody bothered too mush about, was intended to elicit wider participation and more democratic procedures.
Again, the business analysts broke up into discussion groups. The selection process itself was wearing everybody out in marathon meetings. The more militant groups were already giving up on the electoral process altogether, although there was some gain made by the opposition in the 1984 parliamentary elections.
The economy was deteriorating fast. Business started asking different questions, businessmen were getting tired of the political games the politicians were playing. It was clear what the rules would be. There would have to be only one candidate which business would support. The candidate would have to be credible and morally beyond question. Once the rules were couched in those terms, only one name was left in the field.
And she was reluctant to run.
After the first reaction of – why not, the businessmen started convincing themselves of Cory Aquino’s attributes. They mobilized to get the one million signatures to draft her to become the lone opposition candidate. When she announced her candidacy and linked up with Laurel for unified ticket, businessmen put their managerial, financial, and logistical resources behind her.
Business Executive attended the campaign rallies. He read all the periodicals covering the candidates. He dropped money into the ubiquitous Cory boxes at the restaurants. He joined the citizens’ volunteer group to guard the election and keep it honest. He squeezed into the business group meetings where Coty spoke, standing the whole time by the side since there were no more tables to be had, and suprising himself by cheering his lungs out. And shedding tears. The last time he cheered that hard was at the collegiate ballgame and that was championship. But the stakes then were small – a trophy and a holiday.
When Business Executive travelled abroad he presented the case for a Cory presidency. Whenever he was asked whether the housewife really had it in her to win against such odds and with such “pitiful” qualifications, Business Executive argued, sometimes too heatedly, that business supported Cory because only she, a non-traditional politician with unquestioned integrity, could provide the moral leadership in which business confidence would again be possible. Business Executive said this so many times to so many people that his conviction almost became dogma.
Incredibly, she picked up at the rallies, won in the pre-election polls, won in the Namfrel tally, lost at the Batasan, then won at EDSA again. She was finally President.
Business – What now?
But six months into her presidency, what happened to the cheering squad that was business?
The only candidate business reformists said they would support became President. Her actions as President were those promised to carry out in her campaign speeches which the businessmen invariably interrupted with cheers. Wild cheers and stomping!
Have things changed?
Maybe Business’s honeymoon with the President is over. Honeymoons are not supposed to last. All the stages have been passed. The courtship and the chase to get her to accept the draft. The exchange of vows when Business went full tilt to support her candidacy. And then the euphoria and victory. The honeymoon may have ended with the Luneta mass of thanksgiving. After that – making the cabinet appointments, dissolving the parliament, replacing the local government heads, sequestering businesses, strengthening labor, reaching out to the radical left, and the thousand Government actions along the way. Accompanied by the thousand opinions on how problems should have been handled. The bride is no longer in her white gown. In this case, yellow. She is in her working clothes. The poetry of the campaign is over, the prose of Government follows.
The relationship of Business and Cory has gone on too long to be considered just a fling, an affair – only to remember.
Maybe now that the romance of the honeymoon has ended, the reality of marriage can begin.
Tolentino’s “Last Hurrah,” July 26, 1986
July 26, 1986
Tolentino’s “Last Hurrah”
Tolentino’s counter-revolution was no spontaneous combustion; it had all the earmarks of a deliberate, pre-meditated and cold-blooded putsch.
By Edward R. Kiunisala
It really started last March 30, when the exiled tyrant, 33 days after he had been kicked out of the country by the bloodless People Power revolution, tried to resurrect himself politically by declaring war against the Cory Aguino govenment before foreign media and some 3,000 kababayans in Honolulu. On that day, Easter Sunday, while the whole of christendom commemorated the resurrection of Christ, the gospel from Hawaii was that the overthrown Ferdinand Marcos was coming back to the Philippines to reclaim Malacañang.
Our Revolution, May 3, 1986
Letter to friends overseas
By Isabel Caro Wilson
May 3, 1986–There are so many human interest stories of courage and glory! The women, I think, were the bravest. Many men I know were forced to follow their women – once out there, however, they more than made up for their timidity. The youth, young people who had known no President except Marcos, were passionately for change. Nuns, holding rosaries and holy water, playing a new role: that of negotiator, pleading with soldiers not to use tanks and guns on unarmed citizens. Priests and seminarians, in soutanes, helping to organize human barricades. The masses of people who kept vigil on a 24-hour basis with no thought of food or comfort. The soldiers. Give them credit for refusing to obey orders to shoot their fellow Filipinos. It was revolution of the spirit. People power at it best guided, no doubt, by God power so that in the end right prevailed over might.
It is said that our type of revolution would not succeed anywhere else. Perhaps we are truly unique. All know is that we have vindicated ourselves. We have cleansed our souls and it feels good.
My warmest appreciation for your thoughts and prayers – I know you were with us in spirit. Maraming salamat for stretching your hand in friendship when we most needed it.
Here then is a personal experience:
It was building up, yet when it finally happened we were surprised. I speak of the revolution which overnight (4 days actually) transformed our country and left us breathlessly, exhilaratingly free. I think what makes us so joyous (aside from the glorious feeling of having accomplished something great) is the knowledge that we have unburdened ourselves of a much-hated dictatorship. No more hatred, tension or negative vibes to sap our energies. Now we can face our problems with vigor and vitality.
The massive fraud and terrorism unleashed during the February 7th election was the proverbial straw which broke the camel’s back. Made insensitive by the arrogance of power, the Marcos regime miscalculated (for the final time) the people’s tolerance and patience. This total insult and disregard of the soverign will proved to be their undoing.
The revolution started, as far as I am concerned, on August 21, 1983. On that fateful day when Sen. Benigno Aquino was mercilessly assassinated, all decent Filipinos took stock themselves and realized that they were in part responsible for the abuses and corruption in government. We translated our disgust in varied ways – many took to the streets to demonstrate and protest. It is important to remember that rallies were started by concerned women’s groups, middle and upper class matrons, and previously uninvolved business executives- not by students or the radical left. Thus, street demonstrations, complete with yellow confetti (mostly shredded yellow telephone pages) became a weekly happening on Ayala Avenue, Makati’s financial district.
The intensity and duration of the rallies lasted for almost a year. The economic crisis, the need to work and maintain a semblance of normalcy lessened street protests. On the surface, life seemed normal, but the anger, frustration and alienation of the people against the government deepened. Sustained anger is debilitating so that most of us felt completely drained and helpless. Yet we were determined that Marcos, his wife, his cronies and his abusive officials would, sooner or later, have to go. The politization of the Filipino was going on despite fear of reprisals from the dreaded military, headed by Gen. Fabian Ver. Although we did not voice it, many of us who were openly opposing were constantly fearful of being picked up by the military.
The announcement by Marcos on the David Brinkley show last November of a “snap” election caught everyone off guard. After 20 years of one-man rule, the opposition was in a shambles. Given the Filipinos’ lack of discipline and extreme individualism, we were all pessimistic about the opposition parties uniting to effectively fight Marcos. The ballgame was in court, with his rules and his referees – it was impossible match.
Furthermore, with Christmas holidays, the actual campaign period was much too short. The time set for election was February 7, 1986. Marcos is a supertitious man and he considers 7, or any multiple of 7, as his lucky number. In this case, it proved to be his nemesis.
Cory Aquino accepted the challenge drafting her as Presidential candidate after more than a million signatures were gathered. Doy Laurel sacrificed his ambition to run for President and accepted 2nd billing as Vice-President. Both candidates ran under Doy’s Unido party. Cory did not have a political party. Cory did not have a political party, no machinery to organize her campaign, no money, no logistics. All she had were the Filipino people’s faith and commitment. She presented a symbol of hope and our desire for change. She was the antithesis of Marcos – simple, intelligent, clean and honest – a fresh breeze across our polluted landscaped.
Volunteers for the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) were mobilized across the country with Namfrel Chairman Joe Conception (on his white charger) leading over 550,000 pollwatches to brave the entrenched, power-mad Marcos political warlords. In Makati, I headed more than 2,500 volunteers—housewives, students, business executives and professionals. We were force to reckon with and worked very hard to master the duties of pollwatching. We were well organized, totally committed, determined with innocence and blind faith to effect peaceful change through the ballot. We did not realize how evil the forces were against us. From our experience as Namfrel pollwatcheers in 1984 (election for assemblymen) we were familiar with the harassment and intimidation tactics of Mayor Yabut’s barangay captains and henchmen. However, we were totally unprepared and ill-equipped to protect our volunteers against the massive onslaught of hooliganism, fraud and outright terrorism which marked the conduct of election in 1986.
The KBL (Marcos’s political party) strategists conceived a devilishly clever plot: the disenfranchisement of approximately 30% of the legitimate voters. This was effectively done by scrambling the voters’ lists as a result of which many, many voters could not find their names and were unable to cast their votes. Namfrel estimated that 3.3 million votes were lost, presumably a high percentage of which would have been cast for Cory Aquino and Doy Laurel.
Our election was well covered by local foreign correspondents and the world witnessed what happened here. I will not, therefore, go into detail. Suffice it to say that we were cheated badly and to add insult to injury, his rubber-stamp. Assembly proclaimed Marcos the winner.
The gloom was palpable. Those of us who naively hoped that by our commitment change could be effected were in a state of shock. We could not admit that we were helpless and in the grip of evil forces. Many expected to be picked up and jailed, or, at the very least, face continous harassment or danger. The prospects for the future looked grim, indeed! And then events took a different and unexpected turn.
Saturday – February 22nd. Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile is warned of impending arrests and calls General Fidel Ramos. Both barricade themselves in the Defense Ministry and announce their resignation from the Marcos administration. The politician and the professional soldier, side by side, finally proclaim their solidarity with the Filipino people.
Enrile goes on the air to appeal for help. He urgently asks people to come and surround the army camp, hoping to (1) prevent a military attack on unarmed civilians and (2) gain time to consolidate his forces and rally the military to the people’s cause.
Cardinal Sin also goes on a radio exhorting priests and nuns and all citizens to go to Camp Crame to assist the beleguered armed forces. By early Sunday morning the crowd has swelled to more than 40,000.
Marcos in Malacañang is stunned and, fortunately for us, does not take immediate action to squelch the rebellion. Had he done so, I would not be writing this today.
Sunday, February 23 – Masses of people assemble to protect the military. Barricades are set up in strategic ares to stop tanks and armored personnel carriers. Women (nuns are in the forefront with their rosaries, fatih spilling from their unlined faces) and children are stationed in front to negotiate with the soldiers and stop the tanks. It is inspiring to see whole families keeping vigil. People from all walks of life join hands while intersections leading to Camp Crame are jammed with buses alongside Mercedes Benzes as the first line of defense.
Marcos goes on the air to proclaim that he is in control and scolds Enrile and Ramos to stop their stupid and foolish acts of “treason.” Nobody pays attention.
Radio Veritas, the Catholic station, is broadcasting round the clock and keeps the nation alert. The announcers do a yeoman’s job of passing information and coordinating aspects of the revolution: food and water needed here; more people needed there; a boy lost and found; tanks approaching; General Ramos giving a progress report; bits of information to keep us going. Another day passes and the tension increases. Will Marcos order an attack on unarmed civilians? The early morning hours are the most dangerous and calls are made for more people to come and join the movement.
Monday, February 24th – my birthday and the height of our wonderful, glorious rebellion. What a birthday gift!
Early morning news has it that Marcos and his family have fled the country. Great rejoicing only to be crushed by the sight of the dreaded man on TV to bedevil us some more with his pronouncment that, contrary to reports, he is very much around and stresses that he has no plans to resign or concede. He also states that maximum tolerance has been junked and he will fight to the last drop of his blood.
A very subdued crowd resumes its vigil, somewhat desperate but totally committed. By now millions are in the streets guarding the military and blocking strategic intersections.
Radio Veritas is blasted off the air. Another radio station is secured, hook up is made so that news goes on after an ominous silence. How this is done is another saga of bravery and Filipino ingenuity.
Rebel forces take over Channel 4, the big government-owned TV station, with a minimum of violenc. Broadcasters who can get to the station take up positions behind and in front of the cameras. No one and everyone is in charge. Calls are made for TV technicians to report, post haste, to help operate the station.
Fear and tension escalate as helicopters and planes hover above the crowd. Someone starts to pray and the chnat is taken up. Somehow prayers are reassuring. No one moves. Lo and behold, the helicopters land at Camp Crame. Cheers and tears of relief. We did not know that the helicopter pilots had been instructed to strafe Camp Crame but disobeyed the command.
At around 7:00 pm Marcos announces a 6:00 am to 6:00 pm curfew. Our group is with the crowd guarding on of the entrances to Channel 4. We hear Marcos making stupid noises and ecide to disregard him- he has lost cotrol. Cory is our President after all!
Although millions of people are in the streets, there is total order: Courtesy and civility prevail – love flows and we are all supportive of one another. Filipinos of all shapes, color and creed, togetherr in a common cause. It’s indescribably heartwarming.
My children take the grave-yard shift (11:00 pm to 6:00 am) at Camp Crame. I join friends to man the barricades at Channel 4 from 6:00 pm to midnight. Without anyone orchestrating schedules, people assign themselves to various duties. Food brigades are on the ready. “Snap” toilets are installed by some concerned companies. A matress manufacturer distributes foam sheets for the sleeping “sentries” to lie on; water carts are located in various places; homes are opened so that ladies may use the bathroom; passengers are discharged by the busloads to help man barricades which are thinly covered; wet towels soaked in kalamansi are passed around to be used in case of tear gas; body count and human contact enable everyone to draw courage from one another.
Tuesday, February 25th – Cory Aquino is to be sworn in as the duly elected President of the Philippines at the Club Filipino (chosen because of its proximity to Camp Crame). The atmosphere is wild and filled with joy.
Marcos has his own inuguration on the same morning at Malacanang. By contrast, the atmosphere there is grim and heavy with foreboding.
After some rest, our group reassembles, this time to inside Camp Crame to feed the soldiers. The armed forces are defecting and Camp Crame has more soldiers than it can feed. Volunteers are cooking, kitchens are set up and we are on duty from 5:00 pm onward. We start out at 2:00 pm since it will take us 3 hours (due to barricades and crowds) to get into the Camp.
Inside the base canteen we split our group: four of us to help in the kitchen; the rest (26 more) sweep the camp. Thousands of peopl on an emergency basis can generate tons of garbage. ouR ladies (unused to doing such drudgery) take to their brooms with unusual vigor. By nightfall bonfires are lit to burn the litter. I am on K.P. and glad of it – feeding hundreds of soldiers is far better than sweeping dirt as far as I am concerned.
Going home that evening, boneweary and sort of despairing, we muse on the gim possibilities ahead of us. We feel we cannot go on much longer before violence erupts.
9:00 pm. The phone rings and a friend reports that Malacañang appears to be empty. People are going in, the Marcoses have fled the country. I am too tired and too stunned to react. There’s no confirmation on radio or TV.
9:45 pm. Friends call to confirm the report. Let’s drive to Malacañang and see for ourselves, they enthuse. No, I reply, I’ve had enough crowds and cars for the moment. I’ll celebrate quietly and take it all in by myself.
10:00 pm. It’s for real – Marcos has left! We are free at last! The heaviness is gone. The years of alienation and oppession are over. We are ecstatic, sad, hopeful, apprehensive, stunned. What next? Tomorrow will be another day of what?
So, dear friends, we must rebuild our shattered society. Twenty years of plunder have wreaked havoc on our economy, not to mention our national psyche. There is much to be done.
At thanksgiving rallies and appropriate occasions I wear a T-shirt which states “I am a veteran of the Philippine Revolution”. Our cars have stickers proclaiming for all the world to read: “I am proud to be a Filipino.” I am.