August 21 is a most significant day in Philippine political history.
Exactly forty one years ago, the proclamation rally (otherwise called ‘miting de abanse‘) of the opposition Liberal Party in Plaza Miranda in the center of Manila was bombed with two grenades. Fortunately, one of the grenades was a dud and nine people including a girl and Manila Times photographer Ben Roxas died and 95 were injured. I remember a photo of the dying Roxas published the day after staring right into the camera–dazed but seemingly not in pain. Almost all the Liberal Party’s candidates for senator and local posts in Manila were severely wounded.
President Ferdinand Marcos responded to the bombing by suspending the writ of habeas corpus through Proclamation No. 889, later amended by Proclamation No. 889-A supposedly to align the suspension with the bill of rights provision of the Constitution. He promptly blamed the communists for the bombing and justified the writ suspension as necessary to restore peace and order.
While Marcos was the usual suspect for the Plaza Miranda bombing, several personalities including former Senator Jovito Salonga (who was seriously injured during the rally) began to believe that the communists were responsible. Victor Corpus, the army lieutenant who carted arms from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and joined the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) in 1970, wrote in his book Silent War he was present when top communist leaders including Jose Ma. Sison, plotted the bombing. Sison argued the bombing will be a win-win for the communists: Marcos will be put on the defensive, the ruling class will be split, and the revolutionary cause could thus advance. Corpus will repeat this same allegation in an interview with veteran Filipino journalist Max Soliven. Sison and his followers have repeatedly denied these allegations.
Exactly twenty nine years ago–Benigno Aquino Jr–the man believed by many to most likely have been the President of the Philippines if Marcos did not declare martial law in September 1972 was assassinated in the Manila International Airport minutes after his plane landed. The alleged gunman, Rolando Galman, was killed by government troops supposedly after he killed Ninoy Aquino. Marcos again blamed the communists for Aquino’s murder and alleged that Galman was acting under their orders.
In both occasions, Marcos’ accusations against the communists were not believed. Most thought that he ordered both the bombing of the Liberal Party proclamation rally and the assassination of Ninoy Aquino. The logic behind the belief? The physical elimination of the Liberal Party leadership would redound to his ruling party’s benefit. The writ’s suspension was seen as a cover-up for the Plaza Miranda bombing. The death of Ninoy removes the strongest opposition figure that could threaten Marcos’ lifetime rule.
Everybody from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the communists were being blamed for Ninoy’s death. His death likewise spawned a fever of jokes. One of the most popular run like this:
Ninoy: Hindi ka nag-iisa (Ninoy, you’re not alone!)
Marcos: Naka-isa ka! (Marcos, you put one over all of us!)
Galman: Naisahan ka! (Galman, you’ve been had!)
Still another: Use Galman briefs! It will bring out the killer in you.
Kidding aside, Ninoy’s assassination was the game-changer in the political struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. Prior to August 21, 1983, the opposition to the regime was born by armed rebels–communists and Muslim secessionists. The legal opposition got scattered when Marcos closed the legislature, arrested and imprisoned many, and sent scores to exile. Some of them dabbled in violence through the Light-a-Fire and April 6 Liberation movements.
However, Ninoy’s death emboldened hitherto inert social forces such as the middle class, businessmen, professionals, clergy and like to express their strong opposition to the authoritarian regime. On a sustained basis. Until February 1986 when Marcos and his immediate coterie left for Hawaii.
The armed opposition did not figure well in this end game against Marcos. They lost what business theorists and military strategists call the ‘first mover advantage’. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) absorbed the brunt of Marcos’ military offensives as it fought conventional warfare in the early going. In 1977, it signed a peace agreement with Marcos only to be outwitted by the latter in the agreement’s (non)implementation. The MNLF resumed its military struggle but was soon weakened by a split that produced the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The communists were sidelined when they decided to boycott the ‘snap elections’ that pitted Marcos against Ninoy’s widow, Cory Cojuangco Aquino. EDSA 1986 was a sea of yellow–the color associated with Cory and the moderate political forces. A lot of communists and radicals were also there; however, they could not unfurl their red banners.
Of course, the picture was not a black-and-white one. The radicals joined the newly enervated political forces from the middle class in regular protests against Marcos. The rallying cry was: Justice for (Ninoy) Aquino, Justice for All! They parted ways in the 1984 parliamentary elections: Cory and her allies decided to participate and won a significant number of seats while the radicals predictably boycotted.
By 1985, the trajectory was quite clear. The strength of the moderates had grown so much. As a result, they spurned a coalition, BAYAN, with the radicals. They formed their own group, BANDILA.
EDSA 1986 actually started with a failed military coup led by the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) led by Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and his protege, Colonel Gregorio Honasan. It soon morphed into a peaceful uprising as Jaime Cardinal Sin called on the faithful to gather en masse to protect the rebel soldiers from the loyalists. The failure of the military coup contemplated for early 1986 and the communist boycott of the snap elections allowed non-violent forces to claim victory against Marcos in February 1986. The key figure here was the martyred Aquino – likened to the national hero, José Rizal (1861-96), or even to Jesus Christ. Neither the dictatorship nor the insurgents and the military rebels had any equivalent.
Ninoy’s bloodied and bruised remains in an open coffin were visited by hundreds of thousands at the Santo Domingo Church. When he was finally laid to rest in Paranaque City, the funeral march took some 11 hours to reach its final destination. The historic event was practically ignored by the regime-controlled mass media. I remember that the Philippine Daily Express (derisively called the Daily Suppress) chose to report the death by lightning of a person who was watching the funeral procession.
Elsewhere in Luzon, the other victim–Rolando Galman–was mourned and buried without much ado by his relatives and friends.
C’est la vie?
C’est la guerre?
Meanwhile, this morning today, the death of Interior Secretary and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Good Governance Jesse Robredo was announced after his body was recovered in the waters off Masbate island. The reader is enjoined to a say a prayer for this quiet and good man and public servant.