The fabric of freedom, 10 Years After Edsa

TODAY Newspaper Edsa 10th Anniversary Special

The fabric of freedom

by Manuel L. Quezon III

February 25, 1996—ON January 15, 1973, an execution—which, in retrospect, foreshadowed the elements of the rise of Ferdinand Marcos and also of his ignominious fall—took place. The condemned was no hero of democracy; he was a Chinese “alleged drug dealer,” Lim Seng. The execution was staged in the slick style of Marcos’ propaganda machine. It took place in Fort Bonifacio, in front of the reviewing stand. It would be shown on national television, which was unprecedented. The idea was to frighten the living daylights out of the Filipino.

The man had been sentenced to die by a military tribunal, demonstrating the preeminent role that military justice would play in the New Society, in contrast to the agonizingly fastidious civilian tribunals before martial law.

That Lim Seng was to die, not in the hushed privacy of a national penitentiary, but out in the open, at the hands of soldiers, made it clear what martial law really meant. Not surprisingly, Marcos liked and didn’t like the idea. The notion of a civilian shot by a line of soldiers did not appeal to him. Who knew where they would stop?

But Philippine Constabulary chief Fidel V. Ramos, flanked by generals dressed like Nazi officers in flared riding pants and boots, was insistent. He wanted a military execution.

A volley of rifle fire rang out in the gray dawn. Lim Seng, tied to a post, slumped towards the ground. But he was still alive. Traditionally, after a prisoner is shot, an officer administers the coup de grace, discharging a revolver at pointblank range into the skull of the condemned.

According to one account, this did not occur. It was determined that another volley was necessary to finish the job. But the soldiers had not been provided with another round of bullets for reasons of security. Loaded with more than a single round, who knew who else they might shoot?

Another round of ammunition was ordered, but by the time it arrived, Lim Seng had expired. He had bled to death. Assumption schoolgirls rushed to his body to dip their kerchiefs in his blood to show off to their classmates the next day.

Here was a grotesque combination of mailed fist, military inexorability, and characteristic disregard for details. A regime capable of displaying unbeatable cunning but prey to a self-destructive contempt for its opponents, and a tendency to botch things up.

This odd melange of cruelty, casualness and sloppy showmanship would culminate in the final configuration of the Marcos regime as it toppled: a dictatorship propped up by a military composed of phenominally rich generals and common soldiers who did not have decent shoes; buttressed by frustrated technocrats who demanded social austerity for the people, while charging dinners with their mistresses in Washington, D.C.’s Tiberio to the Central Bank. A regime that believed its lies as soon as it made them up; smug about its durability, in the conviction that it had mastered all the tricks of survival—except the one about oneself not being taken in by them.

The truth is that from 1972 to April 6, 1978—the famous noise barrage on the eve of elections for the Batasang Pambansa—Marcos and his men had indeed mastered all the tricks and performed them usually with the desired effect. He took in the Americans with his tomfoolery about a freely-elected dictatorship. And the Filipinos allowed themselves to be taken in by the sham because they did not want to take risks with the truth.

From a President insulted by a populace on his second inauguration with acts of lese majeste unknown in this polite country, he had—with Danton’s verve but Napoleon’s cunning—adopted his motto of “audace, et encoure de l’audace, et toujours de l’audace.” Boldness, and again boldness and always boldness.

The Marcos regime was pure political cancan—a gaudy, garish, prurient show and, for a long while, fun for its beneficiaries.

The supreme act of audacity was martial law: the mass arrest of his opponents, the shutting down of the proud, independently-owned media, and the castration of the traditional checks on executive abuse—Congress and the Supreme Court. He had done it in Asia’s oldest republic,the showcase of democracy. He had done it in the teeth of the republican notables who had once scorned the shortness of his political pedigree.

As Lim Seng’s body was hauled off the field, another execution of sorts was taking place—that of constitutional democracy.

The Constitutional Convention, inaugurated in 1971, had been decimated, leaving only the pliant and frightened. The best were in jail or in exile. Those remained did not have to be, but where nonetheless offered membership in a new parliament if they signed the new constitution institutionalizing martial law and dictatorship. So sign most of them did.

In January, 1973—in a referendum held without regulation—that Constitution was ratified. The proof of it were photos of people holding up their hands in assent, but to what no one dared ask. The rumor was that government officials asked them which they preferred: friend chicken or pancit. “Raise your hand.”

The business community applauded the fact, which the Supreme Court said it was powerless to dispute: a new order was in place. The American Chamber of Commerce hailed the dictatorship:

[The AmCham] wishes you every success in your endeavors to restore peace and order, business confidence economic growth and the well-being of the Filipino people and nation. We assure you of our confidence and cooperation in acheiving these objectives. We are communicating these feelings to our associates and affiliates in the United States.

If anyone did not share these sentiments, they were not saying. Not a peep was heard from the firebrands of the First Quarter Storm.

This is the story of how the opposition—scattered by force, dispirited by self-doubt, divided by jealousy, wavering from fear and opportunism, nonetheless finally pulled itself to together and pulled the rug from under the dictator’s feet, leaving him lying, eventually dead, under a waxen image of himself.

In Filipino Politics: Development and Decay, David Wurfel writes:

“Throughout the late 1970s, martial law prompted essentially three types of opposition: the reformist, the religious, and the revolutionary.” A post-Edsa book—Dictatorship and Revolution: Roots of People’s Power, edited by Aurora Javante-de Dios, Petronilo Bn. Daroy, and Lorna Kalaw-Tirol, gives an ampler account, upon which a great deal of this story is based.


On the eve of martial law, the militant Left, composed of student organizations in the cities and the New People’s Army in the countryside, made enough noise to frighten conservative elements in society and to give Ferdinand Marcos a pretext for emergency government. The First Quarter Storm, the storming of Malacanan Palace, the 12-day Diliman Commune, transport strikes and the spectre of a Red peasantry conditioned the public mind to drastic public measures. No one expected a dictatorship, though.

The press disenchanted the public and itself with democracy by printing Eduardo Quintero’s exposé of the bribery by Malacañang of Constitutional Convention delegates. Bombs went off throughout the city, culminating in the grenade attack on the Liberal miting de avance at Plaza Miranda on August 21, 1971. That the government was suspected of most, if not all of the bombings, merely deepened the public gloom and sense of helplessness.

Rigoberto D. Tiglao, in his essay, “The Consolidation of the Dictatorship,” does not think the Left was prepared—in training or logistics—to fight a proper war. But it had the one thing the milder opposition lacked: the will to fight the military on whom the Marcos dictatorship rested.

In pitiful constrast to the Left were the opposition politicians, who met in different houses after Ninoy Aquino’s arrest, but more to console than conspire. Reminiscent of the meeting of Filipino politicians in Speaker Yulo’s House, as the Japanese were poised to take Manila.

In one of those meetings, the idea of convening a special session of Congress to declare Proclamation 1081 null and void was brought up. The following day the legislative building was occupied by troops who “dismantled the offices, carting away equipment, tables and chairs.” Someone had squealed or the room was bugged.

But the Communist Party, too, was in disarray. Its ranks had been decimated by mass arrests, its unity broken by mutual suspicions of betrayal. The Party’s Central Committee was not able to convene for a year and a half; and while the Armed Forces of the Philippines swelled from 60,000 strong in 1972 to 250,000 by 1975, the NPA’s ranks only increased from 1,230 in 1972 to 1,800 in 1974, and actually declined to 1,200 in 1976.

But there was a  fundamental difference between the Left and the Center—as we might call the politicians—was while both declined in numbers, one increased in strength by sheer physical courage and tenacity in actual combat with the dictatorship.

By 1980, the NPA had grown enough to launch offensives. By 1983, US intelligence analysts concluded that it had achieved strategic parity with the dispirited Philippine army. The Communist Party accepted the US estimate of its mass base at 40,000 people and the military’s estimate of its military strength at 16,000.

In hoc signo vinces

Religious opposition was just beginning at the onset of martial law. The Catholic hierarchy had only just affirmed in 1971 Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, which “clearly delineated the Catholic commitment to social justice.” Jesuit Pacifico Ortiz delivered his “Prayer” at the opening of Congress describing the Philippines as a nation “on the trembling edge of revolution.”

Nothing more was heard from the religious until many years later.

In 1976 Jaime Sin repalced Rufino Cardinal Santos, who was reviled by the youth for his conservatism on social issues. Sin was not a firebrand when he donned the red cap, but he would change.

Wurfel writes that “[o]utrage and compassionate action required no liberation theology when a priest learned of the arrest without charge or the torture of a beloved parishioner…

“And when churchmen did condemn injustice or protest torture, and their activities were halted by the military, both the pastoral and the prophetic functions of milinistry were constrained. Those constraints were resented even by the conservatives…”

This alienation from the government spread to the Protestants, a group which “had also been strongly committed to constitutional democracy,” having its roots in the American democratic ethic.

Of the major churches, only the Iglesia ni Cristo was quiescent. When its radio station was assaulted by government troops at the onset of martial law, it registered its displeasure by giving Marcos a resounding no in a referendum. Then it kept quiet.

Catholic leaders, until the eve of Edsa, remained divided over the best way to deal with Marcos. They worried over the radicalization of the some religious. But government provocation was the most effective catalyst for change among the senior prelates.

An example was Cardinal Sin’s case. One of his first acts as Archbishop of Manila was to issue a pastoral letter condemning the summary arrest of Jesuit priests Jose Blanco and Benigno Mayo. Sin presided over a prayer vigil for the detained priests, “which more than 5,000 persons attended, the largest anti-martial law protest at the time.”

Sin also declared his opposition to a Marcos decree “banning all labor strikes.” US President Gerald Ford was visiting Manila at the time, so Marcos hasty backtracked and limited the ban to strategic industries.

The regime found ways to hit back. Church-owned media, which had escaped closure in 1972, was shut down in 1976-77, among them the weekly newspaper and radio station of Bishop Francisco Claver’s diocese in Bukidnon, Davao’s radio station, and Church magazines in Manila. The government threatened to tax Church properties and subject them to urban land reform.

Sin’s initial policy of “critical collaboration” during this time began to give away to active resistance, as the religious indignation spread over the continuing arrests and more of the clergy became radicalized. Sin may have thought to steal the thunder from the radical priests by hurling the bolts himself. Protestant groups began to rally against Marcos in 1978.

By 1979, Sin was firmly on the path to his preeminent role in the overthrow of Marcos.

“Unity and Struggle”

The political opposition had been the hardest hit by martial law. “It’s “highly personalized structures, based primarily on the expectation of material gain, were suddenly deprived of access to fuel for their machines. They faded rapidly, collapsed even, in the face of arrests, cooptation, and initially severe restrictions. The parties’ fate thus contributed to the illusion, reported by the foreign press as late as 1973, that there was no significant opposition to the New Society.”

Marcos’s most effective weapon against the politicians was their own cupidity. He paid them off and recruited them into the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan.

Not all of them. A few voices continued to heard, echoing Ninoy Aquino’s protests from his prison. They were those of Lorenzo Tañada, elder statesman and lawyer to detainees; Jose Diokno, after Ninoy the one detained longest by the dictator; Jovito Salonga, counsel for political prisoners, then a prisoner himself. Raul Manglapus and other Filipino exiles in America denounced the dictatorship to a handful of decent Americans who would listen, among them Stephen Solarz.

Adversity made these leaders into men of far higher principle than they were thought to have been previously. Ninoy Aquino, in particular, transcended a reputation for facile, self-centered brilliance and of being a too-ambitious and fluid politician.

Aquino’s court martial trial for alleged subversion and the common crimes of murder and illegal possession of firearms became a cause celebre, after Ninoy declared that he would not dignify it with his active participation.

His case was temporarily shelved in 1974 and resurrected in 1975, during which he undertook his famous fast. He ended his fast after the 40th day, having become the focus of international attention. The sham trial was started again in 1977, and got as far as the rendering of the sentence of death on November 25. Adverse foreign opinion was again aroused, and Marcos held back the execution for another time.

To shore up his international reputation, Marcos announced elections for an interim National Assembly (Batasan Pambansa) as provided for in his repeatedly amended Constitution. He announced that even Ninoy could run for assemblyman from his jail cell. Marcos sat back and waited for the opposition to prove that it could not win an election, and that his regime, after all, was popular.

A party, Laban, was hastily formed under the chairmanship of Tañada. Ninoy would be its star candidate. Jose Diokno disagreed and argued for a boycott. He was joined by remnants of the old Liberal Party under Gerardo Roxas, upon the urging of Salonga.

Ninoy changed his mind and supported the boycott, lest the elections appear to legitimize Marcos.

But when he was interviewed by Palace hack Ronnie Nathanielzs and Juan Ponce Enrile on television, he declared he would participate. “The fact alone that [Marcos] has allowed the opposition to speak for 45 days and to come out with their leaflets is already to me a tremendous opportunity. And I am taking advantage of that opportunity,” Ninoy said.

“The people did seize that opportunity,” wrote Emmanuel de Dios in his essay, “The Erosion of the Dictatorship.”

On the evening of April 6, 1978, “residents of the metropolis came out into the streets and banged on pots, pans, and washbasins, stoked bonfires in the middle of the roads, drove at random through the city in cars, jeeps, and trucks, honking horns and shouting above the mechanical din, ‘Laban! Laban! ’

“This urban phenomenon was unprecedented and surprised even those who had organized it.

“Until then, the only open and large-scale resistance to the dictatorship had been put up by the armed underground movement… The noise barrage, on the other hand, not only added a new locus to the resistance but also succeeded in enlisting open support from the hitherto unorganized majority of the middle classes, apart from the underground mass organizations.”

This event heralded the rebirth of the “reformist” opposition, and the beginning of the war for the hearts and minds of the citizenry. For the issue came down to this: could the people be made to fight, or at least stand up, for their lost freedoms? Thus was the road to people power laid.

Predictably, the regime rigged the elections. The KBL slate, headed by Imelda Marcos, made a “clean sweep.” Even Ninoy lost to “a nobody from the KBL.”

Still, the exercise demonstrated an access to a source of political power by the common man, particularly the middle class. The Church saw an alternative to radical politics for the faithful.


Steve Psinakis, brother-in-law of detainee, then escapee Geny Lopez, summed up the attitude which became prevalent among conservative elements in the wake of the 1978 sham elections. “The Marcoses left the Filipino people with only one solution: force.”

The “Light-a-Fire Movement” ushered in a period of urban terrorism, of a benign cast. From May to September 1979, members of the group used small incendiary devices to put “symbolic targets” to the torch. Their most famous exploit was the burning of the floating casino in Manila Bay.

In December, one of the group’s couriers was intercepted. By the end of the month, key members were arrested; group’s network smashed by the government.

But another way had been shown, to be followed by those with rather more talent than enthusiasm. “The measure of success achieved by what were obviously primitive and amateurish methods… suggested that the same tactics should be attempted on a larger, more professional, scale.” This was the April Six Liberation Movement (ASLM). Its arrival on the scene was announced by the coordinated bombing of 9 city buildings. The dictatorship was embarrassed by the bombing of a convention of American travel agents soon after Marcos gave a speech.

Less squeamish than the earlier group, this one took less precautions against collateral damage. Innocent bystanders were hurt, like singer Nonoy Zuniga.

Ninoy became worried. If it came to violence, no one was a match to Marcos. This was just what he need to reassert the iron fist. He urged the opposition to dialogue with the dictator. Psinakis agreed to a moratorium on bombings.

“The activities of the urban guerrillas…did contribute to the cause of the traditional politicians. For it was the latter, hitherto shut out by martial rule, who were the most able and anxious to take advantage of whatever chinks of concession were opened in the armor of the dictatorship.”

The chinks indeed began to appear.

But none wider than in the economy. And the health of the dictator.

The Armed Forces itself started to show signs of deep weariness in a fight against an enemy more elusive than strong, and which—if it never fought well—never stopped fighting. But in November, 1977, the army scored a coup. Jose M. Sison and other important Communist leaders were captured, bringing the total number of captured members of the party’s Central Committee to twenty out of twenty-six. But it was too late.

Another wider front had opened against the regime. Sensing the onset of change, Marcos himself announced the start of political normalization with the inauguration of the Interim Batasan Pambansa.

Covenants for Freedom

WITH the yet-unreleased National Security Code in his pocket, Ferdinand Marcos declared, on January 16, 1981, that he was going to lift martial law. He did not need martial law with the Code.

The announcement was carefully timed; it helped distract the attention at a time when (Wurfel notes) “the flight of Dewey Dee, Chinese millionaire, had just triggered the financial crisis.” It also coincided with the inauguration Ronald Reagan, and prepared the way for the visit of the Pope.

The next day martial law was formally suspended, with the proviso that all martial law decrees and instructions remained in force.

As the New York Times opined, “He retains all his emergency powers; he can restore martial law at any time. This is the hard substance beneath the welcome symbol.” He was as powerful as ever.

Graciously, he restored the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, but only with respect to those acts that never needed them. The writ remained suspended over Mindanao and for such crimes as speaking ill of the government, subversion and threats to national security.

The “interim” Batasan Pambansa was prodded into making wholesale revisions to the Marcos Constitution, which had envisioned a patchwork, quasi-parliamentary government, in the style of the French Fifth Republic-style. The changes would go into effect between 1984 and 1987. On January 29, 1981, Marcos announced he would seek reelection. By February 27, the amendments he required had been passed.

The president was to be elected at large, have a six-year term but with no bar to any number of reelections. The president would have the power to dissolve the Assembly, but the Assembly would not have the power to remove him.

The Prime Minister would function as something like a glorified Executive Secretary. An “Executive Committee” was to be established to govern the country in the event of the dictator’s untimely demise. It was the first hint that intimations of mortality were intruding on FM’s phenomenal conceit.

A plebescite was scheduled for April 17, to ratify the amendments. Marcos said the opposition could campaign during both the plebiscite and the presidential election scheduled for June 16. In fact, they had to, they could go to jail if they did not. He had made non-voting a crime punishable by imprisonment.

As De Dios writes, “the plebiscite also served as a test run for the dictatorship’s electoral machinery and as a guage of the people’s susceptibility to threats. A boycott of the plebiscite as well as of the coming presidential election was to be treated as a serious crime.”

But a boycott was exactly what the opposition had decided to do as far back as April 17, 1980. Ninoy Aquino, Lorenzo Tanada and Salvador Laurel (head of the Laurel wing of the Nacionalista Party, which parted ways with Marcos in the late 70s) had agreed to demand, as conditions for their participation in any election, “a minimum campaign period, a purging of the voters’ lists, equal time and space for the opposition, and a reorginization of the COMELEC.” These conditions Marcos refused to meet.

Initially, UNIDO President Gerry Roxas opposed putting up any candidate at all, a view shared by the Civil Liberties Union, Diokno, and other “persons thought to be associated with the National Democratic Front”—the Left. Doy Laurel, Ninoy Aquino, in exile in the United States, and Reuben Canoy of the Mindanao Alliance argued in favor of participation. Ninoy said he would return to be Doy’s campaign manager.

UNIDO first decided on qualified participation, and even held a rally on March 21 at Plaza Miranda. Eight thousand people attended, an impressive number given the times. A rump session of the old Constitutional Convention was convened by Diosdado Macapagal, who had been impotent to prevent aproval of the sham that was the 1973 Constitution. But this time Macapagal’s rump declared that Constitution void. Then UNIDO called for a boycott.

Comments De Dios, “The boycott decision…revealed that it was…more effective, not to mention morally just, to seek forms of resistance outside the realm of electoral politics. The display of unity among all opposition forces, from the old political parties to the Communist Party, in rejecting the election was also unprecedented.” An opposition opinion poll indicated that 50 percent of voters boycotted the election.

A carpet, woven from the thread which Ninoy in his hunger fast, and Tanada and other oppositionists had started to spin, started to take shape. This was the rug that would sweep the dictator off his feet. The rug of mass civil disobedience and people power.

The presidential campaign was a bloody one. Of course, Marcos won “overwhelmingly” against his token opponent, Gen. Alejo Santos, who’s campaign manager was the now-out-of-grace Kit Tatad.

Marcos inaugurated both his new term and his New Republic—to replace the shopworn New Society, and so it would resonate with Reagan’s Republican administration as well—in splendid rites. The sons of old wealth rode past him in their polo ponies, nearly-naked tribesmen blew their conches on the four corners of the PICC building, while the sonorous strains of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus rose around him. The ceremony struck observers as near-sacriligious, if not ridiculous.

Decline and preparation for the Fall

MARCOS looked more firmly ensconced in power than ever, save for the skittish situation of the economy, which was starting to experience the deleterious effects of crony capitalism. But the dictatorship was losing steam.

The expansion of the government and the military, which had been growing at a phenomenal rate—giving bureaucrats and soldiers good prospects for rapid advancement—slowed down. Promotions didn’t come as often, a situation aggravated by the tendency of senior officers to defy age to keep their privileges. Lower-ranked officials turned more and more to petty corruption, following the lead of their seniors. It was no longer, as the businessmen had enthused, centralized corruption. Everyone wanted be on the take.

In 1981, having variously considered appointing Ninoy Aquino (who had hinted that if Marcos made concessions he might take the job), Emmanuel Pelaez, and Arturo Tolentino, not to mention a “gallant proposal” by Enrile that Imelda Marcos be given the job, Cesar Virata was made Prime Minister.

This was meant to signal the country’s foreign creditors that, crony capitalist rumors not withstanding, the country now had the benefit of technocratic government. Even freedom, it was suggested, could now be afforded. Juan Ponce-Enrile told the tightly-controlled media to “snap out of its timidity and sycophancy.” Naturally, when it did, as in Ma. Ceres Doyo’s landmark eyewitness account of Macli-ing Dulag’s Murder—featured of all places in the crony-controlled Bulletin—the writer was picked up and the editor was made to resign.Who magazine writers were daily harassed; Joe Burgos and the staff of We Forum were arrested and the paper shut down.

Inspired by the Pope’s message to safeguard human rights and advance social justice, religious and lay women worked more avidly among the poor. Sr. Christine Tan moved in with a destitute family. Basic Christian Communities in rural areas began to grow, with its reputation with a reputation for being the Catholic version of communist cells. Bishop Antonio Fortich hounded the military to account for the disappeared, even as the savagery of the insurgent war in Mindanao mounted.

In 1977, the same year that their founder was captured, the NDF unveiled a revised program. The party announced that its presence had spread from 300 to more than 400 towns in 47 provinces. This marked the start of their “advanced strategic offensive,” involving assaults on outposts. They claimed 40,000 cadres and the loyalty of 10% of the population, i.e. six million souls. The NPA’s growing offensive capabilities were buttressed by government propaganda, which tried to disguise its own excesses as “NPA attacks.”

The NDF organized rallies in town centers and struck alliances with labor groups which had seceded from the government-controlled trade union, the TUCP, to join the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), formed in 1980.

Steady successes, and the CPP’s ability to come up with leaders of ability to replace those who had been captured, killed, or coopted by the government, buoyed its moral and swelled its sense of self-importance until began that mental condition akin to the hardening of the arteries that leads to stroke and paralysis. As it did when the Left stood stock still while the nation marched to Edsa.

Prescriptions for change

AS the Left boasted of its growing prowess, a new sector emerged in opposition to Marcos—the legitimate businessmen who distinguished themselves from the cronies.

Marcos had plied businessmen with pro-business decrees, and while the economy hummed along no one complained. But when the economy, which had grown by an average of over 6 percent in the first seven years of martial law, began to falter (down to 5.4 percent growth in 1980, 3 in 1981, and 2.6 the year after), businessmen worried about an economy and a country so firmly tied up with Marcos and his friends.

It also became evident at this time that Marcos’s preferential policies towards his friends or dummies had started to take a significant toll on the economy. Businessmen, who just winked at these peccadilloes, now worried that as these bogus, publicly-financed enterprises sank under the weight of mismanagement and plunder, they would take the rest of the economy with them.

Bankruptcies increased, as did unemployment, and some foreign investors pulled out their investments ($100 million worth of equity capital was taken out in 1980).

The Makati Business Club, composed of the Philippines’ top 1000 corporations, was organized and shortly after issued a plenary paper titled “Issues and Prescriptions.” It called for “an environment of honesty, integrity, peace, and greater confidence in the government; a curb to military abuse and government corruption; a stop to red tape, graft, corruption and cronyism; the definition and pull-out of government roles from private sector concerns and business; the removal of lopsided competition from government; and the protection of media in its crusade against injustice and the curtailment of human freedom.” These were uncharacteristically strong words which stuck; the operative words “corruption,” “cronyism,” and “abuse” became battlecries of those social classes who stir when their pockets rather than hearts are touched.

In 1982 the businessmen had summoned up the nerve to present their complaints during the Eighth Philippine Business Conference in 1982. They invited Marcos to be their guest speaker, and were rewarded with a bravura performance by FM who thundered, “This government will, and has the capability to protect itself. The country is presently reeling from world-wide recession and export price slump… but let me warn those who opt to provide further misery to our people: tax evations and frauds in remittances of export earnings will be seriously dealt with the full force of the law. These people are known to me and I have a list of companies right here with me.”

The businessmen blanched. They wanted reform, he would reform them. They had invited him with all the elegant formalities at which they are so good, and he had treated them such as no rabble-rousing labor leader would have dared.

Even as businessmen like Joe Concepcion still fretted about “the danger of punitive action of some kind” as a result of their mild criticism of Marcos, the notion grew that only without Marcos did the country have a chance.

Lone Ranger and the technocrats

THE revulsion among businessmen grew when their stand-ins in the Marcos government were marginalized, as quickly as they had been brought in.

Together with Gerardo Sicat, Roberto Ongpin, and Placido Mapa, Cesar Virata was the compleat technocrat—reputedly honest, certainly proficient in his field. His presence had deodorized the profligate dictatorship with its creditors abroad. Marcos even made him a member of the 14-man Executive Committee, whose ranks took years to fill. In the event of Marcos’s death, Virata was in the running to succeed him. Raised to these lofty heights, the business community was supposed to feel that their own kind were in positions of responsibility and respect in the Marcos regime.

In 1982 Virata asked that the Central Bank stop discounting loans for sugar planters, who had been hard-hit by the collapse of the sugar industry. The planters grumbled that it was all Benedicto’s fault, since he was the head of the sugar monopoly. Virata’s action raised the hackles of the cronies; Marcos allowed them to strike back in 1983.

In April of that year a KBL caucus was held in Malacanang in preparation for a revue of the country’s fiscal performance by its creditor banks. A scene reminiscent of China’s Cultural Revolution took place. After all, Imelda Marcos was an admirer of Chairman Mao.

Leader after leader stood up to shout at Prime Minister Virata and Central Bank Gov. Jaime Laya, accusing them of incompetence, stupidity and cowardice in the face of creditor banks and the IMF. Then Marcos stepped in and chided Virata to “to defend himself.”

He had humiliated the chief technocrat and demonstrated that everyone’s position depended purely on his good will. Virata offered to resign, but he couldn’t forget the perks of his humiliating office. Marcos told him to take a rest abroad.

Thus, these great brown hopes of reform were exposed as toothless fools, essential in making the government look good but powerless to make it so. When Marcos revealed that he had left confidential orders to Gen. Fabian Ver, his chief of security, in the event of his death, everyone realized Marcos respected and trusted only his bodyguards.

Marcos’ Nightmare Year

IN 1983, on the anniversary of the Plaza Miranda bombing, Ninoy Aquino came home to die. The man who was hustled down the side stairs of the airport tube, where his China Airlines flight had docked, was a man far different from the ebullient senator of 1971.

He was a man purified of any suspicion of self-interested action; a proven patriot. He had returned not even to fight, but to try and make peace with the dictatorship and hopefully make it relax its grip. Marcos returned his offer of reconciliation with a bullet.

Except Marcos said it did not come from him, but from the communists.

In front of 2,000 soldiers sent to meet the exiled senator, Ninoy Aquino was taken down by three Philippine Constabulary officers, and before his feet touch the tarmac, shot in the back of the head.

The nation was stunned, first into terror and then into rage.

From the first timid testing of the waters by the people who lined up to view Ninoy’s remains at his old home on Times Street, and followed his bier in the millions, it became apparent that 1983 would be a real annus horribilis for the Marcoses, a real sphincter of a year.

A few days after Ninoy’s death oppositionists formed JAJA—Justice for Aquino, Justice for All and declared:

“We demand the immediate resignation of President Marcos, the entire Cabinet, the Executive Committee, members of the Batasang Pambansa, and top generals of the military. A responsible transition government composed of men and women of unquestionable integrity should be established to pave the way for the realization of genuine democracy in this country. We demand the immediate restoration of the writ of habeas corpus throughout the country, the immediate release of all political prisoners, and the grant of unconditional amnesty to all political dissenters and dissidents. We demand a fair, open, independent and impartial investigation of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino. We demand the complete restoration of freedom of speech, the press, of peaceful assembly, and all other constitutional rights and civil liberties. We demand a stop to US or any other foreign intervention in Philippine affairs. We demand an end to the militarization of our society and to repression and terrorism. we demand the restoration of the independence of the judiciary.”

These objectives would remain the aim of the opposition from then on. Whoever thought of it, was a genius for it cut across party lines and personal agendas—if any still remained in the opposition after 14 years in the desert of anonymity.

In no time, these objectives and sentiments catalyzed the formation of what came to be known as the cause oriented groups, and the partisans of the parliament of the streets.

The gap left by the refusal of the middle and professional classes to take part in sordid, not to mention, dangerous political affairs was now closed. From one end of the political spectrum to the other was a solid band of opposition to the murderous dictatorship.

Marcos swiftly resorted to his old trick of divide and rule, but the more he sought to divide the more convinced the opposition became that he was weakening and could not rule. Concessions could only be interpreted as weaknesses.

Writing after Edsa, Ma.Serena Diokno summed up this period as “a movement of unity and struggle—of oneness in opposition to the Marcos regime, it’s authoritarian apparatus, and its abuse of the Filipino people; of differences within a movement colored by various shades of political understanding, at times sadly marked by personal political ambition; and of unrelenting struggle against a dictatorship propped up by the government of the United States.”

Indeed, it took some groups longer to get over their caution in dealing with others. But the Church was firmly in place in the battlefront, the (in fact if not actually title) Primate directing operations ever since he had officiated at Ninoy’s funeral mass, where he had elevated the martyr with the honors of a head of state.

In retrospect this process seems to have been a continuous march, along city streets lined with buildings raining yellow confetti, to the tune of ati-atihan drums and the wailing of police sirens. In reality, it was a series of skirmishes and crises, of exhilarating advance and painful retreat and regroupment.

It’s defining events were summed up by Diokno as, “the early conflict between the Church’s call for national reconciliation, and the people’s demand for the removal of Marcos, the agonizing period of deciding whether or not to take part in the parliamentary (Batasan) elections in May 1984, the failed Bayan congress… in May 1985, and the founding of the BANDILA….” Through it all, the quibbling among oppositionists would continue, without stop, but also without any harmful effects. The movement was unstoppable, even by the pettiness of some of those who comprised it.

Bound by a yellow ribbon

WHILE JAJA embarked on efforts learned from the leftist teach-ins—education campaigns, forums, mass actions like marches and boycott campaigns against crony businesses, and the use of striking symbols and slogans with the color yellow—its members continued to quarrel among themselves over means and even ends.

They quarreled about the ideal form of transitional government and its legal details, about the need or folly of including the US bases as an issue, and about the restructuring of political processes, if not society itself.

The energy unleashed by Ninoy’s death was too much to be contained within a single group, as people experienced the thrill and euphoria of indulging in daring acts of insubordination. Small groups sprouted like mushrooms on the deadwood of the state: ATOM, GABRIELA, CORD, a flurry of acronyms competed with each other in coming up with gimmicks demonstrating opposition: from jogging for justice, to dressing up your pets in yellow, a piece of kitsch meant for the queen of it, Imelda Marcos.

Any conceivable anniversary was marked by the birth of one of these groups and by spontaneous demonstrations, which by themselves excited a public long revolted by the staged spontaneous actions of the Marcos regime.

Added to the sound of ati-atihan drums were the rumblings of a collapsing economy. In the wake of Ninoy’s death, capital flight accelerated; the peso plummeted; businesses failed, and government, on October 14, declared itself bankrupt and asked for a 90-day moratorium on foreign debt payments. World Bank officials revealed in shocked tones that the window-dressing of the Central Bank’s reserves. Was there no honor among thieves?

Taking a cue from Ninoy’s arrival statement, Cardinal Sin proposed, on the 23rd of September, an eight-member national council composed of 4 representatives from within and outside the government. This was the opening salvo of the Church’s effort to steer the irresistible forces of change into peaceful and orderly channels.

The Cardinal’s call was echoed by the Bishop’s Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development (CBCP). Other groups, such as KAAKBAY, soon took up a similar call, “there can be no reconciliation without resignation,” which impelled an Assemblyman to file a motion asking Marcos to resign.

The ears of other organizations more stolidly establishment perked up. Their meetings began to buzz with talk of Marcos’s succession, an issue even the president of the AmCham raised in November, 1983.

Middle-rank executives and employees joined demonstrations during office hours to test the sympathies of their superiors, who joined them. By October, yellow confetti was raining from office windows, as executives and office workers marched along Ayala Ave. The Church began its “bells and prayers” campaign and that most loyal segment of the faithful, the middle class, sat up and listened. It was time for contingency plans in the event of Marcos’s fall.

Convened and reconvened

ON January 7 and 8, 1984, the Congress of the Filipino People (Kompil) was held, in an attempt to unify the opposition groups. It was composed of moderates, and attempted to answer two questions: should the “Marcos Resign” movement go on, and, if Marcoes ever quit, who should be entrusted with running the government?

These questions were eventually shunted aside as a more pressing issue presented itself (but not before a “dream list” of possible candidates was drawn up): what course of action should the opposition take with regard to the upcoming Batasan elections?

Everyone said their piece, including Jose Ma. Sison who sent a message—a prelude to the last hurrah of the Party, which was rapidly being drowned out in the babel of opposition voices.

Joma advocated a united front decision boycotting the elections. Many disagreed. A compromise was painfully reached: participation under certain conditions. The conditions themselves were decided upon by balloting. The Kompil had succeeded in revealing a way for groups to come up with a position they could hold in common.

Marcos, of course, rejected the conditions, which caused a flurry of renewed argumentation among the opposition. Tanada, Diokno and Butz Aquino called for a boycott, citing the same arguments that dated back to the 1978 and 1981 boycott movements. The boycott group eventually formed an umbrella organization, CORD, which included Salonga, Pres. Macapagal, and Manglapus.

Then the widow spoke. Cory Aquino was for participation, even though she had no illusions about the outcome of the polls. In February, 1984, Cardinal Sin called for participation, too.

UNIDO decided to participate in the election, as did regional parties such as PDP-LABAN, which felt that boycott campaigns in the past had actually hurt the opposition. Another organization was revived to help guard against fraud: NAMFREL. For the first time, the opposition would fight fraud with organized vigilance.

The boycott failed, the turnout was high, and for once an organized group existed to catalog and inform the public of the government’s electoral dirty tricks. The opposition took almost a third of the seats in parliament, after a heavy toll from the administration’s massive cheating.

In the public mind, the opposition had proven its strength.

And it was time to plan for bigger things. Around the time of the May 14 elections, a Jesuit and businessmen’s group began deliberating again on the contingencies should Marcos die. This group called themselves the Facilitators. They finally decided on a way to find a candidate quickly. They called it the “fast-track system.” Its aim, to avoid the inevitable bickering and internecine strife sure to attend the selection of a common presidential candidate should elections be suddenly called.

Emmanuel Soriano, Dr. Alfredo Bengzon, Ricardo Lopa, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, and Ramon del Rosario Jr., all members of Manindigan!, were the architects of this process. They met with the Convenor Group, composed of Tanada (representing the “Left of Center”), Jaime Ongpin (representing moderates), and Cory Aquino, the “symbol of unity.”

Both groups met on November 13, 1984,and came up with a list of “potential standard bearers”: Butz Aquino, Jose Diokno, Teofisto Guingona, Eva Kalaw, Salvador Laurel, Raul Manglapus, Ramon Mitra, Ambrosio Padilla, Aquilino Pimentel, Rafael Salas, and Jovito Salonga. A month later these people met with the Facilitators and the Convenor Group, and agreed to sign a Declaration of Unity. Kalaw and Laurel abstained.

Laurel did not sign because to the already tone-down anti-US bases line in the declaration. He did not think the cause of freedom needed to add to its enemies. He also offered an alternative method for selecting a united opposition’s champion, one that sidestepped the cause-oriented groups, relying purely on the politicians. His group called itself the National Unification Committee or NUC.

The Convenor’s Group and the potential standard bearers, in an agreement signed on January 2, chose a system in which the potential candidates would chose in secret ballot the standard bear from among themselves by a simple majority vote. They committed themselves to look for a more creative method, but in the meantime this would do.

The NUC offered a compromise solution, whereby the cause-oriented groups would be entitled to 30 percent representation in the convention that would choose the standard bearer. It invited the Convenor’s Group to a meeting. The Group declined, sending Mitra to read a message politely explaining that it could not abandon the fast track system.

But the negotiations went on, in time-honored political fashion, with a continuing exchange of proposals and counter-proposals. They came to a tentative agreement on the actual selection of a candidate, save for one loose end: what to do about Manglapus and Salas who were abroad.

But a common position with regard to the US bases remained elusive. The original draft was written by Salonga: the opposition would “comply with the US-RP Military Bases Agreement of 1947… which will expire in 1991, and oppose the continued existence of foreign military facilities in the Philippines. No military bases should thereafter be allowed.”

Laurel opposed the draft. He was open to the renewal of the bases agreement, subject to a plebiscite. Diokno was dead-set against recognizing the validity of the bases agreement altogether. And so it went, until, finally, on November 21, 1985, an agreement was reached and the platform approved. The bases provision finally read, “Consistent with our rights and duties under international law and the soveriegn rights of our people, foreign military bases on Philippine territory must be removed and no foreign military bases shall be thereafter allowed.”

The opposition was almost whole. The success of the NUC-Convenor negotiations proved the resilience of the old politicians who would finally agree to anything for the sake of unity and political effectiveness, because ultimately words meant nothing to do them. Hence, they would survive into the era and the new political forces would die. It was now time for the Last Hurrah of the Left.

BAYAN no more

THEIR manifesto was brave, and embodied what they perceived to be the lessons of the struggle of the last decade. Those lessons might be summed up as the need for a new politics, an alternative to the old patronage system, and the transformation of Philippine society as a whole. They were, after all, composed of the activist cause-oriented, the streetfighters who had electrified the nation with their marches. They were the future, the politicians were the past. They wanted respect, their own identity. On March 20, 1985, they formed their own umbrella group and called it Bayan, no less.

“Bayan’s major functions are to unify and consolidate the leadership of popular organizations… and to adopt a broad and comprehensive strategy for a struggle that will integrate all forms of non-violent political action: That strategy will be based on a new politics: the politics of the people, a politics that does not wait for elections to air the people’s grievances and press their demands… [T]heir aspirations [are] for an authentic, popular, pluralist democracy, real and effective sovereignty, a just and human society that cares equally for all and offers a better life,and true national unity, a unity of all social sectors and classes, a unity of the people more than tht of the politicians.”

Stirring words, indeed, and the myriad groups that flocked to Bayan’s convention on May 4 were full of fervor and romantic hopes. In two days, they were reduced to angry, even bitter, tears, their dreams in ruins. It had become apparent in those two short days that Bayan was intended to be a Communist show and nothing else. Entire groups walked out: ATOM, SAPAK, AKKAPA. Finally progressive but non-communist leaders who had helped form BAYAN, and been elected officers, resigned. Diokno lists them as including her father, Jose Diokno, “Justice J.B.L. Reyes, Zeneida Quezon-Avancena, and Edmundo Garcia”. Of the veteran oppositionists, only Tanada decided to say on, the great dissenter, as always.

The disenchanted groups organized Bandila. It would give the so-called leftist elements a chance to be a part of the final push that would shove out Marcos.

And FM?

BY this time he was a sick man behind whose back sycophants were jockeying for the power they thought would survive his demise. Every permutation of ambitious greed was mulled. Imelda and Ver versus Enrile and Ramos, old military officers against new.

Meanwhile, his administration continued to leak technorats. Vicente Paterno, a KBL Assemblyman, in a weepy moment, was convinced to quit the KBL altogether. In the countryside the NPA was at the nadir of its armed might, whether from the brilliance of its tactics or the indifference of any army sensing the command center was ceasing to hold. And while diehard rightists in America toasted him—such as George Bush’s asinine remark, “We just love your commitment to democracy,” which set tongues wagging on both sides of the Pacific—he was actually a pariah among leaders.

His rhetoric had gotten stale, and his old tricks failed to impress anymore. Illness had imposed on him a clinical isolation from the germ-infested world. With this came that fatal retreat from reality that convinced him that he could still pull it off. In November, 1985, he released his bombshell, on This Week with David Brinkley.

Brinkley: Mr. President, are there any catches? Can everyone run in this election?

Marcos: Oh, anyone… anyone.

B: If Corazon Aquino wants to run?

M: Yes…

B: Senator Laurel wants to run?

M: Anyone…

B: Anyone can run?

M: Oh yes…

B: Of course you know the allegation is that you control the judiciary…

M: Oh, come on…

B: Are you then saying that we can expect an election in the Philippines, say in January or February of 1986?

M: Yes, if I can convince the Batasan, and I think I can. We control two-thirds of the membership.

Here, for the penultimate time, was the soft cunning, which could suddenly revert to the mailed fist, but oh how whittled down by age and disease—and tripped again by that fatal indifference to detail as in the execution of Lim Seng. Did he have enough bullets? And who would fire the shots for him? He did not think.

End of one road, beginning of the next

EDSA, the apotheosis of the middle class (in contrast to Marcos’ hollow self-apotheosis in 1981) lay ahead. The inauguration at Club Filipino, which the Left grumbled was a mere restoration, which of course, it was. They had a right to grumble. If they had not been in the last act, their bloody struggled had composed all the previous ones.

But the people who had marched and fought alone in the 70s and 80s should have expected nothing less from those who suddenly swelled the ranks of the opposition after Ninoy’s murder. These people had decided that the time for involvement had come precisely because the things the Left despised but which they valued—order, decency, the safety of property—were in grave peril. They, who were leery politics, had taken over it completely to restore everything to the way it was, and put politics and power again in its subordinate place. These people were the warp and woof of that rug that would be pulled from under Marcos, and would throw him flat on his back.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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