“People will wake up and see the truth.”
Thirty-six years ago, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. and his family were booted out of Malacañang when tens of thousands of Filipinos trooped to EDSA in response to the call of then Cardinal Jaime Sin to support the rebel military forces that have turned their backs on Marcos. These military forces were led by Juan Ponce Enrile, Marcos’ Defense Chief, and Fidel V. Ramos, then the Vice Chief-of-Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. For many years, Enrile and Ramos served Marcos especially during Martial Law.
I was in EDSA and it was an experience of a lifetime. I witnessed the power of the people. We kicked Marcos out.
I was in junior high school when Marcos declared Martial Law. What I experienced during the early years of his military rule may not be as harsh as what others went through. There was curfew so people could be arrested just because they were out during curfew hours. For teenagers like us, it meant going home from parties early. The other option was to “stay-in.”
I knew that one could not be critical of Marcos especially in public. My family was poor to begin with. I lived with my Lola in an urban poor community in San Juan because my mom passed on when I was in sixth grade. I was in school only because of scholarships. Money was scarce so being able to eat a slice of 3M Pizza was a real treat for me. So, my worldview was quite limited. I did not know about human rights. Still, I knew that people were whispering how hard life was, and that government was not doing right by the people.
While ordinary Filipinos were wallowing in poverty, while we needed to fall in line to buy rice and other staple food, we were constantly bombarded with images of the regal and beautiful Imelda Marcos decked in jewels wearing her “terno.” I had that nagging feeling that something was very wrong. Even I, who did not know about human rights, knew that people were not free.
I knew that fear of being arrested by the notorious “METROCOM” was pervasive. Every now and then, there were talks in our neighborhood of some people getting arrested but for what, I did not know. I never imagined that there were activists in our area. I only knew one activist at that time, one cousin of mine but he did not live in our community.
I remember talks about TV personality Ariel Ureta being arrested and made to ride a bicycle in Crame for the whole day. His crime? He allegedly spoofed the Marcos propaganda line “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan” into “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, bisikleta ang kailangan.” Of course, we did not know if this was true.
Oh, we were bombarded with that line! It was played regularly in radios and the television. We also often heard “Ang Bagong Lipunan” played over and over again. To this day I still know the lyrics of the song. I had goosebumps all over when I recently saw a video clip of Imee Marcos and company dancing to that tune of that song in a party.
Entering the University of the Philippines exposed me to what was happening then. Whereas in San Juan I only heard about arrests, in UP I knew that students were being arrested and incarcerated. I was not part of any activist organization but still, everyone in the campus knew. I was in UP when I saw the one and only television interview of Ninoy Aquino who was still in prison. I was blown away.
When Ninoy Aquino was assassinated on August 21, 1983, things came to a head. Ninoy’s death shocked and opened the eyes of many to the brutality that can be faced by critics of Marcos. It was the last straw. I was already working in Makati then and it was when I truly became an activist by joining rallies on my own. The voices calling for Marcos’ resignation became louder and louder.
The color yellow became a craze. Yellow shirts with Ninoy’s face proliferated, yellow ribbons were tied on trees, vehicles, grills, and yellow confetti rained on rallies that became bigger and bigger. Many of the anti-Marcos groups that worked “underground” for many years and hunted by the dictator courageously surfaced. Many more organizations from different sectors, including the upper and middle classes were formed to protest the Marcoses and their atrocities. Shouts of “Marcos resign!” became louder, more insistent, more determined, and more powerful. It came to a point when Marcos himself could no longer ignore the clamor.
To prove that he still enjoyed the Filipino people’s support, Marcos called for presidential snap elections. Corazon “Cory” Aquino became the people’s candidate against Marcos. The elections were held on February 7, 1986 and on February 20, Marcos proclaimed himself the winner.
The Filipino people knew that Marcos cheated and there was no way for the people to accept this. The angry nation became angrier, and the restive military began to move against Marcos.
Just 18 days after proclaiming himself president (still), EDSA happened and Marcos was forced to flee.
I see parallelisms with what’s happening now. I was young when ML happened. I was not arrested but knew that people were not free. I did not experience brutality but I knew it happened. I was not tortured or raped but know that thousands were. My family experienced the poverty that many go through now that perhaps would not be as bad if government really worked for the people.
Like me, people will wake up and see the truth. Let EDSA be a reminder to those who plan to undermine the people’s will.