Monday, February 25, 2008

Memories of the 1986 People Power Revolution

Revolutionary greetings to one and all on the 22nd anniversary of the 1986 people's uprising (or EDSA 1) that ended the Marcos dictatorship and restored democracy in our country.

We were at the headquarters of TAPAT (Tanggol Karapatan) near the Bustillos Church when we heard news that sections of the military had withdrawn support from the Marcos government. That was February 22, 1986, the beginning of 4 days of final confrontation between the Marcos government and the anti-dictatorship forces.

TAPAT was a coalition that monitored the February 7 elections. It was headed by Sister Mercy Contreras. I was then a volunteer for TAPAT, as a contribution from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, in which i worked as a full time research staff, being an out-of-school teacher at that time. TAPAT was composed of organizations that did not want to participate in the campaign by BAYAN to boycott the presidential elections. They formed an anti-fraud coalition instead. I remember a heated debate between the volunteers: our job is to objectively monitor and report the conduct of the elections, said one side. No, our job is to expose how the fascist government is going to rig the elections, said the other side, my side.

It did not mean we avoided the anti-dictatorship rallies that were for election boycott. In one of the BAYAN rallies at Liwasang Bonifacio, I remembered one speaker saying: the kind of democracy that they (presumably those who were participating in the elections, whether on Marcos or Cory side) want is the democracy of debates, the democracy of endless speeches in Congress.

We knew what he meant. Democracy has to be more than just that. But the speech and the entire rally showed how completely isolated the mainstream Left was from the popular mood and perception: that here is a chance to boot out Marcos by voting for Cory. Practically a million people showed up in the pro-Cory rally at the Luneta (just before the February 7 elections, i can't recall). We were there as TAPAT, distributing anti-Marcos leaflets, which we wrote and which we mimeographed, and soliciting coins to a biscuits can. The can was filled with coins and 20-pesos bill.

Attention focused on the Batasang Pambansa, where the election returns were being delivered, and the PICC, where the COMELEC was conducting the national canvassing. In one evening at the Batasan grounds, we formed a human cordon around a suspicious vehicle carrying ballot boxes until opposition lawyers could file their protest. More people were coming. Ham radio was very popular among the young then (this wasn't yet the age of cellular phones). People were exchanging information and making speeches against Marcos over ham radio. A rock band called Agos volunteered to sing for the crowd, and asked to use our vehicle to bring in their instruments. It was a lively evening, songs and speeches. In our way to a residence in Fairview where we stayed for the night, Agos found that their amplifier was gone.

The following morning we were at the BAYAN rally at the Plaza Miranda. BAYAN was still holding separate rallies and mobilizations from the largely spontaneous and unorganized pro-Cory mobilizations. BAYAN leader Lean Alejandro knew we were at the great evening at the Batasan, an evening BAYAN could not be a part of. He asked: what happened? what was your role? what captured the imagination of the masses? TAPAT was probably the only organized mass force that evening at the Batasan. Lean probably knew how tied his hand was in trying pursuing a policy of opposing the dictatorship and not supporting Cory's electoral battle at the same time.

That evening or the next i guess, we headed to the PICC to gather whatever more information after receiving news of a walk out of COMELEC staff due to the manipulations of the election tallies. Plainclothes at the PICC mocked us, and one of them softly chanted Cory! Cory! while grinning maliciously. I realized it was because they thought we were kids, and at our early 20s we looked like thin, starving, unwashed kids. We entered the main hall and were amazed at the spectacular array of probably hundreds of computers. The government had to make this impressive technical set-up to hide fraud, i thought.

There were mobilizations almost everyday before and after the elections, as outdoor street protests and as in-door rallies. ACT volunteered to the foreign press several public school teachers who narrated commonplace, almost uncontroversial, instances of election irregularities, vote buying, and intimidations during the election. In one conference called by Teachers Alliance for Justice Against Corruption (TAJAC), which was organized by Rene Romero and Raul Segovia, a PUP instructor who earlier expressed in so many words his reservations about street actions suggested TAJAC should organize seminars on Gandhian non-violence. Someone rose up: "hindi na kailangan! magmartsa na tayo sa kalsada!" Now, 22 years later, i realized that at least i could have suggested we could conduct teach-ins about Gandhian tactics right during the rallies. (Gandhi said: "be the change you seek in the world.")

On February 22, after days of rallies, we TAPAT volunteers were taking a nap, lying on streamers and placards. Someone from the neighbors or from the landlords knocked, advising us to take extra caution under the entirely changed situation when Enrile and Ramos withdrew support from Marcos. That evening and for 3 days we were at EDSA. On February 25, we were at the gates of Malacanang.

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