It has been twenty-five years since that fateful three days and four nights of February when so many of us thought that finally, we would see the dawning of a truly free, progressive and prosperous Philippines.
Twenty-five years ago, the Filipino people (mostly those in Metro Manila) with the help of a military faction, installed Cory Aquino as the new president. Today, her son is the president of the land.
During the years that followed Senator Benigno Aquino Jr.’s assassination, I wondered why his only son was quiet. The late senator’s mother, Dona Aurora, his wife Cory and even his youngest daughter Kris, were vocal against the Marcos regime. They were leading the troops, as it were. But the son was nowhere in sight.
Noynoy is about my age, so I was curious as to what he would do. In 1985 in Malaysia, I told my eldest brother Macapanton, Jr. about Noynoy and asked what he thought of it. I remember emphatically telling my brother, “They killed his father, why is he (Noynoy) not doing anything?!”
He answered that it had something to do with culture. He said that their (the Christian Filipino) culture was simply different from ours (Moros). And now he, Noynoy, is our president. Talk of irony!
In 1986, a dictator fell, but the system remained. As the French say, plus ça change, plus ça reste.
Below is a piece I wrote in my other blog three years ago.
REMINISCING THE ROAD TO EDSA 1986
Everybody has his/her own EDSA story. I have my own.
On February 22, 1986, I was in my girlfriend’s home for her birthday party. Her barkada (clique) from her UP days were there and her relatives. One such relative came with the news that he got word from Malacanang people that he was going to be given a more important government post. A top government official had just resigned and he was going to replace him. My girlfriend’s family was very much in the “loyalist” circle.
Then came the news that Defense Minister Ponce-Enrile and Constabulary Chief Fidel Ramos were in Camps Aguinaldo and Crame and both declared their opposition to Mr. Marcos. I called to check if my mother was safe at home. I called my eldest sister, Zorayda Abbas-Tamano, to ask what was happening. Since she and her husband, former Senator Mamintal Tamano, were in the forefront of the opposition group, UNIDO, I figured she would know what was going on. She said that it was apparently a defection of some Marcos men and did not think much about it. Ponce-Enrile and Fidel Ramos were among the pillars of Marcos’s New Society. The political opposition, therefore, was very suspicious.
The party ended abruptly as everyone wanted to go home. Since a friend and I lived in Makati, my girlfriend’s parents asked us to sleep there as it might dangerous to go all the way to Makati from Quezon City. My girlfriend’s friend also stayed for the night to accompany us. We spent the night talking and listening to the news. We were quite excited when we heard that the late Senator Aquino’s brother, Butz and Cardinal Sin were calling the people to support the “rebels”.
The morning after, my friend and I had an early breakfast and went to EDSA to see what all the hullabaloo was about. We were excited when we saw crowds of people showing support for the rebels. When I got home, I took a bath, changed clothes and looked for my agimat (amulet). A few months before, a shaman in Malaysia gave me the amulet which he said would protect me from bullets. I went straight back to EDSA wearing my amulet and half hoping that I would get shot at (and thus prove the efficacy of the amulet).
For three days – 23, 24 and 25 –, I was at EDSA with different companions – my girlfriend and her friend, my sister and a contingent of Moros, my friends and relatives. There were many reasons why I went to EDSA. Politically, I was against Marcos, his dictatorial rule and his war against the Moros. Domestically, I had to get out of the house because my mother and grandmother were very angry at all the anti-Marcos people. I couldn’t even watch TV because they both kept on letting out invectives against the anti-Marcos people on TV.
My mother and grandmother kept on repeating that whoever will replace Marcos will be far worse than him.
My sexagenarian mother and her octogenarian mother belonged to worlds far removed from mine. I was just in my 20’s. I was young, well-read and well-traveled (I had been to Asia, the Middle East, Europe, North America and North Africa). I thought I knew better than them. It turned out that they were, in many ways, right.
PEOPLE POWER FEELING
Even before the EDSA event, I could already feel the “people power” in the massive rallies against Marcos. The very first “rally” that I got this feeling was the funeral of Ninoy Aquino. For the very first time since Martial Law, the people went outside their houses to protest against Marcos.
I decided to come back to the Philippines when I was informed that Ninoy was intent on going home. I knew that Ninoy’s homecoming would be a historic event so I decided to go back to the Philippine before Ninoy’s return. I never thought that Ninoy would be shot. I thought that he would form a coalition government with Marcos, with Marcos as President and Ninoy as Prime Minister.
Ninoy’s funeral motorcade was very long and the people came out to give support. We left Santo Domingo Church around 9 or 10 AM and reached the funeral park in the evening. And I could feel the anger of the Ninoy supporters in the motorcade and the support of the people watching us pass. Most of the people who lined up along the streets were tentative. Some flashed the L or Laban sign; some did it very discreetly, still afraid to be seen. Only the street kids were noisy. But the adults watching the motorcade were, for the most part, just watching. Every time I leaned out of the car and shouted “Rebolusyon!”, I saw amazed and bewildered faces. But I could feel that the people were waking up. That was 1983.
THE GROWING OPPOSITION
The opposition started to organize in 1983. I attended the first Kongreso ng Mamamayang Pilipino (Filipino People’s Congress) or KOMPIL held at the Ateneo de Manila (if I remember correctly). Most of the old political leaders were there. Marcos and his people kept on saying that there was no one who could replace him. The congress asked the participants to vote 50 people who could replace Marcos. I remember voting for Dolphy, the country’s top comedian. My point was that even a comedian can run the country better than Marcos. I also voted for Joe Ma. Sison and my brother, Macapanton Abbas, Jr.
Most of the 50 leaders elected as capable of replacing Marcos were politicians, mostly former senators including former President Macapagal, I think. I remember Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo giving a speech there. I think it was in behalf of her father.
Funny thing was, one Moro politician complained that the election was rigged because his uncle, a former senator, was not among the winners. I think they placated him and made his uncle one of the winners. My brother-in-law, former Senator Tamano, naturally, was one of the winners. He was a close ally of Doy Laurel of UNIDO, the prime mover in the movement against Marcos.
The Congress also decided on whether to participate or boycott the coming elections. We were all divided into groups and went into separate rooms to discuss the matter. Among the people in my group was the wife of then Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Nene Pimentel. She was for Participation. I was for Boycott. I remember being in a heated debate with one guy defending Participation. The Congress voted to Participate in the coming elections.
I realized that the old oligarchs and politicians were back. Almost every one in KOMPIL was well-heeled. There were many mestizas and pretty women including former Miss International Aurora Pijuan-Manotoc. The old politicians and their business allies were raring to battle Marcos the old-fashioned way – Elections.
The 1984 Batasang Pambansa (National Legislature) or parliamentary elections brought out the politicos of old, raring to go against new and old rivals. It was very exciting, especially in Metro Manila. The Manila slate was headed by former Senator Eva Estrada-Kalaw. She was a cousin of Ninoy Aquino and victim of the famous Plaza Miranda bombing. The Quezon City line-up was headed by former Supreme Court Justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma. She was known for her integrity and uncompromising stand against President Marcos. She was also one of the “barkada” of my late father, Judge Macapanton Abbas.
But there were cracks in the opposition side. Other parties sprang. In Manila, Pablo Ocampo, Jr and others formed another party. As a child, I had heard of Ocampo when he ran against the popular Villegas for the mayoralty contest of Manila. The Ocampos still had a big following in Manila so I wondered why he was not included by the UNIDO or the United Democratic Opposition party.
In Quezon City, another group also came about. Former Minister Francisco Tatad bolted the Marcos camp and put up his own party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He was joined by Harvard-educated Danny Dolor, Diosdado Peralta and my brother, Firdausi.
In my idealistic young mind, I thought that only the best and the brightest should lead the fight against the Marcos juggernaut. I wondered why Laurel and UNIDO did not get Dolor and my brother when they were obviously more qualified than the other UNIDO candidates. As for Tatad, I had read so much about his alleged corruption that I couldn’t bear to campaign, much less vote for him.
As to my brother, I could not understand why he decided to run in Quezon City. If I were him, I would have run in Mindanao. When he ran as Mindanao Alliance opposition candidate in Region 11 in 1978, he made a name for himself. The people rallied to him.
Of course Marcos rigged the elections in 1978 but according to reports I gathered, even after rigging of election count, he still got the highest or second highest vote in our mother’s province, Davao del Sur. He really should have made Davao del Sur or Davao City, where he studied high school (Ateneo de Davao), his political base.
At any rate, I remained true to my principles and boycotted the elections. I even registered my boycott at the Boycott Voting Center at St. Joseph’s College.
As a NAMFREL volunteer, I witnessed some unexpected occurrences. I thought that the electorate had already become intelligent and discerning. I was surprised when several decent-looking young people asked us, the people on the desk, who the UNIDO candidates were. They did not even know their names. I thought, if these guys didn’t know even the names of the candidates, then they could not be considered intelligent voters.
I went back to Saudi Arabia for business but returned in time for the SNAP elections.
It was quite a shock to me when Salvador Laurel gave way to Corazon Aquino to be the presidential candidate. Even when I was still abroad, I already heard that when Ninoy Aquino would return home, Laurel would be the standard bearer for the Presidency.
I went to Malaysia for business. My brother Jun was also there. He said that he met with Butz Aquino who was allegedly asking for some campaign contribution. I urged him to give. But he refused. He argued that his fight was for Freedom, Justice, etc.
I met with Butz once. I told him that my mother would like to meet his sister. My mother was a very good campaigner. I thought that it would be good for her to campaign again like she used to before Martial Law. My mother was a very close friend of Dona Josefa Edralin Marcos, Ferdinand Marcos’s mother. But at that time, Nana Sepa, as we used to call her, was already bedridden. I thought that it was high time for my mother to go to the other side of the political fence, especially since all her children were against Marcos.
Somehow, I thought that Cory and my mother would get along well. Unfortunately, my mother suffered another stroke and so there never was a meeting between my mother and Cory. (When Cory became President, she appointed Mary Concepcion Bautista as PCGG Commissioner and later Human Rights Commission chair. MaryCon was a former classmate and close friend of my mother. MaryCon used to call my mother “my idol”.)
I knew that with Marcos’s command votes, Cory had at best a 50 % chance of winning. But I was hoping for a miracle. Like most Filipinos, I was riled up during the counting of votes. Looking and listening to JV Cruz and company on TV made my blood boil.
A week or so before the EDSA revolution, I wrote in my diary that the conditions for a revolution were already in place. It just needed a spark.
On Feb. 22, the spark that the people were waiting for happened. And instantly, leaders were calling for people action.
I cannot forget EDSA 1986. It was such an experience. The people were exercising their God-given right to express grievances and show their anger at the Marcos dictatorship. EDSA had a carnivalesque atmosphere. There were no leaders. Everyone was a leader and a follower. The people were not afraid of the police or the military.
When we heard that Marcos finally fled the country, my friends and I were in Quezon City. Everybody was jumping with joy. We flagged a pick-up and asked the passengers and driver if they were going to Malacanang. When they said yes, we jumped aboard the truck and joined them. The whole Metro Manila was celebrating.
At that time, my friends and I were flushed with the feeling of Freedom. Little did we know that political life would be business-as-usual very soon.