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Speech: Senator Benigno Aquino Jr.

January 29, 2010

Published on the Senate Congressional Record, Vol. 1, No. 6, p. 110, with minor changes like deletion of the usual, “Mr. President” in reference to the presiding officer. Delivered on February 2, 1970 in the Senate.

Four Filipino students are dead.

They were shot not by strangers, but by their own country-men; not by invaders, but by the soldiers of their own government, by the guards of their own president.

They were:

Felicisimo Singh Roldan, 21, of Far Eastern University.

Ricardo Alcantara, 19, of the University of the Philippines.

Fernando Catabay, 18, of Manuel L. Quezon University.

Bernardo Tausa, 16, of Mapa High School.

These were young students, not grizzled rebels — innocent, unarmed, defenseless! They were gunned down while fleeing from the presidential security forces, not while assaulting Malacañang and the President.

They were killed on Mendiola and Claro M. Recto streets, not inside or even outside Malacañang, and they were fleeing — I repeat, fleeing — not locked in combat with the guards of Mr. Marcos’

They were killed in cold blood!

I will agree the Presidential Guard Battalion, the PSU, the PC, the Special Forces, the police — would have had a right to shoot if they were assaulted and threatened. But to shoot at fleeing students — and shoot indiscriminately — what can you call this?

No amount of evidence that the demonstration had been infiltrated by subversives, that the demonstrators had turned into a howling mob, that so much property had been damaged would —by any measure — excuse the way the four innocent students were murdered.

As Police Chief Herbert Jenkins of Atlanta, Georgia, one of the American cities badly torn by riots, said:

“If you order him to halt, and he keeps coming at you, you are justified in shooting him. But if he breaks and runs, you had better hold your fire. If you shoot him in the back, you will face a murder charge.”

Mr. Marcos grieves over the four fallen youth martyrs, but what has he done to bring the murderers of Alcantara, Catabay, Roldan and Tausa to justice? Instead of trying to locate them, he has paid tribute to their killers — and the Commander of the Metrocom, Colonel Ordoñez, has been promoted to General!

But, he said, again rationalizing the armed forces reprisal, the people involved in Black Friday “were men dedicated to an evil purposes — and that is to destroy Malacañang Palace and/or take it over.” And he detailed:

“They threw not Molotov cocktails, as some have reported, but bombs into the Malacañang compound.”

Mr. President, I think Mr. Marcos was making a bomb out of a ba-wang. Even a giant bawang does not make a bomb. A bomb, as defined by Webster’s, is:

“Bomb (bom, bum). N. a hollow iron ball or shell filled with an explosive material fired from a mortar and usually exploded by a fuse; any missile similarly constructed and thrown, or set in place.”

If bombs were indeed thrown, not bawangs, surely craters must have been made in Malacañang. Where are they?

And if indeed they were, surely some presidential guards must have been wounded by shrapnel, if not killed. Curiously we have not read of anybody killed or wounded by Mr. Marcos’ imagined bomb.

But PC Chief Brig. Gen. Vicente Raval loyally — as expected — backs up the Chief. To show evidence, Raval has produced a .22-caliber revolver and a 9-millimeter Browning pistol allegedly seized at the riot. He was a spectacle on TV, Mr. President, as he smelled the revolver’s muzzle in an effort to prove that it had been fired.

These, plus the “bombs” claimed by Mr. Marcos and, if I may add, some slingshots, made up the weaponry of the “evil men” who tried to capture Malacañang. What imagination!

One .22-caliber revolver, a 9-millimeter Browning pistol, some Molotov cocktails and a few slingshots formed the assault weapons of this “well-organized and thought-out plan” to depose Mr. Marcos and the government. And against whom?

Against,  the best armed, best-equipped and best-trained presidential security ever assembled to protect any Filipino President, backed up by the Metrocom, backed up by Task Force Lawin, backed up by the Marines and, of course, by the dreaded Special Forces.

In one part of his statement, President Marcos himself testified to how disorganized the mob was. “Resolute and courageous soldiers of the Metrocom under Colonel Ordoñez and Colonel Aguilar and the Presidential Guard Battalion under Colonel Ver,” he said, “pushed back the rioters.”

In fact, they were so pushed back that the four students who died were killed on Claro M. Recto, far away from Malacañang. This was how far they were pushed back!

And so I again pose my question: Was there cause to shoot at them? Was there cause to murder them?

Out of this tragedy, we ought to draw conclusions and lessons. What happened, as I look at it now, was: ill-trained, ill-oriented and ill-disciplined troops were maliciously unleashed against disaffected and disillusioned countrymen. They unleashed professional killers who held themselves licensed to kill, like they held themselves licensed to kill at Corregidor, in Pasay City, in Central Luzon.

Under the Marcos administration, when will senseless killings ever end?

In the United States, summing up a report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, the Saturday Evening Post, in an article titled “The Fires of Summer”, wrote:

“From these experiences the police and the National Guard each learned a lesson. The police, trained to work singly or in pairs, discovered that they were neither psychologically prepared nor physically equipped to function as a semi-military unit, which is what riot control demands. They lacked command structure, the weapons, the knowledge of mass-formation tactics which can disperse or contain an unruly mob. The Guard units, on the other hand, were too heavily armed for warfare in the streets, where an M-1 bullet fired at a rioter may rip through thin-walled houses to kill an innocent person blocks away….Panicky, often out of contact with their commanders, they were unable to apply selective, restrained force against a fast-moving mob.”

This was what happened on Black Friday.

The presidential guards were so disoriented and unorganized for riot prevention and riot control that they were not even prepared to handle the arrests they made Friday night. They were so unorganized that their interrogations and their booking procedures broke down!

I went to Camp Crame on Saturday morning, as did some members of the Chamber. To my dismay, hundreds of hapless, sleepless, hungry students picked up early Friday evening were still being forcibly detained without interrogation and were being held way beyond the statutory six-hour limit for arrests. Some had not had their supper and breakfast when we saw them. Were they criminals? Were they rebels? Were they communists? What were their crimes?

The PC had to charge the students with sedition even as Mr. Marcos was exonerating the students over television to cover up their rank inefficiency. After six hours had passed and they still had not finished their interrogations, they decided on filing sedition charges, because sedition allowed them an 18-hour detention. The fiscal, as all know, threw out these charges for lack of evidence.

But the students had already been unduly harassed. Some PC officers already had their sadistic satisfaction.

But this, too, Mr. Marcos ignored in his report to the nation. Instead, he created specters of conspiracies and plots against him — by the left and by the non-left. Or did he mean the right? He painted shadowy pictures of subversion such as only a guilty conscience and a guilty ruler can make.

He said:

“I have been receiving continuous information of the conspiracy that is being perfected or was perfected for the takeover of Malacañang Palace…..

“There are two groups, one of the communist—inspired and the other not communist-inspired. The Armed Forces are aware of this and have placed the men who are not hiding under surveillance.

“We are aware, too, of such activities like purchase of firearms outside our country and the efforts to bring in these firearms. We are aware of the organization of men for this evil purpose—to take over the government.”

And to sound convincing, he warned:

“But I am not alone here because, as you are well aware, the Armed Forces are united, and I must now say that we have taken all the steps necessary to guarantee the peace of our people, with the use of lawful force if necessary…

“To the insurrectionary elements, I have a message. My message is: any attempt at the forcible overthrow of the government will be put down immediately. I will not tolerate nor allow Communist to take over…The Republic will defend itself with all the force at its command until your armed elements are annihilated. And I shall lead them.”

Ominous words!

I would not like to think about it, but this brings to mind a repression worse than the what characterized Red witch-hunts, the Red herrings, and the Red bogeymen of the early fifties. Shades of the infamous CUFA and Senator McCarthy! Sinister designs can be read here, Mr. President, which only fascist minds can suggest.

Worse yet, I fear is: If the country continuous to crack up in his hands, Mr. Marcos may conveniently pursue this and force the Republic into a real life-and-death crisis, impose martial law and put the government and the country in his iron control. I know he has assured the people he has no such plans, but we all know we cannot take Mr. Marcos on his word. We have learned that from the past.

If he was telling the truth, why didn’t he let other leaders in on this communist conspiracy? He so kept it to himself, Mr. President, that no less than his Assistant Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, Congressman Roces, thought the communist menace was over and filed a bill to repeal the Anti-Subversion Act which he, Mr. Roces, authored in the early fifties.

And if he was telling the truth, why has no person — not one — been arrested for this grave offense? Mind you, Mr. President, he said the plot was already perfected. Where is the perfect plot? Who are the communist?

As I see it, this is intended to cow the people who still dissent. In this diabolic fix, the people are allowed no choice, no mobility: they cannot posture themselves on the left or on the right. They can only position themselves with Mr. Marcos — on the side of police brutality, on the side of senseless murder!

But my fear, you may say, are the fears of a Liberal. Let me bring you, therefore, the fears of a young Jesuit priest, Fr. E. L. Victoriano. Distressed by what he had seen since Mr. Marcos came to power, Father Victoriano only yesterday wrote in the Philippine Herald:

“President Marcos has been playing with fire and let’s hope only his fingers get burnt and not the whole country with him. The uneasy fears that, in his evident desire for power, he seeks to perpetuate his rule, at least until Bongbong can take over, refuse to die.

“There are fears that he may use the ruthless machinery that gave him the people’s second mandate to get control of the Constitutional Convention and use it to pull a Sukarno on the Philippines. These fears first came to the light when, at his first term, he held on to the National Defense portfolio until he could find the proper Army men who would eat out of his hands.

“Widespread disturbances throughout the country would give him the excuse to declare martial law with all its unlimited executive powers. Again, the fears have been that he had deliberately provoked these disturbances.

“The Special Forces secret training in Corregidor has never been satisfactorily explained. The existence of the Monkees, government liquidation squads operating outside the law, was at first roundly denied, and then their nonexistence summarily disbanded. But their ghosts are still around.

“Home Defense Guards, who are neither legitimate police nor members of the Armed Forces have been given guns. It takes me months to get a license for my .22 rifle for plinking, but these fellows don’t even get their characters scrutinized as mine was before they are given high-powered guns.

“Commander Sumulong was reported to have had a direct line to Malacañang while Army patrols make a big show of running around in circles looking for Dante.”

While the country lay shocked and stunned by what happened on Black Friday, I issued a statement grieving the death of the four student martyrs. In my statement, I also voiced the hope their martyrdom would serve to “chasten President Marcos and the rest of the national leadership into meeting the student problems with candor, not with imperiousness, with sincerity, not with duplicity.”

I also voiced the hope that with their death ‘the Filipino young will obtain the society they crave, a society established on the principle of people controlling their own destinies and institutions governing their lives” — not a society that silences free voices with rifle shots, nor a government that perpetually commits crimes against its own people.

Yet, today, I fear. I fear because of what I read out of President Marcos’ statement.

But if I may paraphrase the late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, there is nothing to fear but fear itself. I hope I am wrong.

You will agree, however, that what can be even more tragic than the national tragedy we already have in our hands is: if student idealism now dies because of fear. Yes, fear.

The greatest sin we in this Chamber can commit today,  is not to tolerate disorder by youth but to allow them to be cowed and coerced. To allow our youth to be frightened will be a sin against our people, a sin against our history, a sin against our future. This will be a sin against the four dead of January 30!

Yes, what may become even more tragic than the loss of lives on Black Friday is the loss of meaning in the deaths of Alcantara, Catabay, Roldan and Tausa!

To some historians, Black Friday will doubtless become the symbol of violence and vandalism. But to many students, it will represent a turning point that should have its place among the great moments of our history, when the Filipino youth rose out in righteous paroxysm against the machinery of a police state.

It was a night when, armed only with slingshots and their idealism, they confronted the foot soldiers of the Establishment armed with the most modern weapons of death. And in defying death itself, they brought forth the exemplary bravery of the young men and women who have opened a new and cleaner page in Philippine history.

They had laid siege on Malacañang not as the seat of government but as the factory of privilege in the Philippines, not on the state but on the society that had become irrelevant to their lives—and, in this, four of them died.

The deaths of these four students have ushered in a revolution-not a revolution of arms but a revolution of ideas.

In their martyrdom, they have bequeathed upon us a fortune that we do not rightfully deserve: the chance of participating in changing our society and our government with the widest possible support of our countrymen.

The death of those four should now rise as a symbol and a call — of protest against the institutionalized hypocrisy of our society, of demand that a promise given be bonded by honor and dignity, of rejection of the system and a will to overhaul it.

Their death shall stand, too, as symbol of the youth’s rejection of the order and injustice that martyred them. Their death shall stand as an indictment: of the law-enforces who apply the law selectively, of the law itself that has made of the Filipino mass disadvantaged and taken advantage by the privileged few in their very country.

This is the meaning of Friday’s deaths.

The students must now rid themselves of false feelings of guilt. While a few agitators and provocateurs may have taken advantage of their peaceful movement, they have done what their elders have failed to do: denounce the evils of a society that glorifies the corrupt and the corrupter.

Too long had they been called upon as hopes of the Fatherland, too long had they been challenged to be the conscience of the nation, too along had they been taunted to leave their ivory towers and realities — and, on Black Friday, they did. And they gave us the bloodbath needed to purify our society!

And this was what moved me address this Chamber again, Mr. President, because the President of our not-so-“great again” Republic, despite the legal obligation to assume innocence, has found need to haul up “men dedicated to an evil purpose” as the instigators of the students. While he could not find evil doers in his Ilocandia, he now found need to find communists and foreign powers behind Friday’s sacrifice of youth!

I fear, Mr. President, that the public reaction instigated and generated by the cynically articulate Commander-in-Chief himself, may make us lose sight of the lessons of January 30. It will be doubly tragic.

It is true, as some authorities claim, that the hard core of the student activists form only a small part of the student population. But let us not forget that this minority expresses the feelings and has the support of the so-called silent majority.

Let us not forget either the more glaring sociological fact of the student world. We have, as they are, three types of students. Let me talk about them briefly:

Firstly, we have the students who, like little children unquestioningly accept the culture imposed upon them by their teachers, dutifully attend their lectures and repeat the ideas of their professors, aspire for nothing more than a certificate of graduation to ornament their salas or their offices.

Secondly, we have students who are opportunists concerned only with their professional futures. They have no illusions about the purely utilitarian functions of their education. They know their whole preparation is for a well-paying job in some bureaucratic corporation, nothing more.

These are the two types often mobilized to defend the institutionalized hypocrisy of the Establishment. Sooner than later, they become the Praetorian Guard of the status quo.

But we have a third group of students. They are the students who have raised fundamental questions, who have analyzed their problems and the logic of their conclusions, who have rejected most of what contemporary society stands for. They are a growing group — and they are becoming the catalysts of the student movements.

Bullets and truncheons can never answer the fundamental questions that these students now pose!

It is my hope that, against the attempts at coercion by Mr. Marcos, they shall again stand their ground. If they flag, their martyrs shall have died for nothing.

It may be true, it must now be affirmed, that some students put some vehicles to the torch. But in a wider sense the hand that lit the match was created by the leaders who, through the years, ignored the student pleas and created youth’s extreme frustrations.

It may be true, too, that communist believers laced the student mass Friday night. But the fundamental question here does not involve a choice between communism and democracy. The fundamental question here is: How can we make our democratic institutions substantially relevant to all Filipinos, not only to a few?

Let us not be misled by apprehension and speculation. Instead, let us seek to understand the contemporary student situation — and come up with relevant solutions.

Already, they have had some gains. Out of the single night of terror last Friday, for example, they have obtained immediate action from our legislators. Bills embodying their demands have been filed, something that ten years of conference resolutions, study group recommendations and protest petitions failed to give them before.

But the student struggle is far from over. Let us hear them and, where within our power to give, heed them.

In the past, the young revolted as an act of impatience. They revolted for a more accelerated changing of the guard. Today, however, they revolt as an act of determination — the determination to build a new society shorn of its present ills and ancient evils.

In today’s youth revolution, much more is being put to question. They are not so much against their elders as they are against the viciousness of the system, not so much against government as they are against its duplicities, not so much against democracy as they are against the travesties in our democracy.

They find the blessings of democracy a hypocrisy in the face of so much poverty, of shameless corruption and shameful stolen elections, of duality in justice, of so many disadvantaged and a very few privileged.

Given this, they find empty meaning in the equal opportunity guarantees of the Constitution!

In their homes and their schools, they hear complaints against corrupt politicians and rapacious employers only to find their own parents and teachers get all excited when the same politician and the same boss honor them with a visit. This has revulsed them!

These are the facts of the student protest today. If we are to find meaningful solutions and prevent deaths and destruction in the future, they must be taken into account — by Congress, by the President, by society.

But more than society, the government is called upon here. President Salvador P. Lopez of the University of the Philippines put in succinctly when he spoke at Centro Escolar University last week. He said:

“Our system of representative government, under existing conditions, can hardly be called a government of the people, by the people and for the people — a government reflecting the true conditions of society and responsive to its needs and aspirations.

“….The only channels left to the people to express their will and manifest their grievances are the right of free speech and the right of peaceful assembly. The moment you interpose the police between the people and these remaining irreducible civil rights, you are creating the conditions for inevitable revolution.

“This is why the night of January 26 (and now, if I may add, January 30) has brought us face to face with the fundamental question: Is it still possible to transform our society by peaceful means so that the many who are poor, oppressed, sick and ignorant may be released from their misery, by the actual operation of law and government rather than by waiting in vain for the empty promise of social justice in our Constitution.”

And then, barely 24 hours later, the entire UP faculty set it in sharpest focus. In a manifesto they handed President Marcos, they pointedly told the Boss:

“It is with the gravest concern that the faculty views the Jan. 26 event as part of an emerging pattern of repression of democratic rights of the people. This pattern is evident in the formation of para-military units such as the Home Defense Forces, the Politicalization of the Armed Forces such as the National Defense College, the existence of private armies, foreign interference in internal security, and the use of specially trained police for purpose of suppression.

“The faculty hold the present administration accountable and responsible for the pattern of repression and the violation of rights. It expects full redress for all injuries suffered by the students.”

For these, according to press reports, Mr. Marcos scolded President Lopez and the UP faculty. This, if we may set it in focus, was what Mr. Marcos meant when he guaranteed all the rights to dissent. This is the same pattern of duplicity which he has so long flaunted upon his people.

And the students — for their part — have been denounced for what the forces of reaction, the defenders of the status quo, have angrily called “student excesses.”

The students were described by others of the Establishment as “irresponsible vandals”. See, they raged, how the students broke the mercury vapor lamps of Malacañang, put to torch a bus, a jeep, a motorcycle and two cars.

All told, these vandal students are accused of destroying ₧250,000 worth of property. And for this, the nation is shocked.

But, I ask is the nation equally shocked by the excesses of its leaders? The students destroyed ₧250,000 worth of property Friday night, but these leaders have pillaged and ravaged the Republic down to its last dollar!

Yes, the students broke some Malacañang gates. But is this reason to break student legs and student arms? And what about the leaders who forced open the gates of the Philippines National Bank and the Central Bank for their private looting?

Yes, the students smashed some windows and even tried to burn the Malacañang clinic. For this they have been branded: Student arsonists! For this, they were fired at in their back!

Indeed, terrifyingly shocking. But was the nation shocked when its leaders burned down municipal buildings to conceal the evidences as their election frauds?

Yes, the nation is revulsed — by the students. How sad!

The nation is revulsed by the student “vandals” for destroying ₧250,000 worth of property. But this same nation was not revulsed by public officials who have rigged the stock-markets, taken multimillion-peso kickbacks and conspired among themselves against the country in Election ’69!

The student vandals are condemned because by their crudity they got themselves picked up by the TV eye in their honest out-burst while their leaders who wheeled and dealed in some high-walled mansion in Forbes Park are spared the nation’s wrath.

This is the extent of the callousness of our society — a society that would put property rights over and beyond human life and human right!

Yes, this shocking. I, too, was shocked — but not by the student vandalism. I was shocked by the way all the armed forces were brought in to crush a student demonstration, by the way a new David bravely stood up with his slingshot against a Goliath riding in his chariot, an armored personnel carrier, and armed with M-14s and M-16s, the “M” standing for man-slaughter.

Do I stand  to justify violence? To foment unrest?

I stand with the students—not with Malacañang’s tools of violence, not with Mr. Marcos’ blood-thirsty troops. They are the fomenters of violence, the harbingers of unrest!

Yes, we are gripped by crisis, a crisis fraught with danger and peril to us all. But not the crisis born of the imagined conspiracies and conspirators of Mr. Marcos.

Our crisis is a crisis of aspiration—among our young — and a crisis of conscience —among their elders, among us, their leaders.

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