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I Saw Them Aim and Fire! (excerpts)

January 25, 2010

By Hermie Rotea

These accounts are chapters  in the book, I Saw Them Aim and Fire: Story of the Jan. 26 & 30, 1970 Student Revolt in the Philippines (The Daily News, 1970) by journalist Hermie Rotea, published in April 1970.  The book provides one of the earliest, if not the earliest, eyewitness accounts of the First Quarter Storm. “Here in this book is the complete and unexpurgated story of what really happened  before, during, and after Jan. 26 and 30,” writes the author. “It is my story, your story, our story!” At the time of publication, Rotea was editor, publisher, and printer of The Daily News. A director of the National Press Club of the Philippines in 1960, he studied journalism at FEU and at the Newspaper Institute of America in New York.

Chapter 4:  State of the Nation

I saw and heard President Marcos deliver his State-of-the-Nation address on Jan. 26 before a joint session of the Seventh Congress.

But before I could enter the session hall of the House of Representatives where the traditional ceremony was held, I had a hard time trying to get in.

The main lobby of the legislative building was swarming with people, including many presidential security agents, anti-riot policemen, soldiers, and plainclothes operatives.

Outside, the biggest throng of youth demonstrators ever to assemble in front of Congress jampacked every inch of the area, chanting and demanding reforms.

It was about 4:45 p.m. already and I knew that President Marcos must now be on his way to Congress.

Earlier that morning of the same day, I also witnessed the formal reelection of Speaker Jose B. Laurel Jr. when the House formally opened its session. Simultaneously, the Senate likewise reelected Senator Gil Puyat as its chief according to the prepared script.

After their revamps, the two legislative bodies passed their respective resolutions formally informing each other of their partial reorganizations, and another informing the President that Congress was now ready to receive him in 6 joint sessions.

And following the usual formalities, the House and the Senate, meeting separately, adjourned until 5 o’clock in the afternoon of the same day to hear the State-of-the-Nation address of the President of the Philippines.

I am no stranger to Congress doings, but on Jan. 26 I met new experience that had never happened there before.

For instance, the crowds inside and outside the legislative building were unusually big, the likes of which I had never seen there previously.

About the only event that could probably rival the size of those crowds and the presence of so many security agents, policemen, and soldiers was the seven-nation Summit Conference in October 1966.

But that was because the seven chiefs of state who attended the meeting at the same House session hall had to bring along their own security forces. Aside from that, foreign correspondents all over the world went there also to cover the affair.

I waded through the crowd on the main lobby in an effort to reach the door of the House session hall. Before I could do so I saw five reporters who were stopped by the guards at the main entrance.

They were Isagani Yambot of The Manila Times; Feliciano Magno, Daily Mirror; Ernesto Singson, Manila Daily Bulletin; Jose Umali, Philippines Herald; and Ric Baliao, Evening News, veteran Congress reporters all.

The guards demanded that the newsmen show their invitation cards, but when they explained they had none because the arrangement earlier made with House Secretary Inocencio Pareja was just for them to identify themselves at the main entrance and somebody with a list would be there. They were told to try the backdoor.

But it was the same story there. The backdoor was locked, and the guards inside told the now angry reporters to try the front door. It was like a basketball affair.

“What is this? Has Malacañang taken over Congress already?” one of them griped.

Disgusted, the five newsmen trooped to the nearby office of neophyte Rep. Jose Aspiras, former press secretary of the President Marcos and an ex-colleague in the press, but he was not there.

Baliao was about to telephone the authorities inside the session hall when Rep. Floro Crisologo passed by and saw them there.

“What are you people doing here? You should be there inside,” the congressman said.

“But we could not enter,” the reporters complained.

The surprised solon, knowing that they were all veteran Congress reporters, interceded for them at the backdoor. That was how they finally managed to enter the session hall.

Curious to know for myself what was the real score, I returned to the main lobby to try the front door. After some difficulty with the crowd, I finally reached the side entrance where an outside sign said: “Publishers, Editors, Reporters.”

I tried to enter it, but it was already closed and locked from the inside. The guards who knew me apologized but explained that it was already filled inside and there was no more room for anybody else, I pointed to the sign.

“Sorry, we are just following orders. Try the other side,” one of them said.

I must say again that this incident never happened before to me or to any other legitimate newspapermen with official mission in Congress. I had covered doings of past congresses and they were never like this.

Anyway I tried the other side door but a human cordon of security agents and uniformed men blocked my way. They formed a middle aisle on the main lobby from the driveway to the main entrance of the House session hall, obviously in anticipation of the arrival of President Marcos.

When I tried to cross the line a security man brushed me aside and said in Pilipino: “Tabi! Tabi lang!” (“Side! Side please!”)

People behind the human cordon were pushing each other in an effort to get a good view, practically elbowing me out of the front line.

I saw a group of women showing their formal invitations to the guards but they were refused entry.

“Sorry, no more space,” I heard one guard explained.

One of the women retorted: “Then why did they have to issue invitations if they are not honored just the same?”

I inched my way back to the front of the unruly crowd. After some deliberate pushing I managed to reach the front. I tapped the back of a uniformed man, identified myself, and requested that I be allowed to cross the line because I was going to enter the other side door.

“Okay. But hurry up!” he snapped, and then asked his other companions to let me through.

Outside I could hear the crowds shouting and I wondered if President Marcos had already arrived.

Upon reaching the other side door I flashed my press card. Two House guards who recognized me said they would first consult the Malacañang men. One of them got my ID and brought it inside.

A man in barong Tagalog showed up at the door from the inside holding my press card, eyed from head to foot, and then returned inside to probably consult his Malacañang superior.

After what seemed an eternity of waiting, he finally returned, gave me back my ID, and then ordered the two House guards: “All right. Let him in!”

Thereupon the two guards who knew me felt my pockets and sides for any firearm. I felt like a suspect.

“Sorry, this is just formality. You know, just following orders,” they apologized.

As I entered the public gallery of the House session hall I expected a jampacked hall just like before, but to my surprise it was not really full of people because there were actually much space for standing room.

Hardly had I settled myself at a corner, standing, when I heard a voiced boom: “The President of the Philippines!”

Everybody stood up and looked at the direction of the main entrance, and in came President Marcos, looking handsome as ever with his barong Tagalog, followed by his beautiful First Lady dressed in her simple but pretty terno, shaking hands as they inched their ways to their respective places before clicking cameras and booming lights.

“There was a close call!” I sighed to myself, knowing that if I had been late for one or two more minutes all the doors of the session hall would have been really locked and nobody would be allowed to enter it.

Upon reaching the rostrum President Marcos shook hands with Senate President Puyat and Speaker Laurel, then took his seat between them, with Puyat as his right and Laurel at his left. The two presiding officers remained standing.

Then Speaker Laurel banged his gavel and said: “On the part of te House the session is now open!”

Likewise Senate President Puyat banged his own gavel and declared: “On the part of the Senate the session is now open!”

And so the “greatest circus on earth,” as some naughty observers put it, was now starting!

Fr. Pacifico Ortiz, S.J., president of Ateneo de Manila University, then delivered the traditional invocation. Entitled “Justice and Freedom,” the prayer for the nation began:

“Humbly we stand in Your presence, O God, around the President of our republic and the highest architects of the laws and policies of this land. With them and through them we pray You preserve us as one people bound together, despite all party rivalries and class interests, into one indivisible nation, with justice and freedom for all.

“With us into this hall, O God, we bring the growing fears, the dying hopes, the perished longings and expectations of a people who have lost their political innocence; a people who now know, as they walk through unsafe streets of their cities and roam through the Huk-infested barrio lanes of Central Luzon, or stare at the dwindling goods and rising prices in the market stalls – who now know that salvation, political or economic, does not come from above, from any one man or party or foreign ally; that, in the last analysis, salvation can only come from below – from the people themselves, firmly united under Your divine providence to stand for their rights whether at the polls, in the market place or at the barricades; willing to pledge, against all goons or gold-rich bribers, what they have pledged mutually to one another at the birth of this nation – their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor.”

At this juncture, above the heads of seated VIPs and lawmakers, I glanced at President Marcos to capture his mood or reaction, but if this portion of Fr. Ortiz’ startling invocation jolted him, his face did not show it.

I shifted my glance to the First Lady who was sitting at the front right corner of the Ladies’ Section at my right nearer to where I was standing at a corner, and I saw her beautiful face lift and turn sour upon hearing what she had just heard.

Now a light reflector boomed as a TV camera posted on the upper right gallery aimed at her. A few other news photographers and TV zoom cameramen took turns in capturing her reaction or facial expressions during those particular moments, and I could swear that she was trying hard to regain her composure.

She steadied herself, sometimes forcing a faint smile, but most of the time looking straight ahead, almost blankly or secretly annoyed.

Fr. Ortiz’ prayer continued:

“To have lost our political innocence and to know this, and yet not to despair, is for us, O God, to touch and know Your healing hands; but also, for a free people, it is to stand on the trembling edge of revolution. It is a point of no return, it is a moment of truth what can either remake us as a people or unmake us into a mob. Grant us, O God, on the eve of this moment of truth – of our constitutional convention, the humility to understand the signs of the times, and the light to know the true state of the nation.”

Again I stole a glance at President Marcos, and his time I caught him looking impatient, if not embarrassed, for indeed there seemed to be no immediate end to the invocation, the tenor of which was really different from all other past prayers said in that same august body on such similar occasions.

Fr. Ortiz finally closed his prayer:

“And understanding this, grant us, O God, that we may have the courage of wisdom to forget the past with all its partisan bickerings and recriminations – knowing as we do that each one of us, if not by design or malice, certainly by apathy, cowardice or desire of gain, has been responsible for the ugly things of the past. But above the courage of wisdom, give us the wisdom of courage, which is the willingness to pay the price whatever it may be for the rebirth of this nation: truthfulness, hard work, integrity, competence and compassion.

“Give us therefore to understand that this and no less than this is the irreducible demand or our people on us – of the youth of the land clamoring in massive thousands outside this building for a non-partisan constitutional convention, for a chance to shape the future that belongs to them; of the impoverished masses of our people to whom the President and his administration, this Congress, and all of us who are better blessed with worldly possessions, must through a palpable sense of justice, concern and compassion, bring a new gospel of hope, of brotherhood, of a brighter tomorrow that will be shaded by a constitution moving to the measure of that philosophy that they who have less in life must have more in law, of that philosophy of love enshrined in the heart of the Good Samaritan which for men as well as for nations is the only way to deserve Your promise of immortality – ‘Do this and thou shalt live,’ AMEN.”

There was a stir in the hall, and at the usual introduction of the chair, President Marcos stood up, walked down the rostrum, and faced a battery of microphones at the back of the Congress secretariat amidst applauses, light reflectors and clicking cameras.

His face looking grave, President Marcos opened his beautifully book-bound 93-page State of the Nation Message entitled: “National Discipline: The Key to Our Future,” and in his usual oratorical style, began:

“This is for me a historic privilege. No man can be exalted higher than to be chosen twice by his own people to lead them; this, at a time of great anxieties and great expectations for the nation and for the world.

“Permit me, then, to begin this report by thanking our people for their new mandate.

“But the honor of this mandate pales beside its gravity. I interpret this mandate not just as a call to continue in office, but as a summons to supreme self-exertion in the service of the nation.

“Our country summons us all to exert ourselves to the limit of our God-given powers, endurance and wisdom to raise the nation to a bold, new future.

“The situation in the world, as well as in the Philippines, is marked by sweeping change.

“Progress demands that the barriers of centuries be broken.”

Then President Marcos made a sweeping review of the national economy, shifted to social reform and human resources development, political reforms, admitted that the nation was in crisis, submitted 35 legislative proposals to Congress, and issued a challenge to the lawmakers and the people.

At this point I looked around and saw the legislators solemnly listening, some appearing bored, others yawning.

The same could be said of Vice President Fernando Lopez, the justices of the Supreme Court in their traditional robe attires, Cabinet secretaries, members of the diplomatic corps, armed forces officials in their military uniforms, congressional ladies in their beautiful ternos, other government officials and VIPs – in short, the elite of the Philippine society if not practically the whole government itself.

As I studied their faces, I shuddered at the thought of what would happen if a suicidal assassin had managed to break into the session hall and started firing a gun or throwing a hand grenade.

Then I felt I was being watched, although I was properly dressed in my best coat and tie suit and looking harmless, if I may add.

When I looked up, true enough I saw at least two men in barong Tagalog stationed on the opposite upper public gallery staring occasionally at me, sometimes at other people across the hall. Again, I felt like a suspect.

Finally, President Marcos ended his State-of-the-Nation speech:

“I look upon Congress as a true partner in all our urgent efforts to build and change the nation. I specially look to it to remain a partner that will provide the energy and direction to those particular endeavors that require the highest priority by the government . . .

“I am confident that our people, to the last man, have it to themselves to meet the challenges, the duties and perils that we face. But we must together, citizen and leader at the same time, expert a conscious effort to increase and perfect the Filipino potential into a powerful force in active confrontation with life.

“We have indeed begun. We must persevere.

“I thank you.”

Another applause, the second and last, shook the session hall as President Marcos, tired from the 40 minutes of speaking, returned to his seat at the rostrum where both Senate President Puyat and Speaker Laurel congratulated him.

After the usual closing formalities ended, Congress immediately adjourned its joint session until the next day when the Senate and the House would resume meeting separately.

Everybody stood up now, and as President Marcos again inched his way back to the middle aisle towards the main entrance of the session hall, he shook hands along the way, smiling, stopping for a while, then inching towards the door again, and out into the main lobby.

Apparently, President Marcos did not have any premonition of what was about to happen to him outside.#

Chapter 5:  The Jan 26 Incident

I first saw the face of revolution in front of Congress on that night of Jan. 26.

The irony of it is that what started peacefully like a fiesta, suddenly erupted into a night of horror.

I arrived at Congress as early as 10 o’clock in the morning to attend the opening session of the House, and I never left the place until about nine that evening.

Groups of demonstrators began converging in front of the legislative building when I arrived. The crowd swelled as the hours went by. By 4 p.m. the entire area from the main lobby down to the driveway and across P. Burgos Ave. up to Muni Golf Links was filled with people.

No doubt it was the biggest crowd, about 50,000 strong, ever to assemble there. Young men and women, many in their school uniforms, were demonstrating for sweeping reforms.

Some carried placards denouncing and calling the Establishment all sorts of names like “Tongressmen” and “Senatongs” symbolizing its greed, and also “Down with Imperialism!” and “Marcos U.S. Puppet!” symbolizing American control of the Philippines.

Others held up signs identifying their groups. Not a few sported arm bands. Surprisingly, some demonstrators were using walkie-talkies.

School girls earlier even sat down right on the street in orderly manner to dramatize how peaceful their rally was. The boys stood by all around in the front, sides and back. The demonstrators appeared well-organized – and peaceful all right.

But the law enforcers took no chances. As early as Jan. 19 they started mapping out security measures for the Jan. 26 public appearance of President Marcos in Congress. They met right in Malacañang. The red alert signal was on.

Col. Cezar C. Jasmin of the Metrocom served as the over-all task force commander. In effect, Manila was placed under Metrocom control. The city police merely provided the sub-task force. But it was the Metrocom which called the shots.

Metrocom adopted Operations Plan “Payapa” while the MPD coordinated with its own Operations Plan “Bagong Buhay” under the personal direction of Col. Gerardo Tamayo, police chief, and his deputy Col. James Barbers. But Maj. Alfredo Yson headed the MPD subtask force attached to the task force under the over-all command of the Metrocom chief.

The security script all prepared, the combined Metrocom and MPD forces numbering about 3,000 started deploying in Congress as early as eight in the morning. By noon time the whole place, inside and outside, was bristling with policemen, soldiers, security agents, and plainclothesmen.

Traffic was rerouted, causing vehicular jams at nearby San Luis St., Taft Ave., Roxas Blvd., Plaza Lawton, and Juan Luna St.

By two o’clock in the afternoon the law enforcers started blockading Congress. Police and soldiers were stationed at both ends of the long driveway. They stopped people going up to the building.

The sight of helmeted anti-riot squads with long clubs and shields, and the presence of soldiers armed with rifles and side pistols, added tension and caused apprehensions.

Before President Marcos arrived in Congress the demonstration had progressed smoothly. Organizers and leaders had a field day denouncing the Establishment.

Managing the joint big rally were Edgar Jopson, president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines; and Roger Arienda, president of the Ang Magigiting – the only two organizations issued mayor’s permits to demonstrate in front of congress on Jan. 26.

However, they were joined in by other youth leaders who were issued permits to demonstrate at other places in Manila like Portia Ilagan, president of the National Students’ League, and Angel Gargaritano, Jr., president of the student government of the Philippine College of Criminology.

Also issued mayor’s permits to demonstrate on Jan. 26 at other places in the city were the Malayang Pagkakaisa ng Kabataang Filipino, which was to hold a rally at the back of Congress, and the AFP Retired Veterans Association, Inc. headed by Brig. Gen. Dionisio Ojeda, at Freedom Park in front of Malacañang.

Actually there were 40 groups in all which joined the Jan. 26 Movement in front of Congress. This explained the estimated crowd of about 50,000 demonstrators that converged there, the biggest so far.

The elevated area under the flagpole served as the rostrum for the speakers. A problem with the sound system at first cropped up between Jopson and Arienda, the two rally organizers. Their groups brought their own sound systems and feared that their separate panels of speakers might just drown out each other and confuse the crowd.

They agreed to use only the sound system of the Jopson group on condition that their separate panels of speakers would share the same microphone.

Another problem was the paging system of the House of Representatives used also for broadcasting speeches in Congress, particularly the State-of-the-Nation address of the President.

As early as noon time Lito Abelarde, former NUSP president, protested the loudspeakers being set up in front of Congress by Malacañang as they would disturb the rally proceedings.

He ran to opposition Senator Benigno Aquino and asked: “Can’t you help us, Mr. Senator?” Aquino tried but could not do anything.

As the demonstration progressed, the group of Arienda placed a black mock coffin symbolizing the “death of Democracy” at the base of the flagpole supported by blackboards.

Another group said to be from the University of the Philippines put on top of the mock coffin the papier-mache replica of a crocodile symbolizing the greed of the Establishment.

A giant calendar portrait of President Marcos which was altered to portray the likeness of Hitler symbolizing dictatorship, was likewise tied to the flagpole above the coffin and the crocodile replica in full view of the crowd.

At about 4 o’clock in the afternoon the Philippine National Anthem was played. This was followed by the opening speech of Jopson, NUSP president. After him those who also addressed the rally were:

Portia Ilagan, NSL acting president; Crispin Aranda, president of the student council of the Philippine College of Commerce; former Huk Supremo Luis Taruc; Benjamin Abao, FEU; Nestor Ponce, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila; Garry Gargaritano, Jr., Philippine College of Criminology;

Benjamin Maniego, San Beda College; Renato Constantino, a student leader; Roger Arienda, president of Ang Magigiting; Fr. Navarro, a seminarian of San Carlos Seminary; a certain Mr. Espino of Lyceum of the Philippines; and Gary Olivar, University of the Philippines.

All the speakers to a man advocated drastic government reforms and demanded immediate action “before it is too late.” They warned against serious consequences unless the voices of the people were heeded. They pinned their last hope on the Constitution. They pressed that the election of its delegates must strictly be non-partisan or non-political. They warned the politicians to lay off the constitutional election and convention.

This, they strongly emphasized, was their final and irrevocable demand to insure an honest-to-goodness charter revision that will rekindle the dying hopes, the blasted inspirations, and the long cherished dream of a young republic now being pushed to the “trembling edge of revolution.”

The big throng responded widely. They applauded and cheered every speaker. The only speaker who seemed out of place in what was generally billed as a “student demonstration” was the aging Taruc, former Huk chief, whom some students booed.

A large group shouted at Taruc with clenched fists: “We want Dante! We want Dante!”

Dante was the new commander of the New Peoples Army, one of the two rival wings of the ideological Huk movement in Central Luzon, the other being headed by Commander Sumulong. But both believed in the violent out-throw of the government.

What added apprehension to the crowd especially the authorities, was the arrival of a group bearing the big red banner of the Kabataang Makabayan, the known militant youth organization, at a little past 4 o’clock.

The KM members carried their huge red streamer with the aid of two big wooden poles, shouting as they marched.

Their dramatic appearance was reminiscence of the Cultural Revolution in Communist China where students turned Red Guards carrying red banners and streamers rampaged on the streets of Peking and throughout the mainland in quest for heads of old fogies who had lost the good graces of Mao Tse Tung.

The KM members surged forward through the crowd in a diamond formation until they positioned themselves in the forefront of the demonstration site, their huge red streamer very noticeable and overshadowing all the other placards.

At about 4:45 p.m. President Marcos and his party arrived at the south side of the Congress building. The presidential limousine curved to the driveway and stopped in front of the doorsteps of the edifice.

When the President stepped out of his car under heavy escorts the demonstrators booed him. The booing stopped after he entered the building. Then the rally continued.

Soon after the voice of President Marcos delivering his State-of-the-Nation address before the first joint session of the Seventh Congress could be heard from well-placed loudspeakers outside the building.

The rally leaders in front of the legislative building were also delivering speeches, their own State of the Nation, which sharply contradicted that of the president.

Some youths headed by Garry Gargaritano, Jr. later complained to Maj. Alfredo Yson, the MPD sub-task force commander, that the loudspeakers connected to the House session hall and broadcasting the president’s address were drowning out the speeches of the rally speakers.

They huddled with Simeon Salonga, House sergeant-at-arms, who pleaded that the demonstrators should listen to the presidential message. When the youths rejected this, Salonga, Yson and one Lt. Pena, Metrocom signal corps officer, reluctantly agreed to have the loudspeakers disconnected to avoid trouble.

Shortly before 6 o’clock, Jopson took the microphone again and announced that the NUSP rally was “officially” ended, although his permit limit was until 12 midnight. Then the demonstrators sang the National Anthem, after which many of them, especially the coeds, started leaving. Others regrouped within the vicinity of Congress.

The Arienda group, whose permit limit was 8 p.m., took over from Jopson and used the same sound system.

At about this time, UP student leader Gary Olivar was speaking, using forceful language like “Ibagsak natin ang Imperialismo!” (“Down with Imperialism!”)

At this point President Marcos emerged from the Congress building, accompanied by the First Lady and the vanguard of the presidential entourage, protected by a tight cordon of Malacañang security agents, anti-riot police squads, Metrocom troopers, and other law enforcement units.

No less than Col. Fabian Ver, chief of the presidential security force, and Col. James Barbers, Manila deputy chief of police, personally led the heavy escort, Brig. Gen. Hans Manzi, the inseparable chief presidential aide, trotted behind.

As President Marcos waved at the crowd, some demonstrators started booing him. Others chanted “Marcos Puppet!” The boos and catcalls grew louder and louder as practically all the demonstrators joined in.

Somebody started to sing the National anthem again, evidently to quiet the crowd. Many demonstrators participated in the singing. Another group in the forefront also began singing, but what they sang was the Tagalog version of the Leftist’s Song “Internationale.”

Then it happened.

After the singing, and as President Marcos and the First Lady were being escorted by security aides to their waiting limousine, stones, empty bottles, sticks, placards and other projectiles were thrown at their direction.

Alert security men immediately formed a human cover to protect the First Couple from the “flying missiles.” Fearing an assassination, Col. Ver pushed them into the car. His men covered the limousine from top to the sides and practically hid it from sight.

Almost simultaneously, the black-painted mock coffin ad the papier-mache replica of a crocodile passed from hand to hand and were hurled at the presidential car, but they fell short of the target.

As pandemonium broke loose in front of Congress, the anti-riot police squads formed a phalanx between the First Couple and the rioters to protect not only them but also the other members of the presidential entourage.

MPD elements cordoning the presidential car caught the flying mock coffin and hurled it back at the crowd. But the object came flying back and this time it landed on the driveway beside the limousine, followed by the papier-mache crocodile replica which an intelligence agent caught in midair.

Security men this time tossed back the mock coffin at the crowd as stones, pieces of wood and other objects continued hurtling in the direction of the moving presidential car.

Another group down on the street sidewalk was burning the effigy of President Marcos like Indians.

Units of the Metrocom and MPD screened the driveway on the right front of Congress to enable the presidential party and other ranking government officials to leave the premises safely.

When flying objects kept coming, a Metrocom platoon pushed back the crowd so that the driveway and the entrance of the legislative building would be out of range of the missiles.

Col. Tamayo, Manila police chief, ordered his men to close ranks to prevent the crowd from surging towards the presidential party.

Demonstrators in the street continued pelting away with flying objects and when some of the missiles fell short of their target and instead landed on their companions in the forefront, the affected crowd scampered for safety in different directions.

When the unruly youths continued raining their objective with stones, empty bottles and other objects, Col. Tamayo ordered Lt. Santiago Dabu whose group was stationed nearby to arrest those causing the trouble.

This signaled the MPD anti-riot squads under Lt. Dabu and Lt. Esguerra who were in the forefront to jump down into the street to nab the trouble-makers.

Finally the presidential car bearing the First Couple with security men on top of it and with others alongside, sneaked out of the demonstration area to safety.

What happened next, was really terrible.

As I stood on the doorsteps of Congress, I saw with my horrified eyes anti-riot fighters charging at the retreating demonstrators. The helmeted squads whacked their way through the crowd with their long truncheons, basting heads, bodies and limbs without regard to sex.

They continued hitting demonstrators they had just caught even if they were not resisting at all, or were pleading for mercy, or were already down.

The situation was now out of control, and in the see-saw battles that broke out I saw many demonstrators fall, others scampering for safety, only to regroup and attack again and again.

As the clashes continued in the night, I also saw flashing lights in the street, and I knew that the news photographers were busy taking their great pictures for posterity at great risk of their lives.

I also saw Edward Tipton of the Herald and Channel 13, with his barong Tagalog reddened by blood, describing the fighting through his inseparable transistorized tape-recorder for the benefit of radio and TV listeners.

At times we who watched the fierce street fighting from the driveway and doorsteps of Congress had to run for cover inside the building as stones and other flying objects threatened to hit us. Actually many were struck, including Col. Barbers.

And when advancing rioters pounded the very doors of the Congress building with stones and other deadly flying missiles, it now looked like a barricaded camp as guards locked them and refused to let anybody out.

For a time I was even stranded inside the building along with many people, including several senators, congressmen and their guests, while the most tumultuous youth riot ever to rock the Philippines raged outside.

As the riot worsened, I saw a coatless Senator Emmanuel Pelaez surrounded by some youths enter the beleaguered capitol building, grab the Congress paging system, and then broadcast his appeal to the police to withdraw, saying that their continued presence was unduly provoking the students.

But his plea fell on deaf ears as the sound system failed to function.

Earlier the former vice president had a heated argument with Col. Tamayo outside. Pelaez asked the police chief to withdraw his men to avoid further bloodshed but the latter refused saying that he was just doing his duty and following orders.

I also saw Maj. Yson enter the beleaguered Congress building and use one of the telephones inside the House session hall. I went near him and overheard him request the Manila Fire Department to rush fire trucks to the riot site because the trouble was getting worse. He described the riot as similar to those in Indonesia.

At this point I rushed out again to see more action. This time I saw blood, as anti-riot fighters dragged in wounded demonstrators whom they just caught, some limping, others semi-conscious or unconscious.

One victim whose skull seemed broken as blood oozed down his face fell on the pavement in front of Senator Magnolia Antonio who had just stepped down from the building.

Fearing that the man might die, arrangement was made to rush him to the hospital. Later a No. 6 car came up the driveway. Helping hands carried the body into the car which immediately sped away.

I saw Press Secretary Francisco Tatad appear at the riot scene. Media men, including Daily Mirror columnist Amando Doronila, surrounded and interviewed him. In his statement, he minimized the riot as merely an emotional outburst of youth and assured there was nothing to be alarmed.

It was now about 9 o’clock in the evening, two and a half hours after President Marcos had left Congress, and still I could see some action.

By this time I saw anti-riot fighters chasing remnants of the about 20,000 demonstrators who had stayed for action to as far as the Muni Golf Links, the City Hall area, and down to distant Plaza Lawton.

In the middle of P. Burgos Ave. in front of Congress near the center island, I saw a few youths who stayed behind throwing stones and rocks at an abandoned car, its glass windows smashed and its signal light still blinking.

I heard it belonged to Senator Jose Roy, but not wanting to accept hearsay I went down and saw for myself that its plate was No. 7.

I noticed that some police jeeps parked nearby were also smashed.

I walked to the north side of Congress, where I saw groups of persons across Taft Ave. lingering. I proceeded to the City Hall area and saw a team of anti-riot policemen. They blockaded the underpass and eyed passersby suspiciously. One of them stopped me and started searching my pockets and sides. I said it was all right because I was from the press.

I walked down as far as Plaza Lawton. There I saw groups of persons huddling right in the middle of the wider portion of Taft Ave. where the traffic was re-routed.

I approached one group and listened to the conversation. A lone elderly woman was telling her young male companions that they should not have retreated because with their big number they could have easily overrun the out-numbered law enforcers.

I approached another group of young males and I heard them exchange stories of their individual experience in front of Congress earlier that night.

When the talk veered to casualties I asked the group if there were demonstrators killed, and one of them swore he saw one dead victim, a girl from the University of the Philippines, and heard that another also died.

My watch said 9:30 p.m. and suddenly I felt hungry and thirsty. I decided to take a quick bite at the nearby National Press Club where I found fellow newsmen hotly discussing the biggest news of the day and exchanging stories of their own experience earlier that evening in front of Congress.

Later I learned that the First Lady, Mrs. Imelda Marcos, after the presidential car had sneaked out of Congress to safety, exclaimed in Pilipino:

“O God, what happened?”#

Chapter 6: The Morning After

Youth rebels and law enforcement authorities spent a sleepless night as they hurled charges and counter-charges at each other.

The irate demonstrators condemned police brutality inflicted upon them, while the Manila police countered them with a charge of communist infiltration.

As they exchanged barbs, initial official reports showed that about 300 youths were injured while 72 law enforcers were wounded in the Congress riot.

Damage to properties included two cars of Senator Jose Roy, one fire truck, two police jeeps, an undetermined number of several other private vehicles, the iron fence in front of Congress, and 15 electric post bulbs.

Hundreds of stones and rocks, 200 pieces of woods with nails, many destroyed placards, copies of manifesto, and other debris littered the riot area.

Emergency wards of the nearby Philippine General Hospital, the Manila Doctor’s Hospital, Medical Center, Marian Hospital, and Ospital ng Maynila were full of riot victims.

Arrested demonstrators were thrown into and packed like sardines at the city detention jail. Senators Emmanuel Pelaez, Salvador Laurael, and Eva Estrada Kalaw, Rep. John Osmeña, and Executive Secretary Ernesto Maceda personally spent the night there and helped expedite their release.

Nineteen of the arrested demonstrators were subsequently charged with violation of Articles 148 and 153 of the Revised Penal Code and of Section 844 of the Revised Ordinances of the City of Manila, but were released without bail.

Specifically, the charges against them were direct assault upon an agent of a person in authority, creating tumultuous public disturbance, and non-compliance with the mayor’s permit and the anti-littering ordinance.

The newspapers played up the Congress riot with screaming headlines and big photos. A shocked nation woke up the following morning feeling bad upon reading the gory accounts of what happened.

Actually, residents living in the Greater Manila area had already seen and heard the live coverage of the Congress riot through their television screens and radio sets the night before.

Now the battle of the press releases began. Organizers and leaders of the Jan. 26 Movement in front of Congress officially condemned police brutality as the cause of the riot.

Edgar Jopson, president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines, said:

“The NUSP is filing charges against the superiors of the Metrocom, MPD and the anti-riot squad for the irresponsible behavior of their men.”

Jopson observed that while there were obviously a small group of provocateurs behind the riot, he denounced the policemen for hitting even the peaceful bystanders.

Dr. Nemesio Prudente, president of the Philippine College of Commerce, disclosed that he himself was truncheoned in the stomach.

“I will support a nationwide revolutionary movement of students to protest the brutalities of the state.

“I denounce President Marcos, the PC Special Forces, the Metrocom and the Manila Police for their brutalities committed on the students.”

Angel Gargaritano Jr., chairman of the security committee of the NUSP’s Jan. 26 Movement and president of the student council of the Philippine College of Criminology, joined the outcry against police abuses.

He charged the police anti-riot squad with “non-coordination, gross violation of the executive order of Mayor Villegas, and stupidity of some members of the squad.”

Ruben D. Torres, president of the Malayang Pagkakaisa ng Kabataang Pilipino, assailed the “fascist methods” of the authorities “to suppress the democratic rights of the Jan. 26 demonstrations.” He added:

“The truncheon blows that smashed the heads of the demonstrators were striking proof of the utter bankruptcy of the political system. A state that is dominated by American imperialism and its local allies could assure its continued existence only by brutal suppression of mass action.”

“The use of naked force” was likewise criticized by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation (Philippine Council) which warned that “the power holders will increasingly resort to violence in order to preserve the strangle-hold of American imperialism and its native conspirators in the country.”

The Christian Social Movement of former Senator Raul Manglapus, speaking through its secretary-general, Manuel Valdehuesa, said:

“That the riot happened on the heels of a peaceful demonstration to bring about a just social order through Constitutional reforms is especially despicable.”

At the University of the Philippines, Fernando Barican, Jr., president of the UP student council, announced closure of classes and the holding of an emergency meeting in Diliman to assess the situation and plot counter-moves against abuses by the Establishment.

In answer to the outcry against police brutality, Mayor Antonio Villegas congratulated Col. Gerardo Tamayo, police chief, and Col. James Barbers, deputy police chief, for their “courageous stand” and for conducting themselves properly under pressure.

Col. Tamayo said that the Jan. 26 Movement in front of Congress was infiltrated by communist provocateurs. He singled out the Kabataang Makabayan as the group that had provoked the riot.

The Manila police chief disclosed that a son of a top Filipino communist was spotted among the demonstrators in the company of three unidentified persons.

Col. Barbers said: “We do not only welcome a congressional probe. We demand it, if only to enable our lawmakers to file remedial legislation that will prevent the reoccurrence of similar incidents.

“We only did our duty as we saw fit and in the light of the prevailing circumstances. If it can be shown that we did not perform our duties in a manner consistent with law and the demands of the situation, we are willing to face the consequences.”

Defending the law enforcers, Chairman Crispin de Castro of the Police Commission declared:

“The action taken by the police yesterday was in line with their duty to preserving peace and order, particularly with strict emphasis in protecting the safety of the chief magistrate of the land who was menaced by demonstrators . . .

“It is impossible to use kid gloves in controlling a situation where violence was fast turning a demonstration into a mob.”

At Malacañang, President Marcos said:

“Reports received by me on the demonstration tend to show that the students were not responsible for the riot that ensued during the demonstration.

“I accept the veracity of these reports and I accept the statement of responsible student leaders present at the demonstration that they were not responsible for the riots.

“Initial reports from police and intelligence indicate that the riot was instigated by non-student provocateurs who had infiltrated the ranks of the legitimate demonstrators. This is being investigated.

“I ask our people to view this unfortunate incident with calm and sobriety. I also ask the students to cooperate with the appropriate government authorities in trying to identify these elements responsible for the outbreak of violence. Eyewitnesses have stated that the police and security elements are not to be blamed for the cause.

“I wish to reiterate the position that the students have a legitimate right to manifest their grievances in public and we shall support their just demands.

“But we do not consider violence as a legitimate instrument of democratic dissent, and we expect the students to cooperate with government in making sure that their demonstrations are not marred by violence.”

President Marcos then ordered the Manila police to drop the charges filed with the city fiscal’s office against student demonstrators arrested during the Congress riot, but without prejudice to pursuing the cases against non-students who had instigated it.

But despite the presidential declaration supporting the police report of communist infiltration and at the same the time clearing the student rebels of any responsibility for the riot, the outcry against police brutality reverberated in the halls of Congress.

Senators Salvador Laurel, Benigno Aquino, Emmanual Pelaez, Eva Estrada Kalaw, and Magnolia Antonio took the floor and denounced police brutality inflicted on the demonstrators during the bloody incident.

Laurel said: “Helpless women fell prey to their truncheons. I saw with my own eyes four students who were standing fast, holding the streamers of their organization, and without provocation on their part, being attacked and beaten up by the police.

The Nacionalista lawmaker also decried the ignorance of city jail authorities regarding a law (Republic Act 6036), which dispenses with the bail requirement in minor offenses, and their lack of ink for fingerprinting, thereby causing great delay in the release of the students arrested.

Senator Aquino, in his privileged speech entitled “When Law and Order Went Amok,” said:

“I rise in outrage at the way our police mishandled and manhandled the student demonstration, at the way law and order went amok in front of this very Congress.

“I rise in outrage at the way authority went loose with brutality – at the no-quarters-asked-and-no-quarters-given way they joined battle with the students and viciously, wrathfully, joyfully, clubbed them and felled them.’ ”

The opposition stalwart then reviewed what happened on Jan. 26, after which he shifted his attack on President Marcos. He ended:

“Mr. President, the handwriting is on the wall. See it, read it, heed it!

“What happened last night should not be repeated, because if students armed only with their idealism should have their heads cracked or worse, fell victims to police bullets, we may be pushed to the precipice of revolution!”

“Last night the President of this Republic spoke on the state of the nation. Last night we saw for ourselves what state this country is in. The truth hurts because it is there – and you cannot dismiss it smugly or lightly or shut it off like the radio,” Sen. Pelaez said. He added:

“As I stood in front of this building, an awful sense of shame came over me – and like the truth, it has not gone away. The pity of it all is that what happened last night might have been avoided. It takes two sides to stage a riot . . .

“Force begets force, and violence can only lead to further violence. Losing control of the situation, the police panicked and over-acted . . .

“The police caused the disruption of peace and order by their violent response to the crisis.”

Pealez added drama to his privileged speech on the Senate floor when he produced a victim of police brutality, one Vicente Ocaya, a student of the Lyceum of the Philippines. He took off his shirt in the session hall and showed the eight red marks left by police truncheons on his back.

The former vice president denounced Col. Gerardo Tamayo, Manila police chief, and Col. James Barbers, his police deputy chief, and demanded their investigation by Congress.

Woman Senator Kalaw said in her speech that the police forces sent to Congress to maintain peace and order, instead of doing a good job, succeeded only in setting up a “dividing wall” between the law enforcers and the students demonstrators.

Senator Antonio, another lady lawmaker, narrated how a victim of police brutality fell right on her feet during the bloody riot and how she helped him into the hospital.

As a result of the floor speeches of Senators Laurel, Aquino, Pelaez, Kalaw, and Antonio, the Senate created a special committee headed by Senator Lorenzo Tañada to look into the Jan. 26 incident in front of Congress.

In the House of Representatives, two congressmen – Rep. John Osmeña, a Liberal, and Rep. Teodulo Natividad, a Nacionalista – took turns in condemning police brutality.

Osmeña, who could be mistaken for one of the demonstrators although he was already 35 years old, championed the cause of the student rebels, and supported a move to investigate police brutality.

Since he entered public service, first as a councilor and then as vice mayor of Cebu City, and now as congressman, Rep. Osmeña had been consistently financing scholarship grants to poor but intelligent students through his allowance as a public official.

Rep. Natividad, dubbed as the “James Bond” of the House of Representatives because of his thorough knowledge of police matters, assailed the assignment of police rookies as members of the anti-riot squads. He demanded a congressional investigation of the case.

In view of the bipartisan move in Congress to probe the Jan. 26 demonstration, particularly on the aspect of police brutality, the Senate and the House created a special joint committee to look into the bloody riot.

From Congress, the outcry against police brutality now shifted to the press row where newspapers and columnists generally condemned police brutality.

The Manila Times editorial said: “The policemen (or rookies) who figured prominently in Monday’s riot were supposed to have been specially trained to handle demonstrations. They were supposed to have learned from previous demonstrations, particularly tat which accompanied the Asian Summit in 1966. Their behavior last Monday proved that they either had not learned their lesson well or that they were just blatant examples of the wrong men being on the wrong job.”

The Manila Chronicle editorial said: “The police are now shouting at the top of their voices that it was the students who started the riot. Witnesses have come out testifying to the contrary. But what is worse is that if any evidence is needed to prove police brutality, the pictures published in the papers yesterday, pictures showing helmeted police beating up students, are full of that evidence.”

Daily Mirror columnist Feliciano Magno said: “I saw Metrocom troopers and Manila policemen charging the students at the slightest shouted provocation bringing down their truncheons on heads of girl and boy students even if the latter already had their arms up in surrender or pleading for mercy.”

Manila Daily Bulletin columnist Willie Ng said: “Looking at the matter impartially, one cannot say that the students were blameless. They, more or less, started the fight by hurling things at the police.

“But the police was more to blame because it should not have lost its cool. You don’t control a riot by cordoning of the crowd and beating all mercilessly over the head. Cops are only supposed to strike back in self-defense, not to go out attacking all within reach as if dealing out punishment. Even innocent bystanders were not spared from police truncheons. The cops really rioted.”

Maximo Soliven, Manila Times columnist, said: “What turned the affair into a real tragedy was the fact that the ‘riot police’ literally rioted. They charged into the mass of students, flaying right and left with their clubs – savagely hitting the guilty and the innocent alike.

“The ‘agitators’ could not have planned it better. The police, by losing their heads, played right into their hands. The term ‘police brutality’ has now become a reality in this republic.”

Practically all the other newspapers and columnists saw it the same way, and thus took the side of the students. In that sense, the student rebels scored a victory against the Establishment.#

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