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Opening of Congress Demo, Jan 26, 1970

January 25, 2010

Opening of Congress Demo, January 26, 1970

By Ceres Alabado

This is Chapter 1 of the author’s creative non-fiction, I See Red in a Circle, published in the summer of 1972, one year after the First Quarter Storm.

“Hey, no class. Going tomorrow?” I asked Tony, my boy friend.

“What’s for tomorrow?” he asked.

“Haven’t you heard?”

“What?”

“Rally at Congress.”

“Never heard.”

“Oh, come on! It’s sponsored by the National Union of Students of the Philippines. You’re NUSP, aren’t you?”

He shook his head.

“Then what are you?”

“Tony.”

“No kidding. Never heard.”

We both laughed.

“Know what?” he asked.

“What?”

“My old guard scolded me again.”

“That was yesterday.”

“And today.”

“Daily sermon, ha?”

“Daily bullshit. I really hate her. She thinks I’m going bad.”

Tony could never forget how his heart broke many years back when he wanted so much to enter the Tour of Luzon bicycle contest and his mother put her foot down. It would be degrading to their social standing, she had said. And by that she had meant that in this world there were only two classes of people: the rich and the poor. If you belonged to one, you didn’t mingle and fraternize with the other. Thus, because she considered herself and her family of the elitist rich she would not allow any member of the clan to engage in such mundane activities as only the common people enjoyed.

But Tony, he told me, he had never believed in such an arbitrary division of society, much less in putting a barrier between classes of people. If you enjoyed playing rich, okay you there. But if not … In fact, he confessed, he found a more wholesome and exciting companionship with tricycle and jeepney drivers, with the jobless squatters back of our subdivision or the janitors and mechanics living at Krus na Ligas nearby. His best friends were Yong, who was a part- time cartoon-artist for a comics publisher, and Clay, a jobless seaman.

Oh, how he used to quarrel with his mother over the kind of friends he ran around with! Endless quarrels. Until his mother quite gave up. And now she just thought her Tony was a hopeless bum himself. Occasionally she got to scold him yet. But the occasions had become fewer and fewer.

“Okay, let’s go tomorrow. What time?” Tony asked.

“Choose. Noon or afternoon. Marcos delivers his State of the Nation in the aft. We should be there by then,” I answered.

“Say three then? I’ll go tell Yong and Clay, if they want to come. And Gene. What about Jerry and Betty, Charis too, the gang? We can go to the Luneta afterwards.”

Tony was about to go.

“Hey, hey, don’t go yet. Have some news for you.”

It was Eddie, our KM friend from UE, the University of the East. KM is the Kabataang Makabayan, a youth organization. When I was a high school sophomore, two of my classmates, Gary and Richie had joined it and asked me to follow suit. Gary gave me a membership application form which o brought home and showed to Mama. “Think about it very well,” advised Mama. “Know what it’s all about first.” You know how these old folks are …. although Mama was not exactly a witch-hunter. No, she wasn’t like that at all. But you know, there were rumors and rumors about the KM. For one, that it was a Communist front. I didn’t think it was, but I was curious. Then I thought that all its members were college students; if they took me in, a high school soph, did it mean I was as good as they? Besides I was really quite a joiner of organizations: I was a Girl Scout, a Y Teen, a member of the Health club, Pamana ng Lahi, any club I qualified for in school. And so I said yes, and filled out the form. But Gary failed to follow up and get it from me, and later I misplaced it and lost track of it altogether.

“Exciting? If not, get lost, boy, get lost,” I said, familiar as I was with the passionate temper of Eddie.

“For a week now, we’ve been at it . . .” he began.

“At what? Where?” Tony interrupted him.

“Demonstrating, what else, at Malacañang,” I answered for Eddie impatiently and then I turned to Eddie. “O what, Eddie, what then, what then? Shoot!”

“Well, we were there, you see. We were there shouting at the President. I bet nobody has ever done that before. And the guards, naku, you should have seen them, eyes popping out,” related Eddie.

“Really? What did they say?” I asked.

“Nothing. Just stared at us, numbskulls!” said Eddie.

Sige, next time, they’ll shoot you,” I warmed him.

“Oh, they really did. One time, the cops, not the guards, they really went after us. Putang’na nila!”

“What do you say, what do you shout, sample nga O!” said Tony.

Eddie, all serious and red-faced, cried:

Ikaw Marcos, putanginamo! Bumaba ka rito, napakayabang mo, 27 and medalya mo, halika nga rito at tignan natin ang galling mo! Kung talagang matapang ka, bumaba ka rito at papatayin ka namin!

“At kayong mga Kano kayo, sino ang pupuntahan n’yo diyan, ang demonyong Presidente namin? Yang gagong Pangulo namin diyan, bakit ninyo pupuntahan, gago naman iyan?

“At tandaan mo, mumurahin ka namin ng umaga, ng tanghali, mumurahin ka namin ng gabi….”

Eddie was frothing in the mouth. But in the next moment he was laughing.

Okay lang ‘yan a!” said Tony.

“That’s only for noontime, you’ll see. Morning noon, and night, we’ll hound him. Especially at night!” Eddie declared. “You going tomorrow?”

We nodded our heads.

Eddie mimicked some more samples of their invectives. Terrific!

“And you should see the placards we’ve made for tomorrow,” he continued. “Da best!”

“We have no placard, Tony, for tomorrow,” I lamented. “Never mind, we’ll go without.”

“You want? I can give you one,” offered Eddie. “There’s this Bonnie and Clyde we made at HQ, no, a friend of mine did it. Sapak, Pare! You’ll see it, I’ll give it to you if you like. Nice for your poster collection, Mars.”

Eddie knew I was collecting posters. I had Lenin, Marlon Brando, Chappaqua, Che Guevarra, a huge picture of a nude man and woman embracing each other, entitled “Save water, shower with a friend”, another with the words; “If at first you don’t succeed, quit!” and lots of movie posters, and one from the Cultural Center which Clay stole for me because the guard wouldn’t give it when I asked him for it.

“Okay, give me one, ha?” I said.

“See you there,” he replied, running off as fast as he’d come.

The next day, promptly at three in the afternoon, Tony and Gene, along with Jerry, Betty, and Charis came to pick me up. Gene was Tony’s classmate at the Ateneo High School. Like Tony, Gene was a rich mother’s son and he also loved to bum around with janitors and to tinker with junk. Jerry, Betty, and Charis were my schoolmates at the University of the Philippines. Jerry’s sister, Miriam, was a KM. Last year she stopped schooling, married another KM, Ray, who had also stopped schooling; and together they devoted all their time to the organization. But Jerry himself was not a KM. He and Betty and Charis were like me – not fully dedicated to anything, not even to our studies. Maybe because we did not feel the call for a real, deep involvement. For the national cause, we were still groping for the more enlightened interpretations of things and issues. In our studies for the teaching profession, we were still muddling through systems and philosophies and methodologies, questioning them, wondering which would really work for our people.

“Yong and Clay, they’re not coming. What’s non-partisan constitutional convention, daw! Is it a party, with something to eat?” said Tony.

We all laughed. Except Tony.

Hu – as if you know what the hell it is!” he chided us.

“Do you?” asked Gene.

“No, that’s why I can’t convince Yong and Clay. Clay thinks it’s a political party convention. Liberal or Nacionalista. They don’t count in it. Why go?”

We all laughed again.

“Shame on you,” said Mama, who overheard us. “Don’t tell me you don’t know what you’re going out to demonstrate for – the constitutional convention, you said?”

“Well, I know. It’s the fundamental law of the land – the constitution. And next year we’re going to elect the delegates from all over the provinces who will meet in a convention to rewrite what we already have. There! How about that?” I said.

“The election of the delegates will be this year, in November. The Convention, next year in June,” corrected Mama.

“And what’s the non-partisan . . . ?” asked Charis.

“I really don’t know exactly,” said Mama slowly, “unless it’s your wish for the political parties not to meddle with the Convention this time…”

“Yes, something like that. After our experience in the last elections, the Marcos machine might roll again. Help!” cried Gene.

“What about the MKK, Ma, and Clarence, have you heard from him? And you, aren’t you coming, Ma? The papers said many civic organizations will be represented, nuns and priests will be there. Help!” I said.

“Go right ahead. I’ll watch you on TV,” said Mama. “No, I haven’t heard from Clarence nor any of the MKK.”

The MKK is the Malayang Katipunan ng Kabataan, another youth group principally of high school students, founded in 1968 by some Philippine Science High School national scholars led by Clarence. Mama discovered the MKK when she was scouting around for high school youth organization to whom to donate her royalties from a book she had written. A PSHS scholar who lived with us, Ja, my cousin, had introduced Clarence to Mama. Since then Mama had become like an MKK member herself. She read the MKK Primer prepared by Clarence and suggested the inclusion of an objective which would encompass the involvement of high school students, not only in school and for student welfare, but also in the struggle for a nationalistic, humane, and progressive Philippine society. As for me, I too had become more and more involved with the group and what it stood for.

It’s funny. When I was in high school I thought the KM was composed of college students only and I had wanted to join it for that reason – the prestige of being counted among college students. When I got to college, I was drawn to the MKK, a high school organization, because it was the only organization of the persuasion I was attracted to. For it came into my life at the time I was beginning to be enlightened about the conditions in the country and the world in general.

I read the newspapers. I listened to my parents talk of the economic difficulties we were in, not only our family but the whole country. Vaguely I was getting a picture that wasn’t too clear but was nevertheless, looking bad. In the last national elections, things looked so dismal, a group in school even urged a boycott of the elections, plastering “Do not vote!” posters all over the neighborhood. A sign I saw pasted at the back of a car said: “Both are bad!” which meant that both the presidential candidates, Marcos and Osmeña, were bad. So, there was really no choice. In fact, Papa and Mama said they were voting for Racuyal, who was a crack-pot, they said, but not a vicious scheming monster. Clarence and I and some of the hard-core members of the MKK, who were mostly poor bright students, science scholars, would attend teach-ins, read and exchange books, pamphlets, mimeographed sheets, anything we would later discuss, criticize, laugh about, disagree on and sometimes we would end up not talking with each other for days. Still, we were a loose group. Our ideals remained ideals; our plans, mere talk and lots of laughter. The high school boys attacked their school administrations and threatened to strike. That was as bold as they could get. When there were mass demonstrations, sometimes we went as a group; other times we went separately; a few times none of us went at all. We would know about each other’s decisions only after each demonstration. Today, like Mama, I had not heard from Clarence for days.

We took a bus and got off at City Hall, a stone’s throw from Congress. The crowd had already spilled out to this area. We wove our way through the fringes and inch by inch reached the middle where we could at least see what was going on in front of Congress.

I heard two different voices coming through loudspeakers, competing with each other. One was familiar voice of the President. I didn’t care to listen to him but I couldn’t get what the other voice, a girl’s, was saying. The crowd was buzzing like a million bees.

“Who’s that?” I asked, pointing to the girl speaker.

“Portia Ilagan, the President of the National Students League. Know her?” answered Tony.

“Never heard.”

She was a mighty mite of a girl, I thought. I was glad they let her speak. These men – they thought girls were good only for love-making.

I looked around. I had never seen such a crowd all my life. There were people from all walks of life. Besides students, some of whom were girls in colegiala uniforms, there were priests and nuns, and a number of old folks, too – workers, farmers, and professionals; the workers and farmers in frayed shabby shirts and blouses, the professionals in embroidered polo barong, cassocks, or pantsuits. Those directly in front were sitting on their manifesto sheets right on the street called Burgos Drive, facing the flagpole platform on which the leaders of the demonstration and speakers stood. I noticed something that looked like a coffin made of cardboard, representing the death of democracy in the last elections, I supposed, another that was a cardboard crocodile symbolizing greedy congressmen and senators, and a third, a papier mache effigy of Marcos. And oh, the number of placards and streamers and banners dotting the sea of people, you cannot imagine! I tried to read what was written on some of them: non-partisan, constitutional convention, convention, convention, mostly about the convention; down with imperialism, feudalism; names of the organizations, CSM, KM,MPKP, SDK, NATU, MASAKA, so many others; there were the Marcos calendars retouched so that Marcos looked like Hitler, complete with mustache and swastika armband.

“There, there’s Eddie, my Meldy Bonnie and Ferdie Clyde poster! Let’s go there!” I tugged at Tony’s sleeve.

“We can’t move any farther from here. We just have to stay put for a while. By and by,” said Tony.

All of a sudden I heard the crowd roar.

“What happened? What happened?” I asked absent-mindedly.

“That’s Luis Taruc speaking now. They’re booing him. Dunno why,” said Tony.

“It’s so hard to understand what he’s saying,” said Jerry.

“Damn it! I think they purposely installed the loudspeaker outside so we can hear only Marcos. Damn him!” I said.

The next one I saw holding the mike, no, two mikes taped together, was Edgar Jopson, an Atenean. I know many Ateneo faces by name. Edgar was also the president of NUSP. He wore a polo barong with a red armband and J26M written on it.

“What’s that J26M mean? Look at Edgar’s armband,” I said.

“Junior Marcos,” ventured Jerry.

“No, Jerry and Marcos,” I said giggling.

“January 26 Movement, I think,” said Tony.

Edgar announced that the next speaker would be Gary Olivar of the SDK and the U.P. Student Council.

Gary, where was he? I scanned the faces on the platform. No Gary.

Somebody else took the mikes but before he opened his mouth, Edgar announced his name: Roger Arienda, a radio commentator. His oratory was Atenean but in Tagalog. He was not yet through when we heard the chanting from the crowd: We want Gary, we want Gary. It was so catchy I joined the chanting myself.

Then somebody took the mikes and ordered us to stop shouting.

“There’s no need for shouting. Let us respect each other,” he shouted.

E, why are you shouting!” I shouted just for the fun of it.

At last there was Gary standing next to Edgar. Once more Edgar announced that Gary was the next speaker. But the chanting continued and Edgar changed his mind; instead of giving the mikes to Gary, he announced:

“We will now sing the National Anthem!”

He started singing into the mikes, those sitting stood up and we all sung together.

The singing over, Edgar declared:

“The NUSP rally is formally closed. NUSP members, please go to your buses.”

“C’mon,” I said, “let’s go get my poster from Eddie,” and I pushed Jerry and Betty forward.

We lost it. The crowd was getting restless. The people at the fringes were walking away.

Somebody had gotten hold of the mikes from Edgar and, cheered on by the crowd, began attacking the “counter-revolutionaries who wanted to end the rally.” I thought there was going to be a fight. It’s a good thing Edgar just stepped aside and got lost.

We kept pushing on, Tony, Jerry, Betty, Charis, Gene and I. I was still looking above the heads of people for my poster, when there was a sudden commotion on the driveway near the platform. The paper effigy had been set on fire, and I saw it burning slowly away.

“Marcos Puppet! Marcos Puppet!” came the chant.

Louder and louder it went as flashbulbs popped and I saw hands raised around something I couldn’t see.

Before I could ask anybody what was happening I saw cops rushing down the steps of Congress, jumping right into the street and flailing away with their clubs at us.

We pushed each other. Tony got hold of my hand and we ran and ran.

“What happened? What happened?” I kept asking him.

The cops went in all directions chasing us. When we reached the sidewalk on the other side of the traffic island, some of us picked up stones and placard sticks, coke bottles left on the ground, anything, and threw them at the cops. But the cops had collared several boys, were beating them up and leading them away by the shirt.

We stopped running as the cops themselves had regrouped and once more I heard somebody talking in the mikes. It was already dark and I could hardly see who it was. They said it was Senator Pelaez who had come out of Congress to appeal to us for peace.

Peace? Peace? Who had started chasing us, beating us up?

Then we learned that President and Mrs. Marcos had been stoned but that they were unhurt and had left. The coffin and the crocodile had been hurled at them as they stepped out of Congress. So that was what had happened.

Pelaez requested the MPD Chief Tamayo to call his men away. It was the only way to quiet the crowd, he said. But his voice could hardly be heard above the din of the noise, the shouting and the chanting:

Pakawalan and hinuli!

Pulis, pulis, titi matulis!

Pulis mukhang kwarta!

Mano-mano lang O!

Takbo kayo nang takbo, baka lumiit and tiyan n’yo!

Suddenly from the crowd in the City Hall side of Congress came the warning: “The police, the police! Here they come again!”

Once more Tony grabbed my hand. My heart was beating fast.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said.

“But how?” I asked.

“Say, where are the others? Betty, Charis everybody?”

Before I could answer and before we could move an inch, the cops were on us again. But miracle of miracles, because we just stood still while the others ran, this time they by-passed us and some others whom I saw hugging the pine trees. I saw some cops corner a boy whose back was against the traffic sign, club him there until the signpost fell. There was a group including a couple of girls who linked their arms and together marched round and round a circle in the street taunting the cops with songs and shouts of “Makibaka, huwag matakot!

Tony and I joined those who had regrouped near where we stood. Before I knew it, we were surging forward, some of us throwing stones. By this time Burgos Drive was completely littered with stones and broken bottles. I picked up some pieces and began throwing them myself. It was very funny. This time we were the ones chasing the cops who were running with their heavy bellies thrust forward, toward their sanctuary, the Congress. But suddenly we stopped on our tracks as a new wave of fresh cops came upon us, charging with greater fury.

It was like that, back and forth for hours it seemed. At one time when we back-tracked after our chase and we had all ran away again, I looked back to see about three boys bravely standing fast holding aloft their streamer with the KABATAANG MAKABAYAN clearly written on it. I stopped and pointed it out to Tony, speechless.

You could see those three, standing all alone in the middle of the street, the cops dashing forward towards them. I covered my eyes, unable to bear the sight. Oh my God!

When I looked again, only one boy remained, crumpled to the ground, his arms over his head. The cops, about ten of them, were still encircling him, their clubs flailing at him as though beating a piece of rag to pulp. Then they walked away.

Putangina n’yo!” we cried.

A big burly man came forward, and with arms akimbo shouted to the cops:

“You, anyone of you, all of you, come out and fight me, hand-to-hand, mano-mano lang O!

He strutted around and around like a toreador, thirsting for a bull.

But no cop dared take him on. Instead a whole squad of uniforms charged on us once more, throwing us back into the darkness.

On and on our see-saw battle went. Once the cops hit on the bright idea of dispersing us with a firetruck hose. A hardy group of boys and girls stood directly in front of it, thinking perhaps that the water from the hose trained on them would spurt over and pass their heads. They miscalculated the NAWASA water pressure of course for alas! The water was a mere weak stream that trickled right on their heads.

When some of the congressmen and senators started coming down to get into their cars, be driven down the driveway and out into the street, somebody shouted:

“Stone ‘em! Stone ‘em!”

Rocks and pebbles few into the air. The driver of one senator’s car was so enraged, he got out of his car, picked up stones himself and threw them at us in the dark. Poor loyal driver, he had to run for his life back to his wheel after that.

The crowd had thinned somewhat. Tony and I decided to keep still in the darkness, wait for things to subside.

“Wonder what happened to the rest of us – Jerry, Betty . . .” I said.

“They must have gotten away the first wave. That’s when we lost them, no?” Tony replied.

“Next time we must stick together.” I mused.

It was then I spotted my brother’s bright red car slowly cruising past the intersecting streets towards the Luneta.

“Val, Vaaaal!” I called with all my strength, running after it, Tony at my heels.

The car screeched to a stop. Joe, my other brother, was on the right-side seat. He quickly jumped out and let us in. until we reached home, I was speechless. I couldn’t even ask them whether they were in the rally, too, or Papa sent them to look for me?

Mama and Papa were so worried. Papa had started calling up hospitals for the names of the casualties.

“We didn’t know you were there, too,” Papa said to my two brothers.

“They said there’s one student killed – a girl – but it can’t be confirmed. Oh it was so horrible. I saw it all on television! Those brutes! Putangina nila!” For the first time I heard Mama curse out loud. #

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