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Speech: Senator Benigno Aquino Jr.

January 25, 2010

Published on the Senate Congressional Record, Vol. 1, No. 2, p. 29, with minor changes like deletion of the usual, “Mr. President” in reference to the presiding officer.

I rise in the name of those hapless students who got bludgeoned by police brutality last night.

On January 26, 1970, the students of our country affiliated with the National Union of Students of the Philippines took to the streets and in taking to the streets they issued a manifesto and I would like to read the preamble of this manifesto. The students said:

“It has been our particular pride as Filipino students to have taken to the streets in countless demonstrations. Indeed, our history has been one written largely in protest and dissent.

“Today we have come to take to the streets again. This time, however, we would like to begin with a reason to explain the other times we have come before. In the past we students have come in protest and dissent because we have not seen the society we have wanted. We do not see it in the poverty of our brother Filipinos. We do not see it in the crimes spawned by poverty of our brothers. We do not see the society that we want. That was our reason.

“But today we have come in a different spirit. Today we have come with hope, and today we do not come in protest or dissent but to appeal for the greatest cause we have yet come to fight for. We have also come to make a pledge of faith. We have come to pledge our faith in the Constitutional Convention and the great good that it may do to our society, After many years of protest and dissent we have come to pledge faith in our last great hope, the rebuilding of our own society according to the Constitution. We have come to appeal for the safe and sound conduct of the Constitutional Convention of 1971. We have come to appeal, not to demand. This is because we have come to appeal to the consciences of our elders in Congress and throughout the nation. We appeal to them to grant us this our last hope, our last chance, for the ordering of our society according to democratic processes.”

This was the appeal of those students who came last night. But the rally that was to be an appeal to reason, an appeal to the highest sense of patriotism of our people degenerated into display of police brutality. And the irony of it all, maybe, is that the poor students who came here with faith in their hearts were actually misled or infiltrated.

But there were unmistakable signs of a gathering storm. As early as one o’clock yesterday afternoon the president of the student organization, Mr. Lito Abelarde, saw me in my office and protested the placing of strong and very big loudspeakers in front of Congress, and these loudspeakers were actually being used to monitor deliberations in the House of Representatives. They felt that these loudspeakers would drown out their own little loudspeakers in the streets and their permit was between three o’clock and six o’clock. If these big loudspeakers were going to be used, then their small loudspeakers will be downed out and, therefore their appeal will not be heard and their demonstrations will be useless. And so they addressed this very urgent appeal that the loudspeakers be toned down or, if possible, should be removed. But apparently there was a design to broadcast not only over television and radio the speech and the magnum opus of Mr. Marcos but also they used loudspeakers that will bring his speech to the streets. And here, I believe, the trouble really began.

The students had a rally. They had their own sets of loudspeakers, but their own sets of loudspeakers were drowned out by the noises from within the halls of Congress, and this developed into an ugly mood — a very ugly mood — so that after the President delivered his speech and was about to board his car, there were certain instances that should not have happened.

I have just returned from a trip to Malaysia. In fact I have just returned barely three days ago, and I would like to recall the beginnings of a riot in Malaysia that degenerated into the very crisis of that nation, and today Malaysia teeters on the brink of dissolution because of the communal riots of May 13. And how did the riots of May 13 begin? They began on May 5 when police officers mistakenly fired upon a group of Chinese demonstrators and killed one Chinese. Five days before the national elections of Malaysia this naturally engendered tremendous passion among the Chinese in Malaysia. And so the funeral of this Chinese martyr four days after he was killed was the biggest funeral ever to be seen in the City of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. The following day, on May 10, in the elections of Malaysia the party of Tunku Abdul Rahman lost to the Jah Rahman Party, a very small party, and many attribute this to that incident of May 5. But what happened after May 10, Mr. President, is a lesson for us actually to study and to ponder upon, because on May 11 there were demonstrations from the victorious Chinese elements.

On May 12, there were also demonstrations. On May 13, there was a counter demonstration by the Malays, but this time, the Malays were supposed to meet at 7:30 in the evening of May 13. Twenty thousand Malays gathered in the garden of the Chief Magistrate of Selangur Estate. Two kilometers away from this very area, there was a rumor that the Malays going to attend this procession were actually ambushed and killed by Chinese. Without verifying the truth or veracity of this report, the 20,000 Malays spread over the street and pounced upon the first hapless Chinese who happened to pass by, and they chopped them up to pieces like minced meat. Two Chinese, riding in a car, were dragged out of that car and they were chopped up. This news went back to the Chinese quarters three miles downstream, and so these Chinese stepped out of their homes and went out and started burning the Malay homes. In less that six hours, two hundred were dead and the police forces of Malaysia came out and because they were predominantly Malay, they went out and started mauling down Chinese that was to lead to a carnage today which is now known as the May 13 riot of Malaysia.

Four days later, an emergency was declared in Malaysia. Today, people say that democracy died in Malaysia because of the over—kill or the brutality of the Malay police in reacting to the situation.

Last night, we saw this police brutality in action. True, there were tauntings. I saw them from the third floor of the House. Some students were taunting the policemen. But, the policemen were there precisely to maintain peace and order, not to contribute to disorder. But the policemen succumbed to provocation. True, they were called names by some demonstrators, but if they were trained as riot police officers, they should have maintained their cool, because their job was to maintain peace and order but not with our policemen. They obliged the demonstrators, and therefore, they locked honors, and because they locked horns, the fighting ensued. And here, the policemen went in weaving into these hapless students because the very people who were taunting them fled, and the policemen fell upon those innocent students who were not even part of the provocateurs, and among them were young girls who were clubbed and so many were wounded in that melee.

For more than three hours, this happened.

What are the lessons from these January 26 happenings?

The police agencies of our country are very inadequate to cope up with riots of this magnitude. I think it is safe to assume that student demonstrations have come and will stay. And this will get worse before they will get better. This should have been read by our police agencies three years back when the demonstrations started. Instead of learning or taking manuals of instruction or learning from the lessons of other police agencies of the world, our police officers merely bought themselves helmets, wicker shields and truncheons.

I would like at this point to refer to the riot police of Tokyo. The riot police of Tokyo is one of the most sophisticated organizations in the world today, confronted with one of the most militant student organizations known as the Sengakuren. The Tokyo police forces have never been provoked to fight. Why? Because the Tokyo police forces are instructed to maintain peace and order at all cost, and they will not be provoked. And yet. Mr. President, they are being confronted by some of the most vociferous, the most provocative student organizations in the world.

What are the weapons of the Tokyo police? They have six-foot shields. They use fiber-glass shields; with an opening and an unbreakable glass on top, so they can see actually what is happening. So, with this policemen lined up in the streets, they virtually put up a wall, and these front-line policemen, as wall, would contain the student demonstrators. They have sticks but they are not to be used to hit people. They have small penlike batteries so that at the mere contact with the students, they will have a little electric shock, and they run. This is how they fight the students.

Then, the police organizations in Tokyo use certain foam ingredients so that when they are being attacked by the students, they will shoot the foam into the street, and when the students step on the foam, they will slip and fall.

And then, finally, they have a special gas which they use as laughing gas, so that when they shoot the gas upon the students, the angry, provocative students will actually stop, laughing, because the laughing gas will actually stop them in their thrust.

The Tokyo police are being confronted weekly by student demonstrators, but you will never find a single instance where tremendous killing or brutality is exercised. The Tokyo police are equipped with water tanks. They are equipped with foam tanks; they have sophisticated equipment, and they are amply protected. I saw a helmet of a Japanese police that was made of fiber-glass. There was a screen on his face so no amount of bottle-throwing or thrust, or stone-throwing could hurt him because his face was covered. In his body he had also a rubber-foam jacket, and his shield was covered with plastic or fiber-glass. So, even if you kick him in the shin, the policeman will never get hurt because he is amply protected. Like a football player, this policeman can weave in a crowd, and you can bit him and he will not get hurt because he has the necessary equipment. This is how the Tokyo police control them out.

More than these, when the police move in the Tokyo sectors, they have their own flood lights so that when the student demonstrators start coming in, they will open up their floodlights and it will be like day, and you can see the entire movement, and there is no mistake on who to hit, and who to contain, because many times, the spectators are the ones in this riot.

The tragedy, last night,  is that some of the police officers that were hitting the students did not have even nameplates. There was no way to identify these police officers who were hitting the students. I believe that the anonymity of these police officers contributed to the brutality because if these police officers knew that they could be identified, I think, they should have mitigated, at least, the brutality. For these reasons I feel that in due time, we will be presenting a bill. The practice by law-enforcement agents of removing their nameplates and identification tags while supervising and regulating demonstrations, should be stopped. It undermines faith in the law-enforcement agencies who find anonymity in the performance of their duties. It could also lead to police abuses or acts of violence by police impersonators. To prevent further corrosion of public trust in our law-enforcement agents, we would like to propose that it would be a felony for any agent of the law or similar agents to enforce peace without proper identity.

There is no justification for anonymity in whatever action the police may take to enforce peace and order specially during demonstrations and assemblies. The law enforcers are the symbol of the law, and their acts should stand the scrutiny of the people either as an individual or as a collective force. There would be an amendment to the penal code, but it would be a felony and aggravating circumstance if a police officer would not put his nameplate, and it will also carry a penalty to the officers in charge if they allow their people to remove nameplates when they are actually controlling a demonstration.

In this particular instance, it is most difficult to identify the policeman who is actually clubbing the students because they can only look at their faces at that moment, not knowing who they are. They actually fail to identify the very culprits of this violence.

We would therefore suggest later on in our recommendation, that (a) there should be an organization that should now train special riot police; (b) buy them adequate equipment, give them all the necessary implements to maintain peace and order in this kind of demonstration; and (c)  above all, that they should be told to maintain and carry their nameplates at all times so that the students will be able to identify the violator and the brutal police officer from the non-brutal officer. Furthermore, we will know who are the police impersonators or not.

Last night, we had a vantage view of what happened. True, as I said, there were groups of students who wanted the policemen, but the policemen who were not maintaining their cool would weave in to the students and run after them; and when they got tired running after them, the policemen would withdraw and again wait for the students. The demonstrations were over by six o’clock. The policemen could have already lifted their siege. They could have gone. It takes two to fight, but no, the policemen were obliged, and because they even enjoyed apparently this exercise, they would not leave the students. If the policemen left, and the students were allowed to carry on their own meetings, there would not be anybody to fight with, and there would be nothing to contain. But the policemen stayed on as long as the students were there, and the students were stubborn that they wanted to be heard. Here was the ingredient of combat.

Our own colleague, Senator Pelaez, was there in the group and I heard him, and I saw him pleading with the police officers not to provoke and to stay away to allow the students to air their grievances and in so doing, there would not be anymore combat. But the students would speak in another provocational start and then you have another fight — and they never got off the ground. And in the process, some of those students who came in here with nothing but purity in their hearts got mauled and beaten up that one of our own colleagues, the lady from La Union, had to commandeer, a car to rush to the hospital one of the boys and one of the girls who got mauled right in the very footsteps of our Congress.

I submit therefore that what happened last night should never be repeated. This should open our eyes to the situation that demonstrations have come and they are here to stay. And the sooner our police agencies train themselves to cope with the situation, the better for our people. God was still kind to the Filipino people last night that killings were averted. Because had there been students killed, our country would not be the same today. If students had fallen last night in front of our Congress while they were demonstrating, appealing to the consciences of their elders, and only to find death at the hands of policemen, the very symbols of the law, I believe, that were we actually teetering on the brink of a revolution we would have been pushed into the abyss.

And I would like to conclude by quoting a pertinent column by one of the astute observers of congressional work. I am referring to the column of Mr. Feliciano H. Magno that appears in the Daily Mirror today, and I quote:

“Last night, on the doorsteps of Congress, I caught a glimpse of revolution. It looked the way they said it would. Ugly, frightening, saddening.

“I saw young countrymen trying to kill each other as if they were of different races born as sworn enemies. One side was unarmed except for the courage and dedication to be found nowhere else except on the battlefield. The other was well trained in breaking heads and limbs and well armored down to the cloak of authority.

“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. I saw already bleeding and maimed youngsters being given additional kicks and blows from the truncheons and fists of those who are supposed to protect and respect the public. The brutality made me recall the treatment accorded to Filipinos by a foreign invader in the last Pacific war.

“I saw a President, who had expressed himself as ‘exalted’ at having been reelected to a second term with an ‘overwhelming mandate’, booed vehemently by the biggest crowed ever to gather in front of Congress for a public demonstration. I saw security men of the President hustle him and his wife inside the safety of the presidential limousine when some of the students, in an outburst of frustration, hurled their placards in the direction of the presidential car. This outburst was probably caused by the drowning out of the students’ voices during their rally. Propagandists of Malacañan placed high-powered loudspeakers in front of the legislative building and turned these on full blast when the President began his state-of-the-nation address to a joint gathering of the Senate and the House.

“x x x”

I will not go on any further, quoting this column of Mr. Magno, but this was an eyewitness account of what happened last night. And I would like to recall to this distinguished chamber that student demonstrations and movements played a considerable role in the overthrow of Peron in Argentina in 1955; the October demonstrations for greater freedom in Poland in 1956; the 1956 Hungarian revolution; the downfall of Perez Jimenez in Venezuela in 1958; the massive riots against the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in Japan in 1960 which forced the resignation of the Kishi Government; the successful resistance to Diem in Vietnam in 1963, and the anti-Sukarno movement in Indonesia in 1960. It is important to note, however, that all of the student demonstrations have succeeded in toppling governments that were actually tyrannical or governments characterized by police brutality.

The handwriting is on the wall. If we do not investigate this incident of January 26 and if we allow this to be repeated, Divine Providence may not be as kind again to us, the leaders of this nation. May he save us from the bloodshed that will surely come if one of the demonstrating students, armed only with their idealism, should fall before the hail of police bullets. I say this in all candor, because last night I was there and I saw them being brutalized — and all we could do is try to get them out to the hospitals. I was torn between joining Senator Pelaez there in the platform and trying to counsel them or joining the students in the street. But because we a handful of Liberals in this Congress refuse to taint the student demonstration with partisan consideration. We did not want to join the students even if we wanted to because we felt that had we joined them, most probably some partisan man would say that this was manipulated by the Liberal Party and it will detract from the character of the student demonstration. It was an unpartisan demonstration and we did not want to mar it with some partisan image or taint it with our own partisan participation. Because of this, we had to stay in the sidelines. With weeping eyes, we felt that this brutality could have been curbed. If the police agents only knew their job — and their job was clearly to maintain peace and order, not to contribute to disorder — if they only kept their cool, I am sure that that incident of January 26, which will go down as one of the blackest pages in student demonstrations, would not have happened.

I hope that in due time we will be able to present here a resolution that will call for an immediate investigation and, most probably, the filing of certain measures that will provide our police agencies not only with up-to-date or the latest manuals on riot control but also the necessary equipment that will prevent a repetition of the night of January 26.

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