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Speech: Senator Emmanuel Pelaez

January 25, 2010

Published on the Senate Congressional Record, Vol. 1, No. 2, January 27, 1970, p. 35, with minor changes like deletion of the usual, “Mr. President” in reference to the presiding officer.

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. 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.

In today’s issue of the Daily Mirror, Mr. Francis Cevallos, the editor of the Variety section of the Manila Times, is reported to have given the following eyewitness account:

“x x x he heard Tamayo give the order to the riot squad to arrest the students when he thought the latter were about to attack President Marcos as he stepped out of the building after delivering his state-of-the-nation address.

“However, Cevallos said the students were not provoking the policemen. They were merely surging toward the President, apparently in an effort to talk to him.

“According to Cevallos’ account, Tamayo must have misinterpreted the students’ movements as menacing.

“When the policemen surrounding President Marcos started to push the students away, the students fell back and let go of their placards. This action was like a signal for the policemen to charge into the students because they thought the students were going to hurl the placards.

Until all the facts are in, until all the testimony from both sides is heard and until we finally sift all the events surrounding last night’s riot, we will not get the total picture of how it all really started. But this much we do know: that it need not have continued, it need not have escalated and so many people need not have been hurt. This is the tragedy. It takes two sides to stage a riot. What did we see last night? I saw our police forces, guarded by helmets, armed with shields and night sticks, gather and regroup time after time and come charging at the demonstrators like maddened bulls, only to be forced back by a hailstorm of stones and hardened earth and wooden sticks flying in the air. I saw young women being beaten up. I saw a young man sitting and crouching in fear in one corner and two policemen came to him and they lifted him and three others came along and one struck him on the head the long end of his night stick. This was bad enough but it seemed worse because all this was done under the glare of the camera and television floodlights right in open view of everyone.

Inside this hall we talk about laws. We talk about the rule of law, and when I think of the events of last night, I think of how much our work becomes meaningless. The youth are a cynical youth today, and our people are as cynical people today. They are hopeful, yes, but this is submerged in the cynicism of the desperate. What do we tell those who have been treated so callously? What do we tell their parents? How do you tell them that just as they themselves were in a state of panic and tempers ran high so were the policemen? Neither side won last night, both sides lost. And what is there to show for it, except disenchantment. And tonight we asked ourselves, “how did all this come to pass and who is to blame for it?

By a strange quirk of faith, I happened to have been involved. It was no sense of heroism that got me involved. I think I was as scared as anyone in there. But just as I was stepping out of this hall, students came rushing to me — student leaders. There was fear and almost panic in their faces. They told me that there was a riot going on and they asked me if I could do something to calm both sides — the students and the policemen. And so answering this plea, I went down the steps of this building and crossed to the other side of the ramp, in front of the building. There I saw about five policemen bodily lifting a frail youth of about 18 years old, whose name I later learned to be Romeo Acosta. And as they had him up here on this side of the ramp, there were five policemen who were poised to rain their night sticks on him. By instinct, I embraced the youth to protect him. And when Chief Tamayo came, I asked him to calm down his policemen. I brought the youth before the crowd and asked them not to panic and at the same time I requested, together with Undersecretary of Labor Tomas dela Cruz, who was there trying to help, Chief Tamayo to withdraw the policemen. We requested him to release the youth. The answer was vague. We impressed upon him the fact that it was already more than half an hour after the President had left. Most of the guests, particularly the diplomatic corp members, had left. The members of Congress had left. There was no sense in the policemen charging into the crowd as they did.

Chief Tamayo would not give me an answer. And I said: “What are you trying to protect here?” He would not give me an answer. And so what happened was the seesaw battle between the policemen and the youth. And then as I went to the other side, on the right side of this building, I saw a group of policemen under the command of Major Paralejas. There were two fire trucks with their hoses trained on the crowd, and, as if to show that this crowd was not really out to fight, they ran away when fire hoses were trained on them. And so I again pleaded with Major Paralejas to withdraw his men because the presence of policemen was a provocation to the students. And he should have known this because we had witnessed a similar incident about two months ago when the youth were demonstrating at the Agrifina Circle, while they were holding the lobby of the Bureau of Lands building at that Circle where they were presenting the grievances of the peasants to the authorities, somebody called the riot squad. The riot squad arrived in two trucks. And this incensed the students. It was fortunate that the one in command of the riot squad listened to the pleas of Land Authority Governor Conrado Estrella for them to withdraw, and when they withdrew, the students became peaceful. Having that in mind last night, I was telling Major Paralejas there is no use for the police being here. What are you guarding here? There is no property here to be guarded. And his only answer was. “I have no orders from Chief Tamayo.” I pleaded with deputy chief Barbers and he would not even answer me.

And so, when there was a little calm because of the water from the hoses, I approached the students in an effort to gather them and to distract them and to try to get them to go on with their rally. The students lifted me on their shoulders to put me on the balustrade in front of the Capitol. I tried to start speaking, but then the police charged again, and again the students were dispersed.

Finally, I saw Chief Tamayo again on the other side, and this time he agreed to recall his policemen provided the students would stay away. And he did. But no sooner had the policemen of the Manila Police Department gathered, than another group, which I understand was from the Metrocom, came charging with their rattan shields. And they came charging in a most threatening fashion, so much so that even while in front of me they brandishing their night sticks.

I saw  that there was no coordination among the commanders of the different units. Chief Tamayo did not even have control of his men. They did not have walkie talkies when these are standards equipment for riots of this nature. And worse still after a lull, the group that styled themselves the Kabataang Makabayan, held their ground. Linking arms and without moving forward, they just stood there, and again they were charged by the police. Before my own eyes, I saw young college students, including women, being brutally beaten by policemen.

This was not all. From the pictures that we have in the newspapers, here in the Manila Chronicle [showing the newspaper] on the front page, you have a picture of a jeepney. Inside there are about 5 or 6 passengers, some of them apparently women, and outside you have four policemen beating them. One of them was already down on the ground and he was still being beaten.

Another picture which speaks much louder than the words that I could utter here, is a sequence picture. Here is the rush of the policemen against the line of the Kabataang Makabayan. Here you see a youth already down on the ground and here are three policemen holding their sticks with two hands as if they were ready at bat in baseball. And the next picture shows the stick of one policeman hit the youth already down. I think many people saw that last night.

I would like to say for the peace of mind of many parents that, as far as we could ascertain there was no truth to the rumor that anybody was killed, particularly the rumor that the niece of Mr. Teodosio Lansang was hurt. But I saw three very serious cases.

One of them was a student by the name of Victor Javier. Victor Javier is a U. E. student and, by a strange coincidence, this hapless youth comes from Batanes. According to Victor Javier — and this was very difficult to get from him because he was incoherent and could hardly stand — he was in a jeep near the sidewalk along the Muni Golf Links far from the scene of the riot, together with another student. Both of them were snatched from the jeep by Metrocom policemen and once out of the jeep, they were beaten up. And even when he was already on the ground he was still beaten up. Javier was hit on the forehead and he suffered a laceration. No one of the policemen would even take him to the hospital. He pleaded with them to do so but nobody would go near him. It was someone from the Media, someone from the ABS-CBN Network, who brought him to the Philippine General Hospital. An x-ray examination showed that he had suffered contusions in the brain. His uncle, Atty. Ramon Barcelona, went to see him this morning and said he was too weak to stand up and he was vomiting. According to Atty. Barcelona, unfortunately, his nephew was not being attended to. He is now at the U. E. Memorial Hospital and he may need an operation in the brain because of a suspected blood clot in his head.

Benito Vargas was another casualty who was not a demonstrator. He was inside his jeep. The poor fellow was only the driver of one of the jeepneys hired by the demonstrators. He was yanked out of the jeep, hit on the forehead, and is suffering from a hematoma on the left thigh, as a result of which he was not able to stand when he was in the hospital up to this morning.

There were two other serious cases. One was a student from the Feati. I talked to this student. He is a member of the student council of the Feati, a very articulate young man, and to cap it all the Manila Police tried to book him for assault against a person in authority. What injuries did he suffer? Fractured right index finger and he had his right arm in a cast. He had bruises and contusions on the arm and suffered a two-inch laceration on the scalp requiring five stitches. And this man was at an island on Burgos Street away from the scene of the riot. He said that he saw policemen beating people near him. And so by instinct he stooped to pick up a stone in self-defense. Then five policemen ganged up on him and started beating him with their nightsticks. In spite of his plea, the policemen continued beating him. It must be said however that the policemen at the fire truck saved him from the group that attacked him.

Another young man, who was mauled, a student of the Lyceum of the Philippines, is Vicente Ocaya. He was arrested at the so-called Lagusnilad underpass charged with throwing stones at policemen. But he was not booked and no charges were pressed against him because it was said that the arresting officers could not be located. He was beaten up and he sustained the following injuries on the back; eight visible red marks; and also head and leg injuries. Mr. Vicente Ocaya is here and I would like to ask permission for Mr. Ocaya to come forward so that the marks on his back may be seen. [Ocaya came forward to the middle of the Session Hall near Senator Pelaez.] These are the marks [pointing] which were inflicted on this boy. [Counting] One, two, three, four, five. And he said he was beaten on the head three times. He was hit on the right shoulder and on the legs. And this boy was being charged with assaulting an officer of the law!

I could not understand why there was so much brutality. The President left at about six o’clock and the rioting the seesaw battle between the students and the policemen, the Metrocom, the Manila Police and later on the Philippine Constabulary went on. This lasted until about 9 o’clock and the policemen chased the students as far down as Plaza Lawton and Sunken Gardens. I looked again for Mr. Tamayo and again pleaded with him at about 8 o’clock to withdraw his men, but they would not withdraw. They said they were afraid for the Legislative building. I said: “Why don’t you withdraw your men, put them inside the building, but do not stay here. Your presence would provoke the students. And the trouble is when somebody throws a stick at your men, they charge and chase the students as far down as the Muni Links.” Finally, Chief Tamayo came to me and he said: “All right, Mr. Senator, if you announce on the public address system at the lobby here in Congress that the students will withdraw, I will withdraw my men.” And so, I made the announcement and asked the students to withdraw because the policemen were withdrawing. What happened? As I stepped out, from the lobby, I saw that policemen were again charging the students.

It is beyond comprehension, Mr. President. I am not trying to exculpate the students. There is, to my mind, some evidence that there were some provocateurs. One of the student leaders, together with others, made a round of the hospitals — five in all — until late at night because they were checking whether or not there were still others treated, and they found that some of those injured appeared not to be students. For instance, some of them were wearing dirty rubber shoes and sandals. The student leaders described their clothes as “unstudent;” they could not speak straight English when talked to, and could not give the names of their schools. I am convinced that there were some provocateurs, but this did not justify the brutality inflicted upon the innocent students.

With respect to the demonstrators, I would like to say that there was some infiltration; that there were some elements — a very few — who wanted to provoke the police precisely because they wanted to show the nation and the world that the agencies of the government are brutal, and the members of the Manila Police Force fell for this trap.

What happened at the City jail has been referred to by our distinguished colleague from Batangas. We stayed there, Mr. President, from 9:30 in the evening until past three o’clock in the morning. I can imagine what happens to an ordinary citizen who is booked and who does not have somebody like a politician to intercede for him. In spite of the presence of Senators Kalaw, Laurel and myself, the officers at the City jail made so much fues about booking them. Finally, when these poor students were fingerprinted — and they were fingerprinted by what looked to me like a hardened criminal who was in shorts and who was apparently a favorite prisoner or trustee — it took them a long time to look for ink. Then, after that, they looked for the cards and, again, they said they would still have to check the fingerprints with their records. All these took until past three o’clock in the morning.

To go back to the riot, I was wondering where was the Mayor of Manila all this time. Finally, when I saw that nothing could be done, I tried to contact him, and at about 8:00 or 8:30 I was able to get in touch with him. I was informed that he was in his office at City Hall where everything could be witnessed. When I reported to him that his Chief of Police would not withdraw his men, he said he would do something. But, I must say that up to 3:30 in the morning at the city jail we did not see Mayor Villegas — we did not hear from him.

Executive Secretary Maceda was there to look after these students; but he had to call the Secretary of Justice because the inquest fiscal was not there.

I ask why did Chief of Police Tamayo refuse to withdraw his men? Why did Major Paralejas refuse to withdraw his men? Why? There was no property to be guarded there. And I say, as an eyewitness, that the nameplates were not on the shirts of these policemen. The nameplates could be removed by simply pulling them, unlike the nameplates before which were either printed in indelible ink or sewn. These were unremovable nameplates. And when I asked one policeman. “Where is your nameplate?” he said, “It was snatched from me by the rioters.” This was the standard answer of all policemen — that all their nameplates were snatched. I cannot imagine these poor rioters, like Ocaya here snatching the nameplates of these policemen with helmets and night sticks. But in the case of one policeman, I insisted that he show me his nameplate, and he pulled it out of his pocket.

These are the questions that must be looked into. Why was there no control; why was there no coordination among the different officers? Why did Mayor Villegas allow this to go on when there was a clear understanding between him and the students in an agreement that was sealed about a month ago regarding riots that he would see to it that his policemen should have their nameplates? Why was it prescribed that these nameplates should be the removable type instead of the nameplates that we knew were printed or sewn into the uniforms? These are some of the things that must be answered.

True, some students were to blame. But let me inform you, Mr. President, that, as Executive Secretary Maceda informed us, his office and the Security Officer of Malacañang had a hard time having the Police Force of Manila coordinate with the Security Battalion of the President because City Hall would not sit down to coordinate the operation of the Manila Police Force and the Security Force of Malacañang. Why was this so? And what to me is most scandalous is something which has just been reported to me by the distinguished gentleman from Nueva Vizcaya who heard it. He said that in a taped interview, Mayor Villegas had said that he was at his office at City Hall and that he saw everything that had happened; and that he did not withdraw his police forces because what they were doing was right. As proof that, Mayor Villegas even announced that he was giving a day off to these policemen as a reward for a job well done.

Is this how we are going to meet this incipient cancer of brutality? Are we going to reward violence that is totally unjustified? These are questions that must be answered.

Mention has been made here of revolution. God forbid that it should ever come. But let us remember that force begets force, and violence can only lead to violence; that those in authority must always remember that they should exercise power not with arrogance but with humility; that one must prepare to be taunted, but never to lose control of the situation, much less panic or overact as we see in the pictures in today’s papers. But these pictures show only a few cases of brutality. There were more instance of police brutality.

The emergency ward of the Philippine General Hospital reported that they received 42 cases — all male. Let me repeat: All male because, apparently, no female students were hurt or if hurt they did not go there. And of the 42, one was a driver and three were policemen. This contradicts the report that 30 policemen and 30 students were admitted into the Philippine General Hospital.

Again, I cannot finish without making of record my reaction of disgust to the comment of the Chairman of the Police Commission, the man who should be the first to insist that police forces should never use brutality in enforcing the law. I refer to the comment of General Crispin de Castro of the POLCOM, which is in today’s Daily Mirror. He said:

“The action taken by the police yesterday was in line with their duty of 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.”

It would be better if we had no Police Commission if that is the thinking of the man upon whom the law entrusts the supervision of police forces. Mr. De Castro said that in beating up these students the policemen were only discharging their duty of preserving peace and order. I ask: Did they preserve peace and order or did they disrupt the peace themselves? Mr. De Castro emphasized the protection of the President, but I personally saw two hours of rioting not among the students themselves but with the police charging the students as far as the Sunken Gardens, the Muni Golf Links and up to Plaza Lawton — for two and a half hours, and President Marcos was nowhere around. What were they protecting?

Mr. de Castro said that the violence was fast turning a demonstration into a mob. I say: It was the police force of the Government that acted like a mob instead of keeping the peace.

The question then is: What shall we do about this? This is a case that has shocked the nation. It shocks every decent Filipino who never imagined that such brutality could be displayed by our police agencies against students who were demonstrating peacefully. Yes, there were some provocateurs among them but the answer to that is not force, not brutality. They should have used their intelligence to distinguished between the innocent and the guilty and see to it that the innocent do not suffer.

I believe that it is our duty to conduct a most thorough investigation of this matter because, unless we put this out, unless we show the police all over the country that instead of passion and panic they must have conserved respect and even affection for the people, we will never have peace and order.

Today, the image of our police forces is fast turning not as the protector of the people but one whom the people cannot trust. And this is a shocking example. We must act.

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