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I Saw Them Aim and Fire! (more excerpts)

January 29, 2010

By Hermie Rotea

These five 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, came out in April 1970.  The book provides one othe earliest, if not the earliest, eyewitness account 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 9: The Siege of Malacañang

If what had happened on Jan. 26 in front of Congress was bad, what took place on Jan. 30 in front of Malacañang was worst.

Like on Jan. 26, I was up early on that day not so much because I smelled trouble but just a matter of daily routine. The day before five groups had staged separate demonstrations and they all turned out to be peaceful. So there was nothing to be alarmed now – or so I thought.

As planned, two separate groups of demonstrators were scheduled to rally in front of Congress and Malacañang simultaneously. Later in the afternoon the one in Congress would march to the presidential palace and join the other force there.

Practically the same big throng of 40 organizations – 50,000 strong – involved in that bloody Jan. 26 Congress riot, was now participating in the Jan. 30 massive demonstration, in a new gigantic and dramatic display of unity of purpose.

But despite the same big number of demonstrators, everything progressed peacefully as of 5:30 p.m. of that day. Just like on Jan. 26.

Nevertheless President Marcos and the law enforcers as usual took no chances. Just like on Jan. 26, security measures had earlier been mapped out.

To get the cooperation of Mayor Villegas, Mr. Marcos, instead of suspending him as he had threatened for withdrawing his policemen from the duty of policing future demonstrations unless officially requested to help, even bowed to his condition.

In his SOS letter to the mayor, President Marcos directed Villegas to “maintain peace and order with all police personnel at your disposal as well as other agencies of the city government jointly with the Philippine Constabulary if necessary.”

Scoring a victory in his dispute with Malacañang on the city peace and order issue, Mayor Villegas took the Marcos letter to mean that he would have over-all supervision over all local and national police agencies which would be fielded to secure rally sites.

(Such was not the case, however, for as usual it was the Metrocom, and later the generals in the armed forces, who called the shots.)

Security measures were discussed among Mayor Villegas, Col. Gerardo Tamayo, Manila police chief; Col. Mariano Ordoñez, Metrocom chief; and chiefs of other police agencies.

Aside from their operations plan, other steps were taken. Students participating in the demonstrations must display nameplates identifying themselves and their schools. Likewise, policemen must have their nameplates sewed on their uniforms for easy identification in case they commit abuses.

Only a handful of traffic policemen in their blue and white uniforms without firearms would be around. A police prowl car would be stationed on Mendiola St. and another on San Rafael St. as communication relays. But reserved riot squads would remain on red alert at City Hall and police precinct No. 8 to move only when violence erupted.

At Malacañang the presidential guards reinforced by Metrocom troopers, would stay inside the compound about three meters from the fence. All gates would be closed, and wooden barricades would be placed at the gutter outside to clear the sidewalk beside the fence of demonstrators.

On the part of the student rebels, they had their own security men wearing red armbands responsible for the maintenance of peace and order in the demonstration areas. They used walkie-talkies and brought with them snack provisions. The marchers were more organized this time.

The first sign of trouble popped up just before sundown during the march from Congress to Malacañang. Angered by the sight of a police symbol of authority, a group of demonstrators burned a traffic stand at the corner of Ayala and …. De Cornillas Sts.

Later what sounded like firecrackers exploded on the palace grounds – caused by whom, nobody knew.

Then at about 6 o’clock, when President Marcos and the student rebel leaders headed by Edgar Jopson and Portia Ilagan were still locked in a no-holds-barred showdown inside Malacañang, restless demonstrators waiting outside demanded that palace gate lights be put on as it was already getting dark.

Sindihan ang ilaw! Sindihan ang ilaw!” (“Open the lights! Open the lights!”) some shouted.

The presidential guards obliged. But no sooner had the lights been put on, the young rebels became more unruly. Somebody threw a rock at a vapor lamp and smashed it. Others followed with stones and sticks until al the gate bulbs were blasted out one by one, darkening the place again.

As this developed, presidential guards and Metrocom troopers maintained their distance inside the palace grounds, standing by and waiting for orders.

A commotion was now going on at Gate 4 facing Mendiola St. A fire truck inside the palace grounds advanced and trained its hoses on the rioters. They retreated.

A brief lull followed. Then at about 7 o’clock another fire truck coming from the direction of Sta. Mesa passed through Jose P. Laurel St. and rushed to the riot scene. It was MFD fire engine No. 10, which responded to an alarm.

Upon reaching St. Jude Church the fire truck slowed down. The firemen apparently tried to train their water canons on the young rebels. Unluckily for them their hoses failed to operate.

Seeing that only an ineffectual sputtering came out of their water canons, the students charged. Like commandoes they leaped at the fire truck which was now trying to back out and escape.

But it was too late. By now the young rebels were swarming all over the beleaguered vehicle. They mauled the firemen who were not quick enough to flee.

Now in full control, the insurgents commandeered the fire truck and drove it toward Gate 4 of Malacañang facing Mendiola St. Upon reaching the gate the students rammed the fire truck against it until the locks gave way, the chains broke, and the gate clanked open.

Once the breach was made, the more daring demonstrators stampeded into the palace grounds. They planted an inverted Filipino flag with the red color up symbolizing their being “at war,” on the fire truck.

When the fire engine reached about ten meters from the broken gate, the rioters quickly poured gasoline on it and ignited it into flames.

The unruly demonstrators likewise burned two other cars parked inside the palace grounds. As smokes thickened inside the beleaguered presidential palace, other insurgents lobbed Molotov bombs, rocks, stones, and pillboxes at nearby buildings.

In the process, glasses and windows of the new Budget Commission building and the clinic building were smashed. Fire almost engulfed the infirmary but was quickly extinguished.

As the braver rioters rained Malacañang with Molotov bombs and rocks and stones, outside other demonstrators were also busy causing damage.

Back at Gate 4, the young rebels set fire on a waiting shed. Others dragged the guardhouse up to Arlegui St. and burned it there. At the main palace gate, the young rebels destroyed the telephone booth near the presidential guard battalion outpost with Molotov bombs.

From the outside, it seemed that the young rebels had taken over Malacañang already.

Further in downtown Manila, along the wide Quezon Blvd. in busy Quiapo and other crowded areas where detour signs were posted, rerouted bus and jeepney commuters on their way home from work were wondering what was happening down there in Malacañang.

Rumors flew thick and fast among passengers that fierce fighting between demonstrators and soldiers had broken out inside the presidential palace. The news broadcast by mouth and through the radio electrified the people.

Back at the beleaguered Malacañang, the student rebels were still causing havoc inside the compound. They rampaged through the palace grounds as if it were nobody’s business.

The militant youths filtered gasoline from the station across the street and filled up empty bottles for their Molotov bombs. They practically had a field day throwing them and other crude weapons, setting fire and breaking glasses.

President Marcos had just broken up his fruitless conference with student rebel leaders headed by Jopson and Ilagan when the unruly demonstrators started rioting.

As the Jopson-Ilagan delegation stepped out of the executive building, they were advised not to exit through the front entrance because the gates were already closed and that it was dangerous.

So presidential aides led by Lino Illera, a palace assistant on student affairs, escorted the group through the backdoor and across the Pasig River to safety.

Back at the palace, President Marcos – no stranger to fighting and violence – put on his helmet and succumbed to the irresistible urge to view the trouble now raging inside the palace compound.

As the Commander–in–Chief, reputedly a sharp-shooter and the nation’s most decorated soldier, watched the fighting, a helicopter stood by for possible evacuation.

All along the elite Presidential Guard Battalion, reinforced by Metrocom troopers in full battle-gear, held their fire and waited for orders.

Finally the Commander-in-Chief called Metrocom chief, Col. Mariano Ordoñez, to his side and gave the order: “Disperse the mob!”

At President Marcos’ command, the crack Presidential Guard Battalion and about 400 Metrocom soldiers in their white helmets now came out in full force.

They fired warning shots into the air as they advanced. But the young rebels held their ground. Seeing that the rioters were calling the bluff, the state troopers this time fired tear gas bombs at them.

As the deadly gas hit their side, many demonstrators were blinded. This forced them to retreat, but many fell into government hands.

The soldiers charged, and during their advance they beat up rioters they had just caught with rifle butts and billy clubs. Some applied the good old-fashioned fists and feet.

In the fierce fighting that broke out, both sides suffered injuries. Several media men who covered the clashes behind the soldier’s line, were also wounded.

When the palace grounds were finally cleared of demonstrators, Metrocom troopers rushed out of Malacañang in hot pursuit of fleeing students, still hurling tear gas bombs at them.

Now in full control of the situation, state troopers sealed off the executive building and deployed inside and outside the presidential palace, ready for any counter-attack.

They also blockaded the areas around Malacañang to make the palace secure and out of the range of attacking forces.

It was now past nine o’clock in the evening, and the City Hall permit issued the demonstrators had already expired. Using this as reason, the authorities pleaded to the students to go home.

But instead of heeding their advice and warning, the young rebels answered by continuing their rampage throwing at the government side Molotov bombs and pillboxes.

On Mendiola St. leading to Palace Gate No. 4, they burned six vehicles – three private jeeps, a passenger bus, a passenger jeepney, and a motorcycle to demonstrate their defiance of the authorities.

The areas surrounding Malacañang now looked like a battle zone, reminiscence of the last world war. Worried by the deteriorating situation, and fearing a massive counter attack, authorities called for reinforcements.

In due time, truckloads after truckloads of soldiers in full battle-gear from Camp Aguinaldo, Camp Crame, Fort Bonifacio, Nichols Field, Philippine Navy headquarters, and from far-off Camp Olivas, Pampanga, rushed to Malacañang.

As smokes of initial clashes still blanketed the vicinity, even AFP generals were drawn to the battle scene.

No less than Gen. Manuel Yan, chief of staff; Brig. Gen. Vicente Raval, constabulary chief; arrived at the palace.

They rushed to Malacañang together with crack units from the army, navy, air force, and constabulary to reinforce the out numbered but fully-armed Presidential Guard Battalion and Metrocom troopers.

Spearheading the reinforcements were contingents from the First Tabak Division, the only battle-ready and fully-equipped armed forces unit; and the Task Force Lawin, the veteran anti-Huk outfit in Central Luzon, the hotbed of dissidence, whose commander, Brig. Gen. Rosso Saballones, himself led the dash to Manila.

State troopers in their assorted uniforms, armed with armalites, garands, carbines, sub-machineguns and side pistols now massed in front of Malacañang’s Gate 4 facing Mendiola St., the main line of retreat of the student rebels. Other units deployed up to San Miguel Brewery plant.

Further down the wide thoroughfare up to Mendiola Bridge and across Legarda St. and Claro M. Recto Ave., the head and tail of the Jan. 30 Movement – 50,000 strong – still occupied the areas.

Between the government forces and the young rebels was a deserted portion of Mendiola St. in front of La Consolacion College up to Mapa High School, which was now transformed into a veritable no-man’s land.

This was how the situation stood on that Friday night of Jan.30, as the Battle of Mendiola was about to begin.#

Chapter 10: The Battle of Mendiola

My personal eye-witness account of the Battle of Mendiola was published in The Manila Times and Taliba, the most-widely circulated English and Pilipino dailies, respectively, on Feb. 2 entitled “Behind the Barricades: I SAW THEM AIM AND FIRE!” and “Gabi ng Riot.”

It follows:

I was behind the student lines on that bloody Friday night, and with my own eyes saw the young demonstrators being shot down like dogs.

The claim that the soldiers merely fired warning shots in the air is only partly true. I saw them aim and fire at the demonstrators.

I marched, advanced, and retreated with the young rebels – from Congress, Malacañang along Mendiola St., and finally down to C. M. Recto Ave. And in the one-sided pitch battles that broke out, I saw and heard the cries and groans of those who fell.

I saw last Friday the dreaded face of revolution, as the young demonstrators, armed only with stones and iron bars, clashed with government soldiers in full battle gear, only to be overrun, killed, dispersed, or caught like trapped animals.

From storming Malacañang, where they had waved an inverted Philippine flag to symbolize their being “at war,” they retreated and regrouped on Mendiola St., filling the wide thoroughfare from the Mapa High School to the corner of Legarda, across Mendiola bridge.

There must have been about 50,000 of those young people who converged on that area spilling to C. M. Recto Ave., in front of University of the East. Although those on Mendiola St. were prepared for the arrest, there was curiously a festive mood in the air as many groups chatted happily, obviously not anticipating the danger ahead.

The more militant, however, were shouting and burning or smashing vehicles and police outposts. Mercury vapor lamps were stoned. The iron fence on the island of Recto Ave. was torn down and the grills rooted out.

From where I stood, behind the student lines, I saw the anti-riot squads and troopers mass at the corner of J. P. Laurel Ave. and Mendiola St., in front of Malacañang’s Gate 4.

The government attack came at about 10 p.m. I saw two fire trucks with blinding headlights, advance slowly on the demonstrators; while troops trotted behind.

Upon reaching the front of Holy Spirit College, the two fire trucks turned on their hoses and trained these on the vanguard of the demonstrators deployed in front of the Mapa high School, drenching some and forcing them to retreat.

Huwag kayong tatakbo!” (“Don’t run!”) the leaders ordered, as the troops continued to inch toward them.

The youths stood their ground, with only stones and iron bars in their hands.

When the two forces were less than a hundred yards of each other in front of Mapa High School, the youths started pelting the advancing soldiers with stones. At the same time, they hurled invectives and taunts at the helmeted anti-riot squads and soldiers. The latter were calm at this state of provocations.

When they saw the demonstrators refuse to budge although they were now just a few meters from each other, the soldiers stopped. They fired shots in the air apparently to scare the youths.

Walang bala yan! Huwag kayong tatakbo!” (“They’re only using blanks. Stay where you are!”), the demonstration leaders said. The demonstrators nervously held their ground.

It must have been then that the troops realized that they could not disperse the demonstrators by merely dousing them with water or firing warning shots in the air.

Another volley rang out. This time the demonstrators scattered up and scampered toward the bridge. While they retreated I saw some fall, then rise and limo away under new bursts of gunfire.

Upon seeing their companions fall, some demonstrators rushed back to lift the casualties. Those whom they could not retrieve fell into the hands of the troops and anti-riot squads.

As the youths ran for their lives toward Mendiola bridge, they would stop and throw stones at their charging troops.

I then saw anti-riot squad men club some of the wounded demonstrators they had just caught although they were obviously helpless and could not resist, and drag the back like slaughtered animals.

May bala pala! May tinamaan sa atin!” (“They are using live bullets! Some of us were hit!”) I heard fleeing demonstrators warning their companions waiting on Mendiola bridge.

Baril! Baril! Kumuha tayo ng baril! Revolution na ito!” (“Guns! Guns! Let’s get guns! This is revolution already!”), I heard others shout.

Bumaba na sana ngayon ang mga Huks. I don’t care anymore!” I heard this from another young man.

The demonstrators must have realized then that the government meant business.

By this time they had been pushed back to Mendiola bridge. The see-saw battle was an hour old.

I retreated to the bridge myself and turned right on Legarda toward Gastambide. The other students fled to Recto Ave. and to Legarda.

During the retreat, I saw scores of apparently dead or wounded demonstrators being carried by their companions to safety.

I shuddered seeing one young man with a bullet wound on the forehead being carried away by four youths down Recto Ave. toward the UE.

I found myself with a big crowd at Gastambide. On reaching the front of the Mary Chiles hospital, I saw two injured youths being carried inside.

Because I could still hear shots, I continued running with the crowd. Upon reaching Lepanto, I paused to catch my breath. Then I walked towards España where I came upon two young men directing traffic. I looked around. There was not a single policeman in sight.

I proceeded to FEU hospital where another big crowd was massed. There I saw half-a-dozen wounded demonstrators being rushed in by two taxicabs.

I heard more shots or what sounded like explosion. I gathered enough courage and proceeded to Recto Ave. in front of UE, where I presumed the action must be, and there I found the demonstrators busy lighting bonfires in the middle of the street.

Other groups were busy at the gasoline pumps of the gas station in front of UE, filling bottles with gasoline to fashion Molotov cocktails.

A few meters away, an army 6 x 6 truck and a private car smoldered nearby. People were running and shouting all over the place; others merely watched from the sidewalks.

The houses and the stores in the vicinity were closed and dark although I could felt their occupants peering through half-closed windows and doors.

It was almost midnight and things had quieted down a bit. I sensed, however, that the ominous silence was the calm before the final storm. Although I could not clearly see them in the dark, the government forces had already taken position on Mendiola bridge preparatory to the final assault.

I left the “battlefield” feeling tired, and sad.

*  *  *

Before The Manila Times and Taliba published this exclusive report of mine in English and Tagalog versions on Feb. 2, no less than Publisher “Chino” Roces read it first and then cross-examined me.

He had just been called to Malacañang together with other publishers of metropolitan dailies for a conference with President Marcos who appealed to them for cooperation in toning down news of student unrest in order not to fan the fires of revolution.

Later, when Mr. Marcos saw Rep. Joaquin Roces in Malcañang, he asked the former Manila Times columnist why he had allowed my eye-witness report to come out in his family’s newspaper.

As Roces later succinctly put it in a private conversation with some newsmen at the House press gallery why he had not been playing the role of a Marcos defender, he said:

“I am only a congressman.”#

Chapter 11: Chaos in Downtown Manila

The whole nation laid wake on that bloody night of Jan. 30 as student rebels stormed Malacañang, then clashed with soldiers in the Battle of Mendiola, and finally extended their hit-and-run fighting in the dark street and alleys of Manila.

As fierce street fighting ripped across the city from night till dawn, leaving in its wake dead and wounded casualties from both sides, a shocked people trembled at the thought of revolution.

At about midnight, government forces captured the Mendiola bridge. From military view point, its falling into government hands strengthened their position and turned the tide against the rebels.

Thus from this bridge, no less than Gen. Manuel Yan, armed forces chief of staff, directed the final assault on the retreating students.

Two congressmen – Reps. Ramon Bagatsing and Teodulo Natividad – showed up at the bridge to make an on-the-spot assessment of the situation.

Bagatsing represented the “war-torn” third district of Manila, while Natividad had just been made co-chairman of the special Senate-House committee investigating the Jan. 26 Congress riot.

While Gen. Yan directed the final assault on the remnants of the rebel movement who were still at Recto Ave. in front of the University of the East, mopping up operation was going on around the Mendiola bridge.

In the darkness, caused by the destruction earlier of the Meralco electric main transformer, soldiers rounded up youths during the chase, beat them up and dragged them back to their side.

The nearby San Beda College posed as a special problem to the troops engaged in the mopping up operation. About 200 youths had sought refuge within the safety of its tall abode walls and school buildings.

Because it was a private property, the soldiers peering through the closed gate scratched their heads figuring out what to do – whether to gate-rash it and round up the boys inside at the risk of trespassing, or simply wait for them to come out.

To be sure, those holed up in San Beda College could give the military authorities who had taken position on Mendiola bridge some trouble, because they were within striking distance.

Finally, the suspense was broken. Somebody from the inside, carrying a white flag, appeared. Then Rector Fr. Oligario came out and assured Metrocom officers that those holed up inside were San Beda students and meant no harm.

As this developed, the battle for Mendiola bridge was not yet over. Suddenly what used to be an insignificant piece of real estate became a much-coveted property.

Fierce battle still raged for the possession of Mendiola bridge. After constabulary and army troops had overrun the young rebels on this bridge and engaged them in a see-saw battle, now the rebels threatened to give them a dose of their own medicine.

In a desperate counter-offensive to recapture Mendiola bridge, young insurrectionists commandeered a Yujuico bus and drove it toward the beleaguered bridge.

Behind, students who had regrouped cheered the motorized kamikaze attack. But soldiers manning the army barricades on the bridge fired at the advancing bus and halted it.

Its rear then burst into flames just as it almost rammed the soldiers’ barricades.

It was now past midnight. Sporadic gunfire and explosions could be heard within the vicinity of Mendiola bridge from where I stood, still behind the student lines.

I decided to cross the student lines and reach the government side to see how it looks there. But instead of going straight to Mendiola bridge from UE and be mistaken for a sniper, I circled to play safe.

On Recto Ave. in front of UE I turned back to Lepanto St. Upon reaching that small street I turned left, and then left again when I reached Raon. From that corner I proceeded to San Sebastian Church. Finally I reached the corner of Legarda and San Rafael Sts.

There for the first time, I saw the soldiers at close range. Perhaps it was the same soldiers who chased and fired at us earlier that evening as I retreated with the students at the height of the Battle of Mendiola – I was not sure.

But they sure looked tired and hungry. The scars of battle were evident in their faces. Some simply slumped on the dark sidewalks, resting their rifles beside them. They seemed unperturbed by the presence of onlookers.

Finally at the crack of dawn, the final assault began.  From Mendiola bridge and behind the army barricades came out state troopers in full battle-gear.

They advanced in two-column formation, single file, and headed toward UE along Recto Ave., inching their way on both sidewalks across the darkened thoroughfare.

Upon seeing the soldiers, the young rebels – who earlier had caused havoc in the area by burning vehicles, uprooting the iron fence on the center island of Recto Ave., and dragging huge flower pots across the street to serve as barricades – fought back with Molotov bombs, rocks and other crude weapons.

But they were no match to the fully-armed soldiers. Realizing their exercise in futility, the rebels retreated down to Quezon Blvd. and into the heart of downtown Manila.

Closed on their heels came the advancing state troopers who now captured the area in front of UE along Recto Ave. In their mopping up operation there, they flushed out a big group holed up inside the university compound.

By this time, during the unholy hours of the morning, the retreating rebels rampaged through the streets of downtown Manila. Just as they had done the night before, they marched and shouted “Revolution! Revolution!”

Others chanted “Sumama kayong lahat sa rebolusyon!” (“Join the Revolution!”)

Some vowed “Ibagsak si Marcos!” (“Down with Marcos”).

Hundreds of commuters and late-movie-goers were stranded in downtown Manila. Afraid bus and jeepney drivers refused to ply their routes.

While state troopers had captured new areas and taken positions there, students and youths at the “liberated areas” were still in full control of the streets.

They stopped jeepneys, taxicabs and private cars entering the “liberated area” and ordered their drivers to turn back.

At the opposite side, soldiers with their M-14s ready, were also stopping every bus, jeepney and private vehicle in search for student rebels.

As mass arrest continued in the dark alleys of San Miguel, Sampaloc and Quiapo districts, anarchy broke loose.

Maddened by their defeat, young rebels fleeing for their lives stoned buildings, smashed window glasses, and burned vehicles they came across along their route of retreat.

In Quiapo where 24-hour coffee shops and restaurants suddenly closed, looting was rampant at the Lacson underpass. Looters also ransacked other city establishments elsewhere.

The rioters destroyed glass panes, set fire on the police outpost beside Quiapo Church, and knocked out traffic signal lights at the corner of Carriedo and Rizal Ave.

From the corner of Legarda and San Rafael Sts., I had already walked through Arlegui, Quiapo area, and was now on my way to Rizal Ave.

From the corner of Quezon Blvd. and Raon Sts., I could see a vehicle burning along Recto Ave. near Cinerama Theater.

I walked through Raon St. When I reached the corner of Rizal Ave., I saw a police traffic stand in the middle of the street burning. I approached a group and asked what happened, and was told that earlier a traffic policeman who saw a mob coming ran to Raon St. toward Florentino Torres St. The mob set it on fire.

On Rizal Ave. in front of State Theater, I saw another group rip off a bronze marker from the center island which proclaimed that this main thoroughfare was cemented through the effort of Mayor Antonio Villegas, and trampled it like a scrap of paper.

At the corner of Rizal Ave. and Bustos St., another group of rebels saw red at the sight of a police alarm installation, symbol of authority.

This they started hitting with their clubs with intent to destroy. But the red apparatus survived their beating as they got tired of hitting it.

A horrified night watch guard posted on the sidewalk of the Good Earth Emporium saw what happened, and when the same group approached him he immediately threw up his hands in surrender and cried: “Hindi ako lalaban!” (“I am not fighting you!”)

Just as some were about to gang up on him, cooler heads shouted: “Huwag! Hindi kalaban yan!” (“Don’t! He is not an enemy!”)

As I went home after that bloody night of Jan. 30, following what seemed like an eternity of terror, with the crack of gunfire and Molotov bombs still reverberating in my ears, with the smell of smokes and tear gas fumes still in my nostril, and with the dreaded face of revolution still staring at me, a sudden flashback ran across my mind.

Now I could not help but recall, as though it was only yesterday, what happened during the last world war when I was still a kid. Chaos broke out in Manila as Japanese troops pounded on its very doors.

The thought of the advancing enemy forces entering Manila, now declared an open city to spare it from further bombing, gripped the people with horror.

In the bedlam that broke loose, rampant looting followed the evacuation. Store owners fled for their lives and left their goods at the mercy of looters.

Later, at the sight of the enemy, civilians scampered to all directions and away from the advancing Japanese troops. The streets and sidewalks of downtown Manila were thus full of fleeing people.

That was sometime in 1942 during the early stage of world war two. In 1945, a similar tragic event took place. This time the once invincible conquerors, with a  touch of irony, were now preparing to make a last stand as Gen. MacArthur’s liberation forces closed in on the beleaguered city.

That afternoon chaos again broke loose in Manila, and as usual the hardest hit was business establishments. Rampant looting followed the mass confusion just before sunset.

That night advance units of the crack First U.S. Cavalry Division entered Manila and immediately captured Santo Tomas University where American prisoners of war were concentrated.

In the fierce fighting that broke out within our neighborhood, we found ourselves caught in the crossfire between the advancing American troops and the retreating Japanese soldiers.

When a mortar shell hit our neighbor’s roof and set fire on the house, we dashed out of P. Paredes St. with our push-cart full of belongings. As I pushed it across Quezon Blvd. toward Central Market, which was then only an open clearing where American troops had dug foxholes and aimed trench mortars and canons at Far Eastern University building nearby and at Intramuros across the Pasig River, bullets almost grazed me as I ran . . .

All this horrible war experience now suddenly flashed across my mind, after that bloody night of Jan. 30, following the Siege of Malacañang, next the Battle of Mendiola, and finally the chaos that broke out in downtown Manila.

Then, as on that night during the war, I found myself running with the frightened crowds in the dark streets and alleys of the city, fearful of the unknown, knowing that danger was lurking at every corner, and realizing that at that very moment, history was being written.#

Chapter 12: Martial Law

As the nation was pushed to “the trembling edge of revolution,” the big question of the moment was: “Will President Marcos impose martial law or suspend the writ of habeas corpus?”

Martial law is military rule. It is imposed in an area where civilian rule had collapsed or is about to collapse. Under martial law, the military has the power of life and death over the people.

Article VII, Section 11, of the Constitution vests in the President the power to impose martial law during an emergency. In such an eventuality, as Commander-in-Chief he becomes the military ruler. In effect, he becomes a dictator.

In the Philippines, the power to impose martial law is vested solely in the President, unlike in the United States where it is split between Congress and the President.

Writ of habeas corpus is of lesser degree. It protects the civil rights of the people, particularly against arrest or detention of more than six hours without a formal charge being filed.

Exception is the charge of sedition, in which case the accused may be detained for more than the statutory limitation of six hours or for as long as 18 hours.

To suspend the writ of habeas corpus, as what happened during the Quirino administration, is to deal a dangerous blow to the other freedoms; to impose martial law, is to knock out the entire Bill of Rights and establish a dictatorship.

To impose martial law or to suspend the writ of habeas corpus was thus the big question that haunted President Marcos during those agonizing moments in Malacañang because of that horrifying night of Jan. 30.

As he pondered over the painful situation, and as the smokes of battle cleared, five were confirmed dead in that bloodiest demonstration ever held in the country. They were:

  1. Fernando Tausa, 16, of Mapa High School.
  2. Fernando Catabay, 18, of Manuel L. Quezon University.
  3. Ricardo Alcantara, 19, of University of the Philippines.
  4. Felicisimo Roldan, 21, of Far Eastern University.
  5. Samuel Carreon, 28, of University of the East.

Aside from these five fatalities, over 200 persons were injured, 5 missing, 293 arrested for sedition, and about P1 million worth of property was destroyed.

All the dead victims suffered gunshot wounds, while most of those injured were also shot, others truncheoned.

Of the wounded victims, 17 were Manila policemen, 14 Metrocom troopers, and 2 newspapermen. The rest were demonstrators, while a few were bystanders.

Of those arrested for sedition, Fernando Barican, Jr., chairman of the University of the Philippines student council, led the list.

The following day the newspapers as usual screamed with big headlines and the photos, while the people reeled under the impact of the most violent youth uprising that ever exploded in the history of this republic.#

Chapter 13: Tales of Horror

The nightmare of Jan. 30 easily rivaled Edgar Allan Poe’s tales of horror or Rip Van Winkle’s believe-it-or-not items.

For the Filipinos, the battle of Manila was their baptism to the turbulent confrontation between the young rebels and the Establishment.

Now, in the aftermath of that terrifying night, came the sound and the fury of an angry Young Generation demanding justice for their dead.

For those who died on that night of Jan. 30, all martyrs to their cause, were shot and killed in cold blood, there was no denying it.

But who shot them, was the big question now. The students pointed an accusing finger at the soldiers whom they said had fired at them pointblank during their demonstration.

But their angry charges met vehement denials from military authorities who insisted that communist infiltrators had committed the murder to inflame the people against the government.

Spearheading the condemnation of military brutality was Fernando Barican Jr., chairman of the University of the Philippines student council, who was himself arrested and charged with sedition following that night of Jan. 30.

After his provisional release from PC stockade, the fiery student leader called an emergency meeting at the UP campus, cradle of national leaders, after which the entire student population there unanimously adopted a declaration against the Establishment.

Without mincing words, their manifesto branded the gory incidents of Jan. 26 and 30 as the “most criminal betrayal of the people’s clamor for change – change in the economic, social and political provinces of our national setup.”

The UP declaration continued:

“We express disgust over the growing use of force as evidenced by the mockery of elections in Batanes, Ilocos Sur, and Marinduque and the suppression of civil liberties in Central Luzon.

“No one has forgotten the Lapiang Malaya and Jabidah massacres and the Oct. 24, 1966, movement.

“The UPSC makes no denial that a few students were harsh in their methods of achieving their cause. But it believes that under no guise of law can acts of the policemen, Metrocom agents, soldiers, and the PC justify the brutal murder committed.

“The UPSC fears no Congress investigation. It expresses its most sincere desire to participate and cooperate. But it demands that the officers-in-charge of the military team detained to guard Malacañang on the night of Jan. 30 be summoned before Congress to be subjected to investigation on the death of students.

“The UPSC shall preserve the integrity of the university. It shall oppose all acts from within and without which attempt to paralyze state universities from free thinking and living up to its rule as catalyst for change.”

The inseparable team of Edgar Jopson, president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines, and Portia Ilagan, president of the National Students League, also denounced the authorities for the Jan. 30 tragedy.

In another joint statement, they strongly opposed any move of President Marcos to curtail civil liberties or declare martial law in the Philippines.

They condemned the use of high-powered arms like Armalites and Thompson, sub-machinegun in suppressing the students during their Jan. 30 Malacañang demonstration.

Denying that their groups were a party to the riot, Jopson and Ilagan nevertheless warned that the administration might use the present conditions as an excuse to perpetrate witch-hunts that could place student dissenters in danger.

The two student rebel leaders stressed that in the wake of all this, the only alterative left was “peaceful or violent revolution.”

Nelson Navarro, spokesman of the Movement for a Democratic Philippines, viewed “with alarm the Red scare that President Marcos has just unleashed against the Filipino people.”

He continued:

“While military harassment and ideological slander are not entirely unknown to the progressive sector of our country, this latest incursion of President Marcos into the beleaguered constitutional rights of the people cannot help but mean that Fascism has indeed established to protect Marcos and his kind from the justified wrath of the people.

“The culpability of the Marcos administration is doubly condemnable for its gross hypocrisy and deception. It has consistently denied the existence of just and legitimate grievances coming from the majority of the Filipino people. It has closed its eyes to a political system distinguished for its corruption, puppetry and opportunism.”

Crispin Aranda, chairman of the Youth League Against Fascism and president of the student council of the Philippine College of Commerce, said:

“We denounce the malicious attempts of Marcos and the military to white-wash the criminal role of their agents in the Jan. 30 massacre of students.

“The soldiers and policemen who were responsible for the heinous crime against our youth may remain unpunished for they enjoy the protection of the fascistic government of Marcos.

“Unknown to them, perhaps, these trigger-happy butchers have produced martyrs whose death will further galvanize the surging mass actions of students, workers, and peasants.”

The Kabataang Makabayan and the Samahan ng Demokratikong Kabataan squarely blamed the PC, Special Forces, Task Force Lawin, Metrocom and police for the death of five students on Jan. 30.

“They were unforgivably responsible for the death of student demonstrators who were shot in the back by well-camouflaged army snipers while fleeing from the attacking columns of soldiers.

“There is no doubt that the intention of the armed agents of the state was to physically eliminate the military demonstrators who dared to expose and fight the fascistic government of Marcos.

“Mr. Marcos will never succeed in washing off from his hands the blood of student victims no matter how he evades the issues of fascism and police brutality leveled against him.”

The National Students Association of the Philippines also charged President Marcos with “indulging in witch-hunting and McCarthyism” for claiming that the riot in Malacañang was “communist-inspired.”

“We strongly deny that the massive student demonstration in Malacañang was committed by leftist elements,” the NASP said.

The Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), through Salvador Araneta, former secretary of agriculture and president of Araneta University, also joined the outcry against the Jan. 30 tragedy. He said:

“I was greatly affected and feel sad that four young lives had to be immolated to the crusade for change. As chairman of the Philconsa committee on reforms, we join hands with NUSP leaders in their further assessment that the bitter lesson of that Friday tumult is that there is no other choice but to change society and political institutions that made possible this violence.”

As various groups angrily ganged up on the Marcos administration and demanded that it account for what happened on Jan. 30, tales of how the dead victims of military atrocities fell in the night unfolded and further shocked the nation.

A grieving father of Bernardo Tausa, 16, of Mapa High School, who was felled by a bullet, said his son was on his way to the Mercury drugstore at the corner of Recto Ave. and Legarda St. when fighting broke out.

Bernardo died from a bullet wound in the chest at the Jose Reyes Memorial Hospital.

Fernando Catabay, 18, of Manuel L. Quezon University, succumbed to a single bullet wound on the side of his body – according to his father Juan Catabay.

“He was never involved in any demonstration before until yesterday when invited by friends to Malacañang,” the elder Catabay recalled.

Ricardo Alcantara, 19, University of the Philippines, a first-year A.B. student and son of The Manila Times warehouse manager Jesus Alcantara, suffered mortal bullet wound in the face.

According to his aunt Dolores Alcantara, Ricardo at first hesitated to join the demonstration but since the site was along the way to their house, he joined the Malacañang rallyists.

Felicisimo Roldan, 21, of Far Eastern University, was walking along Mendiola St. that evening of Jan. 30 with his younger brother Mario.

In the crossfire that followed, Mario said he saw his brother collapse after a volley of gunfire. As Mario dragged his wounded brother who was hit in the right arm, he himself got hit in the right arm but survived.

As for the many other demonstrators who also suffered gunshot wounds and other injuries caused by truncheons but also luckily survived the Mendiola massacre, their tales of brutality were equally horrifying.

But despite strong evidence of military atrocities, armed forces authorities washed their hands off the killing of the five students at the height of the bloodiest demonstration that ever rocked the country.

Initial army findings showed that .22 caliber guns were weapons used in snuffing out the lives of the victims as evidenced by the slugs found in their bodies.

Since the soldiers were armed with higher caliber guns, it was pointed out that they could not have been the ones who shot and killed the five students.

At any rate, Gen. Manuel Yan, AFP chief of staff, ordered that the autopsy on the five slain students be thoroughly conducted and expedited to ascertain further if there were other types of guns used in their killing.

President Marcos cleared the security forces of any blame for their death, although he stressed that the riots had given them enough provocation which, from the legal point of view, could have given the soldiers an excuse to shoot them down.

“Imagine what the military would have done if I had lost my cool,” Mr. Marcos said.

As the commander-in-chief absolved the soldiers from any responsibility in the death of the five students even as Gen. Yan ordered further probe of the case, the Manila police came up with different findings.

According to Dr. Angelo Singian, medico-legal officer of the Manila Police Department, the victims were all felled by bullets fired from high-powered weapons!

Dr. Singian, who had just autopsied the bodies of the victims, thus contradicted military claims that the students were killed by bullets from .22 caliber guns.

He disclosed that on the contrary Alcantara was hit by a bullet from a high-powered weapon, while the other victims were shot with guns no lower in power than .38s.

Standard military arms were the Armalite M-14 and M-16, caliber .225, .32 caliber carbines, .30 caliber Garand rifles, and .38 and .45 caliber pistols and revolvers.

Notwithstanding the Manila police’s adverse findings, Brig. Gen. Vicente Raval, chief of the Philippine Constabulary, insisted that the fatalities of the Jan. 30 riot were shot by the students themselves to win the people’s sympathy.

The close crony of President Marcos explained that “this was then the pattern – demonstrators killing some of their members to dramatize it and gain public sympathy.” He added:

“In Rome, the demonstrators killed one of their members and carried the body along the streets during the five-day rally. This was also the pattern in other countries which I have visited.”

Raval debunked the findings of the Manila police that the five students were felled by high-caliber firearms, not by .22 caliber guns as military authorities had earlier claimed. He said:

“That’s not true! Had I ordered the shooting, you can just imagine how many students would have been killed by just one platoon aiming their guns at them.

“In fact I commended my men because they were able to control themselves and they did not fire their guns despite the fact that many of them were hurt by stoning.

“Why should I allow my men to fire at those students when I have also seven children and those demonstrators were like my sons?

“In fact, when I saw a wounded student bleeding all over his face, it seemed that I could see the face of my own son.”

Asked to comment on the Raval statement that the five dead victims of the Jan. 30 bloody riot were shot by the demonstrators themselves to arouse public sympathy, a now different Gen. Yan shouted:

“No, no, no! No demonstrator was apprehended with any high-caliber weapon. The only confiscation was a cal. .22 paltik and a 9 mm pistol. The autopsies showed that three of the victims were felled by .38 slugs and the fourth a high-caliber bullet.”

Thus to the surprise of the people, Gen. Yan contradicted President Marcos and PC Chief Raval, and supported the finding of the Manila police!#

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