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“Siege of Malacañang”

January 29, 2010

By Ceres Alabado

This is Chapter 6  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.

We got off our jeep at the corner of the Freedom Park area where several Red Cross vans and hospital ambulances were parked. Standing outside these vehicles and licking Magnolia ice cream and popsicles were Red Cross volunteers in white gowns and doctors and nurses in their medical uniforms. This was how mercifully the State was preparing for the police truncheons, I thought.

There was but a small crowd of students massed on JP Laurel Street in front of the great middle gate of the Palace. Tony and I walked across Freedom Park which was quite empty except for some media men, radio-TV or newspaper reporters strolling around, some equipped with their cameras. Mass media vans were scattered around this area too. On a wide-open window of a house facing the crowd was perched a television camera so big that I had at first glance mistaken it for a machine-gun.

We stood at the edge of this small crowd. I could see the banners and streamers of the UE, FEU, MOSTURE, and other university groups. A man standing on a little platform directly in front of the gate was talking in an impassioned voice. Suddenly he cried out:

“Are we ready to die?”

“We’re ready to die!” the crowd roared.

“Wait! Wait!” someone beside me shouted, drowning the other voices around me. “Wait for the others. We are very few!”

Some colegialas in uniforms, for there were a few of them, pushed their way out from the inner crowd and scampered away. The speaker continued his talk on the brutality of the police and the repressive measures of the State under Marcos which was showing a growing pattern of militarism.

The sun had gone down. Tony and I walked leisurely up and down the empty street away from the crowd. All kinds of food and drinks were readily at hand; vendors were having a field day. Peanut vendors. Ice cream carts. Gulaman stands. Soft drinks in boxes.

Tony amused himself reading the placards lined up on the Park concrete embankment.

“Hey, hey, look at this,” he called, “read it”:

DOROY VALENCIA, TUTA NI MARCOS

LEON O. TY, WALA NA KAMING PANIWALA SA IYO

RAFAEL YABUT, BABOY NI MARCOS

We giggled and giggled as we read them over and over.

Although we didn’t see any of the riot squads around, we did see a few policemen having some fun with a couple of foreign newsmen who were snapping pictures of us students. There were some boys posing with their placards as they sat right in the middle of the still unoccupied portion of Laurel Street. The biggest placard read: THE MOST CORRUPT GOVERNMENT: MARCOS PUPPET.

Then came a girl’s voice through the loudspeaker on the platform.

“I am the girl you saw in the newspapers, my legs just barely inside the jeep, you know, while the riot police were hitting away at us inside the jeep with their truncheons.”

There was a roar of laughter and shouting. I couldn’t see the girl who was speaking but sure enough I’d seen that picture of the jeep and the girl’s legs bare up to the thighs, dangling out of the jeep’s opening while truncheons were flailing away all over. “So she was the one,” I said out loud to Tony.

Suddenly all eyes were turned to the street past us, to an approaching, marching group carrying the Philippine College of Commerce banner. This included the Kamanyang Players who promptly set up a stage and played before the delighted audience. Every now and then you would hear the crowd cheering with the players.

The crowd was thickening but still it was not big enough for a revolution. Tony and I wondered whether or not our group was ever coming here at all. Dusk was setting in. We sat down on the concrete embankment bordering Freedom Park, together with some young-looking boys who bought some peeled green mangoes and ate them with bagoong. Feeling hungry too, Tony and I bought boiled peanuts and coke.

“Say, are you students?” I asked the boys.

“High school,” they answered, nodding their heads.

“Seniors?”

“Juniors.”

“What school?”

“San Sebastian. We were many this morning and up to this afternoon. But it’s just the five of us now. The rest have gone home,” one of the boys volunteered to inform me.

“Good thing your school allowed you to join this . . .” said Tony, whose school, Ateneo, wasn’t represented here.

“Not really. When we insisted on coming and our Principal Father asked who wanted to go, everybody but two or three in each class raised his hand, so he had to let us go, but he had tears in his eyes . . .” recalled the same boy who was so small and thin but bright-eyed and pretty smart, I thought, for his size.

“You know what?” this thin little boy continued. “This is a terrible government we have, no?”

“Who told you that?” I thought he was too young for that. When I was in junior high I didn’t read the newspapers, only comics.

“We take that up in our current events,” he said, munching his green mango.

A couple of dangling legs away from where Tony and I and this boy sat were some elderly folks who joined us in our conversation.

“Ha, is this what Marcos said, that he has two million more votes, that majority of the students were for him? A second mandate, hu! Look, they’re all here now!”

“It’s because we know now that he won by bribing them with our own money, naku, the people’s money!”

“Yes, and before the elections he said he’s a nationalist – now baw a, doble kara, gid.”

“Even Mrs. Marcos – pretending she is anti-American just before the elections, to fool us . . .”

“You’re right, you’re right,” I interrupted the conversation. “I know. Because my mother said when she and the officers of a civic organization went to Mrs. Marcos to ask her to sponsor the publication of some children’s books, you know that – she called up the Budget Commissioner, you know, Sychangco what’s his name, and the Secretary of Education. Imagine that, to ask for funds. Mama could not believe it. So! Mrs. Marcos was going to get money from the government pala! Not from her aparador or her Blue Ladies, as Mama had thought. And you know what – when Mama showed her the list of books, naku, she saw the name of one author, an American, and crossed it out. My mother explained that it was a Filipino story even if the author was American, but Mrs. Marcos said no, and she crossed it out – kunwari pa raw – she didn’t like Americans.”

Hu – to make us believe Marcos is maka-Pilipino daw!

O tama gid, we believe. Believe na believe!”

A ewan! Basta me, I didn’t vote for him.”

O, did she sponsor the Filipino children’s books?”

I didn’t answer. But one of them knew the answer.

Lawa, gid, lawa! What for, children’s books? Children can’t vote!”

We all laughed.

“Is Roger here? Is Roger here?” someone from somewhere asked, beads of perspiration running down his boyish face. “Ay naku, I’m so hungry.”

“Haven’t seen him. Why?” asked one of the middle-aged ladies.

“Who’s Roger?” I whispered to Tony. But Tony shrugged his shoulders. It was the lady who answered me.

“Roger Arienda, the bomba. Give them our manifesto, boy! We’re from the Ang Magigiting.”

I didn’t know what the Magigiting was and I didn’t ask her, but I remembered Roger at the January 26 rally. I pulled out the only money I had from my wallet – one peso – and gave it to the boy.

“Here, buy peanuts, or something, sige na, O,” I said.

The perspiring boy did not like to accept the money but I put it into his shirt pocket. Then he pulled out two copies from his bunch of mimeographed sheets and gave them to us. As it was getting dark I didn’t read my copy, but as I glanced on one side of it I saw nothing but big black letters splashed on it which spelled: AWAKEN! REVOLT!

It wasn’t a joke. This was a revolution, I said to myself. And then, what do you know. Suddenly there was a loud clapping of hands, cheering and shouting, all eyes were again turned to the portion of Laurel Street beyond Freedom Park.

“The U.P. group, the U.P. students!” someone cried.

“Ah, here they are at last!” I nudged Tony.

The streamer ahead of the column of marchers read: U.P. Forestry. That was all. It was a small group. It must have come all the way from Los Baños. It was U.P. all right but it wasn’t the whole U.P. group.

“Let’s go,” the small thin boy said to his companions. “Maybe the U.P. group will not come anymore. Do you think they’re coming, yet?” he turned to ask me.

“Yes, I’m sure they’re coming,” I answered him.

“Okay, let’s wait,” he said.

I wondered why they wanted to wait for the U.P. What’s U.P. worth waiting for, I thought, unless your gang was in that group and you had to wait to join up with them.

And then we saw the torches, a mile long from both ends of Laurel Street, marching and merging towards the center where we were at Freedom Park. Tony and I stood up, everyone stood up to get a better glimpse of the revolutionists.

Heading the march was a man holding the Philippine flag red side up, symbol of our being at war. Following right behind this man was a huge streamer of the Kabataang Makabayan. And then it was all a sea of our angry sometimes laughing comrades with clenched fists held up high, voices ringing with: MAKIBAKA! HUWAG MATAKOT!

I scanned the faces and banners.

“Do you see ‘em, Tony? And the MKK, have you seen the banner?” I looked up to Tony who was tall and could see over the heads before us.

Tony didn’t answer. When I looked around and behind us I saw that we were no longer in the fringe of the crowd but amidst it, hemmed in by waves upon waves of human bodies gathered all about us.

“C’mon, Mars, let’s join the march, no use standing here and looking for them,” Tony said.

We jumped down from our perch and joined the moving mass of red-scarved sweating bodies. I peered into the faces. Some were familiar U.P. students but none of them, my gang. Where were they? It was so dark. It was possible I missed them. Except for the torches which were now being thrown into a pile with the placards and left to burn, only a few of the Malacañang lights on the street side were on.

“Hey, you there in Malacañang, you put on the lights for your parties, ha, but not for us, ha, damn you!” someone shouted.

We were within sight of the gate fronting Mendiola. I happened to glance through the iron railing fence of the Palace and saw some moving figures inside among the bushes, in uniforms it seemed they were. Palace guards.

Then, kling-kling! Someone had thrown a stone at the unlighted lamps above the gate, breaking the crystal ball.

And then another one, kling-kling! And still another one, and more and more. Kling-kling, kling-kling! Kling!

To hell with those lamps, I thought. What were they for if not for us? Why weren’t they lighted? Why keep us in the dark?

Brrrrrm! Boom!

I clutched the arm of Tony.

“Empty canon shells. From inside!” he cried.

Brrrrrm! Boom!

Putangina n’yo!

Stones as big as my fist were dropping right in front of us from behind the bushes in the Palace grounds it seemed. Single shots rang rapidly in the air. There was a sharp roaring sound, people shouting and then suddenly it was as if we were all surging forward, forward, forward, while a number of boys were running in all directions. A fire truck inside the Palace grounds advanced and trained its hose on us.

Tubig sa Pasig! Tubig sa Pasig!” someone shouted.

We backed up. The giant hose was turned off. Some of us clambered up the gate and the fence and threw rocks, bottles and sticks to the guards inside. Someone poured gasoline on the wet pavement and lit it. It was then I saw a fire truck come into view from the bend of Laurel Street from Sta. Mesa in front of the St. Jude Church.

Tubig! Tubig!” shouted some students, charging towards the fire truck.

Before I knew what had happened I saw the students themselves driving this truck toward the Mendiola gate.

Mabuhay! Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!

Ibagsak si Marcos! Ibagsak ang Imperyalismo!

The truck rammed the gate again until the locks gave way, the chains broke and the gate flung wide open. Tony and I stayed behind while a great mass of us surged forward into the Palace ground. From somewhere near the guardhouse, water hoses were blasting away at the onrushing students. The students in turn stoned the buildings and set fire to the truck. They couldn’t go any farther than just inside the gate for soon more Presidential guards came rushing down the driveway firing tear gas bombs and what sounded like firecrackers. The students fought back with their sticks and stones, but blinded by the tear gas, they had to run away back to the street. We, who had remained behind regrouped, retreated. About this time, more troops from the Constabulary, the army, navy, Metrocom – you could more or less tell by their uniforms – came into the area.

Tony grabbed my hand. It was then I caught a glimpse of my brother Joe and his friends Louie and Boy running past us. Then another fire truck suddenly rushed forward splitting us right in the middle as we scampered to the sidewalk to save ourselves from being run over by the devilish motor.

Immediately we closed ranks. Someone from the MOSTURE I think, for he held his banner aloft, shouted:

Makibaka! Huwag matakot! Don’t run! Don’t run! Close ranks! Sit down! Sit down!”

We stood still. Linked our arms together. We sat down. An ABS-CBN Radyo Patrol vehicle passed by slowly, someone on its roof was speaking through the mike. We stood up again to give way. There was little commotion, and I saw a man bloodied all over, dead it seemed to me, being carried through the crowd. This was immediately followed by another man being rushed away down the street to the edge of the crowd. A man suddenly came rushing to me, I couldn’t see his face so well in the dark, but this is what he said to me breathlessly:

“One of our men has been caught – inside –”

“Inside – the Palace –?”

“Yes, yes, through gate 4 . . . You’d better go now, you women should better stay behind . . .” the man whispered.

I was beginning to be afraid. But what was behind us? The police, the army troops, uniforms. There was no way out.

All of a sudden someone began singing the national anthem and we all joined in, our arms linked together again and all of us marching in the middle of the street towards the corner of Mendiola.

Bayang magiliw,

Perlas ng Silanganan

Lupang hinirang

Duyan ka ng magiting

Sa manlulupig

Di ka pasisiil . . .

I forgot my fear. I forgot the sight of the uniforms. I forgot everything but the thought of my country. I was here because I thought I had to do something about the terrible state of my country. And this was the only way I knew how. It was not enough that I knew my classroom lessons: that I could write a term paper to develop a ‘sure grasp of style and strategy in modern expository writing’; that I had read so many full-length books; that I knew so many great political theories and philosophies, from Plato and Aristotle to the contemporaries, Marx, Lenin, Mao and the popes; that I could describe the structure of the atom; that I could understand the fundamental accounting principles; et cetera; et cetera, et cetera. And to hell with those who say, including parents, that I must stay in the classrooms and learn my lessons first, that I am still an ignoramus, still immature. What I know is that all I might learn in school is only useful outside, in actual life, if conditions permit their application and relevance. And what do we have in our life now that offer opportunities for the disciplines for which we are training? Nothing. Nothing! Instead we have misery and oppression of our poor and underprivileged. Just as we’d had them for hundreds and hundreds of years. Frustration and disillusionment for those who have faith in our government and our God. And eventually despair. Only the greedy and the corrupt traitors of our land are happy and living in physical security, comfort, and ostensible luxury.

Why then shouldn’t I be here? Why shouldn’t I link my arms with those who were here now, crying for revolution!

. . . Ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo!

Brrrrrm! Boom!

Gun shots!

Suddenly we were all running away in all directions. Tony and I lost hold of each other. I had no time to look around, I just ran and ran, rounding the corner towards Mendiola away from the gate. It was so hard to see where you were going and with whom you were running. My sandals were somewhat loose, hell, I should’ve used my sneakers. I couldn’t run very well. I tripped once and almost fell. Someone held my elbow and together we ran.

Shots were ringing all around us now. I was jus waiting to be hit in my head, my face, my heart. But I felt nothing. I joined a big crowd of our group who were rushing forward again, this time throwing stones at the uniforms wherever they were. It was so dark I could hardly see the targets. I wondered where they were picking up the stones until I saw someone reaching over the top of a concrete wall and practically tearing pieces off just like that – as easy as tearing down a cardboard wall. Just as I was racing towards the wall to get myself a piece of slab too – zing! zing! rang the bullets left and right.

I ran back and rejoined the crowd that was regrouping again but suddenly there was this boy who fell face down right on the street shoulder in front of us. Someone rushed to pick him up and with someone else, carried him to the back. There was time enough to carry him away before the soldiers plunged forward again into our midst and dispersed us.

“You sonofabitches! Murderers!” I shouted to them.

I couldn’t raise my shrill little voice higher than their rapid gunfire, but I guess they heard me and so chased me and hundreds of us all the way to the gate of San Beda College. I don’t know who did it, but the gate was opened wide and we all rushed in like the wind, closing it after the last one had barely squeezed and pushed himself in. I scraped my arms on the gritty iron railing as I was pushed along on the crest of the rushing tide.

Once inside some of us just stood still, savoring the comfort of enclosed darkness. Others, restless, scampered up the stone wall to look down on the street below. All the while a white-robed priest appearing from nowhere it seemed, kept shouting and pleading to us, “Down, down, please, boys, boys!”

I peered into the faces all around me and saw, oh miracle! Tony, my brother Joe and his group, Louie and Boy, then Eddie, Clarence, Ronald, Ja, Jerry, Betty, Charis, why they were all here! We just looked at each other in recognition. What was there to say? But you could see the happy glint in one another’s eyes. In mine too, if you could see me. I didn’t see them carrying any of the placard sticks we’d used, nor the MKK banner. This was no time to ask. A rain of stones poured down on us from outside.

“Look, they’re throwing stones at us, the bastards!” someone shouted.

Curious, I followed the others and climbed up the high wall to see, Tony helping me a bit. Indeed only a few feet from us were MPD men throwing stones up at us. What the hell were they trying to do, I thought. Scare us away?

“Shoot us, shoot us, not with stones, bullets! You’ll still find us here!” another voice yelled.

Then it was from our side of the wall that stones rained down at them. What fun! But it was no match. We could duck, they couldn’t. And so they pointed their guns at us.

“Go home, you, all of you, go home!” they yelled. “Or we’ll shoot!”

“Yes, yes, we’re going home, don’t shoot us,” we shouted back, raising our hands up.

And so they moved on towards the bridge of Mendiola. There were amassed, end to end and scattered all over, the biggest group of students. You could see from our perch up on the wall that this group, standing there on the bridge shoulder to shoulder, sweating bodies straight and tall, faces grim, could look quite formidable, too. I was so proud of them. Yet I had a strange feeling inside me as if I knew something was going to happen to them, one or all of them were going to be killed or something, and I was glad I wasn’t there. But yet here I was cowering behind the safety of this damn stone wall and wishing I was out there in the open, facing the full regimented force of uniforms and steel that Manila and Malacañang had fielded to battle us tonight.

For a minute, hours it seemed, those students stood there, facing the mighty army that was marching on both sides of the street, slowly, inch by inch, advancing towards them. Only half a hundred feet between them. Half a hell! How my heart thumped in my breast!

I clutched Tony’s arm. None of us behind the wall now moved or said a word. Flashes of light from running vehicles on Claro M. Recto Avenue etched to us more sharply in the pale light from the buildings, the battle positions.

What a curse, we had become mere onlookers. Joe, I could sense, was itching to jump down, and I was about to restrain him, clutch his arm to my left when I heard a sudden dull thud on the ground just below my feet. When I looked, there they were, Joe, Louie and Boy, about to run off.

“Hey, hey . . .” I couldn’t finish because out in front I saw that the soldiers had charged, their two lines meeting in the middle of the street and forming a V, and were shooting pointblank on the bridge.

“Oh my God!” I gasped.

I saw one fall, two, three, four . . . the others dragging the fallen ones away as everybody now retreated in the face of the massive brutal attack.

In less than a minute, so fast it seemed the students hadn’t moved at all, they were on the bridge again, like one huge wave pushing the soldiers back inch by inch. Then there was a moment of silence. Each side unsure of its next move. Suddenly the soldiers charged again, fiercer than ever, volleys of gunfire bursting here and there, up in the air and down, everywhere it seemed, we even ducked for fear of getting it in our direction up on the wall.

The students really held on fast to that little piece of bridge as if it meant so much to them. It was all they had to stand on.

The next time Tony and I looked around us, the crowd on the wall had thinned.

“Clarence, Ja, Ronald, Jerry, Betty, Charis, you there?” I called, seeking from among the dark heads, the familiar ones.

“Yes, yes, we’re still here,” they chorused.

In a way I was glad. Pa said I should stick by them, if possible.

“Say, let’s go!” It was the voice of Clarence. “To the bridge!”

And with that, we all jumped down, not to the safe and quiet campus of San Beda but out into the street where the lions were. I don’t know what made us do that. I suppose it was our guilty conscience. Anyway, there we were, seven or eight of us, one by one crouching by the side of the wall, Clarence in the lead. In the dark, good thing the soldiers who were between us and our comrades did not see us or, maybe, thought our group too small to bother with. I could feel my heart beating in my throat. We slithered past the lions, oh hell, how I wished I had a machine gun in my hand! All of a sudden pandemonium broke loose again for the hundredth time as bursts of gunfire filled the air and everybody started running in the direction of Recto Avenue, the soldiers in hot pursuit.

We reached the intersection of Mendiola, Recto, and Legarda, turning right on Legarda and stopping to catch our breath, on the curb. We heard cheering sounds as we saw a Yujuico truck being driven straight towards the bridge, the troops pummeling it with bullets until it halted, its rear in flames. In the darkness the soldiers could hardly see us, but with the sudden brightness from the burst of lames, we thought they would surely spot us and so we resumed our flight. Besides, a bonfire had been lit right in the middle of the intersection, and the troopers were firing tracer bullets, Tony said, lighting the sky. Then all the lights in the buildings and the streets went off. Except for the bonfires and the occasional flashes of light from army vehicles, the whole vicinity was in darkness. Thank God the fire was not spreading to the buildings on both sides of the avenue but to the unlighted Meralco posts in the middle of the street.

We could hear the whirring of truck engines as they screeched to full stops; we could see, though but faintly, soldiers jumping out of the trucks, deploying and joining in the chase – reinforcements! – as we paused once in a while to catch our breath and assess our position. We came to what looked like an alley.

“Where are we, say, where are we?” I asked out loud, shivering, for the night was cold.

“Sh-sh-not too loud –” warned Jerry.

“In seventh heaven,” whispered Tony.

“Four fathoms of hell,” cried Eddie.

“Sh-sh-I said not too loud – see that, see that – ” and Jerry pointed the white of his eyes to the street.

I saw that we were on a side alley just off Legarda, already very near the Sampaloc market. And from out of nowhere came two policemen dragging out a student by the collar of his shirt, his hands held up high in full surrender.

Suddenly I remembered I had a Lola who was living somewhere here not far away from this market on Earnshaw Street.

“If only we can reach that,” I sighed to myself.

“What’s that?” Tony asked.

“My Lola’s – ”

“Where’s that?”

“Just beyond the market, on Earnshaw.”

“Why not, let’s go!”

And off we ran like lightning, keeping close to the dark sidewalks. All the stores and stalls along the way were closed and I thought they were deserted until I heard some buzzing sounds coming from inside it seemed.

“Sst-ssst! Here, here! Come here!”

“You’ll be safe here!”

“Up here, up here!”

Oh I’d kiss them, kiss them, boy, girl, or hermaphrodite, could I but see them. But they were hiding in the dark, too afraid to come out. Just their voices, just their sighing, tired and frightened voices calling out to us, sharing our country’s fate with us.

“Where are you, where are you hiding, damn you, so damn sonofabitch scared! The revolution’s not here. It’s over there at Recto’s . . .!” Eddie shouted.

“Sh-sh-” we stopped him.

“Why do you stop me, why, why, what’s there to be so scared about? Who’re you afraid of – those – !”

Before we knew what he was up to, he had run off, back to where we came from, to Recto Avenue, waving his placard stick up high and shouting at the top of his voice:

“The Revolution, it’s the Revolution! You, damn you, sleeping and fucking out there, join up, come and join the revolution!”

For a moment, we just stood there in the cold night, listening to his lonely voice as it was wafted by the wind and soon got lost with the terrifying sounds of roaring truck engines and cracking gunfire. God, I don’t think it even got to the doorstep of the homes, or the window panes. No one of us dared follow him, him and his voice calling for revolution. On to Recto! We were so damn scared. He was right, he was right, we were so damn sonofabitch scared!

Instead we turned on Earnshaw and there just a block away was my Lola’s old house. This is the house where as a little girl, with my brothers, Pa and Ma, I used to visit with my Pa’s old folks. My Lolo was a Protestant Church minister and Lola a deaconess. With Lolo on the organ and Lola standing beside him, I used to watch them sing together, with what ardor and charm, “Jesus and His Cross.” And then Lolo would recite by heart, closing his eyes in sweet contentment, as if he could see the words better in the dark, all the psalms in the Old Testament. I used to think then how pink and rosy and fine everything in life was, all the people in the world enjoying all the fruits of creation that God in His infinite mercy had so abundantly showered on all, rich and poor alike. For such was the favorite theme of his “revelations”. After this happy singing and reciting of Bible verses together, Pa and Ma would pick us up, all of us children and our bundle of week-end clothes, and we would all drive back to our home.

And here I was so scared of losing this haven, this life and home and family that was so damn pretty and fine and lovely, to join a crazy kid like Eddie and perhaps get shot and fall face flat on that damn bullet-ridden Recto Street.

No, no, that wasn’t for me, and I pulled Tony’s hand and together we all ran again until we reached my Lola’s home.

“It’s me, me, Lola, please open up!” I shouted as I knocked furiously on the heavily-bolted wooden door. #

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