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Sons against Fathers

January 29, 2010

By Ernesto Macatuno

Published in Sunday Times Magazine, February 22, 1970, p. 24

The military  appraised its role days after the violent Jan. 30 demo and found itself in a difficult, if not anomalous situation. Here it was fighting demonstrators in the name of “law and order.” Here were its officers and men who, in fighting the demonstrators, were fighting their own sons and daughters.

The national crisis, brought about by the demonstrations, inevitably reduced itself into a “family affair.” Son against father. Daughter against mother. Brother against brother.

The experience must be quite painful: “There I was,” Metrocom chief Brig. Gen. Mariano Ordoñez said, “leading the troops, fighting the demonstrators and all the time I was thinking my son and daughter might be among those my troopers were after.”

Hence, the soldier finds himself in this agonizing, ambivalent position. Here he is, sworn to defend the government, the Establishment, and in so doing, divides and breaks up what is more basic, closer and meaningful to him: His own family.

But at such times, the line must be divided: Each goes to where he belongs.

Gen. Ordoñez, in speaking for the military says, “I won’t stop my own children from joining demonstrations if I’m assured that these are peaceful demonstrations.

“But if these demonstrations turn out to be violent, then I have to make arrests and fight even my own kin.

“I do not wish to think of it. I know that everyone in the military is undergoing the same difficult experience of fighting his own kin in upholding the law.”

All this is just the beginning of something bloodier and more violent. “We foresee that,” Ordoñez said, “It is something we are preparing for. We intend to minimize violence by using more extensively tear gas and firehoses, by making the military and the police more tolerant of the taunts and minor excesses of the demonstrators and by requiring demonstrations to end up at sundown,” since in darkness people cast aside their inhibitions and are prone to violence.

“Through all these measures,” Ordoñez said, “we can minimize violence and the number of fatalities.” As in fact the Metrocom believes the government troops did in the bloody January 30 demo.

“Four died in that riot,” Ordoñez said, “and for that the military and the police were accused of brutality and excesses. But considering the situation, the fatalities could have been more. Had the 1,000 or so troopers’ and policemen indeed with premeditation and in concert fired guns at the demonstrators, instead of four there would have been four hundred or four thousand fatalities.

“It did not turn out that way. The soldiers fired in the air, and what may have hit the four students were stray bullets that were not intended to kill but to merely frighten. We had to do this especially when we learned that there were subversives among the demonstrators.”

There were subversives, just as there were government agents, who infiltrated the student ranks, but Gen. Ordoñez does not believe that the subversives were armed, “or else, with these arms in the hands of the demonstrators, the riot could have been more violent.”

With or without subversives, the forces of change unleashed by these two bloody January demos would gather even more momentum that not even the most sophisticated weaponry, the military is finding out, can contain and halt from sweeping the country.

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