Molotovs Vs. Teargas

February 19, 2010

By Nancy T. Lu

First published in The Sunday Times Magazine, March 8, 1970, p. 14-19

Since the violent January 26 and January 30 outbreaks the public has been kept in tenterhooks by threats of disorder posed by mammoth rallies that continue to be staged by youth groups.

While student activists have proven themselves responsible by trying to secure all massive gatherings the mounting tension finally erupted into anarchistic showdowns last February 18.

Even while eloquent speakers were still delivering their impassioned speeches rumors that some restive groups would proceed elsewhere upon the termination of the demonstration at the Plaza Miranda were being spread. But every attempt at provoking the crowd to march to Malacañang was quickly suppressed by alert student leaders.

Shortly after the organizers of the Movement for Democratic Philippines—coordinated rally ended, the thus far peaceful affair speculations ran high that it was unlikely that the crowd of students, peasants, and laborers would disperse quietly and head for home.

The night was young and the first invitation to join the mass trek to the U.S. embassy reaped quick response.

For the first time in weeks the imperialism issue took the front seat. This was presaged by the picketing of different embassies a few days before. As succeeding events would bear out, feudalism, capitalism and rising fascism in the government became major issues quickly overshadowed as anti-American sentiment reached an all-time high that Wednesday night. The storming of the American embassy premises followed attacks against “an unholy alliance among the few rich politicians and feudal landlords all under the control of American imperialism.”

Less than an hour after members of what had been billed as “the first people’s congress” at Plaza Miranda left the demonstration site, molotov explosions rocked the U.S. embassy, drowning out instantly the sounds of stones crashing the embassy’s glass windows. In an hour-long siege, waves of demonstrators surged to the dim gate, throwing molotovs through every visible crack of security and concrete, but scampered back to their zone before the bombs would explode.

As their fellow rioters hurled bombs, stones and invectives at the embassy in their fiery denunciation of “U.S. imperialism”, other demonstrators, in guilt or not, stuck to their role of preventing news reporters and photographers from going on with their usual task of recording the evening event, threatening the media men with bodily harm if they wouldn’t oblige.

But the rioters’ siege of the American embassy was to end in time for the warnings to be cried out that the anti-riot squads were coming: “ayan na ang  riot squad; lumulusob na ang Metrocom!” Soon, the encounter between the demonstrators and the unusually cool government troopers would turn the evening of February 18 into a most tearful night along the usually gay Roxas Boulevard. Unsuccessful with their truncheons, the troopers were able to disperse the rioters with tear gas.

The troops’ entry into the riot area could be reminiscent of great field wars of the past. The government men, more organized now than in previous encounters with demonstrators, came in droves from five strategic entry points in a virtual aim at dispersing the rioters. The main drove, and the first to be noticed by the rioters, walked in from the boulevard area along the Army and Navy Club. The demonstrators at first tried charging in the direction of the riot squads, hurling big chunks of stone and molotov bombs, but spread out and dispersed after seeing the riot squad members close in on them from four other points: from inside the U.S. embassy itself moved in helmeted and truncheon-wielding Metrocom troopers; from the other north end of the boulevard rushed in members of the MPD special squad; and from two exit points— United Nations avenue and Padre Faura— poured in the main faction of the riot squad. The students left the riot area, the government troops held formation and ended the first part of what could have been another bloody head-on clash between demonstrators and government troops. The government men asked the demonstrators to go home, leave the site.

But, outwitted in the first part, the students had other plans. And they executed it in a violent replay of the destructive part of the January 30th riot along Malacañang. The students regrouped along a “liberated” area of Padre Faura,—at one point declaring a corner “a Red Cross relief area,” to the polices contempt—walked in droves, hurling stones, crashing windows of big stores and other establishments they would chance upon. Two cars were burned. Molotov bombs rocked the Philamlife building, disturbed the guests at the Hilton Hotel. A home-made bomb hurled at the lightless hotel extinguished itself at mid-air, but the demonstrators did not leave it at that. They hurled stones and burned a wooden portion of the hotel lobby; and the violence went on. At the usually serene Rizal Park, troopers were soon running after vandals who tried to set fire to stalls and other portions of the park.

By midnight, all was quiet at the embassy front, but not in the C. M. Recto-Legarda-Mendiola vicinity where splinter groups from the Plaza Miranda teach-in had headed for. Tension prevailed over the area as though it was night of January 30 again, as around bonfires, a phalanx of demonstrators kept vigil face to face with three truckloads of army troopers, the students earlier having taken command of Recto by barricading the street with logs, drums and other materials which closed it to vehicular traffic.

To the few who watched the bonfires die down at about 2 a.m. February 19, the tense moments in the area appeared ended as the police finally dispersed the student flanks. #


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: