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The Visages of Violence

February 19, 2010

By Mercedes A.B. Tira

First published in the Graphic, February 11, 1970, p. 4-9, 52-53

IN FIVE DAYS, students, workers and peasants were able to tear off from the face of government the deceptive mask that has made it sufferably respectable in more than five decades. By a series of mass demonstrations which saw a representative populace grown tired of false hopes and promises pitted against the ill-tempered guardians of the status quo, the Marcos government as a perpetuation of iniquitous politics was shown up as no more than a timocratic combine gorged in privilege and awash in pomp.

For the Marcos government to be condemned as the immediate author of so gigantic a fraud, perhaps because of its oftenly grandiloquent claim to an ability to make this nation great again, is dictated by the march of events of which it happens to be the latest step. The axe has fallen on the Administration because it continues to represent mass oppression of the sort that has sadistically relished an otherwise unconscionable concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and of power in the hands of the unjust.

This year in Philippine politics would have been launched in traditional fashion; that is, a joint session of Congress lorded over by a somnorific rehash of the Marcos saga in the last four years — were it not for the massive turnout in front of the legislative building of the discontented and dissenters on January 26.

President Marcos, the first time he faced the nation as top leader, saw his people in the grip of a terrible crisis. He vowed not only to scuttle the siege but from there to lift his people and “make this nation great again.”

Four years later, President Marcos would face his people again, the first man to occupy the Presidency for the second time. His bombast and baritone would miserably fail to din out the fact of the very same crisis still abuilding. It has in fact grown more serious and has sickened society so much that the cities, towns and barrios vomited wave after wave of indignant humanity on the streets.

The spectacle that followed was one of invectives hurled from the very guts of the poor and oppressed, of curses that can be uttered only by those suddenly divested of their political innocence by the unmitigated excesses of those expected to lead. The January 26 people were evidently tired of false hopes and promises but they would manage to muster enough patience to hope that a violent tongue, being of the masses, could move the government out of its slothful arrogance.

Official reaction to the demonstrations staged by the students, workers and peasants during the last week of January was one marked with unprecedented hostility. Government club and hose ripped the air in Fascist abandon, exacting a minimum toll of broken arms and skulls but an extremely provocative maximum destruction of intelligent rapport between the government and the governed.

Death to uphold the ideals of the Parliament of the Streets has found an altar in the midst of the student activists. The waterfront murder of laborers at the picket line, on the other hand, has left an ineffaceable mark on the union movement here. Which is not to mention the bloodletting that has been going on in the fields of Central Luzon. Revolution, here and now, appears to have finally harnessed the troika that had carried it to heights of glory upon the gory, elsewhere.

The Storm Gathers

JANUARY 30, 1970. The National Union of Students of the Philippines and the National Student League appealed for a totally non-partisan Constitutional Convention and for the mass concern for the real state of the nation; they denounced fascism and militarism, particularly righteous dissent.

There were 30,000 students before the steps of Congress but no violence erupted. There were no cops in crash helmets and with truncheons around. Except for the traffic men in white and blue uniforms and for some mobile patrol cars the only policemen inside the ranks of the demonstrators were the student marshals themselves — some were helmeted, but the rest wore white armbands and headbands.

The students hurled invectives at absent city officials — Mayor Villegas, Chief Gerardo Tamayo, Colonel James Barbers and Major Alfredo Yson — and asked for the disbandment of the Special Forces and Home Defense Forces of the Marcos government. At some instances, before the Malacañang gates, they demanded “Buksan ang pinto, buksan ang pinto;” cordoned their crowd with ropes to avoid “uninvited demonstrators;” carried upon their shoulders a black coffin complete with flowers symbolizing the death of democracy; and chanted “Marcos, puppet, Marcos puppet!” vigorously while brandishing frameless placards screaming blunt truths about the Administration, its military establishment and American imperialism.

Some placards were worded thus: MPD-PC — kalaban ng bayan, Marcos-Fascist: Bayaning Huwad; Tamayo — nagwala ang iyong mga kabayo; “Politicians — keep out of the Constitutional Convention;” “Anti-Riot Squad—RP’s Gestapo.” The daylight rally lasted up to six in the evening with no skull cracked, no limb broken, no public property destroyed. There were no policemen in sight. The previous day’s rallied held by the University of the Philippines and University of the East faculty-student groups were also relatively peaceful.

Violence threatened to mar the twin-rallies, however, when several student members of an allegedly extreme-leftist group began to boo Rep. John Osmeña of Cebu, one of the congressmen who spoke their minds to the students. The sober majority were quick to ward off the violence tactics. Unable to stir up a mob, these students walked out in the middle of the speech of a student leader.

Preface to Insurrection

AT SIX o’clock in the evening the leaders, together with the rest of the students, of the January 30 demo marched to the Palace for confrontation with the President. These leaders — NUSP and NSL heads; including those of La Salle, UP, Lyceum, UE, PCC, MLQU, and FEU — previously declined a presidential invitation. They stressed that talks at the Palace could only take place after the January 30 indignation rally.

Thus, while the student leaders conferred with the President on a non-partisan Constitutional Convention and his ineligibility for a third term, as well as the resignation of MPD top brass and disbandment of para-military units in Central Luzon — the whole mass of 30,000 students waited tensely outside the gates. They milled there and were later joined by thousands of other students who came from the provinces, and who poured through JP Laurel st., like an inevitable flood.

The Palace — prepared to the teeth for the last battle of Armageddon, as a daily columnist put it — was excessively guarded by anti-riot squads of the Metrocom, the PC and the Philippine Marines. Very few MPD anti-riot men were around but several fire trucks of the Manila Fire Department were in sight. Ten minutes after the student leaders concluded their conference with President Marcos, angry demonstrators began the siege of Malacañang — a continuous nine-hour war with the anti-riot squads of the government. The first in the history of the country.

Shouting “Kunin natin si Marcos! Ibagsak si Marcos! Patayin si Marcos! Patayin!” and hoisting aloft the national flag with the red side up indicating they were on the war-path, students, midway in their ’20s and late teens, in massive hordes stoned the Palace, destroyed all the mercury lamps lining the Palace fence and managed to force open Gate 4 with a fire truck they commandeered from some MFD men. They poured gasoline at the gates, partially burning a waiting shed and the Palace guardhouse. They threw molotov bombs and bottles and stones at the Palace Guards who ran for cover inside the inner parts of the Palace premises.

With the gates opened, the demonstrators surged in, burned a truck, a parked car and the Malacañang clinic. They dumped their placards in the Palace lawn and set them on fire. They were all set to burn the Palace. Alarmed by the unusual ferocity of the student-demonstrators, the President immediately ordered Metrocom Chief Mariano Ordoñez to disperse the students by force. Open skirmish ensued, and in an hour later, the situation deteriorated into a virtual insurrection. The demonstrators lost themselves into the dark alleys of Arlegui, Mendiola and Aguado.

The Metrocom, having rid JP Laurel St., of demonstrators, proceeded to seal off all the streets leading to the Palace.

At nine o’clock a massive reinforcement from the Army and the PC came with Gen. Manuel Yan, AFP chief of Staff, Gen. Rafael Ileto, Philippine Army chief and Gen. Vicente Raval, PC chief. Somehow the students were able to beleaguer Col. Ordoñez’s men and the Palace guards. The demo rampage continued, an atras-avante situation set in among the demonstrators, who incredibly seemed to have mastered the brutal art of rioting overnight.

The demonstrators — in more ways than one were no longer students — but were older men, bigger people who seemed to be experts in spreading violence, arson and hijacking. The anti-riot squads from the MPD, PA, PC, Malacañang and the Marines used hammer and tongs in restoring the waning peace and order of the old streets of Azcarraga, Legarda, Mendiola and C. M. Recto Avenue. They fired high-powered Garand rifled in the air, they clubbed, they machinegunned — but the students still managed to hijack passenger buses, army vehicles and more fire trucks and set them on torch. A Yujuico bus was hijacked and hurled at the troopers. They burned lampposts, so that Meralco had to put off the power in the trouble areas.

A brownout occurred while the demonstrators assaulted the troopers. Eyewitnesses claimed they saw a red Mercury car cruising several times near the demonstrators’ areas — firearms were seen inside the car which carried six well-dressed men. Scores of students and troopers sustained serious injuries — to date, five were announced dead on arrival at various hospitals near the battle area.

The Wages of Violence

RICARDO Alcantara, an AB student at UP was the first to fall. He was seen to have been shot pointblank by a man in khaki wielding a wicker shield. Students bringing him DOA to the Far Eastern University Hospital at Morayta st., cried out passionately: Babalik tayo, walang uurong. Incredibly, all demonstrators were bound together with this pledge: ang uurong, bibirahin — apparently a Zengakuren principle.

The others to fall were Felicisimo Roldan, a 21-year-old FEU student who was shot in the chest when the lights went off, Bernardo Tausa a 17-year-old senior of the Mapa High School and Fernando Catabay of the Manuel Luis Quezon University who was shot in the heart by a mysterious man. Witnesses said that Catabay, already downed by clubbinggs, was shot three times by a man in fatigue who hid himself in the darkness of Centro Escolar University.

During all these hours gunshots were sporadically heard as the demonstrators were chased by the squads. Looters and vanda’s began to take over at the unguarded Quezon Bridge and Lacson Underpass. At Carriedo and as far as the Central Market, belligerent persons stoned stones and residential houses. Police outposts were burned and street islands were stripped off their sprouting palms and greens.

Iron rails were mangled and used as beating clubs by the demonstrators, some women including an eight-year-old tot were gory victims of stones hurled toward the advancing hounding troopers.

Mass arrests were made, and many students were temporarily junked like garbage inside the notorious City jail and later whisked off to Camp Crame even as the pitch skirmishes raged. Expectations of martial law were high but up to the last fires, President Marcos declared nothing about it. (During all the time the pitch battles raged the Marcoses were ready to leave the Palace through a reserved helicopter.)

At three o’clock of January 31st morning, gunshots faded out of hearing a relative peace and quiet enveloped the whole battle area which overnight became a ghost town. No more shouts of “Patayin si Marcos, Ibagsak ang Pasismo!” were heard, no more cries of pain and vendetta rang in the air — the early dawn was bleak like a silent grieving over the violence that spent the night and the young blood that colored the streets.

The streets were a pathetic sight — it must have been all a nightmare, a boy of 12 said.

Root of Student Mutiny

FOUR days before the storming of the Palace, about 20,000 students from all Greater Manila schools, together with some of their priests and faculty members, gathered at the foot of the Congress building to appeal to the legislators for a clean and honest Constitutional Convention. Other corollary activities ran the gamut of condemnations — from the First Couple as “Bonnie and Clyde” to the Special Forces and the PC as tools of a fascist nation and as running dogs of American imperialism. The massive rally was announced long before the opening of the Seventh Congress on January 26. It was started noontime of Monday and was supposed to wind up before six in the evening. A battery of speakers, representing a fair cross-section of Manila’s protesting society took turns in haranguing the administration and its excesses. The most applauded speaker (because she was eloquent and sensible) was Portia Ilagan, head of the NSL, a petite, dark beauty from Baguio and the Philippine Normal College. Luis Taruc spoke; he got booed. Chito Sta. Romana, head of the La Salle Student Government claimed that he was a “miseducated” Filipino having been under the tutelage of foreigners since his primary grades; he was greeted with “Revolution! Revolution!”. A priest spoke about the necessity for a non-partisan Constitutional Convention — the crows resented his speech. Roger Arrienda of radio and tv fame with his most libelous tirade — “si Marcos and pinakasinungaling sa lahat ng president natin” got the longest applause.

Demonstrators continuously trooped in small delegations to join the demo, as far as late afternoon. The last group to come before the infamous January 26 riot erupted was that of the NATU laborers. The President was through with his address and was almost ready for his car when boos and anti-Marcos chants filled the air. There was an attempt on the President’s part to greet the audience but already violence has begun: the black coffin with the hideous crocodile symbolizing Marcos as a dollar-eater was hurled toward his group. Before he was hurt though, he was already sped away to safety.

His departure marked the first bloodshed — the hundreds of MPD anti-riot rookies gushed into the crows with their truncheons and tried, with all force they could muster — to disperse the students. Many were hurt — men and women in the crowd were indiscriminately clubbed down; policemen without nameplates went berserk as they chased students right and left while some students braved with several megaphones the stampede as they pointed at rookies without the proper identifications ruled by Mayor Villegas. For the first 15 minutes of the riot, the demonstrators were able to control the police who, mostly greenhorns, and thus unprepared with the herculean task of pacifying a mob turned for shelter to the walls of Congress. And then the rocks and flying sticks of fire began to rain — a pine tree caught fire in the process, hundreds of placards were ripped and burned, while chants of “wala kang budhi” were hurled at Police Chief Tamayo and Major Yson who were there but did nothing to stop the sadism of their men.

The chasing of the demonstrators advanced around the vicinity of Congress — civilians were caught in the clubbing spree, while several vehicles of politicians received serious damages. Senator Pelaez, concerned over human safety and not material property tried to intervene but it was of no use; the students and the police were already engaged in a running war that ceased only after 10 o’clock in the evening. The remarks of civilians were various reactions. One said — “Sapak manood — pero nakakatakot;” a student shouted at a police rookie “Putangina mo araw-araw at sampung taon pa!;” a coed asked a rookie — “Bakit kayo ganito, kasama rin kayo sa aming mga ipinagtatanggol,” the rookie answered with a growl “Marami ka pang ngalngal diyan” and then gave her a sound beating at the rear. It was an orgy of brute force torn out from the scenes of Goethe’s “Walpurgis Nacht” or from William Golding’s Lord of the Flies where violence is shown as a delicious force.

After the Tempest, An Augury

THE PHYSICAL tempest calmed down, the streets deserted yet littered with the debris of protest and the troopers all accounted for — a group of concerned students pleaded to the law enforcers to aid them search for those missing and wounded and have thus remained suffering alone in the dark outside of Intramuros’s walls. The policemen seemed selfish having their own brothers-in-arms wounded and suffering from minor injuries — but the students persisted in their appeal. A few tried to held the helpless demonstrators while the rest vacillated and cursed. The bulk of the students, protesting the inhumanity of the law enforcers, vowed to come back in full force. Warned one:

“Makikita ng mga hayup na pulis na ito, malapit na ang araw nila”#

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