Our EDSA really began when Ninoy was assassinated on Aug. 21, 1983. We were jolted out of our complacency. As middleclass parents, we were just focused on our family of 5 children. Our youngest was barely 2 years old while our eldest was a young man of 15. My husband and I were in our early 40s, both working. Martial Law had been going on for 11 years since its declaration in 1972. We endured its midnight curfew, checkpoints and the intermittent tv appearances of Marcos and his flamboyant wife, veritable monarchs with a retinue of “blue ladies” and technocrats. “I hate Marcos!” our three little ones 2, 4 and 6 would shout, frustrated at yet another interruption to their cartoon viewing.
When Martial Law was declared in 1972, I quit my job in an ad agency. Every ad had to be approved by the military. All of us had to fill up a dossier on every member of our family including brothers and sisters and in-laws. A lot of newspapers and radio stations including my father’s (DZAL in Albay and DZGH in Sorsogon) were closed and some of its owners imprisoned. No one believed what was printed or broadcasted. Xerox journalism was born. Relevant clippings of the New York Times, Time and Newsweek from friends and relatives abroad were copied and passed around.
Everyone was suspect and therefore paranoid. Rumor-mongering was a crime. A group of 5 were discouraged as you would be suspect of being subversives plotting against the government. We talked in whispers. Waiters could be spies. Many just disappeared – the word “salvage” which really meant “to save” now had a new meaning – “to be killed”.
The night Ninoy’s body was taken to the Santo Domingo Church, my husband called his classmates to go. Unfortunately, he had to go alone as it was a time of great fear and confusion, only to find a long line of equally courageous Filipinos wanting to pay their respects to Ninoy.
The fear and trembling was evident in our neighborhood. Somehow, my husband was able to find a Japanese who could translate the only news about Ninoy’s death which was in Japanese. He then recorded his voice in English over the NHK video and had copies done in Betamax. We invited our neighbors to view it. We expected a curious lot but only a handful showed up, afraid we would all be rounded up or our neighbors may be spies who would report us. Such was the effect of martial law on ordinary citizens.
My second son told me recently that what he remembers of martial law was being called to the principal’s office and warned to stop distributing Ninoy stickers. (He was 13.) Then we and other parents protested when the school destroyed issues of the school newsletter which was about Ninoy, and fired the teacher who instigated it. Even their Aralin Panlipunan textbook gave the wrong impression: “Sa kabutihang palad, ideneklara ni Marcos ang batas militar.” (Fortunately, Martial Law was declared.) The children had to make drawings greeting Marcos on his birthday as their homework. It was no surprise since this was at the height of Martial Law. Post EDSA, I don’t think history taught what really happened during Martial Law and what the EDSA Revolution was all about. The Millennials, even if born after 1986, would not be so clueless if history had been taught well. It is only now that books on Martial Law are coming out.
At Ninoy’s funeral, the people finally found their courage. Two billion people lined the streets from Quezon City to Paranaque, the longest funeral that made it to the Guinness World Records. My husband mobilized his office staff to bring cameras and take photos at strategic points since there would be nothing in the newspapers the following day. For them it was a heroic act. They bid farewell to their families, not knowing if they would be shot or apprehended. This was the beginning of EDSA. People were still afraid. But there was a hint of the People Power that would topple the dictator in Feb, 1986.
After Ninoy’s assassination, the protest movement started with seemingly “innocent runs” at the Luneta or Rizal Park, the place where Jose Rizal, our national hero was put to death by the Spanish rulers. Run On for Aquino and Resignation (ROAR) organized by the August Twenty One Movement, (ATOM) a “cause-oriented group” led by Ninoy’s brother Butz, a businessman, (who went on to become a congressman and senator for his role at EDSA.) Just wearing the Ninoy shirt took courage. But the slogan “Hindi ka nag-iisa” (you are not alone) helped us to be brave. Every Sunday, we went to Luneta with our two older sons, to run. It was heartening to see bigger and bigger groups with banners showing the growing protest movement .
My husband started studying and joining anti-Marcos groups like Justice for Aquino, Justice for All (JAJA). They needed speakers and so he joined the Speakers Bureau and found himself talking during rallies and marching with students and laborers and being bombarded with water cannons. At the “Parliament of the Streets”, as media dubbed the blossoming power of a repressed people – rally after rally getting more and more courageous and creative with chants “Huwag matakot makibaka” (Fear not, fight!); and during the snap elections “Tama na, sobra na, palitan na”. Whole families came to Luneta, in a sea of yellow shirts with black arm bands as we mourned Ninoy and flashed the L sign for Laban (fight) to listen to Ninoy’s widow Cory who was thrust into running for President as only she could unite the people against Marcos. We cried while singing “Bayan Ko” with clenched fists. I found that love of country could be emotional too.
During Martial Law, the writ of habeas corpus was suspended. It meant anybody could be arrested without a warrant. Marcos ruled by presidential decree (PD). The most dreaded was the Preventive Detention Action (PDA). You could be arrested for plotting a crime, even if you have not committed it yet. Students were picked up and some were never seen again just for pasting anti-Marcos slogans. Many promising bright young students went underground for they were easy targets. They were the first to fight for our freedoms. The First Quarter Storm in the 70s was the reason Marcos gave for declaring Martial Law. (Aside from Enrile’s admittedly staged “ambush” which he retracted later.) Marcos quickly labeled anyone who fought him Communists.
I was sleepless after reading the torture cases of the political detainees from the files of Sr. Mariani of the Task Force Detainees. That’s why we visited them in Bicutan, a few minutes‘ drive from our village. It was during these times that we met great men and women like Senators Pepe Diokno, Lorenzo Tanada and Ambrosio Padilla, Joker Arroyo, Bobit Sanchez, Sr. Christine Tan and Heidi Yorac, now gone. It was in the streets where we met journalists and foreign correspondents and photographers who became fast friends.
From 1983 up to the snap elections in February 1986, my husband and I were caught in a series of meetings and rallies. One day we found our 3 little ones surrounded by stuffed toys playing “meeting.” Most of the time I stayed home, except when the rally was for women only. I would stay by the telephone (there were no cellphones then) and the CB radio for any emergencies or arrests and I was to call any of the Mabini or Flag lawyers.
All these prepared the people for the greatest peaceful revolution (by the grace of God and the soldiers who refused to fire a single shot and later joined the Filipino people) on a long highway called Epifanio de los Santos (EDSA). It was born out of the people’s frustration of being cheated in the snap elections. They occupied EDSA for 3 days and nights to show the world who really won.
After the fall of Marcos, I volunteered to clean up the office of Cendana, the press secretary. His room in Malacanang was knee deep in trash where we found betamaxes of Marcos videos of lavish parties and tons of pictures – random photos of people at rallies taken by soldiers masquerading as photo journalists. One was labeled “mestiza”. Imagine my horror when I found a torn photo of my son holding a mike! It sent chills up my spine because I knew the other half of that photo would be my husband, who used to speak at rallies in Makati and Plaza Miranda. At least he and my children and our family would be safe now from the terror that was Marcos and his ilk.
Now 30 years later, Bongbong Marcos is running for vice president. The fact that he was elected senator betrays the lack of a sense of history and understanding of Martial Law which says a lot about our education. The fact that he himself does not see anything his father did wrong despite the 10,000 human rights victims does not bode well for our future if he wins. Until today, he and his mother and sisters connive to hide their ill-gotten wealth. This May, use your people power to vote for leaders who will truly serve and not enrich themselves.
The survivors of EDSA like me (my husband had also gone ahead) are old and weak. But my children give me hope. They grew up in the fervor of love of country and keep the spirit of EDSA in their heart and mind. They will pass the story of our journey to their children and so on. This is our family’s journey to EDSA. Ask your elders who were there to tell their stories. Then you will understand what it means to be a Filipino who loves his country and its people.