Graveside Volleys

by Juan L. Mercado

Wednesday is the  39th anniversary of martial law imposition. To save the Republic, freedoms must be curtailed, Ferdinand Marcos said. He  didn’t bat  an eyelash.  A 14-year dictatorship followed.  After People Power restored freedoms, did  nationwide amnesia set in?

An exhaustive  analysis is not  possible. “Sidebar” is capped at 2,800 characters. Still, true accounts may offer insights, specially for readers  too young  to remember.

Story One: Then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile’s  fake Wack-Wack ambush, that triggered  martial law  arrests, was days away. Some details of Proclamation 1081 had leaked.

At Press Foundation of Asia,  publisher Joaquin “Chino”  Roces, asked the Indonesian journalist and  Magsaysay Awardee  Mochtar Lubis: “Sukarno and Suharto arrested you and padlocked your newspaper,  What is your advice for us?”

The conference room fell silent.  Lubis’ reply was measured.  “First, be friendly with your guards. They’re human. Second,  keep busy. Third, don’t let prison embitter you.”

Among the 22 Manila-based journalists, arrested in the first sweep, were: “Chino”, of course, plus Free Press’ Teodoro Locsin and Naploeon Rama, Daily Mirror’s  Amando Doronila Evening News’ Max Soliven and  Luis Beltran, Manuel Almario of PNS.

All would add to Lubis gudelines: “Draw up a power-of-attorney for the wife.”  This can ease burdens for her.

Story Two:  Near midnight, Col. Generoso Alejo told Camp Crame detainees:  “All journalists please follow me. You have a visitor.”  Streets were, emptied by the 10-to-4 a.m. curfew.

Our visitor” was our jailor: PC Commander General Fidel V. Ramos. “Nothing personal, gentlemen,” he said. “I was ordered to neutralize you. Please cooperate. We’ll try to make things easy for you.”

Did we cooperate – by forgetting?  Eight out of 10 students today barely recall Benigno Aquino’s kangaroo trial. Or  why he was gunned down. “ The  Philippines became a gulag of safe houses” where citizens were tortured, maimed and salvaged,’ Amnesty  International reported.

Story Three :  At  the UN  Food and Agriculture Organization’s offices in Rome,  the Italian  information officer  pledged: “Sir, when that   SOB  flees, you need not come down from the  4th  floor.  I’ll   bring up the teletype prints to you.”

This was 1986. Twice a day, Franca Steinmann copied AP, Reuters, AFP and Rau Uno dispatches on the gathering storm at  Edsa.  We’d share them with anxious Filipino staff members.

When Chinook helicopters lifted  Marcoses and  cronies from Malacanang, ahead of EDSA  crowds,  Ms. Steinmann was on leave.  But her colleague, Lola Camacho of Spain, was immediately on the phone: “Sir, the Marcoses tucked tail. I’m coming up with the wires now.”

Philippine Council of  Agriculture chair, Ramon  Valmayor, fidgeted in his visitor’s chair. The swift unfolding of People Power caught him in the midst of an official Europe trip.”Relax  Mon. You can fly to Madrid this afternoon,” I said. “The Marcoses  beat it.”

There are over 2,000 employees of 80 nationalities who work in FAO headquarters, along the Aventino. That day, they  swamped Filipino staff members with congratulations

The tributes were well-merited. People Power was replayed in Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Uprising,” Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolt”, even Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution.

It has been 25 years since Filipinos uprooted a dictatorship without spilling blood. Today?  We’re prodded to deny that legacy by allowing  graveside volleys over a dictator’s embalmed remains. Onli in da Pilipins.


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