Monday, August 22, 2005

Deja Vu

The Long View : 1983 and 2005

Manuel L. Quezon III
Inquirer News Service

IN 1983, on the anniversary of the Plaza Miranda bombing, Ninoy Aquino came home. The man who was hustled down the side stairs of the airport tube where his China Airlines flight had docked was a man far different from the ebullient senator of 1971.

He was a man purified of any suspicion of self-interested action; a proven patriot. He had returned not even to fight, but to try and make peace with the dictatorship and hopefully make it relax its grip. Ferdinand Marcos returned his offer of reconciliation with a bullet. Except that Marcos said it did not come from him, but from the communists.

In the presence of 2,000 soldiers sent to meet the exiled senator, Ninoy was taken down by three Philippine Constabulary officers; and before his feet touched the tarmac, he was shot in the back of the head. The nation was stunned, first into terror and then into rage.

From the first timid testing of the waters by the people who lined up to view Ninoy's remains at his old home at Times Street, and who followed his bier in the millions, it was apparent that 1983 would be a real annus horribilis for the Marcoses.

A few days after Ninoy's death, oppositionists formed JAJA-Justice for Aquino, Justice for All and declared:

"We demand the immediate resignation of President Marcos, the entire Cabinet, the Executive Committee, members of the Batasang Pambansa, and top generals of the military. A responsible transition government composed of men and women of unquestionable integrity should be established to pave the way for the realization of genuine democracy in this country."

These objectives would remain the aim of the opposition from then on. In no time, these objectives and sentiments catalyzed the formation of what came to be known as the cause-oriented groups and the partisans of the parliament of the streets.

The gap left by the refusal of the middle and professional classes to take part in sordid-not to mention, dangerous-political affairs was now closed. From one end of the political spectrum to the other was a solid band of opposition to the murderous dictatorship.

Marcos swiftly resorted to his old trick of divide and rule, but the more he sought to divide, the more convinced the opposition became that he was weakening and could not rule.

Writing after Edsa, Ma. Serena Diokno summed up this period as "a movement of unity and struggle-of oneness in opposition to the Marcos regime, its authoritarian apparatus, and its abuse of the Filipino people; of differences within a movement colored by various shades of political understanding, at times sadly marked by personal political ambition; and of unrelenting struggle against a dictatorship propped up by the government of the United States."

Indeed, it took some groups longer to get over their caution in dealing with others. But the Church was firmly in place in the battlefront. Jaime Cardinal Sin directed the operations from the time he officiated at Ninoy's funeral Mass, where he bestowed the martyr with the honors befitting a head of state.

In retrospect, this process seems to have been a continuous march, along city streets lined with buildings from where supporters rained yellow confetti, to the tune of ati-atihan drums and the wailing of police sirens. In reality, it was a series of skirmishes and crises, of exhilarating advance and painful retreat and regroupment.

It's defining events were summed up by Diokno as, "the early conflict between the Church's call for national reconciliation and the people's demand for the removal of Marcos, the agonizing period of deciding whether or not to take part in the parliamentary (Batasan) elections in May 1984, the failed Bayan congress... in May 1985, and the founding of the BANDILA..." Through it all, the quibbling among oppositionists would continue, without stop, but also without any harmful effects. The movement was unstoppable, even by the pettiness of some of those who comprised it.

It embarked on efforts learned from leftist teach-ins, forums, mass actions like marches and boycott campaigns against crony businesses; and the use of striking symbols and slogans with the color yellow. Its members continued to quarrel among themselves over means and even ends.

They quarreled about the ideal form of transitional government and its legal details, about the need or folly of including the US bases as an issue, and about the restructuring of political processes, if not society itself. Taking a cue from Ninoy's arrival statement, Cardinal Sin proposed, on Sept. 23, 1983, an eight-member national council composed of four representatives from within and outside the government. This was the opening salvo of the Church's effort to steer the irresistible forces of change into peaceful and orderly channels.

On Jan. 7 and 8, 1984, the Congress of the Filipino People (Kompil) was held, in an attempt to unify the opposition groups. It was composed of moderates, and attempted to answer two questions: should the "Marcos Resign" movement go on, and, if Marcos ever quit, who should be entrusted with running the government? By 1986, people had decided that the time for involvement had come precisely because the things the Left despised but which the moderates valued-order, decency, the safety of property-were in grave peril. They, who were leery of politics, had taken over it completely, to restore everything to the way it was, and put politics and power again in its subordinate place.

Where is today's Kompil? Or can such an assembly be repeated today? That is the question. But it's well to remember that apathy was a genuine worry to the committed then, as it is today. Then the leaders on both sides were as notorious as they seem to be today.