When I joined the Liberal Party in 2000 (shortly before the start of the juetengate), August 21 took on a special significance because the political organization I was now a part of actually, strangely coincidentally, has three important events in its history which happened on this very same day.
The first is the Plaza Miranda Bombing of 1971. During the miting de avance of the LP at historic Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, Manila (in front of Quiapo Church itself, for those unfamiliar with Manila’s geography), someone(s?) threw two grenades on the stage where the Party candidates were. Our official history always points out that “the entire leadership of the LP was almost decimated.” None died that day, but many were badly injured, some, like Ka Jovy Salonga, for life.
Who threw the grenades? At the time, the natural suspect, like with every administration, was Malacañang, although Ferdinand Marcos certainly deserved the accusation: there was little love lost between the Dictator-to-be and his former political party, especially as Gerry Roxas, Jovy Salonga and Ninoy Aquino – the LP’s “big three” of that time – were relentless in their critique of him, and Marcos was growing more and more draconian every day.
Marcos, on the other hand, accused the Communists as being the culprits. It was pretty strange at the time because ol’ Ferdie constantly accused the LP leaders, Ninoy in particular, of being in cahoots with the Reds. This was the 1970s, after all, and being accused as a Communist in a former US colony is like the kiss of death, sometimes quite literally.
It gets confusing though because Ka Jovy relatively recently came out with a revelation that, indeed, it was Joma Sison, the CPP’s Supremo-in-denial, who ordered the hit. I didn’t bother to read Ka Jovy’s latest twist to one of the oldest “whodunits” of Philippine politics and history because there was something quite… sour with all of it, in my opinion.
I know Jovy Salonga is perhaps one of the most respected political figures in this country but… I find it disturbing that he, of all people, would have taken so long to tell us this piece of information. I mean, even within the LP, the “myth” has always been that Marcos ordered that little piece of political skulduggery against us. There was never any talk, even on the speculation level, that, maybe, it really was our old ideological rivals that wanted our leadership dead.
Hell, we benefited from the Bombing, after all. 1971was a midterm election year. Because of the bombing, the accruing disgust of the public over the Marcos regime crystallized into a near-solid vote for the LP on nearly all levels. Only one NP got a seat in the Senate after the Bombing, and Manila once more became Blue territory.
Like the possibility of the Sandiganbayan finding Erap innocent of the charges we used as casus belli to throw him out of Malacañang in 2001, Ka Jovy suddenly up and telling everyone that, no, it wasn’t Marcos but Joma, who ordered the hit is… upsetting. It turns your world upside down.
Some people might claim that, given the context and the effect it had on Marcos, is it really important to know who did the act? Just like with Gloria, doesn’t the end justify the means?
Not when you claim to be a Liberal. Compromise, as I’ve learned to accept, is part and parcel of the political process in a democracy. The forces of reform must adopt a gradual co-optation of the status quo, the “slow change” that accrues overtime through the development of systems and structures and, yes, people that support the ideals you want your nation to be governed under.
But nowhere it is said – in the LP Constitution, in our old Kartila, in the ideals of the Philippine Liberal Movement from its first enunciation by Manuel Roxas the Elder to the ones we teach KALIPI recruits today – that we Liberals should justify the ends with the means. We have the gall to present a system of governance so radically different from the status quo with its emphasis on an inclusivist, values-centered body of belief. Words like “principled politics” were bywords we were nurtured on during those heady Liberal Family days, when even ordinary Filipinos wanted to the join the LP not because they wanted to run for public office but because they saw in us the vehicle for the reform of Philippine politics and a means for them to serve the country.
If we could claim such lofty ideals as the reason why the voting public should elect our leaders and join our cause… how can we live and act any less?
Otherwise, what did Ninoy die for?
This is the second event we Philippine Liberals are supposed to observe on this day, the date on which Ninoy was assassinated minutes after his plane touched down on his beloved Philippines.
I’m actually old enough to remember that date, if hazily. I wasn’t so young in 1983 that I couldn’t notice the… agitation my elders felt that hot, seemingly oppressive 21 August 1983 afternoon when my dad ( I think; or was that my mom or my grandfather?) said in hushed tones to the other elders of our family that, “patay na si Ninoy.”
Ninoy was dead. To my 1983 self, there was a sense confusion and lack of proper understanding because I didn’t know who that guy who just died was. One of our relatives, perhaps? A close friend of the family’s? Why were my elders seemingly so agitated by the news of this Ninoy dying?
Understand that to my 6-year old mind, advanced for my age as I reportedly was, Martial Law’s relevance came in the sense of sadness for the taking off the air of Voltes V and the sudden disappearance of the Space Invader machines over at SM Makati. What the hell did my 6-year old self care for the great, historic movements happening around me at the time? The first time to my recollection that I appreciated an event of monumental importance was in 1990, when the Wall fell. On my birthday, too, if I recall correctly.
So Ninoy was dead and more than a million people turned out for his funeral. It would still take three years for People Power I to happen, but its said that the restoration of our democracy happened then and there, on a tarmac made hallowed by the blood of a martyr.
But the questions remain to this day. Who, really, ordered the hit on Ninoy? Again, conventional wisdom pointed to his archrival, or at least to his wife. Actually, with the passage of time and with some sort of nostalgia for the achievements of the Marcos years mixed in with the “might have beens”, Imelda Marcos seems to get most of the blame. Imelda did it, or had it done, so some people say, and that Ferdie was either too sick to even plan the whole thing, or that, ruthless as he was, Marcos would not have stooped so low, or that his brilliant mind knew all too well what would happen if Ninoy was made a martyr.
This question remains important because Ninoy’s assassination was the “tipping point” against the Conjugal Dictatorship. Filipinos are a forgiving, hardship-bearing lot. We have an amazingly high threshold for outrage, or at least for that level in which our outrage translates into action. But when that limit has been breached, the source of the outrage had better run for the hills because the anger of the Filipino can be as swift, decisive and unstoppable as a tsunami.
Regarding the shennanigans of our political elite, we as a people tolerate their hijinks, in my view, so long as their actions remain either below our active consciousness, or does not cross the line of decency. Painful words, even really bad ones, said in public are tolerable, and our appreciation for telenovelas can translate into a fascination with the intramurals of our leaders when it becomes all-too-visible; the Impeachment Trial of Joseph Estrada remains as one of the highest-rating soap operas, er, news coverages of all time, after all.
But decency is the keyword here. The naked lie, in public, is too us an exercise in the burlesque, and hot-blooded as we Pinoys are, murder is perhaps one of the acts we most despise. And the colder the murder gets, the more outraged we are. The assassination of Ninoy, done in broad daylight and in full view of the public, and from behind – if there’s another thing that outrages Pinoy machismo more, it is cravenness – no less, was an act of utter despicability that its expression of outrage was such that no amount of intimidation can quell. And in three years, and several more acts of outrageousness later (like the craven killing of Antique Governor Evelio Javier, himself a schoolmate and partymate of Ninoy, during the Snap Elections of 1986), Marcos was gone.
Yet 25 years later, the questions hang: who did it? Who wanted Ninoy dead so badly it had to be done at any cost and with such brazeness? And why, after so many sympathetic administrations and more than two decades past, do we know so little?
These are important questions. Perhaps to one who has never known the depths of disillusionment of 8 July 2005, the mere act of the Blessed Pedigreed saying “Marcos did it” is enough. But I remember what it was going through my mind before the Sandiganbayan read the verdict on Erap: putangina, he has to be guilty, otherwise all we did in 2000 and 2001 would have not only been a sham, but a grave injustice.
What if we were wrong?
Marcos dying without paying for his crimes to the Filipino people was an injustice already, but how will we know whether this particular sin should be dumped on his epitaph, among the rest? And what about the twelve who languish in Muntinlupa? Do we, who so brazenly declare our being the polar opposite of Marcos and his penchant for incarcerating people who irked him, continue to suppress their freedoms simply because they refuse to tell us who the mastermind(s) was (were)? What if they don’t really know? I know the Jesuits taught us that there can be no forgiveness without justice, but… shouldn’t justice, real justice, be more than this? Shouldn’t it be premised on truth, and not out of spite?
And is Noynoy so blinded by his hatred for Gloria that he can declare that we have retrogressed in the 25 years since his sainted father’s death? How can he say something like, “choosing the difficult right over the convenient wrong would be easier, almost instinctive, or even unnecessary. However, it saddens me to find that this has not been the case so far”, especally in the context of 8 July 2005? If choosing the “difficult right” would be “easier, almost instinctive,or even unnecessary”, then how come he came out with that insane justification for the 8 July 2005 “official stand” of the LP? How can he not stand up to Drilon and Chito and whoever the hell it was who thinks that having an “election mentality”, of allowing the LP’s rank and file to decide on the issue of party leadership once and for all, is not a good idea?
Is it not a “convenient wrong” to seek the blessing of Erap Estrada, to even ally with him, because now Gloria is the pet peeve, when just a few years ago he (Noynoy) was taking Lito Atienza to task for supporting Erap, when the rest of the LP’s Blessed Pedigreed helped in the ousting of Estrada? That’s why I could praise Kiko Pangilinan and tried my best to convince people to vote for him last 2007. At least Sen. Kiko had principles enough to say, no, I can’t possibly ally with someone I once declared as one of the most corrupt and immoral leaders of this country.
Because, given all these realities, I find it harder and harder each year to go up to young people and recruit them for the LP’s youth wing. The Kabataang Liberal ng Pilipinas (KALIPI) was founded on this day, too, and if our organizational history is true (minus the usual expected embellishments), then we’ve played a significant role both in the strengthening of the liberal movement in this country and in the advancement of its causes.
KALIPI knows about doing the “difficult right” over the “convenient wrong” that Noynoy bandies about. When the Party’s leaders virtually abandoned Jovy Salonga in 1991, it was KALIPI that supported him. Even before our elders publicly took a stand against Erap, we were already thick into the Resign-Impeach-Oust (RIO) Movement, being one of the co-founders of KOMPIL II Youth.
And right after 8 July 2005, we were the first to call on Frank Drilon to convene the National Executive Council of the LP, so a bloody civil war between our elders could be avoided. What was so wrong with that, we thought? If Drilon and the rest of the Blessed Pedigreed was truly in the right, if Noynoy’s oh-so-long defense of the bypassing of the NECO and the processes of the LP regarding major national issues was in order, than why should they fear convening the NECO proper, so the so-called stand would have the stamp of being an official act?
Instead, we got persecuted, our sacred autonomy and history as the oldest Allied Sectoral Organization transgressed. If Dr. Ronald Meinardus hadn’t been such a stickler for the liberal ideals himself, we would have found our Mindanao Congress dead in the water from out of nowhere, since the Drilon people called up LP leaders in the area to say the KALIPI activity was cancelled. Too bad they had to call FNF; Dr. M instantly realized something wrong was going on because it was Chit Asis who called to cancel a KALIPI activity, not the organiztion’s officers. So Dr. M had his staff call us to confirm if it was true we were cancelling the Mindanao Congerss. Suffice to say, we were shocked.
And what do we have to show on the 19th anniversary of KALIPI’s founding? Manolo praised us recently for remaining above the civil war that has rent our once glorious party. Despite our known partisanships – who among the leaders of KALIPI are not part of one camp or another? – we have tried our best not to go down to the level our elders have. Certainly Jan and I have even subtly directed our elders in the Atienza Wing to less compromising actions or positons with regard to KALIPI when we feel its going too far. I can’t speak for the other camp, but what I’ve heard is their recent plan to grab the leadership of KALIPI fully into their camp leaves me cold, and more assured that I have, indeed, been right in going against their elders.
How many times have I taught in Basic Orientation Seminars, speaking to young people and trying to convince them to be active politically and to do so under the Liberal Party? “We’re different here,” I would say with all sincerity.
Back then, before July 8, before Garci, this was true. Our history alone proves it, and this day has three events that every Philippine Liberal is proud to recall as being a part of our story.
I just hope that, someday, I could once again experience August 21 with such pride. Because today, there is so much pain.