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August 21, 1983

Jonathan Olabre, Columnist


"In a matter of minutes this could be all over you know. And you will not be able to talk to me again." - Ninoy Aquino 1983


"Having walked in the valley of the shadow of death two times! Titles and Positions no longer matter to me!" - Jovito Salonga.


August 21, 1971


My first hazy memories of that day was an evening of frantic activities by uncles and grandfathers and aunts and grandaunts. Cars were starting and revving up in our garage. It was a family compound. They were clambering into the cars and shouting. The female members of the clan were shouting that they take care. The entire clan was mobilizing.


Reverse to a year before, I went to the house of my Lolo Samuel. It was evening. They were watching the broadcasts of the First Quarter Storm. I came to know what a rally or demonstration was. It was all in black and white then. The skirmishes between the students and the riot police. I vividly remember the footages of teargas smoke as shown on TV. Curious as I was, I asked: "what’s going on?". Lolo Samuel found it difficult to explain. My uncles kept quiet. My Lolo Samuel never found the way to explain to me that this was an upheaval that they never had to imagine, having experienced World War II and all. And yet history was being played before my eyes before a phosphor screen. I tried to comprehend when we asked my father, who was a policeman "ano pasalubong?" for us as his children, having been used to Chiz Curls and Habaya Pretzels before that. My father, haggard and tired would say "tear gas!". I asked myself "what’s going on?".


Going back to the night of August 21, 1971. The scene was frantic in our compound. My grand uncle Jovito Salonga was on the stage in Plaza Miranda. We found oput it was bombed! He was a favorite cousin of my grand uncles and grandfathers. My Nanay as I called my grandmother was his first cousin. During his campaigns, my grandmothers, grandaunts would be the kitchen crew, my uncles who were teenagers then would form the cadre of those who would put up campaign posters. This was on a national scale.


At the garage, things were getting a bit hairy. I was restricted to the 2nd floor of the ancestral house. I just looked out of the window. I was 5 years old. My Lolo Jose Miguel was arguing with my other grand uncles. He wanted to go to Plaza Miranda. He was carrying his bolo! Truly a descendant of a Katipunero and a Filibustero and also of Don Lupo Miguel, a former Mayor that was excommunicated together with the entire clan by the Frailes. Now you know why I am a Protestant.

My lolo Jovito almost died in Plaza Miranda. He was clinically dead for 35 minutes. Yet he survived. He won and got the most number of votes in that election. Yet dark skies loomed ahead.


Until now, there is nothing to say who really masterminded the Plaza Miranda bombings. Nobody came forth. It is something to a prelude to a Dark Chapter. A month after that, the Writ of Habeas Corpus was suspended. The mewlings as a response by a society that was weaned on democratic principles was a response that was needed. The Barometer for the response in Stealing Democracy was there. Marcos needed only to grab it!


September 23, 1972


A morning of high voices. An aunt who wanted to go to school at FEU because there were exams. My lola Aurelia who would say "Martial Law" na. "Giyera Ma!". I woke up to those voices. My morning TV fare was always My Favorite Martian. Nothing. After that, on Channel 9 it was wall to wall Herculoids, Mightor and Moby Dick. No complaints from me but I heard from the whispers of my elders. Do not go out! Close the gates! Martial Law! I saw Information Secretary Francisco Tatad on TV and Marcos later that night. Does that mean I am no longer free?!


Fast Forward August 21, 1983


It has been in the papers. In Daily Express, Bulletin Today, in all the Marcos controlled media. Ninoy would be going back. Days before that, going to school, my Tito Isbo would comment on the significance. Yes, I remember the Noise Barrage in 1978. For me, I knew I was not free. But what can I do? Can I endanger the job of my father who is a Policeman? We lived in a Project by the Ministry of Human Settlements in Caniogan. Why would I want us to be kicked out? Masaya naman kami dun.


But it was in that afternoon that history happened. Thirty Seven years ago. I wanted to play basketball late that afternoon. I was playing my U2 War Album. My Lola Engga came. She talked with Mama. Outside my bedroom window I saw Mr. Perez and the other Bagong Lipunan Community Association leaders of our housing project talking. Something happened. They killed Ninoy!


Then Mama told us Ninoy was dead. It was something that we could hardly relate to. But deep inside me, I knew. This was a turning point. Mama and Papa ordered a lockdown. No one is allowed outside. Then, electricity was cut off. We all were inside our unit. We watched as dusk descended. We then discovered that a dark shroud has enveloped the land more than ten years ago. We will be shaped by this event. Up until now.


It was August 21, 1983


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