The Day We Reclaimed Our Courage

Reading Tony La Viña’s note on FB about that historic day in August 21, 1983 led me to a trip back to that fateful day and the subsequent game-changing events that followed.

I remember I was with some comrades in the anti-dictatorship political movement about to have our usual cheap palengke lunch at the Sta. Ana Market in Manila when we heard the news that Ninoy was shot at the airport, and was being rushed to the hospital by soldiers.

We would usually walk to that market from our usual meeting place at the Apostolic Center for our lunch or PDP (pamahaw dalang paniudto, and sometimes panihapon) breakfast, lunch and dinner in one. Those days we survived on meager funds for our political work.

The night before, we were discussing whether we should join the welcome mobilization for Ninoy at MIA (now NAIA 1). We decided to just wait for more developments as we were not sure how the martial law government would react to Ninoy’s arrival. His arrival was supposed to be kept secret but we got the information somehow. We also heard Imelda announcing a possible threat to Ninoy’s life if he would come home.

We were all stunned by the news. We simply did not know how to react.

When we got home, we watched in disbelief at the news on black and white TV. There was the Metrocom commander holding and playing with the supposed weapon used by the assassin – a magnum 357, announcing that Ninoy had been killed and that the soldiers were also able to kill the then unidentified “communist” or hired assassin, later identified as Rolando Galman. I remember one of the activists who was with us throwing his shoe at the TV screen out of anger. The re-investigation and retrial after the Marcoses were kicked out eventually revealed a web of conspiracy which could be traced to the highest level of government. Until now, the mastermind has not been named.

I will never forget that look on the newscaster’s face – as if telling the viewers not to believe what she was reading. The newscaster, Tina Monson-Palma, was one of the very few credible journalists during that period of controlled and silenced media. During those days, the only accurate parts of the newspapers were the date and movie ads. Today, I just smile when I hear young activists rant about lack of media freedom.

Ninoy’s assassination triggered a series of game-changing and history-making events, eventually leading to the rebirth of democracy.

It is impossible to forget the outpouring of grief as people bravely defied and conquered the fear that was systematically instilled by the martial law regime. There were long queues of people in Santo Domingo Chruch paying their respects to the slain Ninoy. I remember we would go to the wake at 2 or 3 am thinking that the people would be gone by then, only to find longer lines of brave souls.

With Index colleagues, we started producing and distributing the black “Hindi Ka Nag-iisa” pins. With fellow political activists, we produced, printed and distributed those black Ninoy posters with the message The Filipino is Worth Dying For.

The funeral march through hot sun and rains from Santo Domingo to Paranaque from 7am to about 7pm was another turning point in our history. At least a million Filipinos openly showed their grief and anger collectively shouting Tama na. Sobra na!. Enough is enough ! There was also a heartwarming display of generosity as drinking water, pandesal and even siopao were offered free to the marchers.

I made the mistake of wearing my brandnew leather shoes for the funeral march. By mid day, my shoes were ready to be retired.

The following day, the headlines of almost all newspapers screamed: “One person hit by lightning!” conveniently ignoring the massive show of collective courage by one million Filipinos. However, the so-called mosquito press bravely gave accurate reportage.

History had become irreversible by then. That day, the Filipinos reclaimed their courage.

– Kaloy Manlupig

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