Friday, February 17, 2006

A Squandered Gift (Part 1)

Next week will be filled with activities concerning the 20th anniversary of EDSA I. The events will be spearheaded by many groups in varying degrees, the most lackluster being put together by the People Power Commission. Go figure. Maybe it’s because many of the new members have no real connection to such an historical event. The other reasons are obvious. Inspired by Edwin Lacierda’s memories of EDSA I, here is my recollection of Day One:

The 22nd of February 1986 was a Saturday. As members of NAMFREL Makati, our group of about a dozen (6 cars, a driver plus navigator for each made a whole team), we were fresh from having experienced the most disappointing election ever. After witnessing blatant cheating, the walkout of our computer volunteers from La Salle, Noel Trinidad’s kids beaten up by goons in Makati City Hall, sitting on ballot boxes with nuns to keep the soldiers away for days, and missing Valentine’s Day, we were all pretty much biting at the bit to do something.

Cory Aquino had just called for civil disobedience and we were meeting in Winnie Monsod’s house in DasmariƱas Village to decide on just how to do that. It was around 4pm. At some point, Winnie was called away to the phone (mobile phones were non-existent then, only VHS radios). Her face was grey when she returned – Betty Go Belmonte had just told her that Enrile and Ramos had holed themselves up in Camp Aguinaldo and needed help. Winnie sent me across the street to Enrile’s house to confirm that he wasn’t there. I ran back to report that the guard in a balaclava and fatigues with bullets crisscrossing his chest, holding a huge machine gun, had just said no one was home. That was enough evidence for me.

The group sprang into action. Some were assigned to man phones, others to buy food (we’d been told the guys in Aguinaldo had no food). My teammate Javy and I were sent to pick up Christian Monsod and Joe Con from the RFM building and drive them to Villa San Miguel for a meeting with Cardinal Sin. It was frustrating for me and Javy to wait outside (we were being eaten alive by mosquitoes) while Christian and Joe helped the Cardinal prepare his call to the streets as Winnie screamed from our radios that we should hurry, force Cardinal Sin to go on radio - now! Finally, the men came out and we raced back to Makati where we met up with the rest of our group. Then our convoy hightailed out of Makati with all the stuff that had been bought – bread, rice, soft drinks, “zesto”, canned goods, but no can opener!

We reached the Boni gate of Aguinaldo just as General Balbanero himself was closing it. Two of my friends rushed in. I tried to follow, but General Balbanero blocked me. That’s where I stayed for the next few hours, slowly being surrounded by bodies and pushed hard against the bars. While there, we ferried bags of rice, loads of food over our heads into the hands of waiting soldiers on the other side as the foreign press blinded us with their flashbulbs. The press seemed bewildered, shouting questions at us, asking what exactly it was we were doing. Someone said we were protecting the soldiers inside. A few of them smiled and shook their heads. Armida Siguion-Reyna fought her way to my side at around 10pm, begging to be let in. I really felt for her then, she was sobbing, and screamed at the general to let her be with her brother. He finally opened the gate a crack to let her through.

The crowd on Boni was quite large by midnight. My two friends made their way back to the gate with news that both Enrile and Ramos were fine, but if anyone betrayed fear, it was only Enrile. They had witnessed the press conference with both men and updated us on the situation. At about 2am, my friends and I decided we needed air, so we made our way through the throng and walked to EDSA. What a sight! There were thousands of people on the street! They had heard the call, and without question, flowed out onto EDSA. It was a heady moment. I cried.

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