Saturday, February 18, 2006

A Squandered Gift (Part 2)

We spent a lot of that first night near the Mormon Church on White Plains Road. There was so much open space, talahib dominated the expanse, and among them we picked out spots to go potty (portalets were unheard of then). There were no street lights, and the dark made everything look more sinister. People spoke in hushed tones as some slept on the sidewalks or listened to Radyo Veritas (or was it Radyo Bandido by then?). Those of us who were awake jumped at every sound we heard, our ears tried to make up for our lack of sight. It didn't help that every half hour or so someone would come over and report that Marcos loyalist troops were trying to sneak in via Blue Ridge or from the area that is now Ortigas Center. At some point we heard that Ramos had moved to Crame. One guy earned our collective ire when he suggested we make molotov cocktails. A nun almost boxed his ears. We relaxed a bit when we heard someone snore.

Our second day on EDSA was unlike any Sunday we'd ever experienced. None of us had had much sleep, if at all, but thankfully, it was fabulous weather wise - you could sleep in comfort under the stars because it was so cool, and the days weren't as warm as they are now. Apart from bathroom facilities, the other problem then was food. Although the restaurants in Green Hills were open, most us didn't want to stray too far away. Besides, our cars were used as barricades. But it wasn't long before someone we'd never met before offered us something to eat and drink. There were so many people by then, we heard at least 250,000. So many people, but not a single person lost their valuables to a thief.

Around lunch time, we noticed a fighter plane in the sky while we milled around the area in front of Crame. The crowd let up a big roar, everyone waved to the plane as it buzzed overhead, doing slow, downward circles. Then we all fell silent when we realized that we didn't know if the pilot was friend or foe. See, we didn't have access to mobile phones and not everyone had radios, so we got news the old fashioned way - by inaccurate word of mouth. By then, we'd heard we were going to be bombed or attacked, that loyalist troops were coming for us. That epiphany silenced us, made us all think - fight or flight? Guess you know the answer.

It must've been mid-afternoon when we heard the choppers while we were hanging around the corner of EDSA and Ortigas. They came from the south, and on the ground I think there were military trucks that arrived as well as some tanks and APCs. Buses were used to "strengthen" our barricades. Instead of running from the Hueys and tanks, we all moved toward them, some of us shouting to be calm, but with trembling voices. The courage of the folks around me was enough to give me some. I remember having to suppress my sense of self-preservation as I walked toward what my brain screamed was danger. We watched as the choppers landed (around where Robinson's Galleria is now) and the soldiers started jumping out. They were joined by others from the trucks, forming a defensive circle around the Hueys. We took a silent cue and surrounded them. My friends and I found ourselves looking at these battle-hardened souls (we learned later they were Marines flown in from Mindanao), and my heart went our to the soldier in front of me. He looked so very tired, His uniform had safety pins for buttons, and he was wearing slippers. We tried to talk to them, they muttered one word answers. Then, it began. Someone had flowers and she started to give them to the soldiers. More flowers appeared as if out of nowhere, and as we received them we offered them to the soldiers. Some of us put daisies in rifle barrels if their owners refused to take them. All the while, our hearts beat wildly. The nuns and priests kept up the rosary, it helped calm us. Then a tank revved its engine and tried to move forward, but without hesitating, we held our ground, many sitting on the ground, right in the tank's path. We pressed closer, finally all the tanks were engulfed by people. I noticed a lot of the men were crying, the women just hardened their hearts and stood pat.

After that little episode, we walked toward the camps to let off some adrenalin and calm ourselves. I am not sure if this was when I first saw Gringo and the RAM. I seem to remember that at some point, Enrile crossed from Aguinaldo to Crame. The soldiers looked tough, they were much better dressed than the marines we'd just encountered. And they wore these patches, upside down Philippine flags. A lot of the girls found them attractive.

As night fell, we decided that it was time to take the cars to find proper bathrooms (we hadn't showered, but we felt much cleaner after brushing our teeth) and do a little reconnaissance. Ketly (friends of June Keithley call her that) was by then busy on Radyo Bandido. Through her reports we heard about all the "celebs" that were on the streets with us. From Nora Aunor to Freddie Aguilar. It was nice to know my show biz colleagues were out in force. By then it really didn't matter who was there. We were all there together.


Boyet Sison said...

Dearest Leah,
what a wonderful piece ! has it been 27 years ? i remember this as if it was yesterday.

Helga said...

Boyet dear,

Yes, imagine that. 27 years! So do I, the memories are fresh. On a lighter note, just 2 years later, we had Euphoria. :-)