Monday, February 20, 2006

A Squandered Gift (Part 3)

Did I tell you about the fear? By our second evening on EDSA we were suffused with it. I tried not to think about the danger we were in, but the reminders were everywhere. You couldn't run from hearing rumors of impending attack, that loyalist troops were going to mow us down, that Marcos had really lost his marbles and was going to kill us all. We now know that on this third day on EDSA, it almost became reality.

Day Three excitement began very early for us. We were driving south from Ortigas to Makati, that stretch of EDSA was virtually empty of vehicles. It was around 4am. We had six cars in our little convoy, and by this time, we were operating like an army unit (some military influence must have crept in after our experience with the marines). A couple of the cars went ahead to scout around routes to Malacanan. I sat alongside Javy, my teammate, while Winnie Monsod slept in the backseat. How she got there, I don't remember. Javy and I were arguing by then, the exhaustion and stress was beginning to show. We argued about whether to keep on EDSA toward Makati or take the side streets of Guadalupe to get to the Fort Bonifacio area. The argument was settled for us when our radio crackled to life - APCs were on EDSA, moving toward us! We raced down Guadalupe bridge and heard them before we saw them, it was so dark. I remember saying that it sounded like Death was coming toward us.

The two APCs lumbered onto Guadalupe Bridge. Without people around them, they looked huge. Javy hauled his little car over the island to follow them. We drove alongside as I screamed into the radio for our friends to race ahead and warn the folks manning the barricades. The sound of the engines and the tracks on the road was deafening, but Winnie was so out of it, I had to shake her awake. We stared in wonder at the armored cars, the turreted machine guns manned by soldiers in battle fatigues. We began to laugh to help control our adrenalin surge and hide our fear. We stayed close, following till they turned right onto the empty fields (Mega Mall). It was bumpy but we didn't notice. Finally, they stopped and so did we. It was so dark we couldn't see in front of our faces. And you would've missed seeing the APCs parked five feet in front of you if it wasn't for the car's headlights.

From rumbling thunder to dead silence. Three cars faced two APCs. The machine guns were trained on us. There were only around 15 of us, how could we hold this line? After a short wait, Winnie took my hand, we were both shaking. She handed me a couple of sandwiches, I fumbled to hold on to them because I had my rosary in my free hand. The others seemed to take the cue. We slowly moved forward, closer and closer. At some point we started the rosary. I don't remember if I said the prayers, I was so scared. Then, at the end, Winnie and I walked straight up to talk to the soldier manning the machine gun. Winnie offered him a sandwich, and I stupidly asked him if he and his friends would like to join us, they must have been stifling inside that APC (picnic in the dark, anyone?). Without the hint of a smile, he said, "aircon kami sa loob, Ma'am." Well. How was that for an icebreaker?

As dawn started to break, we were joined by more vehicles. It was then that we met Time Magazine's Sandra Burton, we ended up sitting together on the hood of a car while the APCs stood silently. She asked me if I realized what I was doing. I think I said there was nothing else we could do, our backs had been pushed to the wall. She said that what we were doing was admirable, almost miraculous. Weren't we afraid? I said yes, very afraid, but that wouldn't stop us. Then our radios shattered the quiet with news that the area of Libis was in chaos, the people were being teargassed. So these APCs were probably reinforcement or backup, or had orders to do the same. But nothing like that happened. Maybe praying the rosary did help, these soldiers didn't hurt our ragged little group. They just gunned their engines, turned around, and drove back towards Makati, flattening the talahib in their path. It was much later when we learned that a full assault had been planned. There would've been hundreds of dead. There wasn't a soul in that huge mass that didn't think that prayers and faith helped stave off the carnage.

As the day wore on, news filtered back to us that MBS4 had been taken over by the rebels and barricades of people were beginning to form. I personally felt elated by the news. My father lost his Program Director job with ABS-CBN the day Marcos declared Martial Law. We didn't know if the Lopezes would ever get the station back, but just in case, my Dad helped the faithful engineers and staff hide the OB vans at his house on Times Street not far from Cory Aquino's. My stepmother was livid. The vans' tires made deep ruts in the little garden, there wasn't enough driveway.

Later that evening, we heard that Marcos had left. Oh joy! We were dancing on the streets, laughing and crying, all half a million of us. People began to allow exhaustion to take over, started making for home. But alas, hopes were dashed when Radyo Bandido frantically made the call to return. It was a hoax. The Dictator was still "in the house".

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