Twenty Five Years Later
|Posted by Manila Mail under Our Town|
By Jon Melegrito
Watching the events unfold in Egypt the last few weeks brought back images of our own People Power Revolution that enthralled the entire world 25 years ago.
Hard to believe its been that long.
I remember that cold February morning in 1986, the day Ferdinand and Imelda finally fled. It was surreal. I never thought Id see the end of the Marcos regime in my lifetime.
For more than a decade, many activists lives were put on hold, bracing for battles that the Dictator thought would eventually wear us down. But we persevered.
In 1981, when U.S. President Ronald Reagan hosted a state visit for Marcos, he was at the height of his power and might lavishly embraced by the White House and fully armed by the Pentagon. To show he had popular support among Filipinos in the U.S. , he bussed hundreds of them from the military towns of Norfolk and Hampton Roads, wooed them with free rooms at the Sheraton and plied them with non-stop food, drinks and celebrity-studded entertainment at the DC Convention Center.
We, on the other hand, were just a bunch of aktibistas , branded as “communists” to scare community supporters away. Marcos goons knew our names and faces, where we worked and where we lived. We could disappear and no one would care. Singled out as radical trouble-makers, we were on the crosshairs, easy targets on a hit list. For their militant defiance of the dictatorship, two of our comrades labor activists Gene Viernes and Silme Domingo were gunned down in Seattle . Marcos ordered their murders.
Our daughter, Desiree then only nine years old would wake up from nightmares after learning that Marcos goons had visited our house in Kensington. Even our neighbors kept their distance, refusing to care for our daughter after she came home from school. Those were scary times.
Long after the state visit, fear still gripped the community. Terror stalked us, every hour and every day. But we the dozen or so activists from the Katipunan ng mga Demokratikong Pilipino (KDP) and the Coalition Against the Marcos Dictatorship (CAMD) continued our lightning pickets in front of the Philippine Embassy, disrupting Imeldas many visits with guerilla theatre, burning effigies, handing out leaflets at St. Columbas in Oxon Hill, and holding community forums that were infiltrated by spies.
Sometimes I wished it was all a bad dream and Id wake up, resume a normal life. No more meetings and rallies and pickets. No more fear of harassments and intimidation. People in the community wouldnt mind being associated with us again, maybe even ask us to join their exclusive club.
But when the Philippine Heritage Federation the sole umbrella organization of the Filipino American community at the time rejected CAMDs application for membership (because it was “political”), I wasnt surprised. Marcos polarized us into competing camps, one pro, one anti, with the Philippine Embassy (then run by Kokoy Romualdez) commanding the right and center. There were whispers, about men with clutch bags. Better to shut up than lose a relative back home.
Until August 1983 when Ninoy Aquino was assassinated. Gradually, a heavy darkness was lifted. With almost everyone blaming Marcos, including the U.S. media, more people started to come out of the shadows. Suddenly we were no longer alone. Other dissident groups, like the Movement for Free Philippines and the Ninoy Aquino Movement joined KDP and CAMD in amplifying our voices. The drumbeats calling for US withdrawal of support for Marcos grew louder. We grew bolder as events in Manila unfolded, with the business community and the middle class finally distancing themselves from the regime. The nascent beginnings of the People Power Revolution ignited the passions of Filipinos in America to finally get out of their comfort zones.
From the moment snap elections were announced, with Cory Aquino as standard bearer for the opposition, the Washington DC community witnessed a series of events echoing the excitement in Manila from candlelight vigils to<C5,5,0,0,0,0> miting de avances. <D><C255>Filipinos from all over the East Coast massed in front of the White House, heady with anticipation. We were glued every night to network coverage of the tensions that mounted after Fidel Ramos and Juan Ponce Enrile defected. And then the four days at EDSA.
Even then, I was still wary about the endgame. What if this was all a trick? And what if Marcos gone was all a nice dream and Id wake up to find myself back in the trenches, a little slower now with bad knees, still wielding a bullhorn in my aging years?
On the 20th<C5,5,0,0,0,0> <D><C255>anniversary of People Power, EDSA 1 veterans in Manila were arrested for gathering to commemorate the historic event. “We were arrested for remembering,” one participant said. “When an angry and aroused citizenry remembers, it should make those who ignore the lessons of the past tremble.” Someone at the top apparently felt threatened by those who dared remember those days of blood and greed, when thousands died or disappeared.
I remember that cold February morning in 1986, the day Ferdinand and Imelda finally fled. The tyrant may have been toppled but twenty five years later, he still lives among those who dont want us to remember. And we wonder if our collective memory can incite our souls to insurrection yet again and make those who ignore the lessons of history tremble.
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