I had been amazed by how popular General Aguinaldo was. He was fighting the United States, into whose hands the islands had fallen. When I came up to his house, a sentry stopped me and asked me for my pass. He seemed to take his time as he looked at it. Incredulous but happy, and as I stood there waiting, I thought of all the men who were willing to take a stand and, if need be, die for a cause. Once again, I was part of a struggle. That night I slept well knowing that people were willing to die for a cause.
But years later it was disquieting that the struggle hadn’t ended. I’m certain it will continue like it has over the centuries, but in the first chapters, and even when the Japanese were here, the trenches were more clearly defined than they are today. Today I perceive something different. That’s because the country is clearly divided. I think everyone sees a need for a change yet can’t agree on what needs to be done. I believe, however, that we’re all sickened by Failure! Defeat! Poverty! Nostalgia!
The story I’ve been a part of may seem disconnected because it spans so much time. First we have the conspiracy of the Maharllikas when I first arrived in 1588. Noblemen or datus of Manila who swore to revolt by anointing their necks with split eggs plotted then against the government and lost. It was only one of several revolts. None of them amounted to much because the majority of the native population sided with the government, but that would change over time. In the second chapter (or was it the third or the fourth?), an exile, who dappled in many things, became famous after he wrote a couple of novels. These novels were inflammatory and have inspired people every since. Later, in his last goodbye, he spoke of “our Eden lost,” and that with gladness he gave his life; these words belong to a man named Rizal, who inspired a revolution. If there hadn’t been a breakdown there wouldn’t have been a martyred Rizal, just as if there hadn’t been a breakdown in 1970 there wouldn’t have been the martyrs on Mendiola Bridge. Unfortunately such anomalies seem to be reoccurring, and since I’ve lived through so many of them let me help you discover the truth. Here we are living through the latest chapter. Like alleged I was part of the commotion on the bridge in front of Mendiola gate, just as I was also there back then when the Maharllikas anointed their necks with “cracked eggs” and conspired against the government. One reads how the students marched from the Congress building, after demonstrating there, and as they approached J. P. Laurel Street, they heard what sounded like firecrackers going off. I can testify that this wasn’t false, and what was significant was that the students weren’t deterred. Then when the crowd got to Malacanang, all hell broke loose. It was dark by then, and the lights on the gates hadn’t been turned on. There were shouts of “Sindihan ang ilaw! Sindihan ang ilaw!” Then the lights were turned on, and then everyone started throwing stones and sticks, and one by one the lights were knocked out. This act of defiance, though warlike, must’ve at first seemed insignificant, and was insignificant compared to the earlier demonstration in front of the congress building. That all changed when a commandeered fire truck breached the Mendiola gate and more daring demonstrators surged through the breach. A dark element then stoked my curiosity, as I followed the battle closely, and as the rebels lobbed molotovs and pillboxes inside the grounds of the Philippine White House and the battle raged on through the night. Japanese they were not. Nor were they Americans. Instead they were mostly Filipino students. It was noteworthy that they went down the path in the latter half of the twentieth century of Aguinaldo, and earlier struggles, and though they didn’t settle anything (immortalized and yet not settle anything), they were willing to die for a cause. As for the cost, four dead and almost 300 demonstrators and bystanders were arrested; most of them were detained at Camp Crame since the dungeons of Fort Santiago had been sanitized and opened for tourist.
When dawn came and the smoke cleared, there was no longer any doubt that it was only the beginning of another chapter. To the “insurrectionary elements,” he gave warning: “Any attempt at the forcible overthrow of the government will be put down immediately. I will not tolerate nor will I allow Communists to take over.” By then the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines had been placed on red alert.
It was not strange that the weapons had change and that people could’ve been confused about which century they lived in. I’d been through it all, and the audience must’ve been surprised to see an old conquistador like me on the modern stage when I should’ve been dead like Aguinaldo, Rizal, and all the rest of them. Maybe eventually, like all men, my time will come.
Postscript (1987)- On January 22, 1987, 17000 peasants, workers and students marched across Mendiola Bridge when police opened fire on them. It led to the deaths of thirteen marchers and the wounding of 100 of them. The event speaks of how the struggle continues and how it doesn’t seem to matter who is in power. The day after the massacre, President Corazon Aquino created the Citizens’s Mendiola Commission to investigate the event. Since then no one has been charged with a crime and the families of the victims haven’t received any compensation.