Earning Our Tomorrow


We observed last week, on Jan. 25, the 89th birth anniversary of the late Corazon C. Aquino, 11th President of the country. As we commemorated her birthday, we remember the events that led to the EDSA People’s uprising that brought then plain housewife Corazon Aquino to the presidency. It was natural that we would also remember her husband, Ninoy’s martyrdom on Aug. 21, 1983. Ninoy had said “the Filipino is worth dying for,” while President Cory declared that “the Filipino is worth living for,” and their son, Noynoy, also a former President, whose main message was “the Filipino is worth fighting for.”

In remembering them, we also recall those who gave up their lives and fought for freedom and justice in the 1800s until our contemporary times: Andres Bonifacio, Jose Rizal, Gabriela Silang, and the thousands of others who were martyred in fighting the Marcos dictatorship and immortalized at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani. Of course, there were thousands more who perished during the revolution against Spain, the Philippine-American War; the resistance against the Japanese invasion; Filipino soldiers who fought in the Korean War; a great number of student activists, labor leaders, indigenous Filipinos fighting for their land; media personalities, lawyers for activists and dissidents; educators; urban poor and peasant leaders; and the whole gamut of Philippine society. Many torture victims are still around like Neri Colmenares, Etta Rosales, and Gerry Bulatap, to name a few.

To bring justice to the thousands of victims of human rights violations, the Philippine government had to create institutions which could systematize and organize the payment of compensation to these victims of human rights abuses during the Marcos regime. A report of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission states, “The Roll of Victims is the official list of Martial Law 1972-1986 era victims, including the place of incident of the violation against them, as resolved by the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB), an independent and quasi-judicial body created by RA 10368 to receive, evaluate, process and investigate reparation applications of Human Rights Violations Victims, as defined by RA 10368.”

The starting point of all these systematic and organized human rights violations was of course on Sept. 22-23, 1972, when all the illegal arrests were carried out, although Proclamation 1081, putting the entire country under martial rule, was promulgated on Sept. 21, 1972.

In 1978, Marcos decided that it was time to “share” power with the legislative branch or congress, which he shut down on the day he declared Martial Law. Sharing power meant calling for elections for assemblymen by Region. Elections would please the Americans, for whom elections were concrete proof of democracy since elections reflected the consent of the governed in an atmosphere of open discussion, freedom of association, and to peaceably assemble.

A campaign period was allowed and groups started putting up their parties to contest the elections against Marcos’s Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) which was, of course, the only party that fielded a complete slate in all the country’s regions. In many places, it was a contest among Marcos’s own men eager to outdo each other to show Marcos that they (especially the Cabinet members who had to run for the election under Marcos’s parliamentary form of government) were not just good administrators and technocrats but could double up as politicians with their own base. They would demonstrate that they were not just dependent on Marcos to stay in power — they had a direct mandate from the electorate.

There was hardly any real opposition, except in the National Capital Region (NCR), where Ninoy, campaigning from his prison cell, put up LABAN, acronym for Lakas ng Bayan. A long and spirited debate among the opposition preceded the formation of LABAN. A group led by senators Jovito Salonga and Ka Pepe Diokno, all advocated a boycott of the elections, stating that the whole exercise would be rigged and to participate would legitimize the sham. The 21-person LABAN slate would go up against the KBL line up led by Imelda Marcos (then governor of Metro Manila). LABAN’s slate was made up of Ninoy and fellow opposition leaders like northern Mindanao’s Nene Pimentel, former Marcos cabinet member Ernie Maceda, student leader Jerry Barican, the urban poor’s Trinidad Herrera, Palawan Senator Monching Mitra, former Manila Vice-Mayor Felicisimo Cabigao, constitutional convention delegate Ernesto Rondon, newsman Nap Rama, former Education Secretary Anding Roces and other oppositionists.

Ninoy Aquino relished the opportunity to be back on the campaign trail even if he was in prison. He had pleaded with his fellow oppositionists who advocated a boycott of elections for parliament to allow him, and others who had been silenced since September 1972, to run. All the people had heard about the opposition was what Marcos and his propaganda machinery had fed the people who had been cowed into submission. Ninoy said he needed to talk to the people directly and this was the only way he could do it, even if the elections were to be rigged.

Ninoy got his chance to talk to the people in an interview on government television, on an evening primetime show called Face the Nation. Interviewing Ninoy were some of Marcos’s most loyal media assets, Ceylon-born Ronnie Nathanielsz, Teddy Owen of the Bulletin and the editor of the Philippine Daily Express (which was owned by a Marcos associate and sugar baron, Roberto Benedicto).

As expected, Ninoy displayed the wit and charm that had served him in good stead all throughout his political career. Filipinos saw for themselves that the opposition, exemplified by Ninoy, was alive and kicking and was fighting back despite the tremendous odds. They showed courage and energized people who had lost the nerve to assert their rights and question corrupt practices of government and the extravagance of the Marcoses. But Ninoy assured them that LABAN was fighting, even if it knew it would lose. The important thing was to be heard and gauge people’s reactions and see if the opposition still had a base.

The noise barrage of April 6, 1978, the day before the rigged elections, sent warning signals to Marcos that Metro Manila, the political, financial, and commercial nerve center of the country, remained opposition at heart and was willing to publicly express its sentiments despite the intimidating presence of military, police, and goons embedded in all local government units. LABAN supporters spontaneously came out of their homes in protest against the Marcos regime by banging pots and pans, honking car horns, and making noise in a variety of ways to show their support for the opposition. Arrests were made well into the night by Marcos forces, and military and police officials later went on air to announce that the noise barrage was the work of communists operating in urban areas. They had, according to these authorities, masterfully orchestrated the spontaneous display and unscripted show of opposition to the Marcos regime.

So-called noisemakers went out that night to express solidarity with Metro Manilans. A number of people commented that the noise making was to remove evil spirits before the election precincts opened the next morning. Hundreds of motorists went through the streets of Manila, Makati, Pasay, Mandaluyong, San Juan, Pasig, Caloocan, a great number ending up at the Aquino home on Times St. in Quezon City.

The opposition won only 15 of 165 assembly seats nationwide. In 1983, LABAN had coalesced with Nene Pimentel’s Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino (PDP) to become PDP-LABAN.

It was not the PDP-LABAN of today, not at all.


Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.