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Saturday, February 26, 2011

People Power in Gensan

(Blogger's Note: I believe that the term EDSA Revolution is misleading and reeks of Manila-centrism. People Power is more apt because while it started at EDSA, it reverberated and was felt throughout the entire nation. This blogpost is just one account of how People Power was felt in General Santos City.)



The years after Ninoy Aquino's assassination leading up to 1986 were turbulent years for me. Being a teenaged high school senior when Martial Law was declared and ten years of being bombarded with New Society slogans and jingles (Sa ikauunlad ng bayan disiplina ang kailangan, PLEDGES, Bagong Lipunan march, etc.) and relying on the government-controlled media for information, I didn't know how to react to changes wrought by Ninoy's death.

One favorite magazine, Mr. & Ms. spawned special edition issues which I followed avidly because they were reporting the news that didn't make it to the radios, newspapers and TV stations. Songs took on a different flavor as patriotic songs like Bayan Ko and Tie a yellow ribbon were played on the air by DXCP, a Catholic diocesan radio station here. The local religious community was slow and timid in criticizing the government. The local government officials were mostly Kilusan Bagong Lipunan (KBL) party members. Groups like JAJA (Justice for Aquino, Justice for All) shouted anti-government slogans as they marched on the city streets.

In the eye of this storm was a curly-haired widow - Cory Aquino. She was the opposite of then President Ferdinand Marcos. Soft-spoken where Marcos was stentorian. Tentative to his decisiveness. But she was an alternative, antidote to the strongman. She was not what one would expect of a traditional politician (trapo). What she had was the dignity, integrity and courage to stand up to the dictator.I first saw Cory in person when she and Doy Laurel campaigned in General Santos City. Onstage, while she was delivering her speech, the whole city was plunged into darkness. To us, whenever blackouts occurred, something was bound to happen. It was common to have electrical supply interruptions during election day and when the Laban group had events. The international media covering Cory's campaign immediately focused their lights on her, their TV and SLR cameras ready to shoot if anything happened. For a few minutes, there she was - the lady in yellow enveloped by the lights. And then she was whisked away from the stage and brought to a nearby car.

In the Catholic college where I taught at that time, the pro-Cory teachers were a majority. The few remaining Marcos loyalists were ribbed about their staunch support. Unlike their Manila counterparts, the priests, nuns and brothers here were cautious in showing support to Cory and the opposition. Even the Catholic schools had no clear guidelines on how fora and protest rallies were to be held. But the ordinary people started wearing yellow dresses and shirts. The L-finger sign (for Laban "fight") was being flashed everywhere. And the yellow creepers blanketed vacant lands everywhere. The yellow fever turned a pitch higher as the election day neared. Many Marcos loyalists, like rats abandoning a sinking ship, were seen joining protest marches. On the other hand, at the diocesan radio station, instead of the usual sign-off after the Rosary, I was surprised to hear two radio announcers recording KBL campaign ads! Someone conveniently forgot to turn off the transmitter.

The usual blackouts occurred on election day despite the vigilance of several groups to guard the ballots. The Jaycees, of which I was a member, were among the volunteer groups that helped the Namfrel (National Citizens Movement for Free Elections). I witnessed the incumbent mayor's people distributing campaign leaflets right outside the voting precincts. This was promptly reported to Namfrel. I reported the same on the diocesan radio station DXCP where I was also a volunteer announcer on Sundays. Later, the lady broadcaster on board and I were alerted about the presence of armed men riding a Ford Fiera. The staff helped us exit the station using the back gate. Hitching a ride, I saw the Ford Fiera and the nozzles of firearms protruding through the side windows as we passed by it. Reporting to school following the elections, I was warned by a well-meaning friend that a death threat had been issued for me. The Marist brothers allowed me to go on leave as I told them I didn't want to involve the school or my students in case the threat was carried out. Some friends acting as intermediaries asked relatives of the mayor to verify if he indeed issued a death threat for me. This he dismissed by saying that he didn't even know me at all!

The protest movement here gained momentum as cheating by the KBL was reported here and abroad. More turncoats joined the protests. When the People Power revolution started at EDSA, classes here were not cancelled as it was being played out in Metro Manila. But the fervor of People Power was also strongly felt here. The religious community was finally emboldened and openly said prayers and masses for the revolt. The technicians of DXCP were able to record the broadcasts of June Keithley over Radyo Bandido and these were replayed regularly. The two pro-Marcos announcers took a sudden leave of absence from DXCP and I volunteered to be onboard after my evening classes because the radio station started its 24-hour broadcast and it was understaffed.

After dismissing my class at 8:30, I walked to the radio station and started my duty until 5:00 the following day. We did not want for anything because listeners would drop off food items, coffee, bread and sandwiches for the 24-hour broadcasts. When we learned about the order of the military to shut down the station, a local volunteer group surrounded the transmitter and provided us protection because we also received a bomb threat.

On the fourth day, while we were broadcasting live a Holy Mass, we received confirmation that the Marcoses had left Malacanang (this after an earlier false alarm) and the priest announced this. Jubilant shouts punctuated the air from those hearing the mass and those living in the vicinity of the station. Many were jumping and almost all, including myself, were in tears. Again, food and beverages flooded the station. It was a euphoria-filled day.

Our college conducted a victory march around the city. When we approached a local station known for being critical of Cory and Laban, we heard Tie a yellow ribbon being played for us. This was met by loud boos from the students, teachers and the religious community.When President Cory came to Gensan after being named Time Magazine's Woman of the Year, I begged the local news stand owner for a copy of the large poster of the Time cover, mounted it on an illustration board, and held it high and proud for her to see during the large gathering at the plaza.

The remaining local pro-Marcos trapos, who were ousted from their positions and replaced with transition officials appointed by Cory, switched allegiance and even had the audacity to show themselves onstage to welcome Cory to our city. They were booed as expected. The few Pro-Marcos teachers in school had joined the majority. One teacher, Cory's namesake, who used to tell us she hated to be called Ma'am Cory now wanted us to call her just that and started wearing yellow lacy dresses.

After she finished her term as President, Cory remained in my mind and heart as the lady in yellow enveloped by lights. After witnessing three presidents take the helm after her, I was in turn dismayed and appalled by what they had done to our country. I may be terribly disappointed by the way the promise and potentials that Cory stood for had turned out, but Cory remains to be a shining beacon of hope to me. Following her exemplar of integrity, dignity and courage, I'm not giving up on our country - not then, not now that Cory is gone, not ever. I fervently pray that People Power and all it stands for will always prevail.
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