In the morning of August 14, people from different backgrounds came together and crowded in front of the Lapu-Lapu Monument in Rizal Park to protest the decision of President Duterte to bury the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani this September.
The protocol was to wear white, but the relentless rain compelled the attendees to come sporting their own jackets and caps. Beneath the different colors of umbrellas and raincoats, however, are unmistakable shirts of white—a simple yet powerful sign of unity that the people have gathered for a single purpose.
A strong line of speakers
At exactly 9:15 am, the peaceful protest commenced with the singing of the national anthem, followed by a rendition of the patriotic song Aling Pag-ibig Pa by Bayang Barrios and Cookie Chua. The energy of the crowd was not dampened by the ever-worsening rain as they continued to cheer for and applaud the speakers.
Former senator Wigberto Tañada was the first to take the mic, calling for the president to renounce his plans to bury Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. “Lalong lalalim ang sugat ng mga biktima ng Martial Law. Kailangang makumbinsi si President Duterte na bawiin ang pasya na ilibing si Marcos sa Libingan ng mga Bayani, at sa Ilocos na lamang.”
Aida Santos, an NGO worker and a member of Claimants 1081, shared to the crowd that she was only 16 years old when she was arrested in 1968. It was a time of unrest in the Philippines, precipitated by severe demonstrations, protests, and marches against the government by the Left.
“Wala pang hustisya para sa aming mga biktima at survivors. Tinortyur ako sa loob ng kulungan kasama ang aking ama at asawa. Ang hangad naming mga survivors ay huwag malibing si Marcos sa Libingan ng mga Bayani dahil hindi bayani si Marcos.” Aida also shares that not a single one of her torturers were jailed or punished.
Unyielding in her expertise was economist Winnie Monsod, who rejected claims of the Marcos years as the Golden Years by giving a quick lecture, banking on the power of facts and figures.
She compared the growth rate of the GDP of the past presidents one by one, starting from Elpidio Quirino to Ferdinand Marcos. The growth rate of Quirino was 9 percent a year, followed by Magsaysay at 7 percent, Garcia at 4.5 percent, and Macapagal at 4 percent, with Marcos trailing last.
“Ang growth rate ni Marcos for his twenty years in office—this is from the Philippine Statistics Authortity—is 3.8 percent a year. Tanong! Golden Age ba iyan?” According to Monsod, the foreign debt during Marcos’ time was so large it took Filipinos 14 years to get back what it lost under the Marcos years.
Other remarkable speakers then took to the stage, such as former Commission on Human Rights Chair Etta Rosales, who expressed that the heavens that morning are with them in their tears; and director Joel Lamangan, who voiced that the time of Marcos was the time of blasphemy and legal thievery; Sen. Risa Hontiveros; and Rep. Edcel Lagman.
Not absent were former Rep. Walden Bello, who called Marcos a natural catastrophe and the master of deceit; Sen. Leila de Lima, who clarified that the burial in September is not of Ferdinand Marcos, but of the Filipino people; Fr. Nonong Fajardo, who says what we have already vomited should not be swallowed again; and Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, who sang an Ifugao song to the crowd.
Cris Palabay, an Ilokano himself, demystified the case of the ‘Solid North’, telling the crowd that the whole ordeal was embarrassing. “Hindi po totoo na solid ang Northern Luzon,” says Cris, who was a two-time political prisoner and torture victim during the regime. “Mandarambong. Hindi makatatotohanan. Nakakahiya po sa aming mga Ilokano na si Marcos ay ililibing sa Libingan ng mga Bayani.”
Hidden among the crowd was Sen. Bam Aquino and citizen Mar Roxas who both came in support of the assembly, but did not talk in front of the crowd.
White, a blank canvas
Artist Toym Imao was the last in the long line of speakers to speak at the protest. As he came out to address the crowd, he carried with him a long sword. He says, “We may have a small voice, but we carry a big sword.”
Toym makes a hugot in reference to his favorite childhood show, Voltes V, which was cut off from television during Marcos’ regime because it portrayed, ironically, excessive violence. He recalls sitting one day in 1979 to watch the show, only to be greeted by television static. It was something that he never forgot.
Amidst the killings and violence, Toym says that the effect of Martial Law extended even to the littlest freedoms, such as an 11-year-old watching his favorite show. Nevertheless, he called for the people to unite.
He pertained to the shirts of white. “White is a blank canvas. We don’t know what shape or color it would take, but a blank canvas is a canvas of possibilities. Let’s start with unity. That can be a possibility,”
Toym pressed on that white is not the absence of color but all the colors. “We need a bit of rain and a bit of sun to see the rainbow. Let us not use colors to paint other people. Elections is finished. We have to start from white.”
White is enlightenment and to radiate light, according to Toym, means showing the world we are an enlightened group who believes putting Marcos in Libingan ng mga Bayani is a divisive act among the Filipinos.
As the peaceful assembly came to an end, the crowd compressed to wave their streamers and placards in the air, while others made thumbs down gestures in front of the media and came up with impromptu chants against the Marcos burial.
The impassioned people raised their fists together and sang Bayan Ko. While most sang with determined looks on their faces, some succumbed to tears, completely overwhelmed by the event.
In just one morning, people from all walks of life managed to unite and come together—a gathering that even overcast skies and heavy rain failed to cease and dampen.
If there is one thing the bad weather succeeded in—at least—it is bearing witness to the resilience of the Filipino.