From the Archives: La Salle in February

The euphoria is back.

Exactly 365 days ago, erstwhile Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, spared the benefits of a graceful exit, was toppled by people’s power, and in his place was erected opposition bet to the presidency Corazon Aquino. On Feb. 25 this year, we commemorate the February Revolution – with fireworks most probably.

The La Salle community, in general, lacked the fervor and militancy of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and was lulled into traditional apathy following the Aquino assassination in 1983. It resurrected itself, however, and recognized the need for all the manpower it can contribute to the last stake at democracy in the downfall of a twenty-year dictatorial rule. Once again, La Salle, elitist as it is, professed its willingness to join in the rest of the Filipino people’s political struggle that gradually gained momentum as the legitimacy of the Marcos regime was eroded.

The last chance: paving the way

With the opposition introducing an impeachment motion against Marcos for plundering the national wealth and in the face of manifest pressure from the Reagan administration, the fascist structure began to fall like a house of cards. Seeking what he called “a fresh mandate” to dispel doubts cast on his credibility, Marcos announced late in 1985 his intention to hold “snap” presidential elections. The opposition managed to put one over the Marcos-Tolentino tandem under the KBL banner by fielding in Corazon Aquino and Salvador Laurel for president and vice president, respectively, under the UNIDO-Laban coalition. The latter team’s image of sincerity and determination despite its mediocre campaign machinery, had from the start assured it of popular support from voters who had despaired of the incumbent. La Salle then became one of the opposition strongholds in the country.

The University Task Force on Snap Elections embarked on an information campaign by holding symposia and fora to discuss all facets of the election debate. First in its line of speakers was former Member of Parliament Aquilino Pimentel, who spoke on efforts at unifying the opposition through the National Unification Committee. Distinguished La Salle alumnus and prominent street parliamentarian Lorenzo Tañada, in accepting a University award as foremost nationalist of contemporary Philippines, criticized Marcos’ abuses which he said have made an armed revolution in the country “more and more inevitable.” Former presidential aspirant Salvador Laurel, speaking prior to the formation of a unity ticket for the opposition, campaigned for participation in the snap polls, which he described as the last peaceful means for change. Former assemblyman Arturo Tolentino, himself a professed expert on the constitution, contended that the snap election was unconstitutional since there was no vacancy in the presidential seat. In the next breath, Tolentino was declared Marcos’ running mate in the electoral race.

The extreme left, on the other hand, took the boycott path and was involved in intense education and propaganda work to expose the farcical character of the coming polls. One of the highlights of the boycott campaign was the Lakbayan march from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, 1986 participated in by some 10,000 peasants and sympathizers from Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, and the National Capital Region, including 60 La Sallites who joined the contingent at the Liwasang Bonifacio landmark.

The Marcos regime was doomed.

La Salle roots for Cory

“The nation needs a leader for untarnished reputation, strong moral fiber, sensitivity to the people’s sentiments, intelligence, and equanimity in the face of personal and social pressure… Cory Aquino has stood as a shining example of integrity, delicadeza, and rational behavior.”

Thus read the statement of more than 4,000 signatories of the Cory Aquino for President Movement (CAPM-DLSU Chapter) in support of the inexperienced aspirant who only had sincerity and integrity to offer. Crash courses in line with the Omnibus Election Code were provided some 500 volunteer pollwatchers from the university a few weeks before election day. In-campus mock elections were held on Jan. 23 with a considerable portion of the academic community participating. Results which were tabulated by the Center for Social Concern and Action (COSCA) indicated a landslide victory for Aquino by as much as 80 percent over Marcos for president, while KBL stalwart Tolentino won over Laurel by a mere five percent edge for vice president.

That the election was no different from the dirty and bloody politics of the past need not be contested. There were also obvious signs of the manipulation from behind by unseen foreign forces in a desperate attempt to salvage their interests in the country, but the comely widow simply posed new hope that a dying nation could still be revitalized if it starts anew clean, with sincerity, and the Filipinos were only too willing to tow the line for the last time.

Marcos and Tolentino were proclaimed by the rubber stamp Batasang Pambansa as the “duly elected” President and Vice President of the Philippines, respectively, and as expected, the Filipino nation raised furor over the outcome of perhaps the most fraudulent and terrorism-laden electoral exercise in Philippine history ever.

Breaking the tradition of apathy and compromise

The atmosphere turned again into one of festivity and tension, just like in 1983. Marcos would not have had to worry about the outrage until the Church hierarchy through the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), issued a strongly worded statement read in churches nationwide on the “unparalleled fraudulence in the conduct of the presidential elections.” The moral framework was set, and churchmen declared “that a government that had lost its legitimacy did not deserve the obedience and compliance of its people.” Machineries started grinding since then.

Aquino, holding a Tagumpay ng Bayan rally a day after the proclamation of Marcos and Tolentino as winners, laid down the blueprint for civil disobedience, including work stoppage, boycott of classes, of government-controlled and crony-owned establishments and media, and delaying the pavement of water and electric bills – to paralyze the regime of its resources in protest of Marcos’ “victory”.

Together with other leading schools in the country, DLSU became one of the significant centers of protest. A task force on work stoppage (later the Task Force for Active Non-Violence) was formed by the faculty with able support from the administration to buttress the civil disobedience campaign and to show support for the mandate given to Aquino. A considerable number of faculty members, administrative and non-teaching staff members, and students professed support to the campaign, and were mobilized to convince residents of the fourth district of Manila (Paco area) to support the call for a work stoppage on Feb. 26, the day after Marcos’ inauguration into office in protest of the rigged elections.

The University stopped subscribing to crony newspapers, withdrew its accounts from Cocobank, withheld payments for electricit and water bills, and the school canteens stopped selling products of crony corporations like San Miguel and instead came up with viable substitutes.

Two mobilizations, however, stood out from the rest despite the hesitation and naivet’e of some members of the University – the walkout from classes initiated by the La Salle Students for Democratic Action (LSDA) and other cause-oriented groups and individuals. At Rustan’s, Liberal Arts Dean Wilfrido Villacorta and student leader Joel Sarmenta, among others, took turns at lambasting the prevailing state of the nation. Joining the picket was offered as an alternative to regular classes, so that many La Sallited joined the activity along with other students from leading colleges and universities. The Feb. 18 walkout, on the other hand, was preceded by hesitation borne out of the red scare, since the initiating group invited the university community to Liwasang Bonifacio which always literally flowed with red flags and fiery militant speeches. With much assertion, however, the students’ will to join the said mobilization prevailed, as they were joined later by nationalist faculty members and some administrators.

The La Salle response to the call for civil disobedience was assessed to be generally fastidious and favorable, although as one COSCA officer commented, “it would have been better if vigilance were sustained.” Certainly, a lot more people had to be convinced of the cause, while others remained in doubt of the political color of one another – until the operations were disrupted by the call for people power in EDSA.

La Sallites set up human barricades

What transpired on Feb. 22, 1986 and the next three days thereafter is now history.

After the instant breakaway of Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and armed forces Vice Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos from the Marcos government, throngs of people, though most of them still unorganized, flowed in one of the country’s main thoroughfares and adjacent streets to ward off tanks and combat-ready troops for possible attack – all in a broad anti-fascist coalition.

Shedding off for a while the image of apathy, the La Salle vigilantes, led by administration and student leaders, were initially instructed by Ramos to camp-out at Gate 4 of Camp Aguinaldo on Feb. 23 to prevent any Marine attack. They transferred to the Santolan-Libis area in the evening of the following day, to do their share of people’s power.

But how was La Salle’s participation then? A documented account of the Political Science Society (POLISCY), a professional student organization involved during the February uprising states that:

“From the first night of the revolution, a handy group of 40 POLISCY people joined the vigil at Camp Crame. By morning of the 23rd, 65 more POLISCY members arrived including officers and five faculty members. The 40 people who stayed the night before went home and will come back the night to watch again. This cycle continued for four days of the revolution…”

Furthermore, with the inevitable downfall of Marcos, soldiers defecting to the side of the Enrile-Ramos tandem came one after the other. As a consequence, in a report given by then SC officer Alex Aquino, the La Salle contingent was also assigned to give cover to 260 defectors from Lipa Batangas while serving as rearguards at La Salle Greenhills in the possible surge of Marcos’ forces.

Even during the inauguration of Corazon Aquino and Salvador Laurel as president and vice president, respectively, on Feb. 25, the group stayed within the Tropical Hut area and then later on handled the Santolan-Ortigas areas. This was done out of the “need for a bigger perimeter during the inauguration,” as ex SC officer Aquino was quoted saying (The La Sallian, March 1986).

Not only did the La Sallite keep watch of imminent target areas of Marcos’ remaining military reinforcements but they also provided physical facilities in the name of the so-called “peaceful revolution”. It can be recalled at that time, Radio Veritas—the only radio station reporting developments—became dysfunctional due to its sabotage technical facilities. In a need to widen communiation networks, La Salle Greenhills was volunteered to be used as a communication center where information updates were relayed to DLSU-Taft. A relay committee was then formed under the chairmanship of Parents Association head Noel Ma. Reyes.

Meanwhile, the militants of Mendiola – close enough to the seat of power to be instant targets – also kept watch over the barbed gates of the Palace while awaiting The Ouster. Around 20 La Sallites joined the contingent in agitating the dictator to concede after the scandalous conduct of the presidential elections, until the First Family and their closest associates were ferried by helicopter to Clark Air Base where two US jets stood by for the retreat.

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