Archive for the ‘Popular democracy’ category

7 Days in September 1972

September 22, 2014

Plaza Miranda 1972

On the afternoon of September 21, 1972, I was one of the speakers at a protest rally in Plaza Miranda.

Why did we dare to hold a protest rally on that day, and why were we able to hold it without being dispersed and arrested? Was it not on September 21 that Marcos signed Proclamation 1081 imposing martial law?

The simple answer – We did not know that the proclamation was already signed.

What we did know was the persistent talk about martial law being imposed soon. In response, we reconvened the MCCCL (Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties) to spearhead an alliance to warn against the imposition of martial law and to oppose it. Within that alliance, we formed the CCL (Christians for Civil Liberties) and organised a delegation to join the march and rally on thursday, September 21.

Thursday morning, I taught a class at Assumption College in Makati. My students noticed that I had a haircut and wore a polo shirt. I explained that I was going to speak at a rally, assigned to represent the “middle forces.” I had to look the part.

I rushed to the assembly point at the Welcome Rotunda, and was initially disappointed to see that only a small crowd had gathered. But eventually, we mustered a sizeable number and marched down Espana. A line of police blocked us, but we were determined enough to confront them and negotiate our passage to Quiapo.

The next day was a blur. I am told that I spoke at a forum in Maryknoll College. Rumors were circulating that offices of activist organisations would be raided. Julius Fortuna of MDP (Movement for a Democratic Philippines) asked if I could put him up in a safe place for the night. I brought him to my aunt’s place at Marcelo Green Village in Paranaque, and returned to Quezon City to sleep at the office of the Khi Rho movement.

It’s a good thing I did.

Early Saturday morning, I was awakened by my companions. All radio stations were dead silent. Must be martial law, they said. Jerry Araos passed by and confirmed the news.

Looking back, I must have internalised being part of the “middle forces.” How explain my foolish decision to go to Christ the King Seminary? As soon as I entered the gate, a group of seminarians frantically shooed me away. “The military came here early morning,” they said. “They knocked on your room to arrest you and take you to Camp Crame. They left when you couldn’t be found. They can come back any time.”

I thought of Julius, and took a taxi to transfer him from Marcelo Green Village. But to what safer place? I called my contacts among the Assumption nuns and asked if they could hide me and an activist companion, at least for a few days. After a quick consultation, they said Yes.

The nuns were very welcoming. The room they gave us was spacious, complete with a bath tub. As I turned on the faucet to fill it up. Julius asked: “Where are the bubbles?” He must have been thinking of bubble bath scenes from movies.

To help us settle down, the nuns gave us books to read. For Julius they brought out their copies of the Selected Works of Mao. For me, they gave their Jerusalem Bible.

Those were the books we had while listening to the official proclamation of martial law that evening

There were no cellphones then or computers. Our only communication link was through telephone. We hoped that not all phones could be tapped. Fortunately, we soon managed to establish links to some fellow activists who had evaded arrest and had managed to regroup.

The next three days, it was difficult to sort news from rumours. We could confirm the names of those arrested and held in detention. It was much harder to check reports of safe houses being raided and fire fights. Pepe Diokno sent a message from prison, advising us to stop any plans to launch open protest actions. They would only lead to more arrests or even deaths. We sent back word that there were no such immediate plans.

As we reconnected with activist units, we couldn’t stay longer in a convent. The Assumption nuns found some families who were willing to offer a safe place in their homes until we could establish our own safe houses.

I remember the first family that hosted Julius and me. The parents were informed by the nuns about our true identities. But they decided that it would be better to introduce us to their children under pseudonyms.

But the following day, as we sat at the breakfast table, their children greeted me with a knowing smile. They showed me their copy of the last issue of the Manila Times, and pointed to my picture at the back page.

So much for cover stories.


Remembering Jesse Robredo

August 19, 2014


Jesse Robredo and CO

The Local Government Code she signed into law toward the end of her term is a less acknowledged legacy of Cory Aquino’s presidency. But for those who have persisted in the work of organizing people for power at the basic community level, this provided a framework for new possibilities. But also new challenges to classical organizing.

After EDSA 1986, the focus of those who wanted more than a mere restoration of pre-martial law democracy was on new spaces at the national level – constitutional provisions on more direct democracy, like initiative, referendum, and recall. Later, the provision for special party lists.

Coming from the years of struggle for national issues, against the central government, most activists especially those in Metro Manila did not give as much attention to engaging local governments.

My own experience is illustrative. When I visited my hometown of Naujan after my informal exile in Europe, my high school classmate Nelson Melgar, who was the town mayor, challenged me: “When will you help your own hometown?”

We decided to work together to train the devolved agricultural extension workers in community organizing. After that, we scanned the barangays for national NGOs working in the area. We found a number of them, but they were not in touch with the local government.

Participatory Local Governance

The more systematic introduction I got to PLG – participatory local governance, came from Gerry Bulatao who headed a consortium with two key partners, Balay Mindanaw in Misamis Oriental, with Kaloy Manlupig and Ayi Hernandez, and Teody Pena of Quidan Kaisahan and Paginupdanay in Negros Occidental.

Although they were a national consortium, their focus was on local governance and development, in mainly rural communities. Hence the contentious issue of agrarian reform remained a central concern. But what interested me most was their organizing innovation to form sectoral people’s organizations and to forge their partnership with the local government at the barangay-bayan level.

Their field staff would train leaders of people’s organizations in CO-CD (community organizing for community development). The barangay officials would be given a separate training on provisions of the local government code on people’s participation. Then the two groups would come together to do joint participatory rural appraisal, followed by drawing up a barangay development plan, whose results were presented to a pledging session with government and non-government agencies.

The new approach had uneven results, especially on issues like agrarian reform that could not be resolved only at the local level. The organizers had to develop additional skills, especially in alliance work.

PLG had the perspective of SIAD (sustainable integrated area development). That’s why Kaloy called the community organizers SIADO – sustainable integrated area development organizers. It also communicated the orientation that the organizers should have, to be unobstrusive like shadows and focus on the growth of the PO leaders and barangay officials.

A similar orientation and approach was used in the programs of ANIAD in Antique, with Arnold Vandenbroek and Goldie Chan. They asked Oca Francisco and COPE to train their field staff in the classical organizing methods.

What about conflict-confrontation?

The challenge of PLG was how to balance the emphasis on helping mobilize people to act independently on their issues, and helping them and the barangay officials to work together on agreed upon priorities. There were still confrontations and negotiations, not so much with barangay officials but higher officials.

The default mode of classical organizing is to treat officals as unwilling to respond except under democratic pressure. As the people experience positive partnership with some local officials, they had to adjust their understanding of people power, as not just for resistance but also for engagement.

Jesse Robredo’s has said that “Good local governance can be the conclusion of our unfinished revolution.” He followed this up with words that could be, but should not be misread, as discouraging militancy: “This revolution can also be anchored on people like you, who serve rather than criticize, collaborate rather than divide, build up rather than tear down. People who engage to understand.”

Institutionalizing People Power: The Naga City People’s Council

Those of us who advocated popular democracy, to include principled partnership with reformers in government, still prefered to look for ways to institutionalize people power outside the existing power institutions.

We were pleasantly suprised at Cory Aquino’s call to make people power permanent in the form of people’s councils, and held consultations at the national level on how to implement it.

It took the NagaPopdem activists to establish this on the ground in Naga City. It helped that the city mayor was Jesse Robredo, open to engagement with the citizenry. But the bigger factor was the strong presence of NGOs and people’s organizations in the city. They set up the Naga City People’s Council, and used this as the platform for engaging the elected city officials.

They went one step further. With the encouragement of Mayor Jesse, they successfully lobbied for the passage of a city ordinance that recognized the Naga City People’s Council and formalized its access to the processes and structures of the city council.

The NCPC experience deserves a more in depth study, since it is still a work in progress, with its share of success and challenges. But it poses an important question to those who are committed to organizing people for power. As we build strong people’s organizations through issue-based mobilization, conflict-confrontation, and negotiations, is our perspective to use this power only to elect or be elected as officials?

Or is a people’s council the way to institutionalize people power independently while also seeking to enter the established institutions of power?

The challenge is how to insure that the members of the people’s council maintain their initiative, and not let the secretariat do the work. And for the people’s council itself to pursue independent action and not limit itself to joint work with government.

This reminds me of an idea from the revolutionary movement on alliances – “Independence and initiative within the united front.”

New wineskins and new wine

Naga City had another innovation called “reengineering the local school board.” Jesse Robredo opened the local school board to citizens’ participation beyond its traditional members. Legal constraints did not allow the new participants to vote, but they had full rights to take part in the scrutiny of how the special education fund would be spent.

In this case there was greater initative from the government compared to the citizens. Ideally, a reengineered school board should have a counterpart base in an independent coalition of education advocates and stakeholders, similar to the Naga City People’s Council.

In rural barangays, some NGOs pursued the idea of a council of people’s organizations independent of the elected barangay council. But as PLG programs developed, instead of setting up these people’s council, organizers chose to use the mandated Barangay Development Council as the structure for institutionalizing people’s participation.

The Barangay Development Council is mandated to have at least 20% of its members from community leaders other than the elected officials. And the BDC has the power to allocate the barangay development funds for priority projects which are identified in the process of developing the barangay development plan..

These structures are like new wineskins. But they also need new wine. Otherwise, the danger is that they will be new ways of coopting and taming the people’s energies, rather than new ways of tempering them in these new sites of struggle.

Beyond Islands of Hope: Toward an Archipelago of Hope

Participatory local governance and good local governance are a welcome source of hope for organizers of people for power. They offer useful lessons. And their numbers continue to increase, symbolized by the Galing Pook award winners for excellence in local governance.

The award gives much weight to the leadership of the elected officials and the impact of their projects. The criteria include people’s participation, but this is not as well measured. I am glad to hear from Eddie Dorotan of the Galing Pook foundation that they are developing an award for citizens’ participation.

Although we celebrate and value these local “islands of hope,” we ask ourselves: What about the national level? How do we work toward a whole “archipelago of hope?”

At a workshop organized by Synergeia, I heard this question posed to Jesse Robredo, a multiple Galing Pook awardee. He didn’t know then that he would have the chance to do something about it.

As Secretary of the DILG, one of his innovations was initially called BUB, “bottoms up budgeting” based on local poverty reduction action plans, LPRAP. This was meant to make the local government involve the people’s organizations in making their local development plan. Another is his full support for the option of “people’s proposals” for resettling urban poor settlers from endangered sites.

What more could Jesse have accomplished had he not died?


Wanted: Community Organizers

July 6, 2014

On July 11 at the PRRM, we are launching the third edition of Organizing People for Power.

Two-thirds of the book is a slightly edited reprint of Felipe Maglaya’s 1974 Manual for Organizers. The remainder are short comments on the text and short reflections on organising in the Philippines since 1974.

One of the sections of the Manual lists the desired qualities of an organiser – irreverence, a sense of humor, creativity, flexibility, tenacity, and a deep respect and love for people.

I made a simple poster of these qualities for easier recall. But added other qualities mentioned in an unpublished manual written by Francia Clavecillas for AFON, which was partly based on the Felipe Maglaya Manual.

Qualities of Organizer


A Trinitarian Look at CO

July 3, 2014

Fourth excerpt from the Manual for Organizers.

CO PopEd

This manual focuses on organizing people and communities, but I want to unbundle the concept. Instead of what may be called a unitarian understanding of organizing people for power, I prefer a trinitarian interplay of organizing, education, and leadership.

Of course, the process of organizing includes education and learning, and also the identification and development of leaders. But its primary indicator is of people acting together on common issues, and after a series of mobilizations, setting up structures that represent their collective power.

In addition to the learning that happens while preparing for mobilization and reflecting after, organizing programs include more purposive education activities. And if there are competing theories and methods of organizing, there are also competing theories and methods of education.

In the classical organizing tradition in the Philippines, Saul Alinsky and Paolo Freire represent the key ideas that have exerted explicit influence on our understanding and practice of community organizing (CO) and popular education (pop-ed).

Although there is an organic interplay between organizing and education, there is often a disconnect. Organizers may focus mainly on actions and numbers, quality of issues and mobilization, and results of negotiations. Educators may focus mainly on individual learning and the change in consciousness.

The late Odette Alcantara had this quotable quip about the disconnect between organizing and education, parallel to body and spirit: “Ang katawang walang kaluluwa ay bangkay. Ang kaluluwang walang katawan ay multo.”

In the trinity of community organizing, popular education and grassroots leadership, I identify most closely with the third. That’s why my institutional base continues to be the Education for Life Foundation, whose core program is “grassroots leadership formation for grassroots community empowerment.”

Like organizing and education, there are also competing theories and methods of leadership formation. But as Fr. Paking Silva declares: “Our bigger problem is not poverty, but lack of leadership.”

birds fish

This metaphor of birds and fish has been a continuing source of insights into the relationship between the committed professional, as organizer, educator or formator, and the grassroots communities and leaders.

Birds that fly can change change course quickly, almost as fast as our minds. From their vantage point, they look down on the fish below the surface waters and ask “Why are they not moving?”

The fish could answer: “Come down into the water, and you’ll realize it is harder to move in it. It is thicker than air, and polluted. But come close enough and you will also see that we are moving, though not so visibly to those flying far above.”

The bird must do more than a flying visit. Learn to swim with the fish. In organizing, we call it immersion. Swimming with the fish, the bird will understand the structures and culture that make them reluctant to change. But also appreciate that the fish are trying to change as much as they can in the given circumstances.

An educator from the Carribean said that we should not be too hard on birds asking questions from the outside. There is value in an outsider asking, “How is the water?” The fish may very well answer, “What water?”

The bird, having swam with the fish, can then talk with great credibility about swimming with the fish. But is that all? Be an advocate for them, even a sympathetic scholar? Could the bird not teach some of the fish to fly, to also theorize and not just to give personal testimony?

I dream of a learning community that is a partnership of birds who have learned to swim and fish who have learned to fly. The name of that dream is Komunibersidad.

Another story of birds and fish

There is the story of a bird who saw a fish struggling in the water. Thinking that the fish was drowning, the bird dove into the water, plucked the fish and brought it to the safety of its nest.

Will the fish die, or will it adapt and become a bird?

This one made we wince, because of my background in TESDA: “If fish were assessed according to their competency to climb a tree, no one would be certified.”


Make Our Learning Greater than Our Experience

July 2, 2014

The start of a series of reflections on Organising People for Power in the Philippines


The following short reflections on organizing people for power are written as a series of blogs. Hence I decided to use the same title of my regular blog at

Between Honesty and Hope is a framework that I have chosen for my work and my life, because it because it captures the tension similar to what Gramsci called in another context “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” The phrase comes from the 1968 collection of documents from the Latin American Bishops Conference.

I was much taken by the phrase because it captured the two realities – persistent problems both structural and historical, and persistent efforts to bring about changes toward a better future.

Hope is the driving force. An obsessively honest look at the dominant present can lead to anger, depression, cynicism and despair. Hope gives us the energy not only to imagine a better future, but also to see and pursue present possibilities.

But to avoid illusions, we must temper our hope with honesty. Honesty about the daunting obstacles and the power of those who resist change. Honesty about the state of our own shared commitments and capabilities.

But hope. Nonetheless

Make Our Learning


Soon after turning 64, I felt a sudden intimation of mortality. Was I about to enter the pre-departure lounge for the other life? But I was not yet ready to write my memoirs. As a lifelong learner, there was still a lot to learn, and as a social activist, a lot more to be done.

To shake off that mood, I browsed a bookstore to find some reading that may inspire me to continue achieving. A title caught my eye: The Laws of Lifetime Growth by Daniel Sullivan.I thought of buying it, but the price was too high and I didn’t have enough money. What I did have was enough time, so I was able to speed-read the book.

Make your future bigger than your past. This first law made immediate sense. But I thought “bigger” is too limited and limiting, so I added “better”and “brighter.”

Obviously if our past is not particularly significant, this is easy advice to follow. But it is quite a challenge if we apply it to the past of organizing people for power in the Philippines. We have a history that we can be proud of, more significant than what has been remembered in print. It has even been mythologized because of EDSA 1986.

So, how to make our future bigger, better, brighter? The second law offers us part of the answer: Make your learning greater than your experience.

How do we make our learning greater, to help us make our future better?

First, we need to reflect more regularly on our experiences. In addition, we must also allow ourselves to be “interrogated” by others outside our circles. An outside view can help us discover angles we may have missed. We also need to compare and exchange experiences and learnings with other countries. I think especially of Korea which had a parallel organizing program in the 1970s, supported by a similar international ecumenical coalition.

The “classical”approach to organizing described in the manual is strongly influenced by Alinsky’s ideas. These ideas traveled to the Philippines via Korea, through Herb White who was trained by Alinsky. He had been invited to Korea to set up a new training program for organizers. From there he was asked to come to the Philippines to set up a community organizers’ training program sponsored by PECCO.

In both countries, the organizing program developed in the context of an authoritarian regime, and a resistance movement that pursued a radical political alternative. Some of the passages in the Felipe Maglaya manual can be better understood if they are read as a response to concerns raised by radical political activists.

Community Organizing is like Ballroom Dancing

July 2, 2014

After posting my Foreword to the Manual for Organizers, I am posting the Afterword, which is Oca Francisco’s essay on CO and Ballroom Dancing. A first installment of what we still need to do – publish Oca’s writings on CO, his deathbed wish.

OcaThe organizer must be like the dance instructor who does not view dancing as routinary work but as an act of creation and celebration. Today’s organizers have been molded in a particular ideological crucible which demands one vision and line of action. The effects of this totalization of perspectives are so well-entrenched that new ideas are immediately suspect.

If organizers are committed to effect societal change, they need to develop a world view that does not pretend to exhaust description and analysis. The challenge of reeducating them involves not only introducing them to other theories or modes of social analysis and paradigms of development but also finding out how old concepts could now lead to new actions.

Organizers have simply begun to rediscover voices of history drowned out by louder ones. These voices are reasserting themselves in the current discourse. The re-visitation of the humanities, especially the study of representations, could be an attempt to recapture such voices. After all, imagination allows us to see the moment and beyond.

Oca 2

Though the years, CO has had considerable achievements in empowering communities and has contributed to the cumulative development of people’s movements and coalitions that achieve both social and political power.

More importantly, CO discovers and develops the power that lies in ordinary people, in the poor and the powerless which, like oil or water, may be found deep inside the earth. This is combined with the fundamental faith of CO that ordinary people have the capacity to better their lives within existing structures and to participate in transforming these structures.

Empowerment, like art, has many different expressions and methods because it is a process of releasing the potential and creativity of people. The people’s path to empowerment is a long and winding road. With the best of intentions and skills, we make mistakes and suffer defeats.

Oca 3



40 Years of Organizing People for Power

July 1, 2014

In the run up to my 71st birthday, I am posting excerpts from the third edition of the Manual for Organizers, which will have a launch on July 11 at the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement.

This is the foreword to the third edition.

Foreword OPP

For this third edition, I used a mimeographed copy of the second edition which Girlie Villariba found in an old box of papers from martial law years. Rereading its yellowed pages, I reimagined those early years of uncertainty and excitement, and was happy to still figure out what had been retained from my original draft, and what new material had been added.

In the same spirit, I have retained the text of the second edition with minor edits, and added some new materials. The new materials are some comments on the text, and a series of short reflections on 40 years of organizing work in the Philippines.

Why republish a text from 1974?

Why not write a new organizing manual?

One reason is that there is an interest in the original manual, and copies are not readily available. The content of Organizing People for Power represents what may be called the “classical” approach to organizing in the Philippines, field-tested through the years and still relevant, like any classic.

But we must acknowledge the many changes in the Philippines and in the world, and their impact on organizing work, including those  rooted in the classical CO tradition. There are many other organizing initiatives and innovations from which we need to learn valuable lessons .There has been talk of veteran organizers coming togetherto do another summing up, perhaps through a Tagisan III.

My comments and reflections are initial contributions to such needed conversation. Given the constraints of time and resources, I have relied mainly on what I can retrieve through my “remembering self.” A more extensive and intensive research awaits.

Other than marking the 40th anniversary of the first edition, this is an auspicious time to re-publish the manual. There are many new opportunities for organizing, among them the government’s programs on community driven development and participatory local governance and development. Some international and local agencies are also open to include community organizing as an integral part of “building back better” in post-disaster recovery and reconstruction.

While reading this manual is not a substitute for the action-reflection method of training organizers, it can be used for individual and group reflections. May it serve as a bridge from our generation to a new generation of organizers.

The format I have chosen for the third edition of the Manual is a bit different from the first two editions. I designed it to have features of a popular education workbook, for self-directed learning.

Hence I have included questions plus some spaces for you to write your answers. The same spaces are there for you to pose your questions and post your reflections.

My hope is that every copy of this Manual will be unique, as you become a co-author of your personalized edition.

EDSA Stories: The Other Mary

February 27, 2014

Commentaries on EDSA 1986 never fail to point out the significant role of religious imagery.

Two of the most prominent are the Sto. Nino and the Blessed Virgin Mary. In fact, the church-sponsored monument to EDSA is a statue of the Virgin Mary festooned with birds. The birds presumably symbolise freedom, from the lines of Bayan Ko – “Ibon mang may layang lumipad.”  Soon after, this did not escape the irreverent humor of Pinoys who called the statue “ang babaeng mahilig sa ibon.”

At some point of the EDSA triduum, even Fidel Ramos held high a statue of the Virgin Mary. When I saw this, I thought to myself, since he is a Protestant: “Was his gesture ecumenical, or political?”

The Virgin Mary continues to occupy a special place in popular religious imagination. Some cultural commentators say it reflects the mother-centric Filipino family. I don’t know when it started, but the affectionate title of “Mama Mary” has gained currency, though it doesn’t quite resonate with me.

The Mary that I relate to with greater fervor is the Mary of the Magnificat.

EDSA Magnificat

Particularly these four lines of her song, which welled up from within my subconscious, when I was looking for a way to explain what happened and did not quite happen after EDSA 1986.

He has put down the mighty from his throne. This happened and we have reason to celebrate.

And has lifted up the lowly. Not quite. But EDSA opened up possibilities for this, with the acknowledgment that “people power” is the basis for the new government’s legitimacy.

In more secular language, I had hoped for the institutionalisation of a more participatory popular democracy. But as the political situation “normalised” it appeared that what was being institutionalised was “elite democracy.” In the language of the Magnificat, in place of the one mighty removed from power, what we got were many factions of the mighty competing for power.

Should we dismiss, then, with disappointment, such limited gains of EDSA? I prefer to see the possibilities in the “democratic space” of an elite democracy compared to an elite dictatorship. But to seize the opportunities of “lifting up the lowly” we would have to recalibrate the forms of struggle and organisation of people power, from the dominant tradition of resistance, to an exploration of critical participation and engagement.

He has filled the hungry with good things. I remember an editorial cartoon of Boogie Ruiz that showed smiling people flashing the Laban sign from the open windows of their cars, as yellow confetti rained down on them. At the sidewalks, a group of kariton pushers ask themselves: “Does this mean that we will now stop being poor?”

This reminds me of a slogan attributed to the poor people’s march in Thailand – “We want a democracy that we can eat!”

The answer to the question is partly linked to the fourth line: And has sent the rich away empty.

For sure, some of the very rich were sent away, but not empty. They took quite a bit with them, in addition to what they had already sent ahead to their destination. But most of the others stayed behind, switched sides, and held on to what they had.

For the hungry to be filled with good things post EDSA, justice is essential, in the form of retribution and redistribution.

Post-EDSA reality is complex, and the strategies needed to fulfil the promise of EDSA are not as simple and unambiguous as these four lines from Mary’s Magnificat.

But I wish someone would do a painting or a sculpture of Mary that captures the fervor of those four lines of her, and our, hope.

EDSA Stories: February 25 and beyond

February 25, 2014


No matter how I try, I can’t remember the exact day when I walked out of Fort Bonifacio into freedom.

What I remember is the impatience and anxiety, as the three of us – Boy Morales, Doc Prudente and myself – received varying reports about our release. One morning, we even had a perfunctory medical check-up, but no release order followed.

Still, we were confident that we would eventually get out and join the other released political prisoners. And one morning, the camp commander announced that we were free to go.

We walked out of the barracks into the hugs of our relatives, who helped us carry our stuff, including some pots and pans.

But before reaching the gate of Fort Bonifacio, a foreign TV crew asked me for an interview, but please, inside the camp, so they could use the barracks and barbed wire fence as dramatic backdrop.

I was happy to oblige. What’s a few minutes more inside, when I was sure of getting out.

I even recall something I said, half-jokingly – that the air inside Fort Bonifacio was cleaner because of all the greenery, compared to the polluted air on EDSA. Still, I prefered freedom with pollution, over clean air inside detention. (On second thought, I wonder what Tita Odette Alcantara would say about that).

It seems that the taped interview was aired on UK TV. Friends at Christian Aid in London told me later that the picture of my release from prison was cited by those who were arguing that EDSA was for real, against those who reserved final judgment or remained skeptical.

During the days that we anxiously awaited our release order, I told Boy Morales that we should prepare ourselves for the questions that we would be peppered with as soon as we got out. There would be no chance to consult with friends in the left, about how to interpret and evaluate EDSA.

Indeed, how would one from the left movement talk about EDSA then, or for that matter, now?

Easy enough for a political prisoner to express appreciation for EDSA, because it got us out of prison earlier than we hoped for. But journalists would immediately have a follow up question. Activists do not judge a political event only on the basis of personal benefit. What about our social and political vision of something more than a mere restoration of pre-martial law democracy dominated by competing elite factions?

EDSA and a Premature Baby

I don’t know how it entered my mind or where it came from. But on the day of my release, at some interview, as I struggled to balance my appreciative assessment of EDSA’s achievements and my critical reservations about its limitations, I stumbled upon the image of a premature baby.

It came sooner than we expected. It is smaller than what we wanted. But it’s our baby.

And it’s up to us to nurture it to full growth.

The image is simpler than the reality. There were competing judgments: Some declared that the new baby was just fine, and we should settle for what we got.  Others denounced it as not even a new baby, but in contemporary argot “the return of the comeback.”

There were also competing claims to parenthood. The military rebels and leaders claimed to be the parents. My initial quip was that they were midwives who hastened the delivery. Church leaders claimed the baby was the fruit of a miracle, prayer power trumping people power.

Later, I was more willing to accept the various claims to parenthood. Unlike biological babies, a political baby can have more than two parents. As the saying goes, “Success has a thousand parents. Failure is an orphan.”

The head of the baby was definitely Cory. And its body was “people power.” But unlike biological bodies, this political body was not as organized. People power is visible and potent when millions mass on the streets. But when they go home, and during the day to day workings of a democracy, what is the shape and effective form of people power?

Later, I used the lines from Mary’s Magnificat to express my judgment about EDSA. But that’s for another blog.

EDSA Stories: February 24-25 1986

February 24, 2014

EDSA 1986

My memories of those two days and nights are like a Lav Diaz marathon movie.

Especially after someone brought a small black and white TV into our quarters. When the rebel soldiers captured Channel 4, we saw the first images of “people power” on EDSA.

The TV images set our pulse racing with excitement. But among the guards watching behind us, I could sense a palpable hush.

For two days, we switched back and forth between the competing channels of the new Channel 4 and the three government controlled stations.

While watching the scenes broadcast from Malacanang, I asked Doc Prudente: “Doc, you have known Marcos better than us. Do you think he will stay and fight to the finish, or will he decide to take flight at some point?”

Doc Prudente thought for a long while, then said: “I think Marcos would prefer to make a last stand. It’s his character, and besides, he is sick. But Imelda and his children will be thinking of their own future. They might sedate him, and take him out of Malacanang to safety, against his will.”

I can’t recall when we got the news that rebel troops were poised to attack Fort Bonifacio, where we were detained, since the camp commander refused to surrender. Was it just before the news that Marcos had fled or just after?

Curious, I asked how the attack was going to happen. I was told that the assault would involve a mortar attack, starting with a few ranging shots. I looked at the roof of our quarters. They were rather thin. The mortar shells could easily penetrate them.

I scouted for a sturdy cover, but couldn’t find any, except a cramped space under a cement ledge. I remember uttering a prayer, really a complaint: “God, don’t do this to me. I don’t want to be killed just when I expect to get out of prison!”

To our relief, the camp commander finally decided to surrender.

My mother was with the first visitors who entered our quarters, bringing food and news from our friends. We expected to walk with them out of the camp to freedom. But were told to wait for release procedures to be worked out.

A Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners was formed. Reflecting the coalition character of the new government, it included Defense Minister Enrile, Chief of Staff Ramos, Jovito Salonga, Joker Arroyo, and I think, Rene Saguisag.

The committee ordered the immediate release of many political prisoners. But the three of us at Fort Bonifacio waited for one day, then two, then three.  Our relatives informed us that the committee was still debating if we should be among those to be released and when. I quipped that instead of its intent to be a Committee for the Immediate Release of All Political Prisoners, it should be renamed the Committee for the Eventual Release of Most Political Prisoners!

The night before we were finally released, we got a visitor. I knew him as a member of ISAFP, and he sought our advice. “We are supposed to brief the cabinet tomorrow,” he said. “Our task is to identify who are the main security threats to the new government.”

He asked: “Tell us, who are our enemies? Used to be people like you in the opposition, but you are about to be released, so that means you are not the threat anymore. It cannot be Marcos’s group since they have just been defeated and have gone to exile. So who are the main security threats?”

My first reaction was to be amused, but he seemed so earnest. I thought aloud: “Perhaps the corrupt government officials who stayed behind?  And illegal loggers?”

He looked disappointed. But he added gamely: “Will you call on your friends in the hills to come down and join us as we dance on the streets?”

“How can I ask them to join?” I answered. “I am still a prisoner and can’t join you outside.”