Friday, February 25, 2022

My EDSA by Apple Santiago Oreta

Apple Santiago Oreta
August 21, 1983. Sunday afternoon. My Sangko (3rd eldest brother) was glued on TV, watching the news. I was a bit annoyed since we were running late for mass. My parents have gone ahead with my other siblings. I was supposed to walk to church with him. Finally, he stood and told me it’s time to go. He was so quiet and serious while walking, his face was sad, and he was also constantly wiping his face. I think I saw tears but was afraid to ask. Later that night, my parents and elder siblings were talking about the death of Ninoy Aquino. I was 14 years old, on my second year in high school. I was the bunso in a brood of six, the only minor in the family. I don’t know who Ninoy was.
When I was in Grade 6, I was defending Marcos. I told my siblings that Marcos was a good leader and Imelda was really beautiful, and I can’t understand why they were mad at me in saying those things. I took my elementary studies in a public school so I had my weekly dose of nutribun and “Current Events Digest.” My social studies teacher would have us read (and memorize) the Digest and have a quiz after. I have no significant memory of having thorough class discussion of the contents of the Digest. Only memorization. And occasional stories if a news pique his interests. The Digest was where I learned about all the good things that the government was doing, under the leadership of Marcos. I was a proud member of Batang Maharlika, the youth group organized by the school, where only the “elite” students (the bright ones and those with leadership qualities) were invited to join. For a 12 year old child who’s still struggling to come to terms with self-worth, just being part of an elite organization does wonders to one’s ego. When news came that Imelda would visit Malabon and pass by our school, the Batang Maharlika were mobilized every 7 am everyday to practice flag-waving. We were excited to get a glimpse of Imelda, and was eager to wave our flags to her. That visit didn’t happen. I also regularly visit the Kadiwa store near our school, where you can buy items that are from different parts of the country. I believed that the Marcos government made that happen.
This was me. And so the 14 year old me was really confused on who Ninoy Aquino is, and why would his death have such an impact to my brother and my other siblings. So I started to ask. And read. I began to read the UP Collegian that my sister brings home occasionally. My Sangko and Ate were also patient enough to explain contexts and situations. Those were my first real discussions on political issues – the corruption of the Marcos family, the kleptocracy of his cronies. The human rights violations, the killings and disappearances of opposition and critics. The construction deaths in the Manila Film Center. The cancellation of the airing of Voltes V. The massive poverty of majority of the people. My neighborhood barkada became my “study group.” I also had a history teacher in 4th year high school that allowed us to think critically. I don’t remember her saying any radical ideas, but her questions allowed us to poke and analyze events.
By the time I graduated in high school in 1985, I have come to terms with my politics.
February 1986. People began to amass at EDSA. My Diko (2nd eldest brother), my Sangko who was then working as an accountant at Central Bank, and my Ate, then a pre-med student at UP-PGH, were glued on TV and radio, searching and scouting for whatever news they can gather. On February 23, the three left the house separately. Later that night, I learned that they met somewhere and went to EDSA, and was planning to return the next day. My mom didn’t know. I begged and begged to let me join. (Classes were suspended then) So we concocted a plan – the excuse was my sister would accompany me to buy shoes in Carriedo – the place is exactly on the opposite side of EDSA so my mom would not be suspicious. My Sangko will go to work, and my Diko will buy something for the store (he’s co-managing the family store with my parents).
EDSA was a good 2 hours away from where we live. We had to take a jeep going to Monumento, and that trip takes about 30 to 45 mins depending on traffic. From Monumento, it’s another bus ride of 1.5 hrs. That day, the bus can only go as far as Cubao. So we walked towards Camp Crame/ Camp Aguinaldo area. There were so many people along EDSA. Some were glued to their transistor radio, others were clustered together listening to a speaker in a make-shift stage. Others were sitting together praying; some were singing; some were sharing home-made sandwiches. The atmosphere was a mix of festive, anxious, prayerful, picnic, militant. And the area was flooded with yellow – yellow shirts, headband and wrist-band (more like yellow cloth or towel, or yellow plastic tied on one’s head or wrist), yellow confetti, sampaguita flowers with yellow ribbons.
We have our transistor radio, extra batteries, extra shirts, towels, umbrella, food and water. We were ready.
June Keithley of Radio Bandido announced that ABS Channel 2 was occupied by government forces and people are needed to barricade the area. So we trooped to Mother Ignacia where ABS Channel 2 was then located. There were only a handful of people, maybe 30 or 40; no organized group, only individuals who also heard the call of June Keithley. We settled outside the gate. From the crevices of the gate, I saw a young soldier stationed inside. I started a conversation with him, asking him where his troop came from, how old is he, what province is he from. He’s 18 years old, he’s from Visayas, and his troop came somewhere from the northern part of Luzon. He has no idea why they were occupying Channel 2; all he knows is that they were following orders to secure the station. I asked him, ‘if they tell you to disperse us, even shoot at us, will you also follow orders?’ He didn’t answer, and walked away. Things were uneventful, close to boring since we were just sitting outside the gate. Then June Keithley announced that orders have been given to disperse the people outside Channel 2. It only took seconds before it dawned on us that she was talking about us.
There was also immediate commotion happening with the soldiers inside the station - some shouting, some running. Immediately we sprung to action and locked arms to form a barricade. We won’t be dispersed. Strangers become comrade-in-arms. Then someone shouted, “mga babae at madre, sa harap” (women and nuns in front of the barricade). So my sister and I, huddled together, locked arms with some nuns and women in front of the barricade, my brothers behind us. I was 17 years old. All kinds of thoughts flashed in my mind. “Is this it? What if they shoot? Will we die here? What about mom -she’ll be heartbroken. I haven’t even had a boyfriend and I’ll die now?” I strained my neck to see if I can have a glimpse of the young soldier I was conversing with earlier – maybe he’ll feel compassion since we had that short conversation, maybe he’ll defy orders if the commanding officer tells them to shoot. I was afraid, so afraid I felt my heart beating so hard and fast. Half of me wanted to get out of the barricade, the other half emboldened in seeing the firm resolved that the nun beside me had on her face, and the assurance that I have my Ate on my other side. That commotion only lasted for 15, maybe 20 minutes. June Keithley announced that the order was withdrawn (or it was a false information – I can’t remember which), and we shouted to the soldiers inside that the order was withdrawn. When the troop inside the station relaxed, we also relaxed and sat down. And prayed. That was the first thing we did after letting go of the barricade. We prayed together, strangers no more.
We went home, and was planning to return the next day, February 25, but mom found out. By then, news was out that Marcos and his family has left Malacanang. (The news turned out to be false; the Marcos family flee that same evening). The feeling was euphoric.
Every year since, I celebrate the February EDSA event. It was, in my view, a glorious moment when Filipinos came together and stood for the common good. And boy, did we show the world how non-violent uprising is done.
I write this essay for my kids. And my students. I was at EDSA. It was our brief tryst of pursuing what was noble, pure, and true. But we are not yet done. Like the chant at EDSA then, we still say it now:
“Bayan ko, hindi pa tapos ang laban mo.”

25 February 2022