THEY’D HAD ENOUGH. The COMELEC 35 were not moved by partisanship or lucre; they had simply reached their limit.
They’d been tasked to manage a computerized tabulation system to legitimize the February 7, 1986 Snap Elections. Information technology in those days was embryonic, and theirs was no easy job; it could only be done by experts. They viewed it as a responsibility and a privilege, and took it on as professionals.
The ailing Ferdinand Marcos was under severe pressure from global allies and the opposition to reform or resign. Typically, he went through the motions to assure foreign observers that his trumped up elections would be fair and free. Most of us disbelieved him but we participated anyway, hoping that by respecting democracy’s processes, we would fully resuscitate it. We backed Cory Aquino and Doy Laurel and awaited the outcome. There was to be a “transparent” official COMELEC count at the PICC mirrored by that of the NAMFREL at La Salle Greenhills.
Two days into the count, 35 of the tabulators rose from their workstations and walked out of the PICC in anger and disgust. The numbers appearing on their terminals were markedly different from those on the tally board, a fakery that was the handiwork of their superiors. They later told the press that Cory Aquino “was ahead, according to our computers, not decisively, but ahead,” until the manipulation began. Feeling betrayed, they marched out in outrage but also fear, not knowing what awaited them and only hoping to “drink [their] blues away.” What met them outside the PICC was a cheering, protective crowd that created a human cordon for them to reach the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran safely. U.S. Senator John Kerry, who was here to observe the elections, noted, “These people are angry enough that they’ve walked out. They’re terribly scared. They’ve taken refuge in this church and that’s significant.”
This walkout was the “shot heard around the world,” inasmuch as it launched the series of events that culminated in the EDSA People Power movement which eventually ended the Marcos dictatorship.
CULTURE OF SILENCE
I followed these developments as an 18-year old college sophomore full of fire and fight. I admired the COMELEC 35 immensely for standing on principle when even a tinge of disobedience could send them to jail or death. They were precariously placed, being in the data bullpen (so to speak), and the only ones who could contest the figures falsified by their bosses at Marcos’s behest. They had no guaranty of a future, no assurance of safety, no knowledge of what would happen next. They had only their integrity and intense umbrage, and those were enough. Back then, those were precisely what the nation needed.
Growing up during martial law, I well knew the silence that was the price of relative normalcy. One kept quiet, one carried on. One didn’t rock the boat, especially if there was a family to look after. One played ball if there were dreams to pursue. Migration was a popular option, and led to the brain drain. Professionals left for the land of the brave and the home of the free. Courage and liberty? Neither was in abundance here. The masses were resigned; the intelligentsia, cynical. The reds were embittered and violent, the middle classes, frustrated and passive. There were those who believed that something could be done – must be done – but they were often talked down as foolish idealists. Hindi daw nakakain ang prinsipyo. The student activists were labeled troublemakers. “Reactionaries!” they hurled back. Some said we should wait it out, Marcos would eventually die. Society was fragmented. Yet there were those who spoke out regardless. With time their number increased.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
When the Marcoses killed Ninoy, they stoked the people’s rage. Their theft of the Snap Elections made it seethe; the COMELEC 35 walked out and it brimmed over. It took over 20 years for fury to impel action, but when we did act, we shattered a monolith.
We Filipinos are a historically forbearing race. We like to think we are patient and that patience is a virtue – but often it is timidity, compromise, and apathy that restrain us. Though death surrounds us, we do not act until it touches us. Some on social media escape the horror and post photos of their meals instead (more pleasant, not so?). As spectators we groan, but often inwardly; we would rather “like” and “share” someone else’s outrage than reveal our own. And some do not even do that (though they agree), lest they be seen as having reacted and incur reprisal. Yet the times call for conviction and demand its expression. The times once more inspire umbrage and require integrity.
The rising death count, the relentless presidential excoriation, the official gaslighting by the PCOO and its bloggers and trolls, the reversal of values, the rejection of righteousness – these will take their toll, just as the Marcos atrocities did 30 years ago. Perhaps the public is simmering, just as it did during the martial law years. Probably it is biding its time while boldness germinates. But the time will come when each inflamed particle of sovereignty shall act with ripened resolve to demolish this travesty. Some are looking for heroes to lead them. There are no heroes, only us and the conscience God gives us. What we should seek in our inner being now, after divine guidance, is our limit.
And I saw something else under the sun:
in the place of judgment – wickedness was there,
in the place of justice – wickedness was there.
I said to myself,
‘God will bring into judgment
both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
a time to judge every deed.’
– Ecclesiastes 3:16-17