Ousting a Tyrant


WE WORE YELLOW because of that Tony Orlando song whose lyrics, almost line by line, described us as we waited for Ninoy to come home. The hope was that he, with Doy Laurel and the UNIDO oppositionists, would catalyze us and topple the dictatorship. As it happened, Aquino never made it back alive. After his death, yellow remained the visible vestige of our faded hope.

So we wore yellow in our grief, for comfort and reassurance; we wore it in protest, an “in your face” challenge to the tutas in our midst; we wore it as a warning that our anger was simmering and would soon seethe; we wore it as an encouragement to the silent, the fearful, and the apathetic, inviting them to find their voice and lift it with ours for freedom.


Ninoy Aquino’s funeral, August 31, 1983. Over 2 million people lined the streets from Sto. Domingo church in Quezon City to the Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque. (photo: Sonny Camarillo)

Ninoy’s death galvanized us. We marched to bury him, and after we laid him to rest, we kept marching. We filled the streets with live bodies and confetti – yellow, of course – to announce to the Marcoses that their time was up. As we marched, we gave Marcos the finger…and the thumb…as we flashed the L-sign with one or both hands to everyone we met. (We would’ve used our feet if we could!) The like-minded returned the gesture, and it became a code that identified us to each other. That “L” was for Laban! – Fight! – our promise and our threat; and though the loyalists denied it and deny it still, it scared the socks off the despot.


Ayala Rally commemorating Ninoy’s first death anniversary, August 21, 1984. (photo: Sonny Camarillo)

Eventually, we backed the Cory-Doy tandem. It was not the original plan but it was a viable one, and worth the risk. We held noise barrages and shrilly declared, “Tama na! Sobra na! Palitan na!” Elections were held on February 7, 1986. Marcos cheated, and that broke the camel’s back. Two days later, 35 vote tabulators walked out of the PICC Plenary Hall to protest the manipulation of the results by their superiors. On February 22, Philippine Constabulary chief Gen. Fidel Ramos and Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile broke away from Marcos to protest his theft of the popular mandate. As they holed up in Camp Aguinaldo, Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila, and Agapito “Butz” Aquino, Ninoy’s brother and head of the August Twenty-One Movement (ATOM), called on the public to rush to the camp to protect them. Within hours, that portion of EDSA was crammed with people. The numbers swelled until three days later, the pressure forced Marcos and his minions to flee like the cowards that they were.


Laban! (Google photos)

I remember all this vividly. I need help with the names and dates, but as I look at the photographs, I feel everything intensely. I remember the anger, I remember the urgency, I remember why I went. We were needed, as many of us as could come – we were all needed. None of us was superfluous. No act was gratuitous. Everything mattered, everyone counted. We thought only Ninoy could oust the tyrant; in the end, we only had to act together to do it.

I did not go to EDSA to support one particular party. Back then, our understanding of political parties was fuzzy since Marcos had subsumed them all into the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, his dubious version of a supermajority. We Martial Law babies especially had no actual experience of party politics. To us, politics was much like Philippine weather – dry or wet; you were either pro-Marcos or not. In fact, I only learned that Ninoy was a Liberal with the post-EDSA resurgence of the parties.

So I was, you could say, politically illiterate – but I went anyway. I went there for myself, for my countrymen, and for our shared future. I went there because I could not imagine a tomorrow if Marcos remained. I was not alone. That was another of our catch-phrases, Hindi ka nag-iisa. It was our message of commiseration to the dead Ninoy; it was our assurance to his widow; and as it turned out, it described facts accurately, for we did not fight alone.

The present regime is sullying this sacred memory of ours by making it a partisan issue. I never identified with the Liberal Party and if I claim the color yellow, it is because of my stake in it, not because of the Aquinos. I will not have it co-opted by any sector nor turned into a pejorative by Duterte and his truth benders. In my mind, it symbolizes something greater than them all.

What made EDSA successful was our conviction that we had to act to create change. We all did something along that avenue, each of us, a small something. None of us alone was a hero. All our incremental deeds had effect. What mattered was that we spoke, we showed up, we prayed, we brought food, we linked arms, we charmed soldiers, we stopped tanks, we bucked each other up and together won the war.

We again have a tyrant in the Palace, one who will resort to incarceration and murder to silence opposition to his despotic will. Nearly 8,000 people have perished and his staunchest opponent now sits in jail fighting to restore human rights and sanity to government. The Vice President has made similar appeals and so have some lawmakers. Several echo their call, but more are needed. This is not a question of personality – it is a matter of principle. You do not have to like them, only support their cause. Ultimately, it is our cause as well. We are all affected by what happens next.

Many people are quietly waiting for someone to stir this to critical mass.  Friends, critical mass can’t be achieved unless you act, unless we all do. The time has come to speak up and speak out, to defend our freedom and our constitutional rights, to call for the restoration of righteousness to government. Above all, it is a time to pray and ask the Almighty to grant us mercy and aid. Unless we act, the pall of oppression will once more enshroud us, and our passivity and fear and complacency will not be proof against it. We ousted a tyrant once with our concerted action. Have no doubt, we can do so again.

When the upright have power, the people are glad; when an evil man is ruler, grief comes on the people. –  Proverbs 29:2

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