• Within the Eye of the Storm

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    (A Personal Account of the EDSA Revolution)

    Saturday, February 22, 1986

    I was invited by a group of faculty colleagues at the Philippine Normal University to brainstorm on what the academe should do in response to Cory Aquino’s call for justice after that dramatic walkout at the PICC where the tabulation of election results was made. Several suggestions were given but there were also objections raised until we all decided to call it a day and to meet again on Monday for us to have time to think things over.

    I came home tired and sleepy although it was only seven in the evening. I passed through Gate 2 of Camp
    Aguinaldo and walked to our cottage at JOQ or Junior Officers’ Quarters where we had stayed since 1972 right after the declaration of Martial Law. My husband, a senior Army Officer was not home yet so while waiting for him I must have dozed off on the couch as I was startled by the ringing of the phone. My friend called and I couldn’t say anything when she asked me what was happening inside the Camp. My friend advised me to turn on the radio.

    And so I did and heard the voice of Cardinal Sin asking the people to go to Camp Aguinaldo to extend support and assistance to Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, his military officers and soldiers presently holed in at the National Defense Building. I could not believe what I heard knowing that everything appeared normal an hour ago when I got in the Camp. And then I noticed the loud blowing of horns coming from vehicles at EDSA and the sounds seemed to rhyme with “Cory, Cory, Cory!”

    Just then my husband came home from his office which was right at the back of the National Defense Building. He looked bothered as he rested for a while on the couch without taking off his military uniform and his boots. While taking his dinner he told me what was happening and that he had to go back to his post right away. He also said that he saw some nuns in front of the National Defense Building. I asked if I could go with him and I would just stay with the nuns. He did not say a word and I took it to mean that he did not object to what I would like to do.

    As we went out of the cottage he said we should better pass through the golf course, not through the road where we would be passing by the houses of his fellow military officers. He said we should be careful not to be identified by anyone as we were going through uncertain times. As we walked through the golf course, it was then that I noticed that the moon was almost full. That was our first walk together among the trees on such a moonlight night even as we had stayed there for almost 15 years.

    Finally we reached the street fronting the National Defense Building. My husband instructed me to look for the three nuns he had seen earlier and for me to stay with them as he would now proceed to his office. The three nuns were easy to locate as they were still standing on the lawn in front of the building. As I approached them I immediately recognized a familiar face. She was Sr. Digna Dacanay, my good friend and the one in-charge of our Campus Ministry Office at the Philippine Normal University. We were both very happy to see each other there. She introduced me to her companions, Sr. Maribel and two other Sisters.

    I told the Sisters that when I heard Cardinal Sin’s call for people to go to EDSA and to extend support to Minister Enrile and his men in Camp Aguinaldo, I immediately decided to come over knowing that all gates of the camp had been closed and nobody could get in. I told them that being already inside the Camp there should be no reason why I would not be able to show up. Sr. Digna said that they were already inside the camp when the gates were closed and locked.

    After a couple of hours, a soldier approached us and asked if we would like to serve as volunteers. He then instructed us to receive and record the donations of food stuffs piling up at the entrance of the building. We were amazed at what we saw: boxes of hamburgers and sandwiches, basketful of hard boiled eggs, sacks of rice, baskets of fresh fish, packed meals sent in by restaurants and many more. I surmised that with the big quantity of foodstuffs, the soldiers currently holed up in the building would not go hungry for a number of days!

    I also wondered where all those donations came from and how instantly they were delivered. After we had done the job assigned to us, we went to Gate 1 to check if there were still donations coming in. And we saw how some hands from the other side of the gate pushed over a sack of rice and a big box of food stuff to the waiting hands of the soldiers inside! With the noise outside, we also sensed that Santolan Road must be filled with people and that was almost midnight!

    Sunday, February 23
    At about two in the morning donations stopped coming in and so we settled on the grass to take some rest. Later the Sisters decided that we pray the rosary. We all stood up, locked in our arms and prayed the rosary while leisurely walking back and forth in front of the building. The three Sisters in their habit were at the center while I and the other Sister in civilian attire were at the sides. We heard some clicks from cameras while we were doing it. (After a week, I saw our picture as a cover of a magazine but only the three sisters at the center were there. Obviously, for lack of space, the photographer cut off the two of us at the sides.) As we settled again on the grass, an officer who introduced himself as Colonel Legazpi joined us. Just like Col. Gringo Honasan, he also lives at JOQ and both of them are my husband’s friends. The sisters asked him some questions and he gave the history and the reasons why they had to risk their lives and their future. He was very good in expressing his thoughts and feelings that fully convinced us that what we were all doing was the least we could do for our country.

    It was almost four o’clock in the morning when he excused himself as he noticed some movements of his men around. Some of the men had positioned themselves on the rooftop of the building. He said that the hour was very critical for surprise attacks from enemy forces which could be just around the Camp. We were standing at a very strategic location that if ever there would be a surprise attack, we could be easily caught in the crossfire but the five of us did not feel alarmed. We all felt that we should stay on no matter what. Honestly, I did not come to think about my own safety nor what might happen to my children. .

    We became watchful as the minutes ticked on until we saw the beautiful dawn coming. Close to the entrance door of the building, a table was set for a holy mass and a priest came out followed by some soldiers. As the mass was going on, a helicopter kept hovering around the camp. One time it came close over the building and I thought a bomb would just be dropped in our midst! I observed though that nobody moved until the helicopter left and disappeared from view. The mass remained very solemn especially when everybody took their communion as if preparing themselves just in case it would be their last.

    After the mass the soldiers went back to the building. The Sisters also decided to go back to their house-convent. We all felt we needed some rest to regain some strength and be ready for what might come next. Then we learned that getting out was difficult for all gates were locked and the guards did not have the keys with them. From Gate 1 we walked to Gate 3 hoping that the guards would easily recognize me and would give in to my request. He did recognize me but then instead of giving in he warned me to be careful of what I was doing. I knew what he meant, that if ever Minister Enrile and his men would fail in their mission, my husband could suffer the consequence of my action and eventually even our children could be greatly affected.

    Having nowhere to go and as all of us felt exhausted, we decided to go to our cottage to take the much-needed sleep and rest. We did and it was already mid-afternoon when we all woke up. We went back to Gate 3 and begged the gate guard to let the four sisters get out of the Camp. This time he gave in. We did not know that while we were sleeping, Minister Enrile and his officers and men had already left Camp Aguinaldo and had transferred to Camp Crame to join forces with General Fidel Ramos. After looking around, he surreptitiously unlocked the pedestrian gate and asked the sisters to hurriedly get out. We all heaved a sigh of relief as we parted. They immediately merged with the crowd at EDSA as I went back to the house.

    At home I felt restless. I could hear the voices of people on the highway either singing “Ang Bayan Ko,” chanting “Cory, Cory, Cory,” or praying the holy rosary while in procession. From time to time, there would be somebody talking over the microphone followed by intense applause from the crowd. Then I remembered we had an iron ladder at the back of the house and with the maid, we placed it close to the wall resting its other end on the roof. I climbed up the ladder and walked to the other side of the roof where I got a better view of the people on EDSA. I was overwhelmed with mixed emotions when I saw the wide highway separating Camp Aguinaldo from Camp Crame filled with people! I was so amazed to see the multitude of people on the highway for the first time in my life! I wondered where all of them came from and what drove them there to stay on. This was aptly described by a radio announcer as a ‘Sea of Humanity!’ I could not help but call my children to go up the ladder and to join me in witnessing and appreciating history unfolding right before our eyes!

    I remained on the roof of the house until twilight time as I felt some sense of joy and peace with the beautiful scenery around me. I had a good vantage view not only of what was happening on the highway but also of the beautiful display of colors caused by the setting sun and the rising of the big, full moon at the opposite side as well as the breathtaking view of the green carpet-like golf course just across our cottage. I was so overwhelmed that I felt like crying! As I could not contain my feelings anymore, I let go of my tears!

    Later I felt restless again as the voices from the highway and the beautiful moon seemed to summon me to get out of the Camp and be counted. I asked my two teenaged children to go out with me but only my daughter obliged. My son was busy finishing his class project. We walked to the gate and again ‘begged’ the guard to let us out as we just wanted to walk around for an hour. Luckily, he gave in to my request. As we walked towards Ortigas Avenue, I felt that the people around me were all angels from heaven leisurely waiting around greeting each other with a smile or offering some food to eat. They came from all walks of life and different levels of society. There were even old folks on wheelchairs just hanging around talking to each other as if they were in their own living rooms! Families were also having happy bonding time together as on a picnic complete with food on folding tables while seated on folding chairs!

    We kept walking leisurely that I didn’t realize we were already in front of the Corinthian Gardens. We decided to turn back to Gate 3 and when we got there I felt energized instead of feeling tired. That was my first time to join such a very big crowd coming from different parts of the country and getting together as one big family! For the very first time I felt so much pride in being a Filipino and write later a history of the country in Filipino and in poetic form which I titled, “Batis ng Lahi, Dagat ng mga Dakila!” inspired by the phrase, “Sea of Humanity.”

    Monday, February 24
    The next morning I went out again magnetized by the festive mood going on outside the Camp. The cheering was caused by the public appearance of General Ramos on a makeshift stage on EDSA right in front of Camp Crame. He gave a short talk and ended it with a big jump. That night my husband and I discussed what had happened so far and that it seems it was ripe for him to make a stand. For him to stay in Camp Aguinaldo would be interpreted that he remained loyal to the Marcos administration. For him to transfer to Camp Crame would mean that he was taking the risk of losing his job and all the benefits that go with it just in case the Marcos power would prevail. I felt relieved when he finally decided to take the risk. .

    Without having second thoughts, he dressed up in full battle gear uniform as if he was going to war. I went out with him and we walked towards the high wall along EDSA which was just a few meters away from our cottage.

    By the wall, I could feel the festive mood of the people. He then looked for something to step on so he could easily bring himself up to the top of the wall. As I said, “good luck, take care, will pray for you,” he gave me a big hug as if it would be our last. As he reached the top of the wall, I heard loud voices of men, asking him if he would like to come down, then some voices calling for more men to help them telling him to put his feet down on their hands. And as he did, there was rejoicing, assuring him that they would accompany him to the gate of Camp Crame across the highway.

    Now alone with my two teenaged children and a maid, I kept myself glued to the radio set. By that time, the transmitter of Radio Veritas was already destroyed and I kept looking for a station that would somehow report the real situation. I stopped at another station when I heard that familiar voice of June Keithley keeping in touch with General Ramos and Minister Enrile by phone while on the air. I told myself that I was not going to sleep for the rest of the night. However, I must have dozed off while sitting on the sofa because I was awakened by the frantic calls from June Keithley asking for more people power.

    I found out that it was almost four o’clock in the morning. June Keithley was reporting that based on intelligence information that she had just received, the trusted Generals of Marcos were ordered to raze Camp Crame, that riot troopers would be using tear gas and truncheons to disperse the people on EDSA and in Camp Crame! Later came the news that there was already an order from General Ver for an all-out attack by riot police, marine artillery, helicopter, gunships and low-level jet bombers! General Tadiar was mentioned to head the assault of two Marine Battalions while Colonel Sotelo was to lead the pilots in attacking Camp Crame by air!
    At that moment, I sensed danger but I felt there was nothing else I could do but entrust everything to God. I woke the children up, pulled them out of bed and told them to join me in praying the Holy Rosary. I explained to them the impending attacks and we all kneeled down to pray. For me, I have to admit, that was the first time I really prayed with all my heart and with all my soul. It was then that I really felt I had direct and strong communion with God. It was then that I felt that unusual inner peace in my heart. I felt I was ready for anything that might happen anytime.

    Morning had broken and so I opened our front door directly facing the point where the airplanes from Villamor Air Base could be coming from. I went back to our radio set. June Keithley was reporting that troops had already started to disperse the people on Santolan Road using tear gas but the people stood their ground.

    Then she frantically warned the people that nine helicopter gunships already took off from Villamor Air Base and they were already on their way to Camp Crame. In a matter of minutes, I heard the sounds of helicopters and when I looked out on the horizon I saw them really approaching one after the other, coming towards our direction!

    As they moved closer, I gathered my children and hugged them. With eyes closed, I waited for the bombs to fall. The helicopters hovered above and I was silently counting down the seconds for the great explosion but there was none. No bombs fell and instead I heard the shouts of rejoicing and loud applause from the people! My curiosity was answered by the radio announcer who excitedly informed the public that when the helicopters landed at Camp Crame Parade Ground, Colonel Sotelo emerged from the lead helicopter flashing the Laban sign. All the pilots had defected to the Ramos-Enrile camp! I cried out of joy and jubilation as I kept on saying, “ thank you, Lord for hearing the prayers of Your people.”

    The festive mood at EDSA strongly urged me to get out of the camp. My daughter wanted to go with me and so the two of us left. As we turned towards Gate 2, we saw about a dozen soldiers in full battle gear running towards us. We rushed to the side of the street and watched them pass by. I noticed that they were all very young. One of them stopped before us gasping for breath. I got the nerve to ask him where they were heading to but I did not get any answer. What I saw in him was a blank stare of a scared and confused face. Then I made a wild guess, that he himself didn’t know where he was going to and what he was doing things for.

    When my daughter and I reached the gate, I saw the sergeant who had become my friend being the regular guard for the past year or so. I approached him and asked him to please allow us to get out so we could go to the market to buy food. He was surprised to know that we were still staying in our cottage in the camp. He said he had seen most if not all of our neighbors had left the camp as early as Saturday and Sunday morning. As we stepped out, I noticed the people all facing towards Camp Crame chanting the names of Ramos and Enrile followed by a loud applause. The tandem were standing on a vehicle, waving at the crowd rejoicing for a seeming victory. With them was the image of Our Lady of Fatima being held up by an officer. Later, the people sang “Ang Bayan Kong Pilipinas” with all right hands up with the Laban sign. And I sang too with all my heart feeling strongly what every line means.

    After Enrile and Ramos finally disappeared from view, people started moving on while vendors and newspaper boys went about their business. Having just enjoyed our liberty, my daughter and I decided to stroll along towards VV Soliven. I enjoyed watching people offering and sharing whatever food they have, trusting one another, showing love and concern for others. People looked very happy and friendly, smiling and greeting others even if they had just met. No one was a stranger, everyone was a friend, a brother, a sister. Everybody seemed to belong to one big family! It was the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen in my whole life and I wished that day would be the beginning of a new era for the Filipinos who seemed to have been awakened and freed from a spell for twenty years under the Marcos dictatorship!

    NOEMI ALINDOGAN MEDINA, PH.D.

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