Looking Back

The violent 1970 Marcos Sona

That the President delivered a miraculously expletive-free and nonrambling State of the Nation Address (Sona) last Monday should have grabbed headlines. But the many sideshows in and out of the halls of Congress crowded the news. There was the usual noisy rally outside, an alternative Sona elsewhere, and the struggle for the House leadership between Pantaleon Alvarez and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

It was a comical scene, since someone had switched off the microphones, leaving us watching on TV with no audio, no subtitles and no sign language to make sense of the event. Compared to other legislatures where the members voice their opposition by throwing chairs and punches at each other, ours is tame—but shameful nonetheless.


Historians can only wish that the major players in yesterday’s drama write everything down in a diary, or tweet like Donald Trump, who may not have a physical diary, but whose outbursts on Twitter can be mined as a primary source later, these being real-time knee-jerk entries unfiltered by time, introspection or the self-restraint that comes with maturity and politeness.

Nothing in Sona history could be worse than the violent dispersal of the rally that accompanied that of Ferdinand Marcos’ Sona on the Monday afternoon of Jan. 20, 1970, and the demonstrations that came in its wake, now referred to as the First Quarter Storm. Newspapers of the period, while espousing different viewpoints, all denounced the police brutality. Cops were caught in pictures beating protesters even as the latter were helpless and bloodied on the ground.


Writing in the Free Press in March 1970, Nick Joaquin quoted extensively from the diary of Marcos shown to him in Malacañang during an interview. The historiographical issue is that the Joaquin transcriptions, if faithful, do not match the handwritten diary entries in scanned copies supplied for my research by Malacañang and the Presidential Commission on Good Government. The storyline is the same, but the words are different.

After delivering the Sona, President Marcos and first lady Imelda Marcos were escorted out by Senate President Gil Puyat and Speaker Jose Laurel Jr. Marcos heard shouting and saw the placards raised by the students, but he was busy shaking hands. Then, as quoted by Joaquin:

“As I moved towards the car there was a scuffle and all of a sudden we felt some heavy objects falling around us. I didn’t know what it was all about; I was told later it was a matter of a cardboard coffin with some kind of stuffed alligator inside. I did not see this. I understand it was pushed away by the police and thrown back to the street. The scuffle had become a pushing contest between groups and then people were shouting and there was a throwing of bottles and stones and sticks.

“I was not hit, but a security man who was trying to protect me, Sergeant Tuson [“Suson” in my set of Marcos’ diaries], was hit in the face by a bottle or stone. I guess it must have been a stone because he suffered laceration and contusion and had to be given five or six stitches. Other boys of my security suffered contusions. One was hit in the left eye, another on the back of the head.

“During the commotion, somebody—I think it was Colonel Ver my chief of security—pushed me in the car so fast I bumped my head on the door. But I remembered the first lady was still back there. So I said ‘Wait, let us get the first lady.’ But nobody dared lay a hand on her to pull her to the car. So I had to go back and pull her myself. As a matter of fact, I twisted my weak right ankle. That is the only thing I suffered, besides bumping my head on the car—but I had to pull the first lady out of the crowd and push her into the car. I’m afraid I pushed her too hard. It’s good she didn’t suffer any contusions on her lovely face…”

While others may argue over Marcos’ self-referential point of view, the bigger question is, how many diaries did Marcos keep? How many of these are extant? Untouched? Why is the diary Nick Joaquin saw in 1970 different from that we have at hand, which was left when the Marcoses fled in 1986? Which diary was written for reference and which was meant for public consumption later on?

Marcos left a puzzle for future historians to solve. While editing and annotating the diaries for publication, I got anxious about a line in the last interview he gave to Playboy magazine before his death in Hawaii. Marcos declared: “History is not done with me yet!”


Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: congress, Ferdinand Marcos, Sona, State of the Nation Address
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