Sona, Jan. 26, 1970
Five minutes past eleven in the evening of Jan. 26, 1970, Monday, Ferdinand Marcos took pen to paper and recounted the events of the day. Marcos did not record that he presided over a mass oath-taking of ad interim colonels in the Palace reception hall and exhorted them to be true to flag and country. He did not record a meeting with a special delegation from Congress that formally informed him that the 7th Congress had convened.
The Official Gazette fills in the gaps in Marcos’ diary, providing details, like the standing ovation that greeted him when he entered the Session Hall and the “thunderous ovation” that saw them off.
“National Discipline: The Key to Our Future” was the theme of Marcos’ State of the Nation Address (Sona) that took all of 40 minutes to deliver, but discipline was not in effect that day. Marcos’ Sona is lost to history that has chosen not to record the terror and mayhem that night.
Different militant groups were given mayor’s permits to demonstrate in various parts of Manila that day, but they all converged outside Congress by late afternoon, their streamers and placards no match to the blood-red banner and chanting of the Kabataang Makabayan that marched in last. After the Sona ended inside the Legislative Building, Edgar Jopson declared their demonstration over and, even though his permit had a few hours left, told his contingent to go home.
But other speakers took over the microphone and whipped up a frenzy as President Marcos and First Lady Imelda Marcos were on their way out. A cardboard coffin that symbolized the death of democracy was swiftly carried by the students from hand to hand and hurled toward the presidential party, where it landed close to the limousine. Security forces, fearing a bomb, hurriedly picked up the coffin and threw it back toward the students who caught it and—like in a game of varsity volleyball—returned it with greater force, together with a papier mache crocodile that symbolized, among other things, the honorable members of Congress. Security hurled these back again, but this time they had to shield themselves and the first couple from a shower of empty bottles, rocks and other projectiles.
To cut a long story short, the President and First Lady were whisked away to the safety of Malacañang, and the police pursued the students with a vengeance, wielding their rattan sticks on every student head or body in sight and within reach, regardless of gender. Few were spared the police brutality, not even those who assumed the universal sign of surrender. Next morning the nation awoke to a new world.
Since history has been told largely from the point of view of the protesters, let’s take a look at Marcos’ version as recorded in his diary:
“Opening session of Congress. State of the Nation Address and riots by the demonstrators in front of Congress.
“Two students reported killed. Philippine Gen. Hospital Dir. Pascual reports 45 demonstrators and five policemen treated. Cars in Congress destroyed like that of Sen. Roy.
“The invocation of Father Pacifico Ortiz, Ateneo head, was in poor taste. It castigated the government referring to goons, high prices, streets not being safe, the threat of revolution and how the citizens were ready to fight for their rights even in the barricades. It was an attempt at the state of the nation. I hope he is happy with what he has helped to bring about.
“Raul Manglapus engineered this with the help of the Jesuits apparently for all the Catholic schools had delegations. But apparently they were infiltrated by the Kabataang Makabayan who with some students started the violence.
“After the State of the Nation Address, which was perhaps my best so far, and we were going down the front stairs, the bottles, placard handles, stones and other missiles started dropping all around us on the driveway to the tune of “Marcos, Tuta!” (Marcos, Puppet!) chant.
“As the intelligence reports it, the demonstrators had brought a coffin which they carried from the street below to the site of the flag pole, where they pushed it into the faces of the policemen. The policemen then threw the coffin to the street below and may have hit two demonstrators. The latter then took out a stuffed alligator from inside the coffin and threw it at the policemen who threw it back. Then the wood, bottle and stone throwing [that] caught us at the front stairs. I could not go into the car as Imelda kept standing on the stairs. Col. Ver tried to push me inside but I ordered the First Lady be fetched and put inside first. Since she could not be pulled by anyone, I had to do it myself. I am afraid I pushed her into the car floor much too hard. Anyway I bumped my head behind the right ear against the car’s door side and twisted my weak right ankle again. We moved out under a hail of stones. But PSA agent covering me, Agent Suson, was hit in the forehead and left eyelid and took four stitches. I thought it was Col. Ver as his barong was splashed with splotches of blood but Suson’s blood had spilled on him as he was on my right.
“We saw some of the action over television after we arrived at the palace.
“Raul Manglapus is hoping to become the President of the Constitutional Convention. And the extremists are using these demonstrators to provoke violence for their purposes. Some advisers are quietly recommending sterner measures against the Kabataang Makabayan. We must get the emergency plan polished up.”
That emergency plan would evolve into martial law that lasted over a decade.
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