by Rigoberto Tiglao
The most significant date in our post-war history is August 21, when two historic, connected events, the bombing of the Liberal Party rally in Plaza Miranda and the assassination of Ninoy Aquino happened, the consequences of which make up our messy present.
Saturday, August 21, 1971 – The Plaza Miranda bombing.
Four grenades were hurled at the stage of the Liberal Party’s grand “miting de avance”, killing 9 and wounding 95 others. Many of the Party’s leaders and senatorial candidates were seriously injured.
The bombing was immediately blamed on President Ferdinand Marcos, and public opinion believed so. As a result, most of his senatorial and congressional candidates lost in the elections that year, drastically weakening Marcos’ political strength.
Kept secret for decades, but now believed to be true, the bombing was ordered by Communist Party Chairman Jose Ma. Sison, and executed by his most inner circle, called the party’s Executive Committee of the Political Bureau (See, among other accounts, Gregg Jones’ “Red Revolution: Inside the Philippine Guerrilla Movement” and the more recent “Secrets of the Eighteen Mansions by Mario Miclat”).
In the words used by communist party documents at that time, “to intensify the split within the ruling class” in order to create another “revolutionary flow”. In ordinary language, the bombing would push the opposition Liberal Party and their ruling-class supporters to strike back, even violently, at Marcos. The country would plunge into civil war in which the communist party as a very organized and armed force could take advantage of to capture power.
Few believed the most commonsensical question then: Why would Marcos, whom even his enemies credited as a brilliant strategist, undertake such an attack which obviously would be blamed on him?
Sunday, August 21, 1983, The assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr.
The political instability triggered by that event combined with the economic downturn at that time, due to the global debt crisis, led to the country’s worst recession ever. With GDP contracting by seven percent each for 1984 and 1985, Marcos’ political death in 1986 became well neigh inevitable, although it was obviously the aborted coup attempt against him and the massing of a hundreds of thousands of Filipinos at EDSA to defend the military rebels that plunged the dagger into the regime’s heart.
The event on August 21, 1971 triggered events that led to the imposition of martial law and the start of Marcos 13-year dictatorship. Another, on the same date twelve years later in 1983 triggered events that led to the fall of that dictatorship.
Why did the Plaza Miranda bombing lead to martial law?
Marcos believed that Aquino himself planned or at least was involved, in conspiracy with the communists, in the Plaza Miranda attack. With such a brazen use of violence, Marcos could but conclude that he would be killed, outrightly or through a death sentence by a court for that alleged deed, when he steps down from power in 1973. Imposing martial law and becoming a dictator, was his survival plan—with the perks of course of absolute power and unlimited wealth.
Marcos had good reasons to suspect Aquino. The opposition leader Aquino had supported the then rag-tag New People’s Army, by giving them refuge and supplies in the vast Hacienda Luisita owned by his wife’s family.
Most importantly, Aquino — the unrivaled star of the Liberal Party — wasn’t at Plaza Miranda when it was attacked. He claimed later, according to one report that he was with the Laurels in a nearby restaurant who were having a birthday celebration. He said he was delayed in going to Plaza Miranda since he was waiting for Cocoy Laurel’s singing number to end.
There have been rumors though that NPA Commander Pusa, a Tarlac-based hit man known to be close to Aquino, warned him to delay his arrival at Plaza Miranda for reasons the guerilla however did not disclose. A leftist leader at that time, now US-based Fluellen Ortigas, reportedly was with Aquino just before the attack. He allegedly had told his close friends that he always wondered why Aquino seemed to be dally-dallying on the way to the most important political event of the year.
It was Plaza Miranda that prodded Marcos to declare the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus a month after the attack. It was the timid response of the elite to this suspension of civil liberties that convinced Marcos that he could pull off martial law a year later.
Sison calculated that the Plaza Miranda bombing blamed on Marcos would intensify the split within the ruling class and therefore bring about a revolutionary flow. He miscalculated. The attack helped Marcos to set up his dictatorship, which would nearly decimate the NPA and the party in the mid-70s that Sison himself was captured in 1977 — only to be released by Corazon Aquino in 1986.
Except for a tiny faction of the elite that Marcos cleverly limited his attack on, mainly the politico-economic elite clan of the Lopezes, the Philippine ruling class either believed that the Plaza Miranda bombing was the communists and Aquino’s plot, or that whoever was responsible, it created an unstable political situation that risked a communist take-over.
Who wouldn’t fear a communist take-over at that time when right after the grenade attack the communists tried to smuggle into the Isabela hinterlands 2,000 M-14s, courtesy of Mao Tse Tsung himself? Former ranking communists would later claim that the two events were connected. Sison estimated that without the “revolutionary flow” the bombing would create, there wouldn’t be enough activists to recruit into the NPA to use those rifles.
Why wouldn’t the ruling class support Marcos’ dictatorship? In 1973, right after martial law was declared, GDP surged to 8.9 percent, the highest growth rate ever recorded for our country, and from 1972 to 1979, it averaged a high 6 percent yearly.
August 21, 1971 is a day of the shame for the communist party, a party supposedly of the poor.
Because of the Plaza Miranda bombing its leadership ordered, the communist party had lost its moral grounding, exposed to be as ruthless and Machiavellian as Stalinist and Maoist parties are all over the world. It fooled thousands of our idealistic young men and women to devote and even sacrifice their lives to fight a dictatorship which the communist leadership in effect helped install by bombing Plaza Miranda.
August 21, 1971 is a day of shame for one party of the ruling class. The Liberal Party, the target of the attack, opportunistically joined the frenzy of communist-led propaganda that it was Marcos who was its brains — just to win the 1971 elections.
Even after the Marcos’s fall, the Liberal Party didn’t bother to find out who really was responsible for the single most important event in its history. Shamelessly, it even distanced itself from the conviction of Jovito Salonga, one of its revered leaders whose wounds from the attack disfigured his face and severely weakened his health: that it wasn’t Marcos who ordered the attack but the communists under Sison.
With the suspicion that Aquino was part of the Plaza Miranda plot, or at least didn’t warn his colleagues of the attack, his wife President Corazon Aquino and his family with their vast power and wealth could have left no stone unturned to settle who was responsible for this key event in our history.
They didn’t bother, since that would weaken the image they wanted of Marcos — evil personified.
A similar nonchalance also makes August 21, 1983 a day of shame for our nation.
Despite their vast political and economic powers, especially when Corazon Aquino was president 1986 to 1992, the Aquinos and Cojuangcos didn’t bother to unmask the brains behind Ninoy’s murder. Some 16 officers and soldiers were convicted by the Sandiganbayan for the murder and given life sentences in 1990. All of the assassination’s details have been uncovered, except who the mastermind was.
Why didn’t then President Cory Aquino offer them pardon — and maybe even money to live in security abroad — in exchange for identifying the brains of the murder that shaped our history?
There is another question that bothers me a lot. Was it just sheer coincidence that two historic events occurred on the same date?
I wonder. In what would be his death voyage, Aquino arrived in Taipei August 19, 1983. But he booked his flight to Manila August 21. Was the date of his return to the country a secret message to the dictator, one that only he and Marcos would understand?
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