Flashback: Ninoy & the 1978 elections
- Tingting Cojuangco () - August 22, 2004 - 12:00am
The year was 1978. Ninoy Aquino, then detained in Fort Bonifacio, announced his decision to run in the Batasan elections – the first ever after after the declaration of martial law – under the political party Laban.

Ninoy bade Peping to organize his campaign in Central Luzon. Then following the advise of Soc Rodrigo and Lorenzo Tañada, he changed his mind and asked everyone to concentrate their efforts on Metro Manila knowing that the city could catch the attention of the nation and the world. Besides, they believed Marcos would be hesitant to cheat in an urban area. The foreign media, too, would be training their eyes and ears to the events happening in Manila.

At the onset, meetings in our living room were conducted in hushed tones amid dim lights. Suspicious, the men checked their rearview mirrors to see if anyone were following them. They presumed their phones were tapped so they put music in the background to diffuse the sounds. Eventually an impressive host of volunteers, neophytes and veterans were convinced to campaign in Metro Manila not for Ninoy alone but for all the 20 other candidates of Laban: Monching Mitra, Charito Planas, Neptali Gonzalez, Nap Rama, Trining Herrera, Alex Boncayao, Anding Roces, Johnny David, Tito Guingona, Noli Santos, Cesar Lucero Jr., Felicisimo Cabigao, Jerry Barican, Nene Pimentel, Soc Rodrigo, Antonio Martinez, Ernie Maceda, Primitivo de Leon, Jaime Ferrer and Ernesto Rondon. It was with mixed feelings that the hopeful candidates joined the political race and dashed to the finish line. Not sure if they would be victorious or be defeated, they went on this political undertaking so that their kababayan would become aware of the numerous struggles to restore democracy.

The candidates delivered their speeches on makeshift platforms – a couple of planks on top of four drums, or even atop a jeep or truck. They spoke in front of dogs and children running around under the lights of bulbs in a plaza. Reconnoitering the neighborhood, Peping saw eyes peeking out the doors, necks sticking out the windows and faces turned sideways listening with their ears. Our candidates were actually speaking to an audience they couldn’t see in an empty plaza.

Peping decided to reposition the microphones. Instead of installing loudspeakers at the plaza, Pedy Banaag from our Makati Radio Room installed them in between houses using long wires so that people right in their crowded enclaves could hear our barrage of attacks – "dictator... nawala si... na-salvage... pinaka-corrupt... pinatay... Every night the candidates’ appearances were rotated so that throughout the evening in every barangay there was always a speaker onstage with another ready in the wings so the crowd never waited.

The speeches and the personalities speaking were persuasive that, thank God, two or three residents finally ventured out of their homes. It was a wise move for if ever they were picked up by authorities, they would be noticeably missed.
* * *
Discussing the past, Ninoy on Face the Nation with the night’s moderator Ronnie Nathanielz, was intelligent, precise and challenging. He was sane and not demented as the administration claimed. That show had actually already been cut and censored before airing. Despite the hostility of the people around him, Ninoy was a rousing success and hardly was there traffic on the streets of Metro Manila. Everybody was watching Ninoy on TV, a survey reported.
* * *
Another attraction, according to Peping, was Ninoy’s baby, Kris. "Kris was then seven years old and she would ride through the crowds on some guy’s shoulders – Jake Roxas at times – and be deposited on the stage. Very self-possessed, she appealed in English and Tagalog on behalf of her father in detention. It was a short speech that really hit the heart. How her audiences adored her. She was a real crowd-drawer at every meeting."

To gain sympathy, the campaign organizers tried to convince one or two of the prominent residents to speak at every miting. It was difficult at first since the prominentes feared being identified as sympathizers. As the campaign progressed more nationalists appreciated our fervor and were infected by the movement that they acceded to our request.

Soon after, oftentimes when the candidates stepped off the stage admirers would thrust five-peso or ten-peso bills in their hands and would whisper apologetically: "This is all we can afford but we hope it helps." Isn’t that the reverse of what the usual practice was – and still is – during a campaign?
* * *
One event that inspired us? The noise barrage. One day, a chain letter to Peping surfaced at a rally. "At seven in the evening, I will go out to the street and make noise by beating a pan, blowing a horn, or even shouting in protest." It was a terrific idea and Peping endorsed it. So thousands of mimeographed copies of the letter were distributed in all the churches on Sunday. What a monumental success and it happened on the eve of election day. Ninoy even heard it from his prison cell in Fort Bonifacio.

That night Peping remembers Senator Tañada calling for a meeting at his house and he went with Soc Rodrigo. At 7 p.m., the night exploded with noise. "We ran out to the street in Broadway and found it crowded with people beating kettles and rattling cans. Passing cars blared their horns and from every adjacent street came noise." So they all joined in the fray. "I seized a stick and beat on the iron bars of the Tañada gate and fence. Wow, that night is something we can be proud of. Nothing has equaled it in the world." Just recalling that night still sends goose bumps in my arms.

Immediately Marcos summoned his mayors and told them that not a single Laban candidate should win. We had estimated at least four of the 21 candidates would make it but Marcos put his foot down. None! To make the poll results look credible, our informant said Marcos considered allowing Ninoy to win but the noise barrage made him change his mind and not one candidate won. That campaign of Laban was a great achievement bringing out the issues against a dictatorship and lighting a fire in the roused spirits of the people.
* * *
The campaign, Peping says, produced a lot of young new leaders who were ready to risk their lives, who looked up to Mel Lopez, Calixto of Pasay and Jojo Binay of Makati. Whenever Laban activists were thrown in jail Peping would ask Jojo Binay to bail them out. On the eve of the polls a breathless Jojo frantically rushed this way and that because Laban leaders were being picked up everywhere! On election day, he had to be in Pasig, before driving to Kalookan. He was needed in Taguig and had to scurry to Navotas to get our people out of jail.
* * *
After its outburst in ’78 Laban lay low for a while. Ninoy said he had done enough for the time being to awaken the people’s awareness. Ninoy’s reaction when Peping visited him in Boston was: "Yes, we march to Malacañang and on the way from the hills we kill several hundreds or several thousands along the way. We topple Marcos and take over Malacañang and the Marcos people will flee to the hills. Given the chance they will march to Malacañang and topple us one day. There will be no end to armed rebellion!" And Ninoy told Peping that in Nicaragua as a guest of the junta, a member of the group admitted that, having toppled Somoza they found they hadn’t attained their objectives.
* * *
What then? We needed a hero, a man to die or be killed to serve as a catalyst for change and bring about a downfall. Ninoy’s assassination, says Atty. Egmidio Tanjuatco Jr., opened the floodgates to public manifestation of anger and dissent. We were scattered before and floating around. His death harnessed us toward a single purpose.

Ninoy’s death, Ding continues, provoked a popular outcry. "The people’s reaction had nothing to do with politics. People were going back to their ideologies – right, left, center, yellow, red. The year 1984 gave thousands of scattered groups previously rallying for their own beliefs a common cause: "Bring down the dictatorship, no ifs or buts!"

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