Birth of LABAN

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

I was depressed when I read the news that the Comelec had turned down unanimously a petition filed by the Partido Demokratiko ng Pilipinas-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-LABAN). I was not interested in the contents of the petition. It felt so depressing that the coalition once founded by Ninoy Aquino and Nene Pimentel would now simply be referred to as the Cusi wing of a faction of the party. It would be added humiliation that this wing is the President’s party but does not have any candidate for president or vice president.

I used to be very proud to say that I was with this coalition from its inception in 1978 as an ordinary foot soldier in its ranks. Times were really bad in 1978 and the people were suffering from the Marcos dictatorship. Not only were there all kinds of suppression of human rights, but the economy was suffering from all types of shortages, including rice and gasoline.

I can remember television programs where Pilita Corrales was being interviewed and the whole show was centered on her attempt to convince people to shift from eating rice to eating corn. This was the government’s solution to the rice shortage – eat less rice.

In 1978, Marcos declared elections for a Batasang Pambansa, his own version of a Congress. The rules were a mish mash obviously to make it easier to cheat. Bloc voting by party was allowed and candidates ran as a group. So in Metro Manila, there were 21 delegates and the whole 21 could be voted as a single ticket – the KBL.

Our first reaction was not to participate in this comedy. However, word spread that Ninoy Aquino had decided to lead an opposition ticket in Metro Manila to give the opposition a chance to speak directly to the public. The government made another strategic error. They allowed Ninoy to be interviewed for 30 minutes. He was in jail at that time and the person who was assigned to interview him was Ronnie Nathanielz. Ninoy showed up with his charisma and articulateness and Ronnie was humiliated. The whole metropolis was watching and was mobilized by this single interview.

After that the pocket rallies began all over the metropolis. It was hard to catch them because there were no announcements. There was no social media and the opposition had zero time on television. But somehow, the people were able to get the news out. I was able to attend a few rallies but then I was used to attending clandestine opposition rallies.

During my last year of school in the AIM, I lived in a dorm near Padre Faura. It was near my school then and near the focal point of most rallies which was Luneta, Congress (now the National Museum). We would go to rallies wearing neckties, then take them off when we got there. We would replace them with headbands. Some were more adventurous. I saw a fellow student, Hermie Aquino, buy a cola bottle with gasoline. This was clearly a “Molotov cocktail.”

Back to 1978, we considered ourselves as LABAN members. There were no membership forms to fill out or formal meetings to attend. When you joined LABAN activites, that was the oath of membership.

A good friend of mine Ninoy Gutierrez (now deceased) and I were active members in the Manila Jaycees. We were recruited by two other JCs, Nick Santiago and Butz Aquino to join an Operation Quick Count.

The night before the election we were meeting with the whole group. I suddenly got a typewritten note saying that Ninoy had requested for a noise barrage to show support from 9 p.m. that night to 9:30 p.m.

I saw people in groups and by the time I left to join the noise barrage, most had either left or were leaving. We traveled by car down EDSA until Makati. Pasay Road was still a residential area and not a commercial center. The streets were blazing with burning tires and people were dancing in the streets. Ortigas Ave. was the same.

By the time we went home early morning we were convinced LABAN would win in Metro Manila.

The following evening, we tried to go around the different schools to get the election results. In a school along Taft Ave. policemen informed us that the school was closed.

There was only one school the government was not able to close – St. Scholastica’s College. It was also the only school we were able to enter where the opposition ticket won. The nuns had taken the role of watchers and refused to be intimidated. There were lessons we learned from the Scholastican nuns that prepared us for the next elections under the Marcos dictatorship.

There were other stories on our journey to EDSA People Power. But these will have to be told in future columns.

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Young Writers’ Hangout via Zoom: Jan. 29, 2-3 pm., with Neni Sta. Romana Cruz. Contact [email protected]. 0945.2273216.

Email: [email protected]


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