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42 years ago: Suspicious, blinding lights preceded bombing at Plaza Miranda

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(Editor’s Note: The author, a radio-TV luminary, is an ex-senator who was among the 100 people wounded in the grenade bombing of the Liberal Party proclamation rally in Plaza Miranda on Aug. 21, 1971, which left nine dead. He was in a wheelchair for more than two years and today still carries grenade shrapnels in his body. He has retired from public office.)

Around 5 in the morning that day, Aug. 21, 1971, Ninoy (Aquino) passed by my house. “What’s up, pare?” I readily asked him as I met him by the door surprised by this early visit. “Are you all set for tonight?” he asked as I led him inside. “Been working on my assigned topic about the housing problem,” I answered. “What brings you here this early?” I added.

As we sat down, he suddenly turned serious, unlike the jolly Ninoy we knew. “Pareng Eddie, after tonight, mawawala ako ng ilang araw. (I’ll be gone for a few days.) I have to raise money for our campaign. ‘Di pa tayo nagsisimula, wala nang pera ang partido. (We haven’t started, the party has no more money [for the presidential election in 1973].)  Aywan ko diyan kay Gerry (Roxas). Walang-wala tayo. (I don’t know about Gerry Roxas.) Don’t tell our friends about it—and this visit—but I have to go and raise money,” he said looking unusually somber with his eyes on me all the while as one saying farewell would.

After a brief exchange of some political talk, he stood up and as I walked him to the door, he stopped and said: “Isama mo na, pare, ang (include) air and water pollution in the program.” Then he walked to his car parked by the gate. He was alone.

That was perhaps the biggest political proclamation rally ever seen in Plaza Miranda. The cheering of the huge crowd was frenetic as I was led to the stage. Seated on the first row were the national candidates; on the second row were the Manila candidates and most of the candidates’ spouses.

Closer to the front of Quiapo Church but farther on the left side of the stage behind the audience was a makeshift mini-tower where the yet unlighted pyrotechnics were.

Disturbing observation

When I brought my eyes back to the audience, I was bothered by one observation which after all these years still bothers me. When I was introduced and waved at the crowd, the spotlights were too strong and were beamed directly to my eyes, blinding my visibility of the people in front.

Being used to television lighting, and lights in many rallies I found it odd. My suspicion was more aroused after two grenades were hurled onto the stage. With those lights on our faces, it was impossible to see the perpetrators who were positioned among the crowd.

After the proclamation, as if on signal the huge fireworks display on the mini-tower began. The fireworks wheel started to spin with eye-catching kaleidoscope of multicolored lights; then assorted sizes of fireworks and rockets were fired giving the plaza and its environs a carnival atmosphere.

When the spectacle started, as if commanded by a conductor, the crowd turned their backs from the stage in unison to watch the spectacle located at the back.

That was when two loud explosions on the stage occurred and chaos ensued. It was when the smoke cleared and the crowd had gone when dead bodies were seen littered on the ground amidst piles of debris; wounded people swimming in pools of blood and still unaided were crawling on the ground.

Unanswered questions

Were those blinding lights set up on purpose? If so, was there a conspiracy to make it a foolproof crime? There are other questions that have remained unanswered today—42 years later.

The families of the nonentities who died—the ordinary people who were there only to show support for their candidates—after all these years have not been given justice or redress. But they are willing to wait even up to the end of days!

It may be an almost unbearable redundancy to some people to repeat every year accounts of what have transpired on that terrible night. But there is need to hammer into the nation’s consciousness a crime that has remained ignored by the authorities.

Be that as it may, the Plaza Miranda bombing shall remain an ignominy—the darkest page in our political history—and a shameful example of political violence in a country which has now degenerated into a haven of shameless politicians.

Stories of courage

It is worth repeating here that there were many little-known stories of courage, compassion, and generosity amidst the horror and rage that night, stories which will never be forgotten and will remain in the hearts of those who know. Even if that carnage showed the evil in man, it was also the shining hour of the Filipino.

To express sympathy and show its outrage, the whole country did not sleep that night. Many people brought out long-hidden guns in their homes and unable to control their rage fired indiscriminately in the air. Some built bonfires in the middle of the streets; others just stayed awake and prayed.

Only common people

Every year the country through a congressional fiat commemorates Sen. Ninoy Aquino’s assassination. He was a hero. On the same date, Plaza Miranda is remembered only by the survivors who are still living, who still cared to see justice given to those who died. They are not heroes—only common people awed by heroes.

Will those responsible for the crime ever be arrested and punished? Do the authorities still care? Or is it destined for the dustbin of history?


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