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The Philippine flag flies free in front of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Edsa Shrine, once part of the People Power revolt, which resonated and inspired countries around the world to break free of their chains 24 years ago. R. LERMA


‘The Filipino is worth crying for’

By David Briscoe
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:51:00 02/24/2010

Filed Under: Edsa 1, Anniversaries, history, Dictatorship, People power, Media, Politics

Some memories have faded from those days 24 years ago this month when I directed The Associated Press? coverage of the Edsa People Power Revolution against Ferdinand Marcos.

But the night of Feb. 25, 1986, after four days and nights without sleep, trying to keep up with unfolding historic events that would have such an impact on the Philippines and the world, I had finally found the chance to rest.

I returned exhausted to the Manila Hilton hotel room rented for my Filipino journalist wife, the former Leonor Aureus, and our four young children?Jeleen, Narra, Raki and Maya.

Turmoil at Manila International Airport, near our home in Tambo, Parañaque, brought fear for their safety. Who knew if the city was going to burn or blow up in a country with dual dueling presidents?

But at that moment, when I returned to the Hilton, Ferdinand Marcos was gone, Cory Aquino was the only elected President. Key Marcos officials?Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos?had defected and drawn the military to Aquino?s side.

At that hour, Marcos was somewhere over the Pacific, headed for exile in Hawaii. This supposedly heroic Filipino who had so impressed me when I had heard him live on the radio addressing the US Congress on my very first night in the Philippines in 1966, had finally departed for good.

It far surpassed the end of the Bush II era in America for its emotional impact, and drew as much global attention.

Papa is crying

I sank into a chair, my wife and children around me, the swirl of events still reeling around inside my head.

?Papa, why are you crying?? one of my children asked.

My wife now tells me that I said: ?Because I am so happy.?

I might also have said, ?Because I think the Filipino is worth crying for,? and they would have understood fully.

Foreign and Filipino journalists faced a special challenge to remain free of emotion in covering the dramatic events in 1986 that ended two decades of US-backed authoritarian rule in the Philippines.

Journalists pride themselves on their objectivity. But even the grittiest hearts can crack.

When the late American television anchor Walter Cronkite reported the assassination of John F. Kennedy, he wept before the world.

When Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States, many reporters couldn?t help but share the emotional release of a nation that had waited so long for Martin Luther King?s dream of harmony between black and white to come true.

The end to the widely acknowledged national disaster that was the George W. Bush presidency was enough to bring tears of joy across the political spectrum and to the eyes of some of the most objective journalists.

Even more recently, reporters and photographers who flocked to Haiti to witness the aftermath of an earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people came away weeping, shaken by the human suffering they couldn?t help but share.

A night that overwhelms

As a journalist who was first hired by the AP in the Philippines more than 40 years ago and then returned again for six years in the 1980s, I have always tried to remain objective and keep myself out of the stories I covered.

I tried not to weep openly at the seminal moments witnessed in this nation I adopted as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1966, as a local-hire AP reporter in 1970 and again as AP Manila bureau chief at the end of the Marcos era.

But one night and morning in my history with the Philippines was so completely overwhelming that I could not help but share the tears of a battered nation after Marcos flew out of the Palace.

Who knows? Do we ever really know why we grown men and women sometimes find ourselves reduced to tears in such moments?

There were so many things worth crying for?for the challenges facing the new President, for the people who finally showed the courage to rise up, even for the Marcoses, with whom I had shared those early days of such great promise.

At peace, finally

The next morning, walking through the unsecured, open gates of Malacañang, which had become so symbolic of the Marcoses? growing isolation, to find clusters of ordinary Filipinos chatting with former Marcos soldiers and wandering about the Palace compound where President Cory Aquino would later refuse to live, brought another feeling of overwhelming emotion.

The Palace was not reduced to ashes, as it might have been in a more violent revolution. The people were no longer waving fists and shouting angry slogans as many had in recent months.

Manila was not in chaos as it might have been. The country was, amazingly, at peace. And so was I.

A story worth telling

Now, some 24 years later, Leonor and I have returned on what just happened to be the day of the official start of another presidential campaign.

No matter what the outcome, it clearly will not have the same emotional impact as the first Edsa uprising?even though the names of Aquino, Marcos, Enrile and many others familiar across the decades are still part of this election.

But there is a certain irony in the fact that nearly a quarter century after the Marcoses? 20-year rule ended, it is the Aquino legacy that is most apparent.

Images of Cory and Ninoy flap in the wind on yellow flags down the center of Roxas Boulevard. Everywhere are signs announcing the celebration of the Edsa anniversary. And son Noynoy Aquino is a candidate.

The half-dozen coup attempts against Aquino and all the flashy Marcos era programs are now mere footnotes, while the Marcos overthrow remains a turning point in Philippine history.

Whether the journalist?s tears were from simple exhaustion, tears of joy, tears for the end of a great story, or tears of frustration for a nation sure to find no real end to suffering, what may matter most is that the story was told and the next chapter begun.

Journalists, for all their attempts at objectivity, thoroughness and ultimate truth are still just story-tellers. And the Philippine story is still worth telling?with or without tears.

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