That other Aug. 21 shocker: Plaza Miranda
I heard a loud bang, which I thought was merely the sound of a fallen rock or potted plant, while taking pictures of the presentation of senatorial and local candidates of the Liberal Party during its miting de avance on that fateful evening of Aug. 21, 1971.
Bedlam broke loose at the packed Plaza Miranda in Manila’s Quiapo district. This first explosion ripped across the portion of the crowd nearest the stage.
After a few seconds, a second grenade exploded, this time on the stage itself.
With a photojournalist’s instinct, I snapped pictures of Senators Jovito Salonga and Sonny Osmeña, a woman councilor whose feet had been mangled, a policeman carrying a wounded boy, and some of the dead. I also managed to take a picture of Manila Times photographer Ben Rojas staring at me before he died.
I clicked away even as I myself began to bleed. I suffered injuries to my left knee and right arm—and also to my right cheek, which in an instant sported a “dimple.”
The explosions killed nine people and wounded scores of others, including myself, all hit by grenade shrapnel.
As I was badly wounded, my colleague Ric dela Cruz hailed a private jeep to have me rushed to Manila Medical Center, where I lost consciousness due to loss of blood. I remember feeling very cold before totally passing out.
I stayed for two weeks at the hospital, where I got to celebrate my birthday with a cake courtesy of Philippine Free Press where I was chief photographer.
I was briefly allowed to leave the hospital so I could view the remains of Ben Rojas at the National Press Club (NPC); I wept in silence upon seeing his body.
‘Bravery under fire’
The Free Press later gave me a bonus of P3,000 and took care of my hospital bills. The NPC and the Philippine Press Institute also gave me a citation for showing “bravery under fire”—and for this I again thank them.
The Liberal Party later bought 50,000 copies of the Free Press, which had the Plaza Miranda bombing as its cover story and photo, for distribution during the campaign. I believe it was instrumental in the LP’s massive victory over the Nacionalista Party in the elections held in November.
When martial law was declared in 1972, among the materials confiscated by the military at the Free Press office were our color slides of the bombing. I was able to save the black and white photos.
It’s been four decades now, but this horrendous crime has yet to be solved. Where is justice? Politics is dirty, corruption and bribery so rampant. I still dream of greatness for the Philippines, if only we Filipinos could unite and stop political violence.
Gising Pilipinas! Never again, Plaza Miranda.
(Editor’s Note: A photojournalist since the 1950s, the author was a two-time president of Press Photographers Philippines and the founder of Sports Press Photographers Association of the Philippines and the PBA Press Photographers Club. After his stint in the premartial law Free Press, he later joined The Daily Express, Manila Times and the Journal group, among other dailies. He currently covers sports events for the tabloid Police Files Tonight. He turns 75 on Aug. 31.)