(A tribute to the peasant martyrs of the Mendiola massacre)
We were so scared and shaking and we could not look down at the helpless bodies of peasants, some crying for help and shrieking, others gasping for their last breath. I felt that a part of me died that day as we were trying to save the victims, the injured, the peasants who got lost running in the jungle of Mendiola.
BY CHIE LOPEZ*
Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 49, January 20-26, 2008
The morning of January 22, 1986 in Mendiola was like an ordinary weekday for students, teachers and passersby . As always, they were in a hurry to reach their respective school gates, unmindful of the phalanx of soldiers stretching rolls of barbed wires to use as a blockade at the foot of the bridge. Students studying at the surrounding universities and colleges around Mendiola were passing through the openings in the barbed wire barricade early that day. Although, there was skepticism, tension and fear in their eyes, life for them as students went on, with or without the barricade.
It may sound as a cliché but time really flies so fast! Even though it’s been more than two decades since the Mendiola massacre happened, my long-term memory can still vividly recall the tension, worries, and fears of people waiting for something to happen that day.
Magkakagulo ba? Ano’ng mangyayari, igigiit nila? (Will there be trouble? What will happen, will they force their way?) These seemed to be the 64-dollar questions hanging in their heads then.
I was a dental clinician at Centro Escolar University at the time. I remember I was a little bit edgy that morning particularly since I wanted to have a first hand account of the event. But the College of Dentistry building was located at San Rafael Street, behind the main building and from there, it would be impossible for me to see and monitor the developments during the rally. Tension was already mounting in the area around mid-morning when I went to the school’s cafeteria to grab a bite or two. The radio was tuned in to the Radyo Patrol station. The people inside were listening intently and even chatting about what was going to happen if the soldiers wouldn’t let the ralliers cross the bridge. On the other hand, it was surreal and weird, because those in the cafeteria wore robotic facial expressions when a group of LFS (League of Filipino Students) students barged in and invited them to join the rally. The noise subsided and the students just threw a glance at the LFS campus speaker in front of them, trying to avoid eye contact.
Being a member of ACHES (Association of Concerned Health Students), a health student organization in the campus advocating for the rights and welfare of health students, I volunteered to be part of the First Aid team. I hurriedly locked up my dental instruments, dismissed my patient, and readied myself to meet my classmates at the bridge.
Without thinking, I opted to stay and meet the ACHES contingent at the foot of the bridge instead of joining the First Aid team and the ralliers who were still at Recto Avenue. It was a spur-of- the-moment decision because while waiting for my classmates, my activist friends arrived, and since I hadn’t seen them for quite sometime then, I had missed their company. So we chatted and updated each other regarding the latest happenings in our lives while waiting for the marchers to arrive.
Suddenly, in the middle of our banter, the soldiers in full battle gear behind us started to line up in phalanx. They started to shoo students and onlookers away, and the Corona Bookstore at the corner of Mendiola hurriedly closed its doors. So my companions and I quickly went up the stairs of the Corona Bookstore and looked for my classmate who was a boarder in one of the apartments in the building. Luckily. she was there, and we managed to get to the side of the terrace where we could get a full view of the march. From our vantage point, we could see the red flags waving. The chants got louder as they were approaching Mendiola. Ang tao ang bayan ngayon ay lumalaban! (The people, the nation are fighting) reverberated throughout the four corners of Mendiola. My classmate was apolitical and yet she too joined us in the chanting!
The chants were getting closer and louder, the footsteps were deafening! The marchers were running. Click, click, click, we looked behind us, we saw a phalanx of people from the press, adjusting their cameras. The marchers were coming!! The first wave of the march is almost here, my friend told me. As I looked out, at the front of the march was the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan streamer. I saw Lean Alejandro, Don Chino Roces, mass leaders in the middle of the contingent of nuns, priests, peasants, some of my friends from the health sector, other personalities from the movement.
Suddenly we heard loud sounds of guns firing! Bratatat! Bratatat!! Dapa! (Drop to the ground) A loud yell came from the back. Dapa! (Drop to the ground.) Again, a loud yell. People who were at the Corona balcony cried in unison. We were so scared and shaking and we could not look down at the helpless bodies of peasants, some crying for help and shrieking, others gasping for their last breath. I felt that a part of me died that day as we were trying to save the victims, the injured, the peasants who got lost running in the jungle of Mendiola.
The rest is history… Contributed to (Bulatlat.com)
*Chie Lopez is a Fil-American health advocate and activist based in California