This writer was a youth-student organizer and magazine staff member when the historic uprising in January 16-20, 2001 unfolded at Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (Edsa), Mendiola and elsewhere that removed President Estrada from office. The following are diary entries on these events.
By DENNIS ESPADA
MONDAY – I was running late to the office (in Quezon City) on my first day as writer-researcher. Thankfully the editor-employer granted me a more flexible schedule. From 10 a.m. my tasks include: reading and sorting press releases, writing and re-writing articles, and encoding and saving it as a Word document file. I wasn’t able to do the last because marketing executives Eric and Cleo were using the computer to draft advertisement proposal letters. Karl, one of our contributors, dropped by and invited us to a free “insurance career seminar.” All three of us agreed to attend.
After my work shift, I went straight to Megamall’s food court around 6:30 p.m. to eat a packed meal of hotdogs and rice. Actually I skipped lunch because shyness overwhelmed me. Last Friday (January 12), former government officials Edgardo Espiritu and Perfecto Yasay took the witness stand during Pres. Joseph “Erap” Estrada’s impeachment trial. Everywhere I go, I hear people saying “Your Honor” and imitating Chief Justice Davide’s voice. Where will this lead to? Anyway, traffic was usually horrible in Edsa. I was bored stuck inside the bus for two hours. I arrived home past 10 p.m. and missed news updates on T. I regretted staying too long in the bookstore to buy a ballpen and browse books I can’t buy.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 16, 2001 – Met with colleagues Jon and Anne in Cabuyao, Laguna at 11 a.m. to make plans for the formation of a school-based alliance. The multi-sectoral OUSTER (Organization and Unity in Southern Tagalog for Erap’s Removal) led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Southern Tagalog were working double time to organize and mobilize people from all walks of life. Jon left at around 2 p.m. He paid for and took the book I was selling at PhP 70. Meanwhile, Anne stayed until 3:30 p.m. to discuss something personal. Later we rode a jeepney going to Biñan to consult with student contacts from allied health science courses. The plan was postponed due to miscommunication. On the way she found my left arm wrapped around her shoulder. Oh my…she was blushing!
I was in my bat cave around 8 p.m. reading e-mail messages when I saw on TV scenes of Chief Justice Davide saying “the no votes have it”, Senator Oreta raising her fist gleefully as private prosecutors walked out, and Senate Pres. Pimentel quitting his post. It was shameless! The Senate as an impeachment court had just decided to suppress a piece of evidence believed to contain bank transactions of the controversial Jose Velarde account. Should they open the second envelope? Eleven senators (Enrile, Tatad, J. Osmeña, Oreta, Coseteng, Revilla, Ople, Jaworski, Sotto, Santiago, Honasan) voted “no” while 10 senators (Roco, Legarda, Guingona, S. Osmeña, Cayetano, Drilon, Magsaysay, Flavier, Pimentel, Biazon) voted “yes”. We mourned the death of justice. It was like an acquittal prior to the conclusion of the trial. Time check: 9:30 p.m. I needed to set the alarm clock for tomorrow.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 17, 2001 – As early as 9 a.m. I was working in front of the computer. Around 5 p.m. Cleo, Eric, Karl and I went out together. The route was from our office in Scout Limbaga Street to a building somewhere along Timog Avenue. A speaker introduced himself and talked about their insurance company’s achievements and prospects. He encouraged us to start a lucrative career as an insurance agent. Am I ready for this? Cleo and Eric seemed interested but I declined the opportunity. “I’m new in my current job,” I said politely. The speaker also revealed that their company’s president has joined the “resign” movement. “O, baka pagkatapos nito tutuloy kayo sa rali sa Edsa ha (Maybe after this you’ll go to the rally in Edsa),” he said with a smile.
Since last night, protesters spontaneously held noise barrages, and a growing multitude of them were marching to, and converging around the Edsa Shrine. Cardinal Sin, together with priests, nuns and church workers, came to celebrate mass. I left the seminar at 8:30 p.m. and went there to witness the action (fists raising and “Guilty!” placards waving in defiance) and drama (voices speaking, singing and chanting in protest) rolled into one. Somewhere, at some point, I saw and talked to youth-student leaders Gretchen, Marlon and Rage. After exchanging happy “long-time-no-see” greetings, we shared updates on the organizing work in the region. An ex-president and opposition politicians were also there. Of all the chanting I heard, the most popular were “ERAP RESIGN!” and “SOBRA NANG PAHIRAP, PATALSIKIN SI ERAP! (SUFFERING IS ENOUGH, OUST ERAP!)”. Some of them angrily labeled senators as “pokpok” (prostitute), “kabit” (concubine) and “baliw” (lunatic). Radio and TV stations were broadcasting live coverage as the crowd swelled to hundreds of thousands of people.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 18, 2001 – More than being accused as the “lord of all jueteng lords” for allegedly receiving protection money worth PhP 10 million monthly, the texting generation of the youth-student movement had bigger reasons to oust Pres. Erap, such as:
1) Subservience to United States, foreign monopoly businesses and big landlords – liberalization, deregulation, privatization, militarization; Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA); General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT); World Trade Organization (WTO); landgrabbing and bogus agrarian reform
2) Colonial, commercialized and repressive education – Education 2000 program and the creation of cheap, docile but skilled labor force; yearly tuition and other fee increases; budget cut for education; banning student councils, publications, organizations and rallies
3) Gross human rights violations – “Oplan Makabayan” counterinsurgency program resulting to killings, bombings, forced evacuation, illegal arrest and detention, torture, enforced disappearances and harassments against civilians
Though the soap opera-like impeachment trial was stalled after 21 days, hope still bloomed among cause-oriented groups. “Paborable ang sitwasyon…mataba ang luuupaa…(The situation is favorable…the land is fertile…)” said Romy Malabanan of Pagkakaisa’t Ugnayan ng mga Magsasaka sa Laguna (PUMALAG or Unity of Farmers in Laguna) eloquently in almost every rally he attended as speaker. Significantly, the Catholic Church started the devotion to Mother Mary of the Magnificat to express its solidarity with the struggle of the poor and oppressed. “Kairos…ngayon na ang panahon! (Now is the time!)” said Fr. Joe Dizon of Saint Joseph Parish in Carmona, Cavite. The current Erap regime, like the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, had become “the most isolated target of a broad unity of progressive forces and opposition groups as well as the armed revolution in the countryside,” a woman, who asked not be named, explained.
Many protesters took the streets of Bacolod, Baguio, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Naga and other key cities yesterday to condemn the Senate’s vote against the opening of the mysterious second envelope. A so-called “human chain” was linked up from Ayala-Makati to Edsa Shrine, the venue of the prayer-protest vigil. Actress Nora Aunor came up the stage and decided to withdraw her support from the actor turned president. Last time I saw her she was wearing a pro-Erap arm band during the anti-charter change rally in September 20, 1997. By late evening, Emma Lim, a prosecution witness in the impeachment trial, spoke and encouraged everyone to stay vigilant until the president was ousted. “Matapos noon pwede na akong kumain ng iced tea (Then I can eat iced tea),” she jokingly added. Then a “surprise” speaker appeared before the cheering crowd. It was Josephine Rose, the president’s “unwanted daughter.” After calling the president a “liar”, she strongly urged him to quit “para sa kinabukasan ng kabataan at magiging anak ko (for the future of the youth and my children).”
FRIDAY, JANUARY 19, 2001 – I went to Santa Rosa town plaza before 8 a.m. to cover the anti-Erap rallies. Rod of OUSTER said that although they weren’t able to set up a makeshift protest camp due to lack of time and budget, many sectors—farmers and workers, schools and churches, professionals and entrepreneurs—committed to deploy more people to expand the protest caravan going to Manila. Anakbayan members arrived at 9:30 a.m., greeted me a “happy birthday,” and consulted me on the preparations. What to bring to the rally: food, water, families, friends, convictions and sense of humor. Later Nante (of League of Filipino Students) and I had an early lunch at a nearby karinderya (dining place). He was talking about how the school discriminated against him because of his political beliefs. Together we rode a jeepney going to Balibago, and then transferred to an ordinary bus going to Cubao. In north-bound Edsa, we saw a throng waving flags, streamers and placards as they marched toward Ortigas Avenue intersection. I imagined that this would cause a major traffic obstruction. “Bok, iba na ‘tong nangyayari ngayon (These events are not the same),” I told Nante before he stepped out of the bus. He simply grinned, flashed a thumb up and disappeared in the narrow street.
Fortunately I got back to the office 2:30 p.m. to attend a meeting with the editor-employer. On TV we saw Pres. Erap insisting he would not resign despite police and military officials’ withdrawal of support. My cellphone rang loudly around 5 p.m. while we were waiting for more news. I pressed the call button and heard Anne’s sweet voice wishing me a “happy birthday”. I thanked her and said my officemates forgot to offer me a treat. Anyway, the meeting started and ended in a heated argument on the salary issue. Cleo, Eric and I walked out unresolved, and then went our separate ways.
My cellphone was out of load and the battery was low. I was back in Edsa Shrine around 7 p.m. when I learned that Pres. Erap appeared again on TV. This time he called for a snap presidential election and added he would not run as candidate. A speaker denounced him as “kapit-tuko” (holding very tight) and advised him to resign now or “face ejection”. Spaces above and below the bridges were already filled with people. In the midst of the congestion, I walked slowly toward the stage with slight difficulty, searched for familiar faces, took some propaganda leaflets and stickers, and bought a newspaper copy. Someone announced that Erap’s supporters were gathering in Mendiola to block the protesters. My bed began calling me. After a two-hour travel, I finally found shelter before midnight.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 20, 2001 – “Tsupi!” means “get out!”. After forming the alliance called TSUPI! ERAP (The Students’ Unity in Perpetual for the Immediate Removal of Erap), student leaders from the University of Perpetual Help System-Laguna (UPHSL) in Biñan held room-to-room campaign speeches this morning while members cut out printed neon green stickers, painted streamers/placards along the school pathway, and practiced chanting “PERPETUALISTA…TUNAY, PALABAN, MAKABAYAN! (GENUINE, MILITANT, PATRIOTIC!)”. For the first time in many years, no one dared to stop activities like these. Consequently, a rented bus filled with students departed. Instead of Edsa, the destination was Mendiola to merge with OUSTER. I received a text message saying Myrna, a professor who is against rallies and activists, was in the same bus with them. Yikes!
The media reported on TV that 40,000 protesters—or more than 70,000 based on estimates—bravely trooped to Malacañang to deliver the final blow. To show their support, some residents from buildings within the vicinity threw biscuits, candies, confetti and bottled water. Around 10 a.m. I went to see an optician to have my spectacles fixed, spending the little money I have on true needs, not false wants. After 30 minutes, I visited Edwin’s (my pal from high school) place and gave him complimentary magazine copies. I also borrowed his cellphone so I could get the latest news and assess the current situation. Despite the commotion, UPHSL students who were first-timers in rallies said the experience was inspiring and liberating. It taught them the value of unity, courage and patriotism, lessons that reactionary professors cannot teach. I wasn’t sure about the exact time but it was confirmed that Pres. Erap and his family vacated the palace on a barge via the Pasig River. Meanwhile, Gloria Arroyo took her oath at noon in Edsa Shrine as “the new president”. Why her? I honestly believed we deserve better.
I went back to get my spectacles a quarter past 3 p.m., bought snacks at the grocery, and proceeded to meet with Anne and Jeje (of Saint Michael’s College) for planning and consultation. When Jeje left the room to buy bread and softdrinks, Anne sat beside me and fed my mouth with cheese curls. Yummy! Jeje returned holding her brother’s cellphone. Through text message, we asked someone in Mendiola about the number of students who joined in. Aileen of TSUPI! ERAP replied: “45 student masses, 7 student leaders, 52 total”. Wow! We were so elated that all survived. Southern Tagalog protesters marched from Mendiola to Liwasang Bonifacio at 4 p.m. chanting “SIGAW NG BAYAN, ARESTUHIN SI ERAP! ( PEOPLE’S CRY, ARREST ERAP!)” Mission accomplished but the struggle continues. Gloria Arroyo, her successor and future presidents could meet the same fate as long as poverty prevails and justice remains elusive. Time will come—and hopefully it does real soon—when people will remove not only corrupt rulers but the entire ruling system as well.