I DON’T think most people know it, and I’m sure our professional historians will disagree with me on this claim. No, the singular event that shaped Philippine post-war history wasn’t the imposition of martial law in 1972, the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr., or even the 1986 EDSA revolt.
These were all consequences in the chain of events triggered by this bold but diabolical attempt at changing history: the bombing on Aug. 21, 1971 by Communist Party activists, directed by its chairman Jose Ma. Sison, of the Liberal Party’s last election rally for the 1971 senatorial elections. Without it, there would not have been martial law nor the EDSA revolt.
The chain of events triggered by that terrorist attack would eventually lead to the deep 1983-1984 economic-political crisis that contracted our economy by an unprecedented 14 percent. That meant the country lost 5 full years of growth — an epoch in economic terms. This largely explains why we became laggards in an energetic region in which the so-called Asian tigers had emerged.
This is the reason why I used the space in my last three columns posting excerpts from US journalist Gregg Jones’ 1989 book Red Revolution, the most comprehensive, investigative account of Sison’s most evil deed. The chapter “Ghosts of Plaza Miranda” establishes without an iota of a doubt that it was the Communist Party under Sison that was responsible for it.
Most of the sources Jones cited for his account either related the same account to me, or I personally know that they know what they are talking about. Three former party high officials who planned and executed it are still living, having comfortable lifestyles in Canada and Europe.
Two of the six actual bombers — student activists barely out of their youth fooled by Sison to undertake the dastardly act for the sake of the “revolution” – are still alive, wondering as many aging party cadres do, how they could have been mesmerized to join a ruthless organization.
I am glad that even during the holiday season when people aren’t in the mood at all for serious reading, thousands read these three columns (as can be gleaned from the number of “viewers” in the web version of these pieces), an indication that finally Filipinos are starting to realize how important this event was to our history.
However, professional or popular historians, especially the Yellow ones, have dismissed the crucial importance of this event. The popular historian Ambeth Ocampo titled his column piece on the bombing “Case Closed,” its silence on the event’s consequences in our history in effect a loud “so what?”
The Plaza Miranda bombing (PMB) ordered by Sison triggered events that formed the contours of our history since 1971 for the following reasons.
First, whether or not, as the Yellows claim, his intention was merely to prolong his rule beyond the two-term limit which would have ended in 1973, the PMB gave Ferdinand E. Marcos the raison d’etre to impose martial law in 1972, which made him a one-man ruler until 1986.
Knowing that the opposition, especially its leader Benigno Aquino Jr. was financially and organizationally supporting the communists, with both known to be so ruthless as to have undertaken the PMB, Marcos would have convinced himself that he was, as he himself put it, “saving the Republic from the Right and the Left” by declaring martial law.
Second, it was also the PMB bombing that convinced both the military establishment and the Philippine elite that there was no other way to defeat the communists but through the imposition of martial law.
Yellow history has portrayed a conspiratorial group it dubbed the Rolex 12, as having executed martial law. (“Rolex” purportedly because Marcos gifted them such watches a few months after the imposition of martial law went without a hitch.)
The reality is that the group (gifted actually with cheaper Omega watches) formally checked off on the eve of the imposition of martial law. It included Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, Philippine Constabulary chief Fidel Ramos, the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force, the chief of the National Intelligence Security Authority, the Tarlac governor, and commanders of the Philippine Constabulary commands in Metropolitan Manila and Rizal.
In short, the entire military establishment was convinced that the PMB proved that the CPP was powerful and diabolical enough to undertake such an operation even at the very center of the nation, and to blame the government for it so as to destabilize the democratic system.
Marcos and the military establishment were further convinced that there was no other way to stop the communists but to impose one-man rule when the attempt at the smuggling of 5,000 rifles by the CPP in a remote bay in Isabela in July 1972 was intercepted by the military by accident. That convinced them that the People’s Republic of China, which was supporting North Vietnam and the Vietcong as well as North Korea had turned its attention to the Philippines to make it the next “People’s Republic.”
Right after the bombing, Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus and the filing of subversion cases against CPP and student leaders were part of his dry run, to test how he could pull off the declaration of martial law.
Read Proclamation 1081, the document formally imposing martial law, and it justifies the move entirely as an action by a duly elected government to defend democracy against the CPP and the New People’s Army. It even claimed that the CPP “to a considerable extent has succeeded in impeding our duly constituted authorities from performing their functions and discharging their duties and responsibilities in accordance with our laws and our Constitution to the great damage, prejudice and detriment of the people and the nation.”
Read the two Supreme Court decisions upholding the constitutionality of martial law; these deal almost entirely with the communist threat. (G.R. No. L-35546 of Sept. 17, 1974 by the First Division and G.R. No. L-40004 of Jan. 31, 1975, by the court sitting en banc)
No other event on the scale of the Plaza Miranda bombing in terms of political impact and proof of the CPP’s capacity for violence occurred up to the martial law imposition in 1972.
I would therefore put the PMB by the CPP in the same genre as events that changed history: the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 that lit the fuse of World War 1 and the burning of the German Parliament (Reichstag) in 1933 that Adolf Hitler blamed on the Communist International, which paved the way for his path to become Nazi Germany’s Fuhrer, eventually leading to World War 2.
I suspect Sison got his idea for the Plaza Miranda bombing, in a perverse way, from the events in Indonesia in the 1960s. Sison was a big fan of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), the biggest nongoverning communist party of that period. The West feared that Indonesia was nearing a communist takeover because its popular leader Sukarno had allied with that party. Sison had visited the country in the 1960s studying its Maoist ideology and organization, and developing a close friendship with a PKI official he met in UP, Ilyas Bakri, who was also an Indonesian army captain.
The anti-Sukarno forces, supported by the British and US intelligence services, deposed the charismatic ruler through a diabolical tactic. In September 1960, six of Indonesia’s top military leaders were executed by a shadowy group that called itself the 30 September Movement.
The anti-Sukarno forces, led by Gen. Suharto — who would subsequently rule the country for 31 years — blamed it on the PKI, alleging it was part of its plan to undertake a coup d’etat. Exploiting Sukarno’s popularity with the masses, Suharto’s forces built up such an intense anti-communist movement all over the country that not just the military but the majority Javanese undertook one of the biggest pogroms in modern history, killing a million ethnic Chinese, whom they claimed were all allied with the PKI.
Sison most likely learned the power of such a tactic, now known as a false-flag operation, from those events in Indonesia, which totally wiped out the PKI, with his friend Bakri, captured and imprisoned.
Of course Sison’s aim for his PMB operation was to raise outrage not against the CPP which secretly undertook it, but against Marcos. He succeeded to a considerable extent, helped by the support and propaganda machinery of the Yellows, principally the Lopez oligarchs that Marcos had wiped out.
Together with the alleged killings during that period of history (who were mostly though of CPP’s casualties) and the purported corruption by Marcos and his cronies, the hate against Marcos lasted for half a century, dissipating, but not entirely, with the election of his son as president.
Shouldn’t there be a historical marker at Plaza Miranda with the inscription: “Here is where the communists by bombing a democratic political rally sent us on a path to poverty.”
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