On February 5, 1986, two days before the snap elections, the Manila Times came out again after a 14-year absence. The public response was immediate and enthusiastic. The Times began at a circulation of 15,000. By the time the EDSA revolt broke out three weeks later, it was printing 145,000 copies. It was a triumphant return to broadsheet publishing for the Roces family. They had been left at the starting gate back in 1945, but in 1986, they moved just in time to cover a “second Liberation” as it happened.
For Vergel and his staff, the next four weeks became the best of times: a first-rate crew assembled just in the nick of time to cover in detail one of the greatest continuing stories in Philippine history. On the day of the snap elections, February 7, 1986, fraud and terror were widespread, but the will of the people was clear: Cory Aquino had won. But on February 15, the Batasan Pambansa declared Marcos the victor of the snap elections. On February 16, Cory Aquino launched nationwide civil disobedience campaign to bring down Marcos (She called for, among other things, a boycott of all crony newspapers, which made the independent journalists exult – and also of San Miguel Beer, which did not.)
On February 22, a foiled coup plot by the RAM prompted Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and PC Chief Gen. Fidel Ramos to break away from the regime and hole up in two military camps. An unarmed people came out to defend them. In the afternoon of February 23, several thousand civilians stopped an armored column of Philippine Marines sent to smash the rebel forces. Soon after, the entire armed forces defected to the rebel side, Corazon Aquino was sworn in as president and the dictator had to flee to exile and eventually, death in Hawaii.
The four days at EDSA in February 1986 seemed like the famous lines by the Irish Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney come to life:
History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
Caught up in the middle of the “longed-for tidal wave,” the new Times distinguished itself in covering the EDSA events. On February 23, the banner headline read: “Military rebellion: Enrile, Ramos challenge FM.” On February 26, it read: “Marcos flees.” Its chief photographer Pete Reyes got many memorable shots of the uprising, including a now famous shot of two nuns, Sr. Teresita Burias and Sr. Porfiria (Ping) Ocariza of the Daughters of St. Paul at the head of the crowd that stopped the tanks at Ortigas on February 23. Dante Peralta got another famous front-page shot of a priest hugging one of the rebel soldiers at the newly liberated ABS-CBN complex. The Timesdevoted whole pages to the photographs taken by Pete, Dante, and Rudy Sakdalan, in a departure from the text-heavy approach taken by most Manila dailies.
Manny Mogato, Danny Florida, and Vet Vitug covered the EDSA revolution from the military angle, staying several nights inside Camps Crame and Aguinaldo as the RAM boys braced themselves for the expected assaults of Marcos’s legions. Shiela Coronel and Malou Mangahas covered the political angles and the fiesta-cum-revolt unfolding in the streets. Malou was assigned to follow Cory Aquino and she witnessed her inauguration in Club Filipino in San Juan. Bert Castro was covering Malacañang when it was hit by rockets fired by the rebels’ helicopter gunships on February 24. Alan Robles was able to report on the situation inside the Palace that same night, the night Marcos fled.
Shiela Coronel said: “As reporters, we kept vigil through the four nights of EDSA I, covering events during the day and rushing to the office in the evening to file our reports. Don Chino Roces was often there, watching protectively over us and going out of his way to bring us food. If memory serves, I think it was Max’s fried chicken and the occasional burger. But it was not the food that was memorable. It was the fact that Don Chino himself went around the newsroom to give each of us dinner.”
Alan Robles recalled: “I covered EDSA Revolt, the collapse of Malacañang, the rallies in Mendiola, [I saw] how the people were dismantling the barbed wires [in front of Malacañang]. During the night that Marcos fled, I climbed the gates of Malacañang, along with the crowd. It was around 1 am. I got into the Palace; there was this Marine sergeant holding out his hand and saying, “This is the property of the Filipino people, let us respect this building, so please do not go in and do not destroy anything.” And the people were observing it. It was more like the atmosphere of an outing or picnic and the crowd was exultant and it was a big thrill.”
In short order, the new Aquino government overturned the political landscape. President Aquino dissolved the Batasan Pambansa, released all political prisoners, declared a revolutionary government, activated a process for a new constitution, and named a commission to go after Marcos’ and his cronies’ ill-gotten wealth.
Pages 308 – 312
The Power and The Glory: The Story of the Manila Chronicle 1945-1998
By Raul Rodrigo