The Guns of August: How history triggered RP’s destiny

by Malou Liwanag-Aguilar/AJPress
Only a few Filipinos think of the month of August as something significant. Besides, it is not as famous as December, the Christmas month, or even Valentine’s Day.
But in reality, this month is filled with events in Philippine history – events that shaped our country to what it is today.

The cry of 1896

In August 19, 1896, the Spaniards learned of the Katipunan movement.  This resulted to a massive capture of many Filipinos.  Because of this, Andres Bonifacio and his fellow Katipuneros tore their cedulas, or residence certificates in August 23, signifying the termination of their loyalty to Spain.  “Long live Philippine independence!” they all shouted, during their preparation for battle, marking the day as the historic Cry of Balintawak.

On August 26, Bonifacio led the Katipuneros in their first encounter with the Spanish civil guards.  Due to strong forces and large presence of the Filipino troops, the Spaniards retreated.  However, in the end, the Filipinos lost the battle when the Spaniards came back with a larger number of fighters and stronger ammunition.

The Cry of Balintawak is regarded as the starting signal for the Philippine revolution.  Bonifacio and the Katipuneros paved the way for other Filipinos to realize that under the rule of the Spaniards, we are not free.

Aside from giving expression to the Filipinos’ desire for a unified nationality, the Katipunan was also the origin of that national symbol that today flies beside the Stars and Stripes – the tri-color of the Filipino people.

Dark times in a dictatorship

It started as the Liberal Party’s campaign rally to proclaim the candidacies of eight senatorial bets as well as the candidate for the mayoralty race in Manila.  The rally was held at Plaza Miranda, in the district of Quiapo, on August 21, 1971.

As a crowd of about 4,000 gathered, two hand grenades were reportedly tossed onstage.  This resulted to death of nine people, injuring 95 others, including political leaders Jovito Salonga, Liberal Party president Gerardo Roxas and Sergio Osmena, Jr., son of former President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Sergio Osmena, Sr.  Salonga was among those seriously injured, leaving him blind in one eye and deaf in one ear.  Ramon Bagatsing, the Liberal Party mayoralty candidate for Manila, lost his leg.

Suspicions fell upon incumbent President Ferdinand Marcos, although in later years, prominent personalities associated with the event have pointed the blame on the Communist Party of the Philippines under Jose Ma. Sison.  Sison continues to deny these claims today.  For Marcos’ part, also blamed the communists, citing a communist plot to destabilize the government.  He took the opportunity to seize emergency powers, suspending the writ of habeas corpus, a prelude to declaring Martial Law, which was considered one of the dark times in Philippine history.

From Aquino’s assassination to People Power

Who would have thought that one man’s death can create such impact on a nation shrouded by the leadership of a dictator?  Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino was, like Marcos, a consummate politician.  If Martial Law had not been declared in 1972, he would have probably defeated Marcos.   Instead, he was one of the first to be jailed when Martial Law was imposed.

Aquino was allowed to go to the US for medical treatment in 1980.  Accompanied by his wife, he became a major leader of the opposition in exile.  On August 21, 1983, in spite of knowing the dangers, Aquino went home to the Philippines.   He was shot in the head and killed as he was escorted off the plane.  The government’s claim was that he was the victim of Rolando Galman, a lone communist gunman, who was conveniently killed after the alleged shooting.    This again, casted suspicion on the Marcoses.

But Aquino’s death became the Marcoses biggest opponent – his funeral drew millions of mourners in the largest demonstration in Philippine history.  Aquino became a martyr who focused popular indignation against the dictatorship regime.  The outcome became disastrous for Marcos – his government was overthrown with the People Power movement in February 1986, better known as the EDSA Revolution.  This also marked a first in Philippine history – the first woman president, Corazon Aquino who is also Ninoy’s wife.

August then holds many milestones in Philippine history – the cry for freedom, the start of a number of revolutions, and sacrifices of those who believe that our country deserves a place not only in history, but in the world.


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