The Ghosts of Plaza MirandaGregg Jones
There was another August 21 tragedy, the bombing of the Plaza Miranda political rally of the Liberal Party opposition to Ferdinand Marcos.
August 21, 1971: A Testament to My ImmaturityMila D. Aguilar
Young and restless in the days of revolution
The Ghosts Of Plaza Miranda
It was the most shocking political crime the country had ever seen, an act that could be described as the Philippine equivalent of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. “A day of shame,” one Manila newspaper described it in a front-pageorial, and “an infamy the Filipino people will find hard to live down, if ever.”
The scene of carnage remains etched in the memories of many Filipinos: Dying and wounded bodies litter a bloodstained stage and the asphalt below amid a tangle of overturned chairs and trampled campaign posters. On the platform, eight Liberal Party senatorial candidates, the leading critics of Ferdinand Marcos, lie wounded. A few feet away, an award-winning Filipino photographer clutches his disemboweled midsection and stares blankly into the camera of a colleague as he bleeds to death. The lifeless bodies of a 10-year-old cigarette vendor and another victim are sprawled nearby on the ground, unattended.
Ten thousand people had gathered that evening of August 21, 1971, in downtown Manila's Plaza Miranda for a Liberal Party rally to proclaim the candidates for November's congressional and local elections. At 9:10 PM, before a national television audience, at least three fragmentation grenades were tossed toward the speaker's platform, where the party's Senate candidates and other prominent Liberal leaders were seated. The first grenade clattered to the wooden stage and exploded, spraying the crowd with deadly shrapnel. Moments later, a second grenade arched through the air and exploded above the platform. At least one other grenade was thrown at the stage but failed to explode. Nine people were killed, and more than 100 were wounded.
“It is not the ordinary breed of criminal that the law is up against in this case,” the Philippines Heraldorialized the day following the Plaza Miranda attack, “but a madman with an addled mind, or, at the worst, cool, calculating and devilish killers conspiring with others to wreck the established order.” Marcos immediately blamed communist “subversives” for the savage crime, but his apparently unsubstantiated claim met immediate and widespread derision. The president's opponents widely believed he was the culprit, and this suspicion had hardened into the accepted version of the event nearly two decades later.
In 1988, several top Communist Party officials – some of whom continued to maintain close contacts with the underground – told me the actual story of the Plaza Miranda bombing, which proved that Marcos had not been lying when he accused the communists of the attack. In separate interviews, these men provided never-revealed details of a plot to bomb the Liberal Party rally conceived by the Communist Party leadership and carried out by Party operatives. Why had the information not come out earlier? Fear was the overwhelming reason.
For those former rebels who no longer enjoyed the protection and anonymity of the underground, fear of retribution from former colleagues in the revolutionary movement or the threat of retaliation by right-wing extremists had enforced a troubled silence for nearly two decades. “Disclosure of the Plaza Miranda plan would destroy the prestige of the Party. And if you destroy the prestige of the Party, you will be six feet under the ground,” one founding CPP Central Committee member explained. “When you seal a secret in the Party, you must not talk about it anymore.”
Those who decided to challenge the code of silence have done so out of mixed motivations. Most have served time in military prisons and no longer viewed their former revolutionary activities as romantically as they did in their youth, and they appeared to have been genuinely troubled by their involvement in a bloody attack on innocent civilians. For some, long-simmering differences with Jose Maria Sison, described by several former senior CPP officials as the “mastermind” of the Plaza Miranda plot, led them to set aside their fears and talk about the bombing.
Nearly two decades later, the Plaza Miranda bombing stood as one of the pivotal points in the history of the Philippine revolutionary movement. More than one CPP veteran remarked that Sison had used the attack to force Marcos' hand, at a crucial moment for the communist movement. Marcos had played right into Sison's maneuver. The bombing considerably widened the gap separating Marcos from his moderate opponents, thus pushing the president further to the authoritarian Right and his opponents toward the Left. The suspension of the write of habeas corpus and the accompanying repression that followed the bombing also pushed may liberals into alliances with the communist underground and at the same time opened the door to systematic military abuses against the citizenry, particularly in the countryside. Martial law brought wholesale state repression and forced into the communist movement many young Filipinos who otherwise might never have joined.