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Recalling the 1986 fall of a dictator at Malacanang


At least to me, it seems like a waste to still be carrying with me some bundles of personal memories of this country’s most memorable moments in history without sharing it like others did.

I don’t know why it wasn’t such a big deal to me to have spent the night with other photojournalists in the sala of Cory Aquino’s home at Times Street in Quezon City just a day after Ninoy Aquino was killed by assassin's bullets at the Manila international airport.

This particular memory rushed back to me when someone pointed out a black-and-white photograph of the late Ninoy lying in a coffin, unwashed and still splattered in blood, while being viewed by a long line of supporters inside the sala of Cory’s home. This photo was one of the many displayed in an exhibit last week called “Revolution Revisited” by the Pulitzer Prize award winning photojournalist Kim Komenich of the San Francisco Examiner at the Abreeza Ayala Mall here in Davao.

I remember waking up the following morning as the Aquino household was preparing for the day’s momentous funeral procession, when a bespectacled teenage girl in black dress approached us on the long sofa where we slept, carrying a big tray containing hot coffee. “Would you like to have coffee?” she asked.

My fellow photographers from Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France Presse who apparently knew her, took the steaming cups and said,”Thanks, Kris”. Many people didn’t know she was Kris Aquino unless you’re close to the family, as she was just fresh from Boston where she spent much of her life.

Another photograph in the exhibit showed a man, a Marcos loyalist, being beaten up by people near Malacanang on the night the huge crowd overran the palace. I was near this spot when it happened because these loyalists were raining us with big stones as they attempted to defend the palace from the attacking Aquino supporters. One of the stones hit me, shattering my Nikon flash which shielded me from the full force of the stone,
“Don’t touch him, don’t touch him!” one of the Aquino supporters tried to protect the frightened loyalist from further harm. Later, I heard from them that the loyalist was stabbed near the palace gates as the people rushed in.

Thousands of people were now in front of Malacanang, pushing the main gate, trying to force it open. Marines in full combat gear were inside, keeping the main gate closed. I noticed however that their helmets were all tied with little yellow ribbons including the barrels of their Armalites. One Marine officer was telling us that they can’t open the gate yet, warning us “there might be some booby traps here.”

But a small side gate was forced open and people started streaming inside the palace compound. I joined this group and made my way carefully inside the darkened palace grounds. Later, the main gate was eventually opened when people started climbing over the big iron gate, shaking it violently as they climbed. I could see my fellow photojournalist Tom Haley of Sipa Press, (a French photo news agency), perched on top of a concrete pillar, shooting away with his Nikon. I was part then, of the Sipa Press team from Paris with Thomas Haley, Reza, Christian Poveda, Alain Evrard and two others whose names escaped me at the moment.

All the lights inside were put off, only the orange-colored sodium street lights were lighting the street fronting the palace. I found myself inside a small dining room where plates with bread, ham and spaghetti were still strewn on the table, barely untouched; it seemed left by people in a great hurry to evacuate the palace. The pro-Aquino EDSA crowd, by the thousands, was already overrunning the palace grounds, ripping off and stomping on the paintings of Ferdinand Marcos and Imelda.

The following morning in front of the palace, the people were more subdued and quieter, probably because most of them didn’t get some decent sleep, but they were in every window, every porch, every stairway, trying to savor the moment when the Marcoses were finally gone forever from Malacanang.

I saw many of them holding a copy of the Philippine Daily Inquirer with the banner headline “Marcos flees!”. I wanted to shoot a picture of people showing that headline to the world, so I approached a small group of mothers and fathers with their children, asking them, “Can you hold that newspaper in front of me and shout Cory! Cory! Cory!”?

Trying to recall that moment now, I think they were just waiting for someone to prompt them to yell out the Cory call, for they eagerly obliged and started shouting Cory! Cory! Cory! until hundreds of others waiting all over the palace building joined the fray, all raising that Inquirer copy, showing it off to all the media people wandering around the palace grounds.

As I was taking that historic photograph of joy and victory of the Filipino people finally toppling a dictator, I could see the other photographers and TV cameramen from Time, Newsweek, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, BBC, and other international media, all shooting the same picture. Naturally with all these guys shooting the same picture, that historically dramatic moment wasn't a scoop for us. It was there for everyone to see and record on film.
So, for lack of better ending, the rest is history….

by Aurelio A. Pena

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