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Before Ninoy's death, there was Plaza Miranda

August 21, 2009 8:17am
Before then-senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. was fatally shot at the Manila International Airport in 1983, August 21 was remembered for another tragedy: the bombing at Plaza Miranda in 1971.

"We will never forget that evening," said Judy Araneta-Roxas, wife of the late senator and then Liberal Party (LP) president Gerardo Roxas, during the gathering of the tragic incident's survivors on Thursday.

Mrs. Roxas said she was watching her husband, along with other LP candidates who were there for the party's miting de avance, when two hand grenades were thrown on the stage, killing nine people and leaving about 100 injured. Even though she was in the 5th or 6th row, Mrs. Roxas was one of those injured in the blast, with shrapnel wounding her in her kneecap and waist.

LP senatorial and local candidates are all smiles in this file photo of their miting de avance in 1971. Grenade blasts on the stage shattered the celebratory mood later that day. Photo courtesy of the Liberal Party
Long before the age of televised debates, Plaza Miranda was a popular venue for political events, with former President Ramon Magsaysay famously asking about controversial policies, "Can we defend it in Plaza Miranda?" It came as a shock to many then when this symbol of democratic dialog was attacked.

Former Senate President Jovito Salonga, one of those most seriously injured in the blast, recalled: "Not one of the doctors who saw me gave me any chance to live."

LP stalwart Ninoy Aquino was late, arriving only after the bombing.

Then-president Ferdinand Marcos was immediately blamed for the bombing that injured many of his political rivals, a suspicion that was bolstered by his declaration of Martial Law roughly a year later.

In later years, however, the Communist Party of the Philippines, particularly its founder Jose Maria Sison, was blamed for the incident. Sison has long denied the accusations that he was behind the Plaza Miranda bombing.

"Many people thought that the one responsible for the bombing was Ferdinand Marcos, but throughout the ordeal I did not think it was good to blame anyone unless we had the evidence," said the 89-year-old Salonga.

He said one of the biggest reasons why he ultimately believed Sison was the culprit was the account of American journalist Gregg Jones in his book "Red Revolution: inside the Philippine guerrilla movement."

"I came to the conclusion it was not Marcos responsible for the Plaza Miranda bombing, but that the architect, the author of the Plaza Miranda bombing, was none other than Jose Maria Sison," he said.
The 89-year-old Salonga smiles at the camera as fellow survivors of the Plaza Miranda bombing flash the "Laban" sign during their gathering on Thursday. Jam Sisante
Media personality Eddie Ilarde, who was one of the six LP candidates who won Senate seats in the 1971 elections, also said he did not think Marcos was behind the bombing. "I don't think Marcos is the mastermind because it's so stupid. For all the sins we attribute to him, he is not politically stupid," he said.

But Ilarde, whose leg still carries a metal fragment from the blast, said he believed the Plaza Miranda bombing was the "precursor" to the rage of the Filipino people that grew with Aquino's death and eventually peaked at the 1986 People Power Revolution.

"Yun pala, mga kaibigan, ang simula ng pagkakaroon ng tinatawag na rage ng taumbayan. At ang pinal na nangyari ay nung patayin nila si Ninoy Aquino, and that was the time we had People Power (That, my friends, was the beginning of the public's rage, and the final event was the death of Ninoy Aquino that led to People Power)," he said.

"But the precursor of that was Plaza Miranda, when the whole country did not sleep that night. Some were praying, some were crying, some were angry," added Ilarde.

Former Manila mayor Mel Lopez, who was a young councilor then and one of those injured in the bombing, said the incident should remind Filipinos to always be politically vigilant. "Kahit kailan 'wag tayong pipikit (Let us never close our eyes)," he said. - GMANews.TV
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