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An Excerpt from "Bantay Ng Bayan (Sentinels of the People)" Stories from the NAMFREL Crusade 1984-1986" by Kaa Byington An Excerpt from “Bantay Ng Bayan (Sentinels of the People): Stories from the NAMFREL Crusade 1984-1986” by Kaa Byington (Bookmark, Manila, 1986)
 
 
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When the Saints Go Marching In

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 "I wish to nominate the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) in the Philippines for the Nobel Peace Prize. NAMFREL, founded in 1983 by a group of private citizens, was instrumental in ensuring a peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy in the 1986 Philippine presidential elections . . . NAMFREL has set a standard for all nations, showing how a few people can change the world for the better.

- Richard Kessler, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington D. C.
(One of six nominations)

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"Across the Philippines on Election Day, the lame, the halt, the hungry and even the dying joined the healthy and the well nourished in long queues to vote. NAMFREL, the civic volunteer force dedicated to protecting the honesty of the vote, deployed fully half a million sentinels in the front lines, with moral authority as their only weapon and with threats, assaults, even murder as their wages. One NAMFREL monitor, a farmer on Panay in the Visayas, was made to lie flat on the floor while rounds from a high-caliber pistol were pumped into his head and body. For all the perils, including a communist boycott, voters and defenders of the vote appeared in force to show what democracy was all about."
- Asiaweek editorial, February 23, 1986, Hong Kong
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"If we turned our backs on this, those who would suffer would be our kids."
- Romeo Du
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In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan, seeking a westward passage to the Spice Islands, made a landfall on an island that came to be called Cebu, in the central island group known as the Visayas. The Inhabitants of Cebu, or as they called it, Sugbu, were friendly and helpful, and Magellan quickly converted them to Catholicism and to allegiance to a far-off king they had never heard of. The natives of Mactan, another island across a narrow channel from Cebu, were not so hospitable. Led by Lapu-Lapu, their chief, they killed Magellan and a number of his men when they ventured across the channel. The surviving members of Magellan's expedition left his body on the beach and sailed away, eventually reaching Spain to become the first to circumnavigate the earth. They also left behind, as a gift to the Rajah of Cebu, a small wooden figure of the Christ Child.

The Spanish did not return to these lush green isles for two generations, but when they did, they found the small carving of the Baby Jesus much treasured by the people of Cebu. Today it is in the cathedral, dressed in splendid red velvet robes, crowned with gold and silver, the most famous Santo in the Philippines, perhaps in all history. It is the symbol, religious and secular, of the city of Cebu, and the personal icon of every Cebuano. It is called "Santo Niño."

Four hundred and fifty years after Magellan landed, a ragtag and bobtail crew of NAMFREL volunteers took on the goons and guns of one of the most powerful politicians in the country and the power of the Marcos regime with only their wits, their prayers and Santo Niño to protect them. A tiny replica of Santo Niño stood on every ballot box NAMFREL could reach, and every volunteer carried one.

The province of Cebu consists of one largish island shaped like a stake driven into the heart of the Visasayas, the central islands of the Philippines, and two groups of smaller ones, both off the north coast. Like most islands in the Philippines, which are volcanic, the interior of Cebu island is rugged and mountainous, and the settlements are nearly all on the coast.

Cebu city, which is where Magellan landed, is at the waist of the island. Little Mactan island--where a modern jet airport stands not far from the site of Lapu Lapus's village--is less than a kilometer away from Cebu, across a magnificent harbor. Cebu is the second city of the Philippines, after Manila, with a population nearing a million. It is urban, sophisticated, and international. (Cebu city is Cory Aquino country.)

Almost all of Cebu province, however, is the political arena of warlord Ramon Durano, Sr. Durano delivers the vote, for whomever he wishes. It will not be for Cory Aquino. NAMFREL Cebu at least had the luxury of knowing exactly who they were up against, and exactly how he would behave. They'd known Durano all their lives.

Ramon Durano is in his eighties. He wears shorts tailored to cover a little round belly, running shoes and a hat reminiscent of a solar topi. He usually carries a bolo. (A machete.) Other than the modest pot belly, there is little sign of his age. There is only a streak of white in his hair. He claims deafness, but it is selective--he can't seem to hear awkward questions, for instance. He has the face of a cherub and the smile of an angel. He always has four or five bodyguards lounging nearby, more if he is in his home compound, where they multiply geometrically.

The city of Danao, an hour by bus from Cebu city, is Durano's capital, the heart of his empire. Here he built an industrial park: a cement plant, a sugar mill, and an automobile assembly plant. All failed, but not before all of Danao had been paved. There is even a customs house. He owns or controls much land and the people who live on it. He started in the warlord business right after World War II, and, he points out, his assets were in place long before Ferdinand Marcos came to power. "I am not a crony," he says. Durano was in Congress for many years, and a son was in the Batasan. (Marcos's tame parliament, elected in 1984.)

Durano keeps his connection to Manila, but "Duranoland" belongs to Durano, and no one else. As they say in Cebu city: "Marcos was beholden to Durano, not vice versa."

Durano doesn't get out much anymore. Often he stays in his home compound, a former seaside resort, barricaded on all sides. There is a huge pile of sand on the ocean side of the compound. This is to prevent a hand grenade being lobbed in. There is also a helicopter pad. Durano's other favorite hangout is his bakery up the road, where he holds court every day. The people go there to beg favors, most of which he grants. His hand is then kissed. Durano's people are very, very poor, and his favors are very very humble.

Across from the bakery in a cluster of small whitewashed wooden buildings, with a tree lined walkway leading to it, you will suddenly find Ramon Durano. He will be sitting under an acacia, seemingly enjoying the fruits of his philanthropy, for to his right is his orphanage (16 orphans) with two uniformed attendants holding two adorable little kids, sitting on the porch. To his right, on the verandah of the old folks home (24 women) are a merry group of helpers and two very old ladies. It cannot be coincidence that Ramon Durano is sitting there. There are no coincidences in Duranoland.


Durano loves to be interviewed, but he speaks only of the things he wishes to speak of. He says tourists come up to Danao, asking to see the warlord. "I like the lord, but not the war. They call me a kingpin, also. I like the king because you live forever--in England they say long live the king!--and I like the pin because they can't pin me down."

"They say that people fear me because I am cruel and have a private army. My political opponents made that up and I am grateful. It made me very popular."

As he speaks, one of his "people" comes up to him and speaks politely in Cebuano, the local language. Durano nods assent. The man goes off and returns carrying a coffin for a small child on his shoulder. He kneels in front of Durano and then walks off.

"My people love me. They respect me. Sometimes they kiss my hand. I serve them from cradle to grave. They love me." So Durano explains to his foreign visitor.

Jake Marquez is a good looking, articulate young businessman totally devoted to what is now his full time job--NAMFREL provincial chairman for Cebu province. In a movie, he would be cast as the hard driving city editor of the crusading newspaper. Jake Marquez came to Cebu from Davao a few years ago, and there had been criticism from the crony press that the new head of NAMFREL was a carpetbagger. But no native Cebuano could love Cebu as much as Jake Marquez. You can hear it in his voice.

Jake joined NAMFREL for all the usual reasons: his belief in democracy, his desire for free elections, and his hope that the ballot instead of the bullet could decide the fate of the country.

In 1984, the election in Cebu had been disastrous. A crowd demanding to know correct election returns had been fired upon by troops, and many were killed. NAMFREL had not been very well organized. After the election, NAMFREL itself had become divided and the entire board had resigned in protest. It was finally resolved when Cardinal Vidal volunteered to be regional chairman. Thereafter Jake Marquez became provincial chairman and NAMFREL organized with a vengeance. But "organize" isn't the right word. What Jake Marquez and NAMFREL did was mobilize, exactly as if they were going to war. And their battle standard was Santo Niño.
 
Cebu City was relatively easy. Durano did not have the power there that he had in the province. In the election, the Cebu suburb of Mandaue became NAMFREL's standard of excellence: there they had 100 percent coverage of the precinct, no violence, and less than a thousand difference in the vote count between COMELEC (the official Marcos controlled election commission--famous for turning out fraudulent vote tallies) and NAMFREL tabulations.

Because many men could not volunteer for NAMFREL and keep their day jobs, Jake and his initial cadre developed the Women's Corps, which became the heart and in many cases, the brain, of the organization. At first they worked in headquarters, handling walk-ins, but later they went out to the municipalities, acting as liaison. And it was the Women's Corps which came up with the idea of the support groups, volunteers from the city who would guard the polls where NAMFREL could not or would not organize. And the women became a big part of the support groups themselves.

NAMFREL began by sending organizers into Durano territory. Parts of it are controlled by Durano's sons and daughters. Just as the women formed NAMFREL's hard-core believers, do did the Durano daughters. They are tough. Like their father's, their territory is impenetrable. The sons are less implacable. Several have expressed a wish to rid themselves of the family reputation, but cannot leave the clan while the old man is alive. In their territory, it was a bit safer to be NAMFREL. But not much. But it was into the son's territories that NAMFREL sent organizers.

Marilu Chiongbian, a calm middle-aged woman with a wicked twinkle in her eye, was a NAMFREL stalwart from the beginning. "We really know our warlords here. In 1984 we exchanged notes with the NAMFREL volunteers from Makati. (A wealthy Manila suburb where the mayor's goons had literally driven the NAMFREL volunteers out of the area.) They were so surprised when they learned that we KNEW we were going to meet the goons. They were caught unawares in Metro Manila. They thought the goons would never do anything in the presence of foreign journalists. We know better. We go through it in every election."

Communication was, here as everywhere, the name of the game. The radio net had to be set up early, so a week before the election, the radio experts quietly slipped all over the island, putting up antennas in rectories and other safe places. These in turn were linked to vehicles which would be used in the support groups, which were themselves linked to easily hidden hand-held radios.

There was another network that had to be organized, and so it was by Tony Losada, who is heavy equipment manager of a construction company. Tony was in charge of some smaller equipment: the couriers, motorcyclists, who would bring the election results into Cebu city to be counted. The last election had been disastrous to many couriers. Going past Durano's capital, Danao, they'd been waylaid by thugs who stripped them to their underwear and threw their motorcycles into the sea. Their motorcycles were all they owned. This time Tony Losada was able to reassure them. NAMFREL guaranteed that it would know at all times where they were. They would never be alone and there would be hiding places already picked out along their routes so that they could disappear safely. They would be on a timetable. A Radio Club would be manning cars placed at strategic points, and would radio to Cebu when the couriers passed. If they did not pass the next parked car at the correct time, help would go out immediately.

About 300 motorcyclists volunteered. But only the best were sent to the critical areas, the really dangerous places, like Danao. "I chose the best drivers, meaning the race drivers," says Tony. "They are nationally rated. They can run those bikes up the coconut trees. Which means they ride without lights and just go. They told me later that sometimes they felt that something was coming behind them and without thinking, let the bike jump off the road, not knowing where they were going to land."

And then there were the airstrips, two of them. If the courier couldn't make it to Cebu through Durano country, he might make it to one of the airstrips. But if Durano learned about the airstrips, they could be easily barricaded. The airstrips took a lot of planning and a lot of nerve. And only a handful of people knew about them.

And there was an "Operation Quick Count"--where NAMFREL would count the votes and post the results for all to see--in the gym at San Carlos University.

When all the plans had been laid for the communications and the support groups and the couriers, NAMFREL gave each of its volunteers a kit. The kit contained a ball pen, three armbands, candles, matches, ID's and in the case of the chapter kits, a camera. And all contained a tiny replica of the Santo Niño. Before this, NAMFREL had circulated pledges--I will work to make this a clean and honest election. The pledges were to Santo Niño. There was to be a Santo Niño on every ballot box, and when the voters saw it, they would remember their pledge. NAMFREL made up 5000 kits, thinking that would be one per volunteer. But when they counted after the election, there were 13,000 volunteers on the rolls.

The capital of Durano land, Danao, lies athwart the highway going north from Cebu City, and beyond it are important and populous towns, such as Catmon and Bogo. Early on the morning of Election Day, February 7th, 1986, the NAMFREL support group started up this road, carrying Santo Niño into battle. There were nearly 400 of them, marching as to war. They had 30 buses, cars, jeeps and trucks, and everything they could possibly need: gasoline, flashlights, radios, spare tires, spare parts, food, water, blankets, first aid kits, candles. In the lead was a heavy truck with colorful brooms tied to its front bumper, adding an incongruous note of gaiety. The brooms were to sweep tacks and nails off the road.

Their ostensible mission was to get to Danao to reinforce the handful of courageous NAMFREL volunteers at the precincts, but there was an even more vital purpose: to open the road and keep it open long enough for support groups going further up the road to get through. And there was a very reasonable doubt that they could accomplish either of these missions. For Ramon Durano was going to do everything in his considerable power to keep NAMFREL away from the precincts of Duranoland. He had already made his intentions very clear. In the international press he was pictured in his shorts, holding his bolo, standing in front of a sandbag barricade. Beside him was a sign: No Communists Wanted Here. He was quoted as saying, "Now we will see if NAMFREL can win."

Ramon Durano is very serious about Communists. But his definition is somewhat different from most people's. For instance, the New People's Army, who are real communists, and who share the hills with Durano's goons do not quite fit the definition. "They do not kill my people, because my people have guns in their houses," says Durano. But Corazon Aquino is a communist, and so are her advisors. And NAMFREL is opposition, and therefore they are communists. "If Mrs. Aquino wins, God help our country. There will be many communist killings. I will accept it. If they shoot me, I accept the way I die." It is easy to understand why Durano felt very strongly that NAMFREL must be kept at bay. So he began keeping NAMFREL out before they even started down the road.

The support group was divided into two--an advance party and the main body--and then further subdivided into teams destined for various towns along the road. Each team had all the necessary personnel: a radioman, a mechanic, a photographer. Among others in the advance party were Jake Marquez and Domingo Juan, who was in charge of the entire support group. The plan was for the advance party to leave Cebu at 3 a.m., but before their vehicles could even move, the military surrounded them and took them to a military camp where they were interrogated at length as to their intentions. How many people? How many vehicles? What is your purpose? And then the military told them they were too large a group, that they would be allowed to go up the road only two or three vehicles at a time.

After the military delayed them an hour or more, what was to have been a convoy trickled down the road in bits and pieces. This was good psychology on the part of the military--the support group was now strung out and nervous. However, they had with them some people whose presence should have guaranteed their safety. These were two members of the American Observer team, appointed by Ronald Reagan, and headed by Senator Richard Lugar. One was Representative Jerry Lewis of Los Angeles, and the other was the Archbishop of Wisconsin. Also with them were a number of foreign correspondents.

Waiting anxiously in Danao, a city of nearly 50,000 people, were the local NAMFREL volunteers. At the beginning, eight had come forward, but now, when push had come to shove, the number had dwindled to three brave souls feeling very alone in the Danao parish church. Two of them were women who spent most of their time in Cebu City, and the third was Leonardo Capitan, father of four, who was determine to lay down his life, if necessary, for the freedom of the vote. He would be very happy to see the 285 NAMFREL volunteers who would be reinforcing him.


Ramon Durano, Sr., ordinarily, loves America and Americans. At the age of twelve, he claims, he got into trouble with his teachers for singing the "Star Spangled Banner" in school instead of whatever it was they were supposed to sing in colonial times. He graduated from the University of the Philippines and UP Law School at a time when all or most of the faculty were American. He also keeps some of his money in America. In his home compound is a ten-foot replica of the Statue of Liberty, complete with "Give me your tired, your poor" lettered large on the base. But today, Election Day, 1986, Ramon Durano did not intend to welcome the American observers--even though they were Ronald Reagan's chosen--to Danao. Even though they were probably unaware that they were in the company of communists.

The NAMFREL groups finally arrived at 6:30, having escaped the military at one end, and run into it again at the other. Near Danao combat ready soldiers stopped them, searched the vehicles and then let them go on their way. In order to get into the polls, NAMFREL's credentials had to be okayed by the local registrar of voters. NAMFREL was not totally surprised when this did not occur, but everyone was dumbfounded when the registrar refused to let the American observers in.

Says Domingo Juan, "He just said, your IDs are no good. These were national IDs signed by the chairman of the Election Commission in Manila. They were guests of the government. It was astonishing."

That left everybody milling around in front of the registrar's office. Leonardo Capitan, Danao's sole resident NAMFREL volunteer recognized the observers and journalists for what they were and knew that Durano had won. He broke out of the crowd and collared Representative Lewis and a New York Times correspondent and began to spill the beans.

"I told them about past elections in Danao," he says. "I disclosed to them the election irregularities, which have continued to exist in our place since 1949--like vote buying, terrorism and fraud. After I was through with my litany about the Duranos, my wife and two of my children came up to me and told me in secret that I had better leave Danao immediately, as Durano's spies had heard all that, and already his goons were looking for me. I thanked God for the warning, and I asked my wife to pack some things for me. Then I told the foreign observers that my life was threatened, and that I was leaving but that first I wanted to vote. They said that they would help me in that endeavor, and to stay close to them, for there I would be safe.

"Several of them escorted me to the voting center. Inside I saw an amazingly large number of people just standing, doing nothing. This was part of their systematic plan to disenfranchise supporters of Cory Aquino, of which there were many in Danao. The purpose was to force them to wait for a number of hours until they lost interest in voting. At least my failure to vote showed the foreign observers what was going on. I saw several of them shake their heads in disgust. When NAMFREL pulled out, I went with them for obvious reasons."

At first the NAMFREL support group decided to try to pollwatch from outside the precincts, hoping a count of whoever went in might help keep the election honest. But armed men began moving in on them, snatching cameras, and making intimidating gestures. There was nothing for Domingo Juan to do but radio to Cebu headquarters that they were pulling out. It was a discouraged group that retraced their steps back to the city. But Domingo Juan had the satisfaction of knowing that he had kept the road north open long enough for the teams to get through to the towns where they were desperately needed.

Representative Lewis, a member of the Lugar observation team, stated that the election in Danao appeared orderly and peaceful to him. He failed to mention that the team had not been allowed to observe the vote, and of course, he didn't stay around for the counting. When the returns were reported, Danao had gone 99.2 percent for Marcos, .8 percent for Aquino. That was, however, not nearly as astonishing as the turnout. While the national average in this election was 75%, which did not include the estimated 15% who had been disenfranchised by registrars' trick-playing with the voters rolls, Danao had a turnout 125% of its resident population.

Ramon Durano isn't in the least apologetic about these amazing figures. "I had nothing to do with it. I did not campaign in this election. The mayors came to me and we talked about it. Those figures are believe it or not. You can believe it or not, but they are proven on paper."

"But," says a visitor, "don't you think 99% looks funny? Couldn't you have told the mayors to make it 75%?"

Ramon Durano laughs and laughs. "I am retiring from politics. I am too old. I have been in politics 60 years."

Compared to much of Cebu province, the voting in Danao was peaceful and orderly. At Tabogan, north of Danao on the highway, says one who was there, "We expected to be there at 8:30, but we arrived after lunch because Durano blocked us at Danao. At least when we reached Tabogan we were prepared. Some of us were crying because we had never been harassed by armed men before. But as soon as we arrived people felt more at ease, and we all knelt outside the precincts and started to pray before the Santo Niño image, while the pollwatchers stayed inside the precincts. In Tabogan, the parish priest, who was NAMFREL, had received death threats, and he was surrounded by armed men, friends who promised to protect him. So everyone was staying close to the priest and the armed guards, while goons roamed around the area. But the prayer and the protection worked--the voting went well."

Further north, in Bogo, a town controlled by a Durano son, Domingo, the American observer team rolled in, accompanied by the American consul from Cebu. There was a village here that had become a causus belli. A man named Martinez who was a native here was determined there would be an honest election. A policeman loyal to Martinez was guarding the ballot boxes, watched by the observer team, when in rolled Domingo Durano with three truckloads of goons. Guns were drawn on both sides and the observers stood gaping in the middle. Domingo had often gone jogging with the Consul General. So, as the NAMFREL people tell it, the two got together and there was a Mexican stand-off until both sides faded into the woods. At four in the afternoon, the observers left, having failed to notice anything out of the ordinary. "Peaceful and orderly" reported Representative Lewis once again.

That evening, however, it was time to get the returns in safely to Cebu city. Mrs. Martinez, wife of the man who had started the whole thing, heard that Durano's men were coming again, this time to snatch the ballot boxes, which she was taking to be canvassed at the municipal hall. She saw them coming, and ordered her jeep pulled across the road. Wearing a bullet proof vest, she jumped out. There was another Mexican stand-off when Durano's men spotted her. While the two sides stood glaring at each other, guns drawn, the people, watching from the side of the road, jumped on the ballot boxes and took them to safety.

NAMFREL Cebu's favorite story of derring do, occurred in a remote mountain village, near Bogo, so remote that it had no electricity. The heroine is Doctora Onate, small, neat and very articulate--a psychiatrist. One of her contributions to NAMFREL was a profile of the mentality of a warlord. She was also in charge of the NAMFREL volunteers in the village.

"I told my people that after dark at 6:00, I would flash my flashlight if there was trouble. The counting was still going on, and then we heard a noise, of someone coming up the road. I sent a local boy to run and see what was going on, and he came back stammering and very nervous. 'It's a DSM truck!' DSM is Durano Sugar Mills.

"I told all my volunteers to go up on the mountain, that I would handle it, and I took my small yellow Volkswagen and blocked the road. I was all alone. When the DSM truck, a 6 by 6, arrived, it was full of masked uniformed men. I threw my hands up and said, 'Surrender, surrender, NAMFREL Cebu, I am Doctora Onate, psychiatrist.'

"They stopped about three feet from my car. They got down. They did not have name tags. They wore fatigue uniforms, and they had long arms. I asked innocently, 'How come you are wearing masks?' Their commander said, 'Well, you know it is very dusty on this road.'

Meanwhile, my people who were hiding up in the woods saw me surrounded by men with long arms and they were sure that it was the end of me. At last the commander of the troops said, 'We are here to take the ballot boxes.'

"I said, 'Good, you can help us take them.'"

Doctora Onate grins. "So we had a military escort to Bogo."

Here Jake Marquez jumps in, because everyone relishes this psychiatrist story. "When they stopped us in the Manila airport, after the election, when we were bringing in the returns, she said, 'Psychiatrist', the magic word, and they let us through. It's just amazing."

Catmon is a rather ordinary town on the sea a score of kilometers north of Danao. The NAMFREL volunteers in Catmon will never ever forget what happened to them there. Here is the story through the words of Fay Marie and Romeo Du, husband and wife, from Cebu city.

Fay Marie: "We did not get there until late in the morning. At about 1:30 p.m., one of our volunteers noticed that there was vote buying going on in the store in front of the school. So, pretending to be a local he went to the store and bought something, and then hid in the comfort room. There was a man passing out 20 or 25 pesos. Although the guy in the comfort room had a camera, he couldn't use it. The peephole wasn't big enough."

Romeo: "I went and bought cigarettes at another store where rumor had it that the goons were stationed in the back. I asked whether they were selling Marlboros, and then I asked if they were selling armalites (M-16s). When I was about to leave, a man in the back said, 'When you are fired upon, you will dive for cover just like everyone else.'

"At around 2:30, while we were at the voting center, a white VW with three people in it arrived. The looks of these men were that of military personnel and each carried a clutch bag. (N.B. Small leather clutch bags carried under the arm are the rule for hiding your handgun.) When we approached, they took off in the direction of Danao. At about 3 p.m. a brown Lancer without license plates arrived. One of our volunteers approached it. The people in the Lancer were carrying long arms with grenade launchers. Rumor had it that they were here to take the ballots, so we grabbed them to take them to safety, but as we did, the Lancer drove off.

"The counting began, and at about 6 p.m., as it was getting dark, a guy on a motorcycle came up and asked who won the election. The registrar of voters said, "We lost." The man on the motorcycle, who was a town official said, 'Now we've lost all our money. It was NAMFREL who did it.' Five minutes after the man on the motorcycle left, a green Tamaraw (an SUV) pulled in.

"I was facing the precinct, but I heard the loud roar of the vehicle, so I turned and saw that there were six people in it. Then we heard three shots fired in succession, followed by rapid automatic fire. All you could see was the light at the tip of the barrel of the guns, but you could not tell if the shot was in your direction or up in the air. After the strafing we were still lying prone, while the local people were getting up and dusting off their pants and going home. They were used to it, evidently, but we were rattled.

“The first thing I did was to see if my wife was OK, and then I checked to see if the other volunteers were all right. I told them all to get inside the precincts. The man in charge of the precincts was taking so long to sign everything. I asked him to hurry up because of the strafing, but he just said, 'That's OK' and went on at a snail's pace. I told one NAMFREL nun that it was too dangerous, and we should not risk our lives for a thing as small as a ballot. But the nun said that our main purpose was to get the ballots and ensure the election returns, and that we were doing it for future generations. I felt guilty knowing that if we turned our backs on this, those who would suffer were our kids. So I told everyone that we were to bring in the ballots and the results."


Fay Marie: "When I touched the ground during the strafing, I first thought about my kids and who was going to take care of them in case something happened to us. Since we were already there, we might as well finish what we started. And during the counting, you could tell we made a difference, because the ballots in the ballot boxes were layered by time. The ones on the bottom, before we got there in the morning were all for Marcos. Then there was a long stretch of ballots almost entirely for Cory--after we got there. Cory won by two votes in one precinct and eight votes in the other. So we felt we did something, no matter how small.

"At 7 o'clock, we were through, and we had the problem of getting out of Catmon. We wanted to go home, but the townspeople warned us not to, because a lot of goons were waiting for us at the municipal hall. Father Iriarte, the rector of the church advised us to stay there for the night, as he also thought it was too dangerous to try to go home."

The NAMFREL contingent stayed in the church, They listened to election returns on the radio, and after dinner they went outside to chat in the minipark in front. A jeep roared up with four people in it, two of them with long guns. The NAMFREL volunteers quickly went back inside. The local people told them that the goons in town were thinking of attacking them to get the photographs and other evidence of fraud NAMFREL had collected. From the church, they could see the municipal hall, and it was full of milling goons. No one slept that night. In the morning, they called for a military escort to take them out of Catmon.

Faye Marie: "When we got back we skipped the big welcome at San Carlos gym. We didn't need the recognition, because we knew that we did help. Deep inside, we were more contented just to know we did it."

Perhaps the most dangerous job, the job for which you were most likely to be dropped by your life insurance company, was that of the couriers, the men who brought the results in to Cebu. They had been carefully deployed the day before. They had special armbands to identify them: OQC COURIER, and these were not released until the day before the election so that they could not be faked. The couriers would remain out of sight until after the voting was over, and then they would go to the mountain villages. Each had a backrider who was a local who could make sure he did not get off the path.

Each rider had to do more than ride a bike. They had to know everything there was to know about returns and what they should look like and what signatures should be on them They were on a carefully planned time schedule, so that returns would come in smoothly and in the right proportion. Fifty percent of the island's returns were to be in Cebu city by 10 p.m. Each courier had a carefully worked out plan. A rider would pick up the returns at the precincts and take them to the municipal hall. The courier at municipal hall would collect the precinct returns and take all of them together to a designated area courier, who would in turn bring in all the combined area returns. All along the way the NAMFREL radio net reported on their whereabouts. Teams with doctors, lawyers and security people waited to go out at a moment's notice to the rescue.

Having survived the trip, one rider would bring all returns for one area to the Operation Quick Count in the University of San Carlos gymnasium. When they arrived, dusty, muddy, exhausted, the workers in the gym would give them a standing ovation. Sometimes these tough guys cried at that.

But that was the plan for only about 65% of the island, the southern part where they did not expect attacks on the couriers. The other 45% was deep Duranoland, and there were different plans for that. Oh, it would appear to be the same, to anyone watching (and there were plenty doing that) but it was a clever ruse. NAMFREL, after all, had secretly secured two airfields, one at Medellin at the northern tip of Cebu island, and one at Asturias, across the mountain spine from Danao. When the time came to deliver the returns to Cebu city, the goons would see the couriers headed south toward the city. They would not notice the couriers headed north or west, the ones with the real election returns. Because it was impossible to assure that the radio net was not infiltrated, these couriers had their orders given to them before they left, and were out of radio contact thereafter. They did not know their returns would be picked up by plane. Only a few people at Asturias and Medellin knew that.

"One guy was unaccounted for for ten hours," says Tony Losada. "Finally we found him He was going all over the mountain, trailing, because he couldn't use the road. We directed him to go to Bogo. We got a message in the middle of the night from our radio man there, Bony Cabarrus (a renowned doctor, former president of Philippine Airlines and the conductor of the Cebu symphony to boot). The message was, 'We are surrounded, they are banging on the door, and we can't get out.' They were in the church. Hours later we got the military there to drive off the goons."

The couriers were gathered in the Bogo and Asturias rectories where they spent the night. The returns they'd brought in would go to the airfields. The one at Asturias was relatively safe. It was on the plantation of Victor and Marilu Chiongban, who was head of all the NAMFREL support groups. But Medellin was different. The airstrip was on a sugar plantation owned by one of the Duranos, but the company was divided, politically. So Tony Losada contacted but one person there, and asked him to do only one thing: secure the exit so that the people who went in with the returns could get back out. It had to be very quietly done, for if word leaked out, a single person could close down the airstrip simply by driving a car or a tractor on it.

The plane came in early in the morning of the 8th, the day after the election. Three or four days before, the pilot of the plane had met the people who were to give him the precious returns. In addition, there was a password, known only to one person at each airstrip. At Asturias, Marilu Chiongban gave the results and the password to the plane which stopped only a moment and then roared away. She says she never felt so proud or so silly at this high drama in her life. The plane swung over to Medellin where the pickup was also successful, and then on to Cebu city, where the OQC was waiting for the results. Some of the motorcycle riders did not learn until the next day why they had been sent to Asturias and Bogo.

And the result of all this? Cebu NAMFREL considers itself a success. You have to remember that they were up against Durano, not just the Marcos machine and the military, as everyone else was. In the province, Marcos got 53% of the vote. In the city of Cebu, the nationwide scrambling of the voter's registration lists disenfranchised a full 20% of the voters, but Cory Aquino still got 73% of the votes. NAMFREL was able to cover 83% of the precincts. That was an enviable feat in itself, considering what those precincts were like. The score: Santo Niño 3, Durano and friends, 2.

How did the NAMFREL volunteers themselves feel about it all? Remember Fay Marie Du, who was at Catmon? She was threatened by goons and strafed, and then spent a night in terror in the church as armed men blocked her way home and planned to attack. Would Fay Marie Du volunteer for NAMFREL again? "Of course I would. Next time I'll be more prepared."

Cebu was only one of 91 electoral districts in the country, and it was far from the worst. All over the country, the Marcos machine used goons, guns and gold to buy, intimidate, terrorize and even murder voters. (NAMFREL itself had two dead and 169 injured.) On the day that Marcos fled the country in a US helicopter, three weeks after the election, NAMFREL came out with a report. Fraud and violence had been so widespread that 59% of the electoral district elections were judged "abusive." At least 15% of the voters had been disenfranchised, and NAMFREL itself had been thrown out of 15% of the precincts, and had been unable to get poll watchers into another 15%. But in spite of everything, Cory Aquino had won the election, by a million votes--far less than she would have gotten had the election been fair and fraud free. But at least NAMFREL could honestly say that the people's choice was now the President of the Philippines. Marcos was gone, after 14 long years of dictatorship and martial law.

Ronald Reagan's handpicked observation team went home right after the election. The only public statement of the Lugar commission was: "We applaud the passionate commitment of Filipinos to democracy. They have been involved in a vigorous campaign characterized by lively debate, enormous crowds and the mobilization of NAMFREL to monitor the election. We have seen concrete examples both in voting and counting ballots of success in the administration of the voting process. Sadly, however, we have witnessed and heard disturbing reports of efforts to undermine the integrity of that process . . ."

One member, of the Lugar Commission, Ben Wattenberg, wrote in the Wall Street journal, "At the grass roots level, all of us heard rumors about harassment, intimidation and bribery. However it was actually hard to find much skullduggery that could be documented. To the best of my knowledge, none of the observers saw any actual violence. In free countries like the US, the press can be trusted to give a full portrait of what is going on. In the Philippines, the portrayal of the election in this one-sided manner convinced the American public that the election was nothing more than goons run amok. The press only got half the story--fraud. They missed the other half: a free culture, a mildly free election."

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

Excerpt lifted from http://www.sandhillreview.org/2000/ByingtonWhenTheSaintsGoMarchingIn.htm
 
 
 
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