Yesterday, 21 August 2021, the Commission unveiled a new historical marker in the plaza to remember the tragedy and emphasize the importance of safe democratic space where Filipinos, with their own voice, can air their dissent.
Located right at the center of Quiapo, in the City of Manila, fronting the historic Quiapo Church – sits a plaza known as Plaza Miranda. Named after Jose Sandino y Miranda, a Treasury Secretary between 1833 and 1854, the plaza was a silent witness to the trasformation of Manila and its arrabales (suburbs) from a colonial metropolis to a modern city.
It would become a vital part of “downtown Manila” in the 1960s.
National Artist Nick Joaquin called it “the crossroads of the nation, the forum of the land.” It was where political ideas could be tested under public scrutiny, upon which the late President Ramon Magsaysay was attibuted to have said, “Can we defend this at Plaza Miranda?”
In an era before EDSA become prominent as the ideal national public square, Plaza Miranda figured in the consciousness of Filipinos before the dictatorship. Its physicality as a safe space for dissent, and what this meant in the national imagination was a testament to the country’s democratic heritage since its first expression in 1898.
Plaza Miranda Bombing
In 1971, under the Marcos administration, a series of bombings shook Metro Manila to the core. Suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus (imprisonment without trial or fair hearing) and the imposition of Martial Law were floated. Leading up to the midterm legislative elections slated November 8, 1971, the opposition Liberal Party presented its 8 senatorial candidates together with its Manila Mayoralty candidates in their miting de avance on 21 August 1971 at Plaza Miranda. Around 4,000 people at attendance.
Between 9:15 to 9:30 pm, immediately after the Manila mayoral candidates were proclaimed, two grenades were suddenly hurled on the stage. These exploded, instantly killing Manila Times photojournalist Ben Roxas and a 5-year old, while seriously injuring all 8 senatorial candidates. It also caused panic and a stampede causing further injuries. Immediately, President Ferdinand Marcos suspended the writ nationwide, blaming the communist for the bombing.
This move was criticized by Senator Eva Kalaw, LP guest candidate and a victim of the bombing herself, as the nationwide suspension of the Writ was disproportionate to the incident. Many historians agree that the suspension of the Writ was meant to test the waters leading up to the eventual implementation of Martial Law in 1972.
On mid-term election day on 8 November 1971, the Liberal Party won six of the eight Senate seats, reflecting the sentiment of the people in support of the opposition. The Liberals, however, were still outnumbered in the 24-member Senate, with nine opposing the 15 Nacionalista senators. The new senators would not finish their full term as Martial Law would be declared in 1972 and Congress subsequently padlocked in January 1973.
The bombing was seen as a direct assault on Philippine democracy itself as Plaza Mranda, before the age of the internet, represented the safe space upon which Filipino people could express their right to dissent. Edward Kiunisala of the Philippine Free Press described the bombing as “a night of national tragedy and infamy as democracy – philippine style – bares itself in all its terrifying ugliness.”
He continues in lament:
“It will take a long time before Plaza Miranda , the symbol of free expression, will be as it used to be. No one will ascend the Plaza Miranda stage again without fearing for his life. How much of the militancy, the courage, the national pride and the spirit of the Filipino people have gone that Black Saturday or Plaza Miranda?”