PONCE, Rodrigo

In November 1985, with mass protests against his regime breaking out all over the country, President Marcos was pressured to call for elections that, he hoped, would allow him to claim renewed legitimacy for his dictatorial rule.

He had “lifted” martial law and gotten himself a six-year presidential term in 1981, but as far as the Filipino people were concerned nothing had changed. They had had enough. So strong and so loud was their call for Marcos to be ousted that the United States government, his chief international backer, at last considered letting him go because he had become a big liability. President Ronald Reagan sent a personal representative to Manila to conduct secret negotiations, after which Marcos announced on American television that he was calling for special elections to be held in about three months’ time.

Although many believed that the snap presidential elections would be another manipulation of the people’s will and called for a boycott, many others thought that this was a chance to show and further solidify their opposition to the Marcos regime. Corazon Aquino, widow of the assassinated senator Benigno Aquino Jr., reluctantly agreed to run for president, with Salvador Laurel as her vice-president. They were pitted against Marcos and his vice-presidential candidate Arturo Tolentino.

Headed by church and business leaders, the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) had first participated in the regime’s elections in 1984, accredited as the citizens’ arm of the Commission on Elections or Comelec. For the 1986 snap presidential elections, over 500,000 volunteers participated in its effort to safeguard against the expected massive electoral fraud.

Rodrigo Ponce was a NAMFREL volunteer in Capiz who was killed by unidentified persons during the canvassing of the results in Bating Elementary School. According to the scant information available, three armed men and a young woman arrived and seized the ballot boxes and other election paraphernalia. They had apparently come from another school where they had also taken the ballots away.

Apparently, Ponce was killed because he recognized one of the group. He was then told to step out of the room, ordered to lie face down on the floor, and simply shot dead. The autopsy report showed six bullet holes fired from two different guns.

In many parts of the country, especially in rural areas where tyrannical local politicians enforced obedience through “guns, goons and gold,” election volunteers were killed because they were perceived to be either independent or against the ruling authorities. Thus, there was widespread consensus, even internationally, that the snap presidential elections had been conducted fraudulently.

Two days after the February 7 elections, computer programmers of the Comelec walked out of the vote canvassing, denouncing the ongoing falsification of election returns. But the Batasang Pambansa issued a resolution proclaiming Marcos and Tolentino to be the winners. Aquino and Laurel refused to accept this decision, and they were supported by the majority of the people.

On February 22-25, four days of tumultuous people power at EDSA culminated in the final ouster of Marcos. He was forced to leave Malacanang, with his family and cronies, aboard military helicopters sent by the US government. On March 24, the Batasang Pambansa passed a resolution nullifying the results of the snap presidential elections, and proclaimed Aquino and Laurel as the winners.

DIED                                      February 1986 in Mambusao, Capiz

SPOUSE                                Elma Ponce