Tail-end of a cold front: PAGASA weathermen and the 1986 People Power

Editorial note from Bantayog:

Did you know that troops loyal to the Marcos dictatorship actually exchanged fire with rebel forces on February 25, 1986, the final day of the People Power Revolt? On that day, snipers of loyalist forces based atop a TV tower along Panay Avenue in Quezon City exchanged fire with rebel troops based at a nearby building. Seeming unmindful of the ricocheting bullets, a curious crowd watched as if what they were seeing was only for the movies. But they scampered away when a helicopter swept down and strafed the loyalist position. A loyalist soldier was killed in this short battle.

At the same time, a rally crowd has also gathered nearby, at the intersection of Quezon, Timog and West avenues, echoing the giant people-power crowd then gathered in EDSA near Ortigas. The presence of a civilian crowd probably saved many soldiers’ lives that day.

(Rey K. Lirios / Contributor)

We all know that EDSA Day February 25, 2019 commemorates the 1986 Peoples Power Revolution that  changed the course of RP history.  Declared a national non-working holiday it seems all the stories about the event have long ago already been told.  Except for the one involving the PAGASA.

Prior to the EDSA anniversary this year, east of the RP, a typhoon developed outside the PAR and already had the international name Ty Wutip, in Macao the word means butterfly.  If there was Ty Wutip in the Pacific N hemisphere  simultaneously there was a Cyclone Oma in the S hemisphere  affecting eastern Australia.  Viewed on animated wind maps for comparison, the two TCs side by side shows the Coriolis effect  perfectly,  Ty Wutip above the equator spinning counterclockwise and Cyclone Oma  south of the equator in reverse, rotating clockwise as they should.

Except for support personnel who need not report for work, the PAGASA’s duty weather forecasters and designated field station personnel  nationwide were rendering 24/7 vital weather services to safeguard the public.  Tasked to provide weather forecasts for outdoor public gatherings in commemoration of the EDSA-I People Power Revolution, and the usual travel exodus.  Many  took advantage of the long weekend to vacation out of town.

Today the role of the PAGASA in the EDSA revolution is almost forgotten among those alive at the time and virtually unknown among younger generations of employees, much less the general public.  To begin with the loyalist government soldiers clashed with the rebel Reform the Army Movement  (RAM) and between them were the PAGASA  employees who in an accident of history, were forced to do their duty to their country as they saw best.

The only bloody incident in the touted bloodless revolution happened on Feb. 25, 1986 with loyalist snipers holding the TV broadcast tower of Channel 9 in Panay Avenue  toward the3 end of the coup de etat . Meanwhile the RAM rebels were returning fire from the adjoining Asia Trust Bank Building, which also happened to be the address of the PAGASA Main Office at the time.  The top floors  occupied by the forecasters of the National Weather Office (NWO) and National Flood Forecasting Office  (NFFO), who were caught in the crossfire.

From this first hand account are personal recollections of what  was witnessed of this mini-war  after tagging along for the excitement of it all . Briefly and vividly,  a weather employee had gone sight seeing with binoculars wearing an olive green army jacket when he nearly got his head shot off, the NWO  director was so furious he strictly ordered all employees to stay away from the windows so as not to invite sniper fire.  He told them to keep working as if everything was normal,  he was also concerned that new forecasting computers on the top floor could be damaged in the shooting.

Crowds of people gathered as if watching the circus.  Obviously one of the coup plotters was there,  a RAM officer who looked like Col. Gringo Honasan,  but because attention to his face was distracted by his holstered browning Hi-power machine pistol,  confirmation of his identity can’t be certain.  To the entrance of the ATB building an injured RAM rebel had come down with a bleeding neck wound,  shouldering two LAWs  (light anti-tank weapon) or bazooka.  There was a loud commotion and he did not like what he was hearing, someone said that  the government tanks were coming!

The reformist rebels dispersed, except for long haired and bearded riflemen.  Perhaps they were Scout Rangers who are allowed non-army regulation hair length. Otherwise who were they? They looked like guerrillas from the mountains.  The long haired soldiers were ordered to take positions on the adjacent  Legacy building.   A rebel Huey helicopter flew by and strafed the loyalist on the tower with machinegun fire.  The crowds ducked for cover or ran away.

At the same time, just  two blocks away at the intersection of QC Ave. and West & Timog Avenues, the people had rallied in an imitation of the EDSA Ortigas miracle,  the human barricade turned back the government tanks by sheer will power of civil disobedience.  The defenders of the PAGASA building were spared further bloodshed, and the valiant government weathermen who did not desert  their post lived to forecast another day receiving a citation from the then director general RLK of the PAGASA, who mentions his  deep thanks  in his memoirs “Shapers of New Asia.” Years later he would attribute his surviving the purge of top government officials associated to the old regime by having outstanding and loyal lieutenants to rely on for support as in the case of the EDSA skirmish.

It was a mind conflicting time for the nation.  A Solomonic instance of choosing sides,  do we stand by this President of the Republic  for two decades, who by decree  co-created the PAGASA.   Or the rebel reformist Defense Minister, also our boss  when the Agency was under the Department of Defense.  In the end we chose to serve the people, and that is what EDSA People Power means to us in PAGASA.  Be it known that it was not the first revolution or war in history that our people in the institution have come through displaying uncommon valor.

(To contact the author you can email him at reyklirios@gmail.com. For article contributions, please connect with the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation. Cover photo from Rappler.)