FROM SCARY TO SACRED
I shared this story several years ago, but with so many new friends visiting my website I felt led to tell it again.
It was a tense and frightening few days as I witnessed the people power rebellion against Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos growing by the hour for holding on to power after losing the election to Corazon C. Aquino. His former Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and a top General Fidel Ramos were barricaded inside Camp Crame in the city of Manila. Hundreds and thousands of supporters for the rebellion peacefully filled the streets around the Camp. Many other military and political leaders were joining the rebellion. The head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines, Cardinal Jaime Sin, was on the radio pleading for peace and restraint. Camp Crame was filling up as supporters poured in.
All at once, seven Sikorsky helicopters bristling with rockets and cannons dotted the skyline. The opposition leaders and armed forces members siding with them braced themselves for a bloody attack. Enrile and Ramos were told to vacate the upper level of the building they were operating from because that’s where the helicopters would fire first. Tensions rose as those inside the camp waited breathlessly for the first volley. As the helicopters drew menacingly near as if lining up to bombard the camp, one of the high profile supporters, Rene Cruz, saw that the helicopters were now coming in slowly, with landing lights on. He knew then that they were on their side and getting ready to land. He was afraid that the people might not realize it and fire at them, so he ran out shouting as loud as he could: ‘Do not fire! They are coming in for us! They are joining us!’
Suddenly, emboldened by rebel air force helicopters and surrounded by rebel troops, Juan Ponce Enrile addressed the wildly cheering crowd announcing, “This is the day of our liberation!” General Ramos, who was usually low-keyed, raised his clenched fist in the air invoking People Power, then displaying a dash of uncharacteristic frivolity leap frogged into the air, drawing squeals of delight from the crowd.
But their euphoria was short lived, because the roar of two fighter jets were heard and soon appeared and began to circled over Camp Crame as if lining up for their first bombing run. Now, General Ver, President Marcos’ belligerent head of the Army, finally had the rebels where he wanted them. A couple of devastating bombing runs and it would all be over; the leaders would be killed, the helicopters would be blown apart and the People Power uprising would become an asterisk in history. As everyone in Camp Crame bowed their heads, ready to accept the inevitable massacre, the two fighter jets suddenly, and for no apparent reason, tilted their wings and flew off in the direction of the US Air Force’s Clark Air Base to the north. Even though these pilots had orders to bomb the Camp they did not carry out their orders and everyone wondered why.
I didn’t know either, but I was about to find out personally from one of the pilots a few nights later. I was invited to the house of attorney Ed Claudio and his wife Marylou to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary. Everybody was still talking about the revolution and how fortunate we were that very few lives were lost, if any. Ed came over to me and said he wanted me to meet someone. So I followed him over to a small group men who were talking. They looked up as we approached and Ed said, “Brother Bob, I want you to meet one of the pilots of those fighter bombers that didn’t attack Camp Crame.”
A young man reached out and shook my hand. Then he looked up in my eyes and began to speak slowly with a somewhat quivering voice. He said, “Brother Bob, another pilot and I took off from our airbase to bomb Camp Crame with every intention of completing our mission. But when we arrived in the area and begin circling the Camp to get our co-ordinances, we looked down and saw the massive crowds lining the streets from Cubao to Ortigas and the cross street of Santolan. From the air it looked like a giant cross, and that’s what stopped us. For you see, Brother Bob, I was in Rizal Theater two weeks ago and you preached on the cross, and when you gave the invitation I went forward to receive Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. So when I saw the cross on the ground, I remembered your sermon and decided to obey the impression the cross had made on me.”
We chatted for several minutes and then Ed led me over to another group. As we departed Ed said very loudly, “You see Brother Bob, you are a hero!” My heart was burning inside me; not because anything I had done, but because of the power of the Cross of Jesus Christ. It struck me that the cross of Christ had changed the course of the world over 2,000 years ago, and now it had changed the course of a nation. I was also impressed with that pilot’s act of courage that played a large role in keeping the revolution against Marcos from becoming a bloody civil war. The message of the cross had always been one of my favorite subjects, but from that night on it became more precious to me than ever before. I hope you feel the same as I, because I will forever cherish that old rugged cross. – Dr. Robert R Seyda