From an obscure character actor, Butz Aquino shot to fame via the street rallies that stemmed from the death of Sen. Benigno Aquino in 1983. In fact, the loose group of protesters organized themselves into ATOM – August Twenty One Movement – with Butz as head.
It was ATOM which was first to heed the call of Cardinal Sin. As announced on Radio Veritas on the night of February 22, 1986, ATOM, led by Butz, had congregated in Isetann, Cubao and would proceed to Camp Crame to provide support for the embattled renegades, Gen. Fidel Ramos and Juan Ponce Enrile.
The first (and only) time I saw Butz in person was on February 24 in Ortigas Avenue near EDSA . Butz was atop the APC (armor personnel carrier) tank together with Gen. Artemio Tadiar of the marines.
The APC’s way was blocked by the sea of people, with the nuns in the forefront. Gen. Tadiar was issuing a sort of deadline for the people to disperse and let the tanks do their job. But Butz was exhorting the people to stay put.
The roar of the tank was deadened by the din of shouting of defiance. As the engine sputtered and purred to a halt, I saw Gen. Tadiar leaving the area in disgust. Clearly, the human barricade prevailed.
Right after that hair-raising incident, I ambled to the nearby vacant lot that would later on house the Robinsons Galleria. After interviewing a marine with Carrasco in his nameplate, I saw Noel Trinidad, the actor/comedian.
With the popularity of Champoy (with Subas Herrero), who could miss the amiable guy among the crowd? Although not known to him, I asked Noel on his take of the situation. He flashed his patented dimpled smile and said, “Ewan ko nga rin eh.”
Why be serious? Maybe it’s good to just enjoy the situation. With the transistor radio on my shoulder, I roamed the area in my search for celebrities. But all I saw were the nuns with flowers and some women with sandwiches.
I sat down on a boulder and steadied the dial on my radio. It seemed that all stations gave only static signals. Something may really be wrong. Perhaps I had to go home. Just then a hand tossed me a menthol candy. That’s when I noticed that I was already hungry.
After walking a mile or two of the deserted Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue, I reached Boni Avenue. But before embarking on a jeepney, a pickup truck stopped. A tall guy alighted to purchase half of the balut in the vendor’s basket.
With the popularity of the PBA, who could not have known Ramon Fernandez? The lanky player handed the balut to the soldiers. That’s the time I noticed that there indeed were soldiers everywhere.
After a quickie dinner, I came back to the war zone. I was able to get a good signal on my radio this time. It was the voice of June Keithley. Incidentally, like Noel Trinidad, June was also a product of a comedy show called Super Laugh-In.
June is wife to Angelo Castro, the newscaster. Their son Diego would later on be a wannabee matinee idol. But his career would be aborted by the pregnancy of his girlfriend Raven Villanueva, another aspiring tv personality.
June’s was the lonely voice on the air waves, broadcasting over DZRV, but later on became DZRB to be dubbed by Keithly herself as Radyo Bandido. Unknown to listeners, she was using the facilities of DZRJ, a music station.
DZRJ, aplty named after the owner, means RJ Jacinto, an active musician during the combo years of the 1960s. His sister, Mary Rose, appeared in the tv drama Santa Zita, the patron saint of housemaids where Leo Martinez played the role of the houseboy.
Acting as June’s technical assistants were Paulo and Gabe Mercado, later on would be a comedian and endorser of the trademark “Okay ka ba tyan?” spiel. The Mercado brothers are sons of Monina, one of the founders of Repertory Philippines.
On the morning of the 25th, after the defection of Air Force Captain Antonio Sotelo, together with his fleet of 7 Sikorsky helicopters, I heard from some other protesters that Freddie Aguilar was holding camp outside Crame. He had a small stage to entertain the people gathered around the place.
But I was not able to hear Ka Freddie’s rendition of Bayan Ko because the portion of EDSA fronting Camps Crame and Aguinaldo was bursting with people. But I was able to witness several platoons of soldiers coming out of Camp Aguinaldo and entering Camp Crame to join Ramos and Enrile.
When Marcos gave up the fight on the night of the 25th, there was instant celebration in the streets, particularly in EDSA. The development was monitored by people like me who had their radio tuned to DZRB. And, of course, it was June Keithley who informed us that it was over except the shouting.
Later on I would learn that Tito Sotto composed the song Magkaisa right there in EDSA. It would be sung by Virna Lisa, a virtual unknown singer with a golden voice. Virna is the daughter of former actress Aura Aurea and sportsman Joey Loberiza.
From a character actor to rally master, Butz Aquino would be voted the number 2 senator in the 1987 elections. He would later on be a 3-termer congressman for the 2nd district of Makati. And like most celebrities, Butz Aquino’s star faded when he lost his last try fo a congressional seat in 2010.
EDSA people power was indeed powered by the people. But like in movies, I think the celebrities had played a big role in that great event.
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