During the first broadcast by ABS-CBN on February 24, 1986, host Ninez Cacho Olivares, Orly Punzalan, Bong Lapira, Soc Rodrigo and Fr. Efren Dati discuss the day’s momentous events.
Culture Spotlight

The inside story of how the Lopezes got ABS-CBN back in 1986

While in exile in the United States, Geny Lopez and best friend and colleague Jake Almeda Lopez dreamt ABS-CBN would not only reopen but play a role in organizing the resistance to the dictator. Little did they know that in four heady days of February 1986, their far fetched dream would come true. By RAUL RODRIGO
ANCX | Jun 24 2020

Between 1977 and 1986, the story of broadcasting in the Philippines was divided around two major themes: at the top, Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies expanding and deepening their control over broadcasting and, at ground level, ABS-CBN veterans still being the key figures in the industry. Marcos and Roberto Benedicto continued to build their joint media empire on hard assets that were seized from ABS-CBN and on the talents that had been cut adrift in September 1972. 

The prime hard asset was, of course, the Broadcast Center, and it was simplicity itself for Marcos and Benedicto to create a legal cover for their seizure. On October 16, 1979, the Bureau of Customs ruled that ABS-CBN was guilty of violating customs laws when it imported equipment for the Broadcast Center. The bureau assessed the network a combined fine and customs duties of P34 million, This was the legal justification for the government's continued hold on the Broadcast Center without payment of rent. From then on, KBS insisted that the Broadcast Center had been seized for nonpayment of customs duties and, therefore the Lopez family had to deal with the government, not KBS.

In December 1979, Roberto and Kitchie Benedicto moved RPN Channel 9 and IBC Channel 13 to a new complex in Balara, Quezon City called Broadcast City. The funds to build Broadcast City, Atty. Jake Almeda-Lopez said, had come from over a billion pesos of income that KBS earned while it stayed in the Broadcast Center for seven years. The Bohol Avenue compound became the headquarters of the Maharlika Broadcasting System (MBS-4) and Benedicto’s third station, BBC-2. 

Virtually, the only piece of equipment left by KBS in the Broadcast Center was the transmitter. Almost everything else was gone. The video, film and audio library of ABS-CBN (worth P4 million) had disappeared, as did the computers, the vehicles and various spare parts for broadcasting equipment. The video and film library was dispersed among the Benedicto TV stations. In the early 1980s Fred Osinsao, a former film editor at ABS-CBN, saw at the Broadcast City library many film cans from ABS-CBN. He knew this for sure because the handwriting on the cans was his own. The looting was not limited to the Broadcast Center. Entire transmission towers in Bulacan and Mandaluyong, each one 300-ft. high, disappeared. Not a single bolt was left behind.

Through the front of FEMI, Ferdinand Marcos owned three stations: RPN-9, IBC-13 and BBC-2. His government ran a fourth station, MBS-4.The fifth station, GMA-7, was under the control of his aide Gilberto Duavit. 

With Philippine TV consolidated under one man (through a maze of fronts), television news was accountable not to the people but to Malacañang. The networks were told to focus on "the true, the good and the beautiful" as defined by Marcos, and maintain a tightlipped silence about inconvenient truths. The de facto News policy was "See no evil." 

For instance, during the April 1978 Batasan elections, Channel 4 and the National Media Production Center (NMPC) prepared a comprehensive quick count, complete with tally boards. But the Ministry of Information pulled the plug on the quick count when the early ballots in Metro Manila showed the opposition leading. With some judicious revisions, the election results in Manila  completely reversed the early trend: the Marcoses' KBL slate won a 21-0 victory. 

In 1982, Malacañang suspended a government news crew for inadvertently showing footage of Marcos looking faint during a Cabinet meeting and being fanned by aides. There were days when Marcos began to be rumored to be ill with lupus; the regime was very touchy about the issue.

Frankie Evangelista, an ABS-CBN veteran and then the news anchor of IBC-13, recalled: "During the Marcos regime, the whole news of every station was managed – if it wasn't the NMPC that called and told us what to do, it was Malacañang: ‘Embargo this, embargo that.’ ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that.’ So the contents of newscasts were things like a press conference of some jerk of a minister somewhere. Walang kalaman-laman. No substance at all.”

News anchor Frankie Evangelista was originally from the pre-Martial Law ABS-CBN. Photo from ABS-CBN News

So, when the biggest news story of the first half of the 1980s broke, TV news was effectively neutralized. On August 21, 1983, Ninoy Aquino was assassinated by military conspiracy at the Manila international Airport. Malacañang clamped down on the news divisions of most of the TV stations and dictated the spin of their coverage. MBS-4 Rod Reyes said: "It was outright dictation. Malacañang would tell us what to say and what not to say." On August 31,1983, only GMA-7 carried footage of the Aquino funeral procession as it wound its way through the streets of Metro Manila in front of an audience of millions. 

At Channel 4, NMPC head Gregorio Cendaña tapped a group of ABS-CBN veterans to run the Maharlika Broadcasting System (MBS). Rod Reyes became GM of MBS, which included other ABS-CBN veterans such as Nanding Morales and Bong Lapira. Lapira became the anchor of Channel 4 News. The ABS-CBN veterans were all shocked by how corruption became commonplace in the organization. Just to get his salary released by the personnel and administrative staff, even an MBS executive had to pay grease money to a fixer.

The veterans were also appalled at how rundown the Broadcast Center had become. The once lovely grounds were now dirty and in disrepair. It was even housing over 100 squatters. Johnny Manahan said: “This place [the Broadcast Center] was in a shambles before the Edsa Revolution. Gregorio Cedaña was running it – he had Channel 4. They just let this building go. The equipment was nothing to speak of anymore by that time."

Gregorio Cendaña. Photo from geni.com

Some of the ABS-CBN old-timers said: “It's a good thing Don Eugenio isn't around to see this. He would have a heart attack." After all, for the dictator, the Broadcast Center was a windfall, not an investment. Marcos had no incentive to investment in the fruit of a theft. If the situation did not change soon, there might not have been anything in the Broadcast Center for Geny to come back to.

 

Visiting Geny  

Yet some people did not give up hope. Geny certainly did not. From 1978 to 1985, Freddie Garcia made a point of visiting San Francisco once a year to pay his respects to Geny. Freddie said: “During those years that I was working with Channel 7, I would always visit Geny every year in San Francisco. After all, I went to LA every year to look at the new TV shows, and from there I would always pass by Geny's place and talk to him about what was happening in television, what was happening in the country. We would always have a drink. And he would always tell me: ‘I will outlive Marcos, and I will come back to the country.’”

Those visits of Freddie meant a lot to Geny; some other former executives of his now working for the Marcos regime declined to visit him in San Francisco or even call him. But Geny was always sure that Freddie's loyalty to him was beyond question. 

Freddie Garcia. Photo from ABS-CBN Entertainment

Orly Punzalan recalled: "When Mr. Lopez escaped and went to America, we [veterans] kept getting together at the ABS-CBN reunions and we would videotape our messages for him to update him on how we were doing. It kept us together. One by one we would greet him: `Si Orly Punzalan po ito, rasa Radyo Veritas na po ako.' We would send the tape to him in America. We learned that he would shed tears at seeing all of us; he would say: `These were my boys.’ He would send messages back: 'Guys, I'll never forget you, I'll always pray for you.’ ABS-CBN was a big part of my life. But if I was asked back then if ABS-CBN would ever come back, my answer would have been that it was probably impossible." 

The impossible, it turned out, was just around the corner. 

 

The dictatorship totters

All throughout the long years of the dictatorship, Geny and Jake had nursed the dream that Marcos would fall. They even dreamed ABS-CBN playing a key role in it, broadcasting to the nation to organize resistance. They knew their dream was far-fetched but they cherished it nonetheless. 

After four years in exile, Jake decided to help make it all happen somehow. In 1982, he tried to infiltrate back into the country from the south, through the Sabah back door. But he was intercepted by the Philippine Navy ship Rajah Humabon on October 25, 1982, off the coast of Sulu. Col. Rudy Aguinaldo, his adversary from his first spell in a military prison, wanted to interrogate him, but friendly military officers kept Jake away from him. He was held in a military prison for 15 months. Eventually released in February 1984, he became very active in the opposition. 

In the meantime, Ninoy Aquino had been assassinated and the dictatorship was reeling. The economy began to melt down from a full-blown debt crisis. Inflation soared to 50% and interest rates went to well over 40%. Most business activity ground to a halt under this pressure. The poor bore the brunt of the slowdown, and discontent spread across the nation. The country was in the grip of the worst economic and political crisis since World War II, and Ferdinand Marcos was slowly but inexorably losing his grip on power. 

Jake Lopez and Geny's brothers Oscar and Manolo Lopez talked often about strategy and at one point decided to revive the cause of ABS-CBN. Oscar said: “Jake Lopez said to me that we had to continue to fight and get back ABS-CBN. By that time, we felt we really had to do something to take part in the struggle against Marcos. So that was what brought about my letter to Benedicto." 

Rebel soldiers take stock during a lull in the assault on the Broadcast Center, February 24, 1986.

On December 19, 1984, Oscar Lopez wrote to Roberto Benedicto to "demand that you vacate our Broadcast Center on Bohol Avenue and all our 22 provincial radio and television stations by January 19, 1985." Oscar ended his letter with: "We reserve the right to take at the appropriate time such actions or measures as may be called for to recover the damages we have suffered as a result of your actions.”

On December 27, 1984, Exequiel Garcia, comptroller of KBS, wrote to Oscar. Garcia claimed that the Broadcast Center had been "sequestered" by government and, therefore, KBS bore no responsibility for what happened to ABS-CBN. Garcia wrote: "You will have to take up your demands with the government." The government, for its part, ignored the Lopezes completely. 

This was only to be expected. Oscar and Jake knew the December 1984 letter was a bluff. In a country where the judiciary was in one man's pocket, there was no chance of the Lopez family receiving justice for the theft of ABS-CBN. But they felt that, even if their letter brought no response from the regime, simply disseminating the truth about what happened to ABS-CBN would be victory enough.

On January 10, 1985, Oscar Lopez held a well-attended press conference at Club Filipino in San Juan demanding the return of ABS-CBN. Neither Benedicto nor Marcos made any response, but the facts about ABS-CBN received a good deal of publicity in the aftermath—pushed along by a series of articles by Jake. The story of the seizure of ABS-CBN joined a number of recent exposes that chipped away at the myth that Marcos had built around himself. The Washington Post and the New York Times had exposed Marcos's fake war medals, and other investigations were now focusing on the Marcos ill-gotten wealth that had been hidden away abroad. The theft of an entire network only underlined the real character of his regime. 

Fourteen months after Oscar sent that letter to Benedicto, Jake Lopez would indeed find a "measure" with which to recover ABS-CBN.

The journey to revolution began on November 3, 1985. For over two years, Marcos had been helpless as the economy crumbled, weakened by years of plunder by his family and cronies. In an attempt to silence his critics and reclaim a popular mandate, Marcos went on the American ABC-TV show,”This Week with David Brinkley" and announced a snap presidential election. The polls were set for February 7, 1986. The wily old politico counted on the opposition being unable to field a single candidate. Running against a divided field, Marcos expected an easy victory.

He was wrong. On December 11, 1985, the once-fragmented and feuding opposition forces united behind Ninoy's widow, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino; her erstwhile rival Salvador Laurel agreed to be her running mate. The opposition campaign was initially disorganized, but it gained steam over time as the people took its message to heart. By the first week of February; US Embassy analysts were estimating that Cory Aquino would win 60-70% of the votes.

In January 1986, GMA-7 ran several campaign spots for Cory Aquino, the only TV station to do so. The spots were aired on the instructions of Freddie Garcia and Rolly Cruz, who caught fire from the GMA bosses for doing so. Freddie said: "During the election of 1986, I gave Cory's campaign sonic TV spots without telling the owners of the station. So what we were giving Cory was just to give her a fighting chance." 

Rolly Cruz said: "We even helped the Cory people to pay for the spots. Malacañang was furious, so we had to lie low after a while. But at least the spots were aired."

Roberto Benedicto, Former President Ferdinand Marcos, and Kitchie Benedicto-Paulino—the triumvirate that benefited hugely from the KBS seizure of the ABS-CBN Broadcast Center in June 1973.

On the day of the snap elections, February 7, 1986, fraud and terror were widespread, but the will of the people was clear. Foreign observers concluded that Cory Aquino had won 60% of the vote—even after taking into account the cheating by the administration—including vote-buying, disenfranchisement of voters, tampering with election returns, intimidation, harassment, terrorism and murder. A US observer team that included Sen. Richard Lugar arrived at similar conclusions.

Nonetheless, despite all the indications that Marcos was stealing the election, Ronald Reagan stood by his old friend. On February 15, 1986, the Marcos-controlled parliament, Batasang Pambansa, declared him the victor of the snap elections. In response, on February 16, Cory Aquino launched a nationwide civil disobedience campaign, aimed at bringing down Marcos.

Marcos geared up for retaliation. The military units loyal to Gen. Fabian Ver began to prepare "Operation Mad Dog," a massive crackdown to round up, imprison and decimate the opposition. Jake Lopez said: "We're always monitoring the situation. There was already word that all the top opposition leaders would be arrested. I had a cousin who was a colonel, and he told me that the AFP was already conducting exercises how to collect all these oppositionists and bring them to Carballo Island in Manila Bay." 

Other military units, who were part of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) and were loyal to Defense Minister Enrile, began preparing a coup against Marcos. The stage was set for a bloody confrontation. What came, instead, was a nonviolent uprising that would startle the world. 

On the night of February 22, millions of Filipinos learned from Radio Veritas that Gen. Fidel Ramos and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile had broken away from Marcos. They had fortified the national defense headquarters, Camp Aguinaldo, and were prepared to fight for their lives. Enrile announced that Cory Aquino was cheated of her poll victory by Marcos, and also confessed that, back in September 1972, he had staged the ambush on himself to create a pretext for martial law. Military units loyal to Marcos began moving into position for a full-scale assault on Enrile and Ramos. Jaime Cardinal Sin had issued an appeal for the people to come to Camp Aguinaldo to protect Ramos and Enrile. By the afternoon of the next day, close to a million people had flooded Edsa, the broad thoroughfare outside Camp Aguinaldo. 

Over in San Francisco, Geny Lopez was watching TV and marveling. He said: "It was around two in the morning. I woke up when the phone rang. My brother Manolo said: `Things are happening here, Manong. Watch CNN.’ Which is what I did; I stayed glued to CNN for the next few days. I saw what was happening, because the coverage of CNN was just fantastic. I said to myself: ‘It looks like this is really the beginning of the end for Mr. Marcos.’”

 

Liberation 

As the situation in Manila turned critical, the ABS-CBN Broadcast Center remained at the center of Jake Lopez's thoughts. Jake said: "When the revolt also broke out on February 22, I alerted some friends: Jimmy Navarro and also Prinsesito Pascual, the president of the union of the old ABS-CBN. We agreed that (the rebel group) would need media support to win. So we agreed to wait  for developments. We had to be ready to move." 

The sign he was waiting for came on Monday morning, February 24, at  9:56 A.M. when Marcos was speaking in a televised press conference about the crisis. Nationwide, the TV screens suddenly went blank.

The signal for the press was coming from MBS 4, in the Broadcast Center. At around 9:30 AM on February 24, rebel soldiers, Ied by Col Rudy Aguinaldo and Maj. Sonny Razon, attacked it. After a short, intense firefight, Lt. Col. Arthur Balmaceda, the commander of the loyalist soldiers guarding the network, agreed to pull out. The loyalist forces left. Technicians  at the MBS-4 master control stopped transmitter operations. Finally, the man who shut down Philippine television in September 1972 was himself knocked off the air.

Soon after, Jake Lopez, Jimmy Navarro and Prinsesito Pascual arrived at the Broadcast Center. The rebel officers recognized Jake as the former GM of ABS-CBN and a member of the opposition. They let him and his friends in to get the station back on the air and have it start broadcasting for the rebels. 

Rallyists during EDSA '86, local entertainment artists included. 

Jake said: "So we went inside ABS-CBN. This was the first time I had been inside this complex in 14 years. I supervised the construction back in 1966-68, so it really had a place in my heart. But the corridors of the Broadcast Center were dark and deserted. The technicians had gone into hiding when the firing had started outside. I was looking for some of the broadcast engineers. All I needed were a few engineers to put it on the air. All I needed was one man to run the transmitter, one in the Technical Operations Center (TOC), and one cameraman, and then we would be on the air. But for a while, I couldn't find any technician. The first man I saw was a cameraman, someone I knew from the old days. So I asked him: ‘Where is everyone?' He said that everyone was hiding because of the firing outside. One man, a senior engineer, had actually died of a heart attack because of the stress."

Jake and Jimmy Navarro went around reassembling the station's technical crew, many of whom knew them from the days of the pre-martial-law ABS-CBN: "We gathered the people who were hiding and I spoke to them. I said: 'We have to put this station back on the air." 

To do that, he needed and got a lot of help from some more ABS-CBN veterans. Director Johnny Manahan was among them. He recalled: "We had been getting signals from Jimmy Navarro to stand by because they might try taking over the station. So that day (February 24], some friends and I went to ABS-CBN. Once we got here, there was still some firing going on. We got right up to the gate and we heard helicopters hovering just above the roof, and there were lots of soldiers, but we didn't know what was happening really. We climbed over the fence.”

He went on: "Then I saw some of the old ABS-CBN people there. Together, we became an ad hoc group to run the station. We were not really organized. It was kind of chaotic. We just said: 'Let's get on the air: So this became the communications center [of the revolution) because it was broadcasting live. We were manning the studios, handling security, deciding who would get on the air. It was not a top-down kind of thing. There was no one guy in charge.”

Fittingly enough, when the station came back on the air, the first words spoken were by an ABS-CBN veteran, Orly Punzalan. Orly said: "I was then station manager of Radyo Veritas; our transmitter was destroyed by government troops. That Monday morning, we were monitoring the TV broadcasts when one of my people said: ‘Tatang, biglang nawala ang Channel 4 [Sir, Channel 4 has suddenly gone off the air]: I had a hunch that this was it. So I brought my people, Frankie Batacan and some technicians, to the Broadcast Center. When we arrived, I saw a friend, Col. Mariano Santiago. I said: `Mar, we're here if you need us.’ He let us in.”

Orly added: "Inside the Broadcast Center, I saw Atty. Jake Lopez. He said: 'Orly, you know the place; you know what to do.’ Frankie Batacan and the technicians went to the basement, and got everything up and running. It took some time; we arrived at 10 A.M., we got on the air shortly after 1 P.M. I was given the privilege to reopen the station. The floor director gave me the signal. I said: 'Channel 4 is back on the air to serve the people. Now you will get the truth from this channel.’ And everyone in the studio was clapping. For me, it was such a big honor to do that.'

That first broadcast came at 1:25 P.M. on February 24. Marcos's Maharlika Broadcasting System was now redubbed the "People's Television Network." Johnny Manahan directed an improvised public-affairs show in Studio 3. The on-air talents included Orly, June Keithley, Maan Hontiveros, Noel Trinidad and Subas Herrero. Among the volunteers who worked backstage for this show were some who would later become ABS-CBN executives, such as Salvii Casino, Mariol Alberto, Enrico Santos, Charie Villa and Joanna Gomez. 

Enrico, then 22, said: "I was one of those who climbed over the fence and did that news show. Someone asked: 'Who can write around here?' I just raised my hand. So I was told to write news stories on index cards and hand them to June Keithley, Fr. Efren Datu, Noel Trinidad and Subas Herrero. That's what we did, in 24-hour shifts."  

Salvi Casino fed the news anchor David Nye with up-to-the-minute news bits relayed by long-distance telephone from New York, where relatives of Salvii were watching the reports of CNN and ABC news crews in Manila. The news took a circuitous route, but it worked.

Manahan recalled: "Gen. Ramos called. He wanted footage of the Edsa uprising to be shown on television. At that time, we had no news camera. Before we took over, Channel 4 took out all the vans, all the equipment, the U-matic cameras. There were only Videos 8s, Betamax cameras. I was so used to professional things, I didn't think about using these ‘toy cameras’ to cover the Edsa thing. But somebody reminded me we had the ‘toy cameras’ so we started sending people there to cover it. And we were able to get from the Americans a copy of that famous footage of Ramos jumping into the air.”

Then, ABS-CBN's ace director Mitos Villareal directed a helicopter take aerial footage of the crowd at Edsa. The liberated Channel 4 aired her footage, as well as shots of the inauguration of Cory Aquino in the morning of February 24. These broadcast clearly demonstrated to the nation that the Marcos forces were finished. 

Jake said: "When we went back on the air, we started to invite some politicians to come and they would come over, but they would not stay long, because the report was the Marcos forces would attack the station.” This was actually true; the night of February 24, Marcos's son, Bongbong, was crafting a plan that had him leading an assault on the Broadcast Center. The plan was aborted at the last minute. 

Orly said: "On the air, I called on our old friends from the old ABS-CBN. We called on them to come back and help—people like Bong Lapira. They came quickly. We were no longer nervous because there were so many of us now inside the studio. And the broadcast continued."

Some veterans came back to Bohol Avenue wearing their old ABS-CBN bush jackets. They would say to all who would listen: "For many years, I've kept this jacket for a day like today." 

Johnny Manahan on the set of Kaluskos Musmos. Photo from the private collection of Tats Manahan.

An impromptu reunion began at the Broadcast Center as old comrades embraced. "O, pare, saan ka ngayon?" "O, puti na ang buhok mo." It was a time for many smiles and reminiscences, and not a few tears. Veterans like Johnny Midnight, Cris Daluz and Betty Mendez showed up to work. 

Jake added: "So that was the story of the takeover of ABS-CBN. The streets outside were full of people, there to protect us from the soldiers of Marcos. It was outstanding. We were really thrilled. Imagine, for 14 years, outside [the Broadcast Center], and then the revolution happened. I am glad that we had a chance to participate." 

Johnny Manahan said: "It meant a lot to me personally just to get inside the Broadcast Center again. We felt: Let’s get ABS-CBN back; let’s get this Broadcast Center back. And then I saw the old ABS-CBN veterans  like Jimmy Navarro and Attorney Jake there, and that was a great sight to see." 

Jimmy Navarro said: “Getting back to ABS-CBN was beautiful. Beautiful, maniwala ka.” 

As elated as the ABS-CBN veterans were, it was also a bittersweet moment. Orly Punzalan said: “We veterans felt so much nostalgia and were also sad. The buildings had been poorly maintained; the bathrooms smelled bad. The lights and corridors were not well kept. It used to be spic and span before. Then for us to see what we had worked so hard to build in a shambles was so sad. Naku, ang sakit pala sa dibdib." 

The veterans found out that MBS had been systematically pillaged by some of its own staff, so that much of the movable equipment, such as cameras, were missing. It had accumulated some P13 million in unpaid Meralco bills, but had only P154 in cash in the till. Jake Almeda Lopez says: "It broke my heart to see the station this way, in such dirt and disrepair. I had supervised the building of it, after all, for two years, from 1966-68. I knew every nook, every cranny It was a beautiful place. This was the second most advanced broadcast center in Asia, next to NHK in Japan. To see it in such a sorry state was really painful to me.”

And yet Jake provided a reminder to all the veterans of what attitude they had to take. As Salvii Casino said: "Of all the sights I saw during the revolution, I will never forget one glimpse I had of Attorney Jake. In the afternoon of February 24, he came into the newsroom, where I was busy working on the news, and looked around. And the place was a mess because we were rushing to put the news program on the air. So he stopped, picked up a crumpled piece of paper—I think it was a discarded draft of a news story we had just read on the air—and he put it in the wastebasket. I was really touched by that: imagine someone like Attorney Jake, our boss, doing something like that. I think he was also telling us that, after all these years, the station was ours again, and that therefore we had to take care of it. I think he was saying that it was time to get back to work." 

EDSA 1986. People climb on top of the main gate of Camp Crame as the crowd along EDSA multiplies to tens of thousands. Photo from The Eggie Apostol Foundation

Because of the ABS-CBN veterans' role in recapturing the Broadcast Center and running it, the Lopezes' right to the Broadcast Center was not questioned by the new government. Joker Arroyo, executive secretary to the new president, Corazon Aquino, signed an executive order designating Jake Lopez as OIC of the Broadcast Center. (There was a brief attempt by some of Juan Ponce Enrile’s officers, including Col. Eduardo Ermita, to take over the station from Jake, but they gave up when they realized they didn’t know how to run a TV station.) And because possession, as they say, is nine-tenths of the law, that order by Joker Arroyo paved the way for the return of  Geny Lopez to ABS-CBN, and the Broadcast Center to him.

 

Homecoming

When Geny saw the events of February 24, with his beloved Broadcast Center back on the air, he made up his mind: "I made reservations to fly back to Manila as soon as I could. Things were unraveling so fast. I wanted to be home as soon as possible. I felt that this was where I belonged anyway. This was what I had been waiting for. I wanted to be with my friends, my relatives, with our people and to participate in a very significant event in our history." 

You may also like:

He could not get back fast enough to see the end of the regime. At 11 P.M. on February 25, the dictator and his family fled to Hawaii. 

On the flight back to Manila, Geny met Gloria Romero, his star from the old ABS-CBN's "The Gloria-Luis Show," who was also rushing home. Gloria said: "I embraced him, I was so thrilled to see him. I said, 'Sir, when ABS-CBN opens again, don't forget me." Geny said yes and kept his promise. 

Saturday, March 1. Shortly before noon, Geny and Chita Lopez arrived in the Manila International Airport, to be greeted by a large crowd of relatives, friends and former employees. A man who had left the country covertly in 1977 came home in triumph. He said: "I'm euphoric, I'm numb, I'm speechless. I knew I'd be home again someday. But I never thought that it would be so soon."

A few days later, Geny called many of his old friends and former ABS-CBN  employees for a Thanksgiving Mass at the Chronicle (now Benpres) Building Pasig. For almost everyone, it was the first time they had seen Geny in many years. There were embraces, quips and tears. The ABS-CBN veterans were confident that Geny would soon revive the network and take them all back to the top. 

After Mass, Geny made a short speech, to thank everyone for coming and to share his hopes for the future. In the end, however, he was overcome by emotion. The enormity of all that had happened—all the little miracles that had enabled him to stand where he was that morning—was just too much. Tears filled his eyes, and his voice died away. 

 

Excerpt from Kapitan, authored by Raul Rodrigo, published in 2006.