IN 1986, then National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) chairman Jose Concepcion Jr. crisscrossed the country, talking to the families of Namfrel volunteers who had been killed while guarding the ballots.
There was the boy, also a Namfrel volunteer, who cried “Itay, Itay! (Father, Father!),” as his father’s coffin was slowly lowered to the ground.
There was a teacher in Mambusao, Capiz, who was shot in the back as he attempted to escape with ballots that he had wrapped in a Philippine flag.
Twenty years later, there is still a slight catch to Concepcion’s voice as he recalls how he embraced the man’s widow. Neither of them could speak.
“Somehow they could never forget the role that they played. Because it wasn’t us. Because Namfrel was the Bantay ng Bayan ng ating mga mamamayan (People’s Watch). It was their election, it was their victory.”
It was also in 1986 that a jubilant throng in Edsa hoisted Concepcion onto their shoulders as they chanted, “Namfrel, Namfrel.”
Namfrel’s credibility had come under a cloud of doubt when the PCIJ interviewed him last year for its multimedia presentation on 20 years of Edsa 1. Even then, Concepcion had already begun to speak of a new direction for the election watchdog: it would no longer conduct a parallel vote count, even as it continued to keep its eyes on the vote.