I was a hero twice. The first was when a few of us stood guard behind the Channel 4 TV station during the EDSA Revolution in 1986 where we faced battle tanks and soldiers in full battle gear to oust a dictator. The second was in a movie theater in the late 1980s at the height of arson and theater bombings in Metro Manila. In this article, I’m referring to the theater bombing I experienced.
I was in my third year college and it was a Saturday. My uncle gave me a free movie ticket to watch The Empire Strikes Back. The Star Wars series were my favorite so I lost no time to use the free ticket (I don’t know if anyone still remembers Circle Theater). But I was aware of the recent spate of bombings inside theaters in Metro Manila one of which killed hundreds of students and young professionals. So, before entering this movie house along Quezon Avenue in Quezon City, I prayed.
I decided to stay at the back of the Orchestra level near the exit doors to the right. The last theater fire due to bombing trapped hundreds of people inside because all the exits were barred, intending to kill all of them, according to a news report. So I stayed near an exit and watched carefully that it remained unblocked by anything. As I enjoyed the movie I was also alert to my surroundings. My martial arts training enabled me to do security multi-tasking like that.
Suddenly, a bomb went off! It exploded right at the exit I was watching over carefully. It must have been planted beforehand and timed. Fortunately, no one was there. I was far enough to avoid being hit by deadly projectiles. A few seconds passed before people realized what had happened. They all froze. When it dawned on them–that a bomb went off–I knew they would all panic. The latest theater fire that killed hundreds had a wild stampede that claimed more lives than the fire itself. That was what I feared. And I was right. Soon, I heard the folding seats of the theater rapidly folding close, which meant people were beginning to stand up and about to run and panic.
Right there and then, in the cover of darkness, I shouted with my authoritative voice (I have a slightly deep voice that commands respect): “Nobody should panic! Walk in line and wait for your turn to leave!”
Wonderfully, the people all obeyed. There were some hundreds of them at the Orchestra level and they soon walked calmly out the theater, walking in line, no one was running or panicking–men, women and kids! It was God’s grace and protection! They didn’t see that it was a mere boyish-looking college student that was ordering them around. I wondered what would’ve happened if the lights were on and they saw how young I was–a mere skinny, pimpled 18-year-old teenager–telling them what they should do!
I was among the last that went out of the theater. I stayed to make sure no one was going to panic and disturb the calm and orderliness we had. When I went out, people were amassed around in front of the theater waiting for people to come out. No one knew I was the one who ordered them to behave. They ignored me when they saw me coming out–they were probably looking for a big tough-looking guy who made it all happen, but to no avail. They saw no one like that. The authorities soon arrived.
As I quietly walked away from the scene, I realized I just saved hundreds of people from death. Even if there was no fire, the wild stampede could have killed women and children, and even men. I thank God for His protection. He used me as a hero that day.