To the blaring Motown sound of "Dancing in the Streets," a jubilant group of Filipino Americans danced outside the Philippine Embassy yesterday, guzzling frosty pink champagne, shouting "Kalayaan," which means freedom, and proclaiming, as one man said, that "victory champagne never tasted better."
Longtime opponents of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos spoke with sweetness in their voices of newfound democracy in their homeland, and a priest thanked God "for removing the last roadblock to freedom." But there were also stern demands for new Philippine President Corazon Aquino to free political prisoners and an admonition for the Reagan administration not to grant political asylum to Marcos.
Throngs of pro-Aquino Filipinos here and around the nation celebrated the end of the two-decade Marcos era, which came to an abrupt close when Marcos fled the presidential palace in Manila yesterday. The event set off a flurry of parties and demonstrations.
There was a victory mass in Denver, a rally in Chicago, a "celebration picket" at Seattle's Philippine consulate and several gatherings near the United Nations in New York. There was a bittersweet moment of tears combined with shouts of joy outside the Newton, Mass., home where the new president's husband, Benigno Aquino, lived in exile before he returned to the Philippines in 1983 and was assassinated.
In the Washington area, it was also a day that highlighted some of the divisions within the Filipino community. At the embassy, some employes watched warily as Aquino supporters were allowed in for an impromptu victory celebration in the ornate, now empty, office of the former ambassador, where above the mantel is a large blank space that once held a portrait of Marcos. The celebrants drank champagne and took apart a paper shredder in the office, later handing over its contents to a transition team named by the Aquino government.
In southern Prince George's County, where the largest concentration of local Filipinos lives, two priests talked of the often submerged political differences among their parishioners at St. Columba Church in Oxon Hill.
"We don't say anything from the pulpit, but people have been giving out literature outside the masses," said the Rev. John de Wan, who has watched the community grow during his 18 years at the church. About 500 of those attending each Sunday mass at St. Columba are Filipino, and some estimate that as many as 10,000 Filipinos live in the southern Prince George's area.
For the last three years, de Wan's assistant pastor has been a Filipino, the Rev. Fidel de Ramos. "There are so many elements in our parish," said de Ramos. "Marcos even has a distant relative here.
"Actually, I'm happy for the new government and I'm happy for the peaceful transition," de Ramos said.
By and large, both ministers said, political differences have been held beneath the surface. "I don't see any bad blood," said de Ramos, who has stayed publicly neutral. "They all still talk to each other."
But there were divisions, even within families. David Valderrama, a Philippine-born Prince George's County probate judge, said his brother was Philippine ambassador to Australia and was recently reassigned to New York to be an official spokesman for the Marcos government.
"He was on CNN Cable News Network talking for Marcos, while I was in Lafayette Park speaking against Marcos," said Valderrama, who came here in 1961 to study and became a judge in December. "It's been a very, very delicate situation."
But for the most part, it was a day for coming together both here and around the country. On a Houston radio station, Philippine consul Rodolfo Severino said he felt "relief that this whole thing has been settled relatively peacefully." He said he felt "compassion" for Corazon Aquino, adding, "She's got a very difficult job ahead of her."
Some pro-Aquino leaders praised the Reagan administration. Crispin R. Aranda, an anti-Marcos leader who is now a New Jersey publisher, said, "With the way the events developed, the Reagan administration handled it with a plus overall."
In Washington, celebrants attended a mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral, then streamed back across 17th Street to the embassy's front door on Massachusetts Avenue NW as friendly motorists honked their horns and waved. During the rally earlier, Jon Melegrito, a longtime local leader of the anti-Marcos forces, had proclaimed, "This is now our embassy," with heavy emphasis on the word "our."