MANILA, Philippines – It was the strength of the millions who gathered in EDSA that brought the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos to an end. And it was the “shrill voice” of one woman that kept the fire burning throughout the crucial final hours of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution.
For 14 hours, June Keithley-Castro broadcasted information on troop movements and political deflections via radio station dZRJ, which was then hiding under the name “Radyo Bandido.”
"We started before midnight of February 23. It was really crucial at that time because there weren't that many people then," said actor Gabe Mercado.
Mercado, his brother Paolo, and Emer Guingon helped Keithley collate feeds from a network of theater actors scattered across strategic places, such as Camp Aguinaldo and the United States Embassy. The actors were all under the wing of the late Father James Reuter, Keithley's "confessor, mentor, and friend."
Keithley, a gifted soprano, was a certified "Reuter baby" and starred in Father Reuter's plays along with a close-knit group of actors.
"It was Father Reuter who told June that she had to do something to bring out the truth during the snap elections and that her special gift and talent for broadcasting had to be put to good use to inform the people about the conduct or misconduct of the elections," said AirAsia Philippines CEO Marianne "Ma-an" Hontiveros, a former TV and music executive.
During the EDSA revolution, Father Reuter reactivated a network of actors he organized during the snap elections to gather and broadcast reports on the ground at a time when all media outfits were controlled by the Marcos government.
In these last hours, Radyo Bandido was the rebel forces' last resort. The Catholic Church-run Radio Veritas – one of the few media stations known to be outside of Marcos’ control – has been burned down and no other network would dare take Keithley in.
"June was very brave and continued broadcasting despite the danger to her life and physical exchaustion," Hontiveros.
Hontiveros was supposed to replace Keithley on air at Radyo Bandido but she got stuck in Channel 4 when violence erupted as rebel forces tried to enter the government-run network.
“A firefight was ensuing so I hid behind a wall around Channel 4, knocked on the houses to use the phone to call June and reported that there was a battle for Channel 4 going on,” Hontiveros said.
"Despite her physical fatigue, June told me to stay in Channel 4 and try to enter with the rebel forces. She would continue with the radio broadcast. And so I stayed in Channel 4 and went in to re-start the broadcast for Ramos-Enrile and President Cory,” she added.
Meanwhile, Mercado said, by this time other volunteers had arrived at Radyo Bandido, which was broadcasting from a location that, unknown to Marcos at that time, was just a few kilometers away from Malacañang.
Hontiveros said: "My father, who had run to Radyo Bandido to protect me when he knew I was going there, ended up guarding June Keithley instead. He was quite agitated when June told him I was in Channel 4, but he could not leave June because she had absolutely no security besides some nuns and her two teenage assistants."
Mercado said they only left the location when rebel forces finally seized Channel 4 from the government.
While the Mercado brothers, then aged 13 and 14, were helping Keithley gather news feeds, Keithley's own son, Diego Castro, was transferring from one place to another with his father.
Castro, who was 10 years old at that time, said he was unaware of the magnitude of what was happening around him.
"Some people had to move my Dad and I to different locations because they were looking for us," Castro said. "I just remember being with my Dad. Of course, he didn't want to freak me out because he just made me feel like everything was fine. We weren't even watching the news."
Keithley transferred from Radyo Bandido to Channel 4 when rebel forces successfully took over the network.
When Castro was finally allowed to watch the news, what he saw was a video of his mother crying.
"It was when Marcos faked his departure. So, I asked my dad, 'Why is mama crying?' And he said because she's fighting with the President. That's when I realized, oh my god, my mom is fighting with the President," Castro said.
Keithley and her husband, respected broadcaster Angelo Castro Jr, died 5 months apart from each other. They left 3 kids behind: Diego, and his sisters Gabriela and Angelica.
Castro said his mother, who was then already suffering from cancer, did not take his father's death well.
"When my Dad died she was really depressed. She told me she felt it from the pits of her stomach, the physical pain," Castro said. "And my mom had brain cancer but she died of lung cancer. That's the official cause – respiratory arrest. My dad also died of lung cancer. They died 5 months apart. So wow, it's like Romeo and Juliet."
How June Keithley and the elder Castro fell in love with each other has become a classic story of love shared within the halls of TV network ABS-CBN.
“There’s this running joke in ABS: How June Keithley fell in love with Angelo Castro," Castro said. "In those days a mestiza would never be seen going out with a Pinoy. My dad saw my mom daw sitting on a bench somewhere in ABS and my dad said, 'What are you doing?' My mom – of course, Daddy wasn't her type – so she said, 'Nothing.' My dad's reply was, 'Wanna do nothing together?' That did it. And she really daw got swept off her feet."
"The relationship was [between] two intelligent people with opposing views. Every day was just a debate. Debate, debate. Pag pinaghiwalay mo naman nagwawala (If you separate them they throw tantrums). Put them together, they argue. Perfect couple," Castro said.
When his father died in April, Castro said he was not able to mourn because he had to look after his mother. This time around, he was prepared.
"Everyone was crying in the room while my mom was dying and I was smiling. The nurses were looking at me like I was crazy. Everyone was saying Tita June, don't leave. I was the one saying, 'Mom, go. Stop it.' Because she was fighting. I said, 'Go na, go na."
The mother and son kept a close bond, especially since Keithley was estranged from her family.
"She has a sister in the States, but she only met her once. It's like a movie. She had a stepfather who was kind to her but, you know, it's not the same. That's why it was mom and me. The two of us. She really didn't have a family," Castro said.
Until her last days, Keithley, who revoked her American citizenship when she chose to stay in the Philippines, could not detach herself from her country.
"Although she couldn't open her eyes or talk, she still had a reaction," Castro said. "I was watching the Senate inquiry on Napoles. I was watching it in the hospital room. The volume was a little loud. Her face was really, she was wincing, reacting. I had to change the channel."
For Keithley's contributions to the EDSA People Power Revolution, President Benigno Aquino III – son of former President Corazon Aquino who succeeded Marcos – gave her the Spirit of EDSA Award in February this year.
Keithley attended the event even if she was already suffering from cancer. It was a gesture that she appreciated, her son said, especially after Keithley felt she was forgotten in previous EDSA celebrations.
"Honestly, she definitely felt left out. She didn't crave for attention. Just a little pat on the back. Hey June, thanks. Even an invitation to the cocktail [by the organizers of the EDSA celebrations.]," Castro said. "That's the way i saw it. That's why with all these anger and bitterness, she turned to prayer," Castro said.
After the EDSA revolution, Keithley toured the United States and Europe to educate people about the EDSA revolution.
To keep his mother's legacy alive, Castro said he plans to remaster the tapes of Keithley's 2 documentaries over the last decades – one on hunger and famine in Negros Occidental and another on slain rebel priest Conrado Balweg.
"If people don't recall, she was the very first journalist who ever climbed the Cordillera Mountains and interviewed Balweg. Because of that interview with Balweg, he surrendered to the [Corazon] Aquino administration," Castro said. (Balweg was with the communist New People's Army.)
For Hontiveros, her friend: as a strong woman of faith and a loving mother.