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EDSA: A tale of a coup and revolution

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josef san jose
an ordinary man trying to do extraordinary things

There is an unfulfilled promise of EDSA, that people-powered revolution that inspired a lot of people around the world to topple dictatorships peacefully and without bloodshed for freedom and democracy. The promise isn’t just restoring democracy but securing prosperity and empowerment for everyone. Let’s look back at the four-fateful-days in 1986 that grant Filipinos back our freedom and democracy. (excerpts from edsarevolution.com)

February 22 (Saturday)

Just after midnight, in the home of Marcos defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile, a select group is finalizing a speech to be read over national radio and television with which Enrile would proclaim himself head of a ruling junta, just after rebel troops breaking into the palace the following day, capturing or killing Marcos. The junta would be composed of opposition Cory Aquino Fidel Ramos, Jaime Cardinal Sin and Cesar Virata.

Colonel Gringo Honasan, an officer whose relationship with Enrile has been described as “closer than father and son” is the mastermind of the coup against Marcos along with Col. Eduardo Kapunan and Col. Victor Batac. Unknown to Honasan, Major Edgardo Doromal, one of his moles in Malacañang Palace had been leaking top-secret details of the coup plot to the Vers which decided to further fortify the Palace with Marcos loyalist from the Armed Forces. Gen. Ver was turning the palace into a death trap for the coup plotters. By dawn, it was clear to Honasan and other RAM members that they had been betrayed.

Midmorning, Defense Minister Enrile was at the Atrium for coffee and gossip, chatting with Deputy Prime Minister Jose Roño, when a call came from Trade Minister Bobby Ongpin telling him that “My security men! They’ve all been rounded up!”

Enrile assessed the situation with Kapunan and Honasan. “We can disperse, in which case they would hunt each one of us. Or we can regroup and take a stand and take our chances. If we regroup, the possibility of an encounter is very high. But the possibility of a stand-off is not far-fetched.” Honasan and Kapunan tried to convince Enrile to fly to Cagayan where he could hide in the meantime and think of other options should the reformists be arrested. They assured him they could handle the situation in the camp. Enrile replied, “Why Cagayan? If I die, I might as well die here.” Enrile decided to regroup and call everyone to Camp Aguinaldo.

Enrile’s and RAM’s number-one priority was to drum up as much public support as they could. To do this, they had to scuttle any impression that they had been planning a coup d’etat. If people realized that Enrile had been planning to stage a coup and then impose a junta, most of them certainly would not have been supportive. Enrile and his men had to cover their plans and portray themselves as victims.

Before leaving home Enrile contacted Gen. Ramos. “Eddie, I have this problem and I’d like to know if you’ll help.” He outlined the plot that he had uncovered against RAM. “Will you support us?” Fidel Ramos said at once, “Yes, sir, I’m with you, all the way.” RAM recognized that while a significant number of officers and men were prepared to line up behind Enrile, his long political and personal association with Marcos had tainted him in the minds of many more. Ramos’s image was much cleaner.

Enrile arrived in Camp Aguinaldo around 3:30pm. He ordered Honasan to deploy the fully-armed troops not only around Camp Aguinaldo but also around Camp Crame, headquarters of the Constabulary and the National Police, forces sympathetic to RAM. The first military region to go to the rebel side was Regional Unified Command No. 8, which included troops in Mrs. Marcos’s own province, Leyte, led by RUC-8 commander, Brig. Gen. Salvador Mison who was in Camp Aguinaldo.

Jaime Cardinal Sin received a call from Minister Enrile. “Cardinal, I will be dead within one hour.” He seemed to be trembling. “I don’t want to die…if it is possible, do something. I’d still like to live.” He was almost in tears.

Ver was completely unaware of what was transpiring. Ver expected their coup at 2 o’clock the next morning. He was completely thrown by the rebellion and Ramos’s defection. He, along with Mrs. Marcos was at the wedding of one of the General’s sons. A wedding had cost them the throne.

Ramos arrived at 6:00 PM in a gray safari suit, looking serious, gritting a cigar, not replying to the flurry of questions thrown at him. He went straight to Enrile’s office with two aides in civilian clothes. Newsmen were kept out.

It was 6:30 PM when reports reached President Marcos that Enrile and Ramos were holed up in Camp Aguinaldo and had announced that they were withdrawing their support from the Marcos government.

At around 9:00pm, Jaime Cardinal Sin went on Radio Veritas asking the people to support “our two good friends.”

Cory Aquino knew of Enrile’s coup plans. Enrile’s colonels had pleaded with her to stay in Manila. Deeply suspicious of the Defense Minister, Aquino’s supporters were planning to establish a provisional revolutionary government in the southern city of Davao.

At 10:30pm, President Marcos went on television, live from the Palace. He said he was “in control of the situation.” He called on Enrile and Ramos “to stop this stupidity and surrender so that we may negotiate.”

February 23 (Sunday)

Cardinal Sin’s plea that the people help Ramos and Enrile was taken literally. Thousands of people began massing outside the rebel camps and supplying food for the soldiers.

All through the night and the next two days, there was the same maddening inaction on the part of government troops. No one was thinking; no one was taking the initiative. Several generals besides Ver could have planned and executed counteraction, but they didn’t. Some were nowhere to be found. They were all waiting for Marcos, but Marcos was sick. Others had already made up their minds to sit it out and join the winners.

Armida brought in a showbiz friend, superstar Nora Aunor. When she faced Enrile, for whom she campaigned when he ran for Parliament, she started to explain that she accepted not a centavo from Marcos, but Enrile cut her short by taking her so swiftly in his arms, she was lifted off the floor.

Troops under PC Lt. Col. Cesar Alvarez, Bulacan PC Commander, PC Major Napoleon Castro of the 185th PC Company in Tarlac, and Capt. Tito Samson “neutralized” Radio Veritas’s in Dakila, Malolos transmitter station at 5:00am.

Cory Aquino held a brief press conference around 11:00am from Cebu. She issued twin calls: to the Filipino people to rally behind rebel Defense Minister Enrile and Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, and to decent elements in the military to “follow the defectors and support the people’s will. For the sake of the Filipino people I ask Mr. Marcos to step down now so we can have a peaceful transition of government.”

At 2:20 Cory arrived in Manila and headed for a sister’s house in Wack Wack Subdivision in Mandaluyong.

By Sunday afternoon, Manila was delirious. The boulevard between the army camps was a human sea, the crowd surging and receding like a tide as government forces arrived and retreated and returned. Out of this confrontation, ordinary street Filipinos, Tondo people, and faceless, joined with the middle class, and both discovered a kind of spontaneous collective will that they had never exerted before, and a common bond they had never nurtured. It electrified them. Tears streamed down faces. Some began to sing. “People Power” was born. Demonstrators carried banners demanding Marcos’s resignation. Rebel soldiers, their flag patches inverted, mingled with the throng.

At a press conference early 6:00pm, Enrile told newsmen of Marcos’s offer of absolute amnesty to the rebel troops should they surrender right away. However, Enrile said, the officers’ corps of the rebel troops belonging to the RAM rejected the offer. They had decided that their demand for President Marcos’s resignation was “not negotiable … the matter has reached a point where the bottomline is for the President to step down.”

That evening, Cory Aquino also met with Ramos and Enrile who came to see her in Wack Wack.

February 24 (Monday)

June Keithley was on the air (Radyo Bandido) when Peque Gallaga’s group arrived at the booth atop the J & T building. A skeleton force was operating the facility and June were getting lost in the plethora of new equipment that she had to instantly be familiar with. Beside June were two young boys, Paulo 15 and Gabe 13 years, sons of Tony and Monina Mercado. They manned the VHF transceiver link with Fr. Reuter and Gen. Ramos.

On a call by Cardinal Sin and other Catholic bishops, church bells rang eerily and households walked out to the streets in residential sectors surrounding Camp Crame when word spread that Mr. Marcos’s forces were going to attack the rebels’ stronghold.

Thousands of people were camped outside the Philippine Constabulary headquarters overnight to form a human shield against any attack by forces loyal to President Marcos.

Seven Sikorskys bristling with rockets and cannon landed on the parade ground. The rebels braced themselves for a bloody attack. Out came airmen waving white flags and giving the L sign, a symbol of the opposition. The chopper crews disembarked in formation. There was a tense silence. Then a burst of clapping and cheering filled the air. A gigantic sigh of relief came. Smiles flashed. The man of the minute was Col. Antonio Sotelo who led 16 combat pilots in a dramatic march to HQ. Sotelo went up to the War Room where he was met with a tearful embrace by Ramos and his men.

Enrile asked LABAN vice-president Tito Guingona to get in touch with Cory Aquino and Doy Laurel about setting up a provisional government. Enrile ordered that a skeletal cabinet be fashioned. He stressed that it should not be a military junta, but a purely civilian government and that the forces under him and Ramos will constitute its military arm.

At dawn, the unbelievable news was that Marcos, Imelda and Ver had fled the country, and Marcos was presently in Guam. A shockwave of silence gripped the crowd, followed by wild whooping and cheering. Men and women openly wept with joy; strangers, hugged, danced, sang. Enrile and Ramos, surrounded by rebel troops, addressed the crowd inside and outside the camp. “This is the day of our liberation!” Enrile announced to a wildly cheering crowd.

The usually bland Ramos followed Enrile on the podium. Today he was absolutely ebullient, raising his clenched fist in the air and invoking People Power like a civilian politician. At the end of his speech the general, displaying a dash of uncharacteristic frivolity, did a frog jump into the air, which drew squeals of delight from the crowd.

But Malacañang summoned the generals to be on TV with Marcos to disprove reports that the Marcoses have left the country. President Marcos said that the government’s “maximum tolerance” policy had been lifted. The government would now defend all installations, including communications, and freedom of the air, so that the government could operate more smoothly. In the middle of Marcos’s presscon, General Ver requested the President’s permission to attack Camp Crame. However Mr. Marcos restrained Ver. “My order is not to attack.” He added though that “if any attempt is made to take over any military installation,” 

Enrile instructed General Ramos to send a team “to take over Channel 4.” In the meantime he sent a helicopter group “to fly over Malacañang and hit the area with rockets.” His order was not to hit the Palace itself “because we do not want to harm the President.” Evangelista and his co-pilot 1st Lt. Richelieu Halagao were instructed to inflict “just the desired amount of damage.” They were to hit Malacañang with a few rockets to rattle, but not hurt, its occupants. When the bombs fell on Malacanang, all the Marcoses, from the president to the smallest grandchild descended to the ground floor, near the elevator, where it was safest. The generals and other officers scrambled for armored vests. The First Family huddled in a room and came out of the attack unscathed. Marcos went through the incident calmly. Then he was angry. The 15th Strike Wing fired six rockets, hitting the room of Imelda Marcos and the garden. Damage was negligible but it conveyed the warning that the rebel force could strike any target at will.

In Edsa, nn overflowing crowd filled up EDSA from Cubao to Ortigas Avenue, the Santolan Road from San Juan up to Libis, Murphy, and all subsidiary streets surrounding Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame. People power was still at its greatest – in power and intensity – as more than two million people converged on the Cubao area to Greenhills and the vicinity of Ortigas to Antipolo to protect Enrile, Ramos, and other officials.

In the company of family members and close supporters, Mrs. Aquino emerged from the main entrance of the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) building and spoke from a makeshift stage built on the building’s front steps.

At 6:00pm, President Reagan was awakened by his National Security advisor, Admiral Poindexter. Reagan finally agreed to publicly call on Marcos to resign. An hour later, the White House released these statements: The United States endorsed the provisional government of Mrs. Corazon Aquino, abandoning a 20-year ally in Mr. Marcos for the sake of a “peaceful transition” in the Philippines.

Marcos said in an interview that evening that his family “is cowering in terror in Malacañang because of the threat of bombarding by helicopter” but he vowed he would defend the Palace “to the last breath of my life, the last drop of my blood.” He said he had “no intention of going abroad” or of resigning. The President called on loyal followers to report to the Mendiola Street barricade near Malacañang to enlist and be issued firearms or call him by telephone or come to his inauguration at the Palace tomorrow.

February 25 (Tuesday)

Tuesday began with midnight fireworks. Persisting rumors of Marcos’s fall and flight prompted many to celebrate by exploding rockets and firecrackers.

Marcos’s two sons-in-law were supervising the packing of dozens of crates of family possessions, including hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold bullion and bonds, more than a million dollars worth of freshly printed pesos, as well as artifacts and jewels. Weeks earlier, a number of bulkier items, mainly large oil paintings and other works of art, had been packed and shipped out of the country at the direction of the First Lady.

Marcos was told by Paul Laxalt “to cut and cut cleanly” but still unable to accept the finality of it, Ferdinand called his labor minister, Blas Ople, an old ally, who was in Washington. Ople confirmed the overwhelmingly negative attitude there. As gently as he could, Ople asked why they did not simply leave. Ferdinand said it was Imelda’s idea – she was reluctant to go. “She is here beside me. She does not want to leave.”

The sun had barely risen. The Reformist generals were professionaly appalled at Cory’s announcement that she intended to hold the ceremony at Club Filipino, a suburban country club just a kilometer away from enemy lines.

Cory explained, “Camp Crame was the first place where Ninoy, where every political detainee was brought during the martial law years. Filipinos once lived in dread of being taken there. Today it may be a place of heroism, but unfortunately a lot of tortures, executions, and summary detentions took place there in the past. The second thing is, I have already told the people that I will be at Club Filipino, and I fully intend to keep my promise. I chose it because it is a neutral and public place. And I absolutely refuse to take a helicopter.”

The generals and advisers left to make whatever security arrangements they could.

Mr. Marcos phoned Enrile. The President asked, “How can we settle the problem?” Enrile said he didn’t know. Marcos said, “Why don’t we organize a provisional government. I shall remain as honorary President until 1987, because I would like to leave politics in a clean and orderly manner.” Enrile said he was not interested in power. “Besides, it’s too late because we have already committed our support to Mrs. Aquino.”

At 10:46am, Cory Aquino was sworn into office by Senior Supreme Court Justice Claudio Teehankee. Not one person in the huge crowd spoke, starting from the pause as Justice Teehankee stepped up to the rostrum, and as he read the words of the oath with quiet but forceful and solemn dignity, Cory answered in a similar tone.

As Justice Teehankee uttered the final words of the oath, a tremendous cheer broke loose from every throat. Flags waved, hats and bandannas were thrown into the air. Outside there was dancing in the streets.

11:55 AM, Chief Justice Ramon C. Aquino swore Ferdinand Marcos into officein Malacanan.

But in that afternoon, emerging from a lengthy high-level conference with other commanders of the New Armed Forces of the Philippines, including newly installed Chief of Staff Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, Defense Minister Enrile held a news conference and disclosed that beleaguered Ferdinand E. Marcos was seeking safe conduct for himself and his family. “There may be a possibility that a dialogue can be undertaken in a neutral area regarding the exit of the Marcos family.”

Cory Aquino received a phone call from US Ambassador Bosworth telling her that Marcos was ready to leave the Palace but was asking to stay for at least two days in Paoay, his home in the north. But MP Palma and others did not agree. They believed that given the chance, Marcos might regroup his forces or extend his stay indefinitely.

By 7:30pm, Two American helicopters from Clark touched down on the Pangarap golf course. The First Family made their get-away from the Reception Hall where all of them gathered during those final hours, down a flight of stairs to Heroes Hall, boarding the Presidential barge to cross the Pasig River till they reached the lawn of Malacañang Park where the two helicopters awaited them. All the names of those departing were cleared with Aquino, including the name of her cousin, the notorious crony Eduardo Cojuangco.

Ambassador Bosworth called Cory to say that Marcos had left. Cool as always, Cory turned to Palma and the others after she put the phone down. She said simply, “Marcos has left.” She said it as if it were the most ordinary thing. Everyone shouted jubilantly. Cory did not.

Dancing in the streets, of course, fireworks, horn-honking and drum-beating, laughing, crying and embracing. Monumental traffic jams. Thousands staged a victory march from Crame to Malacañang, and everywhere people occupied the streets in cathartic celebration.

When Cory Aquino went home that night after a hectic day, and placed her head on her pillow to claim the rest she had earned at the end of a long long trail, between the closing of her eyes and the coming of sleep, in that twilight zone of wakefulness where thoughts and plans and prayers dwell, perhaps her mind wandered back to some warm private moment of her life with Ninoy, and she must have whispered into the night, “You’re right, Ninoy. The Filipino is worth dying for.”

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