Watching Senator Gringo Honasan interpellating Secretary of Justice Lila De Lima during the impeachment trial of CJ Renato Corona yesterday about affording even a lowly citizen his constitutional rights to life, liberty and property as the very basis of the existence of any government gave me goose pimples. Rolando Olalia must be twisting in his grave!
God Save The Queen
“As the new constitution took final form in November 1986, RAM officers mounted their first real coup, the twisted “God Save The Queen” plot aimed at reducing Aquino to a figurehead in their military regime. In its study of six major coups, the Davide Commission called this plot ‘the most dangerous threat to the Aquino government, if it had been executed as planned – a chain-of-command takeover.”
The rebels began counting the commanders of the army, air force, and Marines in the weeks before the coup. Instead of captains or colonels, RAM would rely upon generals at the apex of the command. Many senior officers were nervous about Aquino’s pursuit of human rights violations, and many more were suspicious of the leftist in her cabinet.
Few troops actually moved during these weeks of tension. Rather than conventional assault, the RAM leaders inspired by their experience in torture and black operations crafted a coup that fused psychological warfare, terror, and feint. As veterans of such unconventional combat under Marcos, RAM’s psy-war tacticians, Captain Rex Robles and Colonel Vic Batac, were subtle in their manipulations of both myth and media to prepare the public for the president’s overthrow. Assigned to Minister Enrile’s Special Study Group in the mid-1970s, Rebels, for example, had produced black propaganda against Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino for the 1978 elections.
At the meeting in the defense ministry during September 1986, the RAM colonels had planned a preparatory phase of terror to shake the public confidence and propaganda to discredit President Aquino. Two years later, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) would report that these officers had plotted ‘surgical operations by death squads, namely the liquidation of selected targets to destabilize the Aquino government.” A member of the rebel planning group, Captain Ricardo Morales, later revealed that, “The first phase was assassination. Assassination, not capture, of high ranking government officials in cabinet level. Some were identified with the left, some of them were there simply because RAM did not like their faces.” To prepare for these hits, RAM agents commenced surveillance of selected targets, notably labor leader Rolando Olalia.
The RAM colonels juxtaposed past and present in their psy-war campaign, manipulating collective memory of the 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing and the 1986 people power uprising – the omega and alpha of Philippine democracy. In contrast to the visually eclectic Gringo persona, this propaganda was textual and specifically historic. In effect, the RAM colonels, using psy-war skills learned under Marcos, were fixing a historiography frame for political change.
As an opening tactic, RAM’s leaders began claiming credit for Marcos’s overthrow, a clear signal, within the rhetoric of the day, for the president to concede some power. As head of the revolutionary regime, Aquino’s authority rested on her symbolic leadership of “people power” and the primacy of this mass uprising in the dictator’s downfall. To attack this fragile legitimacy, RAM leaders jettisoned past denials of their coup plot against Marcos and now, in countless media interviews, proclaimed their coup’s catalytic role in his downfall. As one veteran observer explained, the group “decided to revise EDSA history by claiming they handed victory over to Mrs. Aquino at EDSA, and therefore deserved to be partners in a ruling coalition. On October 21, Enrile met privately with Aquino to demand a share of power and a cabinet shake-up. One Manila newspaper noted that “some of the ministers who RAM wants removed included former human rights campaigners.” She refused.
In response, RAM escalated its campaign with an eerily evocative terror. In the days that followed Enrile’s demands, three bombs exploded around Manila, a grenade was shoot into Aquino’s campaign headquarters, and gunmen fired into a crowded Wendy’s restaurant. “We seem to have been transported in a time capsule to the early 1970s,’ the Manila Chronicle editorialized, “when President Marcos was inciting the people against the Communists and when bombs were exploding at public buildings.”
As these blasts reverberated, RAM revived the memory of the Plaza Miranda bombing, seeking to implicate President Aquino’s martyred husband, Ninoy, in an act of terror that still resonated within the collective consciousness. Fifteen years before, in August 1971, grenades had exploded during an election-eve rally at Plaza Miranda, the symbolic center of popular democracy, killing nine and wounding eighty-five. With the exception of Senator Ninoy Aquino, who was still en route, all opposition Senate candidates were injured, several seriously. In the emotionally charged aftermath, rumor blamed President Marcos and he, in turn, denounced the communists publicly and accused Senator Aquino privately, giving his tardiness a sinister cast. If the bombing was not, as most Filipinos thought, done by Marcos to prepare for martial law, might it not have been a plot by Ninoy Aquino and the communists? In one blow, RAM’s propaganda could both destroy Ninoy’s martyrdom, the ideological foundation of his widow’s government, and justify an anticommunist junta.
RAM’s leaders circulated rumors of Ninoy Aquino’s involvement in the bombing for several months before their coup. At a social gathering of journalists in July 1986, for example, Colonel Kapunan poured himself a large scotch, turned the conversation to Plaza Miranda, and took the table into his confidence about secrets gleaned as an intelligence officer in 1971. “He interviewed Senator Aquino’s driver,” I wrote in my notebook later that night, “who stated that Ninoy had given him instructions to delay his approach to Plaza Miranda and that Ninoy seemed determined to arrive late. RK (Red Kapunan) interprets this fact to mean that Ninoy and the CPP (Communists Party of the Philippines) planned the bombing.
As their November coup approached, RAM’s chief propaganda Captain Robles, planned to use an incriminating document about Plaza Miranda as the detonator in their destabilization campaign. Through connections and coincidence, Robles had gained possession of a sensational letter from Lieutenant Colonel Victor Corpus blaming the Communist Party for the bombing.
The letter began its journey into the captain’s hands one morning in August 1986 when the colonel turned up unannounced at the home of Jose “Pete” Lacaba, a writer working on a feature film titled The Victor Corpus Story. A true-to-life account, the script recounted how a young Lieutenant Corpus had defected to the communist guerillas in 1970 and fought with them for several years until his capture. Now Corpus pleaded for a major rewrite, saying the film should end with his surrender, not his capture. To press his case, Corpus handed over a letter addressed “Dear Pete,” explaining why he had surrendered. “I was present when some leaders of the (Communist) Party headed by Joema (Jose Ma. Sison) plotted the bombing of the LP (Liberal Party) rally at Plaza Miranda,” he wrote. “Why did the Party leadership order the bombing… where so many innocent civilians were killed and wounded?” Angry at his communist comrades over the bombing, Corpus had “contacted a PMA classmate” and surrendered himself to the Military Security Unit.”
Despite the officer’s characteristic sincerity, scriptwriter Lacaba was unconvinced. “When Vic told me that story in 1986,” he recalled, “I was dismissive because I thought that was just some black propaganda from the military.” Feeling the issue dangerously volatile, Lacaba handed back the letter. Several days later, Corpus mentioned the incident to his superior, Captain Robles, who warned him that Lacaba was an active communist and the letter would surely reach the party. Fearing that his life was at risk, Corpus made multiple copies and deposited them with friends, the captain included.
On November 3, as RAM’s coup plans firmed, Captain Robles called Corpus to his office and tried to draw him into the coup plot by revealing its details. Corpus asked, “What about people’s power?” Robles answered, “We’ll fire a few bursts of automatic weapons, and when bodies start falling, people will flee.” If the defense minister refused to support the coup, then Robles had a pistol ‘set aside just for Enrile.’ The attempt to recruit this former communist for a rightwing coup was remarkably misguided. Without hesitation, Corpus reported this meeting to his superior, General Renato de Villa, the constabulary chief loyal to General Ramos.
The following day, November 4, Enrile convened a meeting of senior officers sympathetic to the plot at the home of Marine commandant, General Brigido Paredes. They agreed to use a “commando team to raid Malacanang, capture President Aquino, and pressure her to yield the powers of the presidency.” Enrile set the coup date for a week, hence, on the eve of the president’s departure for Japan on a state visit.
November 7 was a turning point in this game of generals. Showing the power of propaganda in this volatile period, the administration’s first countermeasure was a press leak. After days of speculation about General Ramos’s loyalty, the morning newspapers headlined his warning that “military adventurist” should not attempt their surgical operation” – a clear reference to the impending coup. As a constabulary press conference later that day, Victor Corpus blamed the Communist Party for Plaza Miranda, seeking to blunt the impact of the “Dear Pete letter” that RAM was already leaking to the media. Afterward, General Luis Villareal, chief of military intelligence, began revealing a second, “Dear Rex letter” that Corpus had just written to Captain Robles. “The night of Nov. 3 when we met in your office was perhaps the most frightful day of my life,” Corpus wrote. “When you asked me to join your coup attempt (my part being to expose the Plaza Miranda Bombing incident… to trigger a crisis and start the ball rolling for the coup), I was shocked to say the least.” Later that day, General Ramos played this letter as a trump card in a meeting with Enrile that seemed to give the defense minister pause.
Only hours before her departure for Tokyo several days later, president denounced the plotters and called for people power to fight any coup. Angered by her attacked, Enrile ordered his RAM followers to raise the inverted flag of revolt over the Defense Ministry. A tense standoff ensured for the next two days as Honasan massed eight hundred troops and ten armored vehicles inside Camp Aguinaldo. Finally, General Ramos and his four service commanders called personally Enrile to break the deadlock. When Army Chief Rodolfo Canieso (PMA ’56) declared that the ‘whole AFP would take measures in favor of the government,” Enrile backed down, promising that he would not attack.
As their plot stalled, RAM used terror to regain momentum. Responding to the president’s call for people power, labor leader Rolando Olalia had declared that his million members would fight any coup. Two days later, November 13, his body was found in a Manila suburb. One journalist noted signs of salvaging: “the mutilated face, the empty sockets from which the eyes had been gouged, the mouth set in scream of pain, the bound hands, and the absence of trousers.” His driver’s body was discovered some distance away near a roadside. An autopsy found six bullets in Olalia, four in the driver.
In the following months, a police task force found evidence implicating RAM. The first break came on the day of the killing, when police found Olalia’s car, white Mitsubishi Lancer, abandoned in Quezon City. After months of work, an investigator located a missing car seat at a repair shop in Nueva Vizcaya province stained with type B blood, the same as the victim’s. A mechanic claimed that a defense Ministry agent named Gilberto Galicia had left the seat for safekeeping. In February 1988, the NBI finally arrested Galicia, discovering that he had worked as Enrile’s aide and maintained a provincial safe house for Honasan and Kapunan. Under interrogation, the suspect implicated two RAM officers, Lieutenant Colonel Oscar “Tito” Legaspi (PMA ’79), commander of Enrile’s security, and Commander Elpidio S. Layson (USNA ’75), a navy officer assigned to Isabela Province. On February 19, NBI Director J. Antonio Carpio presented Galicia to a packed press conference, announcing that RAM was responsible for Olalia murder. Prosecutors filed murder charges against the rebel leadership — Legaspi, Honasan, Kapunan, and Robles.
The investigation also uncovered evidence linking the group to another destabilization exercise. On November 15, only two days after Olalia’s death, Mitsui executive Nobuyuki Wakaoji was kidnapped and held for 137 days until his company paid $3 million ransom. The NBI’s Manila Director, Salvador Ranin, later charged ‘the Wakaoji kidnapping was done by the RAM to embarrass (then President Corazon) Aquino who was scheduled to go to Japan for a state visit.” One business analyst later commented that the kidnapping “effectively shut off the country from massive migration of Japanese investments into Asia.”
If RAM was indeed guilty of murder and kidnapping, what were its motives? After a prolonged inquiry, the Davide Commission reported that these were “simulated events… to effect the tense and unstable atmosphere for a coup.”(Closer Than Brothers by Alfred W. McCoy, p. 268-73).