Our collective memories are not only short but malleable to the machinations of those who wanted to profit from the fall of the late dictator Mr. Marcos in 1986.
Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Gregorio Honasan and former President Fidel Ramos are not heroes of EDSA 1, but its villains. They were Marcos martial law implementers whose participation in the tortures and salvaging of the ‘enemies of the state’ provides anchor to Mrs. Marcos defense that her husband was not a butcher, but the soldiers under Ramos and Enrile.
Mr. Ramos had partially redeemed himself when he stood by the civilian government of Cory Aquino from the putschists led by Honasan and Enrile after the 1986 EDSA revolution. I said partial redemption because when he became president, his administration was tarred with the Amari land scandal.
“A golden opportunity presents to Enrile and Honasan today to redeem themselves. Both senators sit in judgment over the fate of Chief Justice Renato Corona who faces removal from office for betrayal of public trust, among others. Will they remain villains, or are they capable of standing for something that is bigger than themselves – flag, country and God!”
From my perspective, the real heroes of EDSA 1 were the thousands of civilians who occupied that long stretch of avenue from Guadalupe to Camp Crame to prevent the assault troops of Mr. Marcos from capturing that military facility where the mutinous soldiers had holed-up. Civilians who during martial law were occasional targets of torture and salvaging of the very soldiers now they were protecting from Marcos loyal troops in that four fateful days of February 1986. Let us honor this week those unsung faces at EDSA and not the bogus heroes long peddled in our psyche by the irresponsible media and their cheap practitioners.
TWO DAYS IN NOVEMBER
“Only nine days after Olalia’s death, military intelligence discovered another coup, now aimed at a full seizure of power. On November 21, a member of Class ’71 who had infiltrated RAM for General Ramos reported a clandestine alliance between Enrile and his erstwhile enemies, the Marcos loyalists. After a round of bombings and assassinations, RAM troops would, this double agent claimed, seize Manila while Marcos’s KBL party occupied the new parliament building to declare the February 1986 elections invalid, thereby dismissing President Aquino.
The intelligence was accurate and RAM was already engaged in last-minute preparations. Most importantly, their leader, Boy Turingan, approached General Ramos to join their coup. Instead, Ramos publicly affirmed his ‘unswerving loyalty’ to the president. Confusing his diffidence with indecisiveness, the rebels had failed to gauge the depth of his ‘commitment’ to civilian supremacy.
The plot began to unfold on November 22. Just after midnight, RAM rebels signaled the coup’s start by killing Ulbert Ulama Tugung, a Muslim leader who pledged to the president. Over the next few hours, General Ramos’s headquarters received reports of rebel troops converging on Manila: two battalions from Bicol under Colonel Vic Batac; and constabulary troops from the Cagayan Valley under Lieutenant Colonel Aguinaldo and Colonel Figueroa. At the Defense Ministry, Honasan had assembled a strike force of two hundred heavily armed troops, backed by ten scorpion tanks and several V-150 armored vehicles.
Throughout that long day, General Ramos countered their every move. When rebel troops mobilized in the morning, the chief of staff moved his forces into blocking positions to deny Honasan access to tanks and aircrafts under Defense Ministry control. With the rebels, the coup became a telephone battle for the loyalty of uncommitted troops, still the bulk of the armed forces. By evening, Ramos was ready for a counterattacked and ordered all troops in the capital to don full battle gear.
At Fort Bonifacio, army chief Canieso, long courted by Honasan, sided firmly with the president. Instead of giving the go signal for a coup, he confronted the three battalion commanders, all RAM activists, readying troops for the rebel attack. “If you move,” said General Caniesco, “I will fight you.” The attack stalled.
The coup collapsed shortly after midnight, only twenty-seven hours after it began. Realizing that they ‘were completely boxed in,’ the rebel troops began returning to barracks by 3:00 A.M. By dawn on Sunday, Ramos had won.
After a sleepless night, the president convened her cabinet, minus Enrile, at 8:00 A.M. She called him to the palace six hours later and demanded his resignation. Her face drawn with fatigue and tension, she told a national television audience that she had fired Enrile and in his place appointed his deputy, General Rafael Ileto. In coming days, to placate the armed forces, the president balanced these moves by dismissing four leftist cabinet ministers and downgrading her commitment to human rights.
Within hours, RAM troops rallied at the Defense Ministry in full battle gear and posted snipers on the roof. Through his friendship with Gringo Honasan, the son of his PMA classmate, Defense Minister Ileto convinced the rebels to withdraw without a fight. Then, Ileto began to dismantle the power and personnel that Enrile had amassed in his seventeen years in office, quietly removing nearly five hundred officers and the ten tanks housed at the ministry for some future coup. “When I took over here, this building was a snake pit full of his people,” Ileto later recalled. “If I had done it any other way except transferring his people out slowly, they would have killed me.”
Although Aquino had fired Enrile, she was surprisingly lenient toward his RAM subalterns and reassigned them to new posts – in retrospect, an unwise decision. Honasan became commander in the Special Forces school at Fort Magsaysay, and Kapunan opted to become instructor at the PMA. Both posts gave the RAM leaders control over young, idealistic trainees, the ideal recruits for later coup attempts.
After a plebiscite approved her constitution in February 1987, President Aquino finally won the legitimacy to weather future coups. Her rival, Enrile campaigned hard for rejection and predicted an overwhelming ‘no’ vote – thus making this plebiscite a de facto presidential referendum. But even this victory held seeds of trouble. While 76 per cent of the electorate voted to approve ‘Cory’s Constitution,’ 58 per cent of the military rejected it. A survey of active-duty PMA alumni found that 51 percent voted no and only 35 percent yes. Clearly, there was still sufficient discontent within the ranks to fuel future coups. (Alfred McCoy, Closer Than Brothers, p. 273-75).