THE administration’s decision to stage the 28th EDSA anniversary commemoration in Cebu was designed to take the event out of the box of piety, and place it in a new box of relevance that is more reflective of the government’s new mantra of inclusion.
The plan to move venues was drafted by the EDSA People Power Commission chaired by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa.
The key considerations behind this perplexing strategy were perhaps the following:
1. The government was being hammered hard for its slow and ineffective response to the plight and suffering of the victims of last year’s typhoons and earthquake. So why not go to the lion’s den itself, and disarm the critics?
2. The annual Edsa celebration had lost much of its edge and excitement; perhaps the sight of Mahomet coming to the mountain might generate excitement and crowds.
3. A good number of Cabinet secretaries could accompany the president in the trip, so that the LGUs and local people will get the sense that initiatives will be acted on at once. The trip will raise the morale of both the people and the administration.
How the scenario played out
This was the scenario. But the script started to go off the rails at his first stop in Cebu City—the commemoration at the provincial capitol.
The event was supposed to highlight Cebu’s role in the EDSA revolt. Oddly, in his welcome remarks, Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide 3rd knew nothing about that role.
When it was his turn to deliver the keynote address, President Aquino discarded his prepared speech in the teleprompter. Instead, he told a lie. He made the preposterous claim that the EDSA revolt started in Cebu because his mother, President Corazon Aquino went to Cebu to start the civil disobedience campaign. He air-brushed Enrile, Ramos and Honasan out of the EDSA narrative.
Cebuanos thought that by hosting the celebration, they would receive in return a bonanza of projects from the government. “We got nothing,” Star columnist Bobit Avila wrote glumly about the Cebu extravagaza.
The situation was even more touchy during the press conference of the President. Although Aquino press conferences are heavily controlled, with journalists required to submit questions in advance, so that the President can be prepped with answers, this one got out of control.
Mr. Oscar Pineda of the Sunstar Cebu daily asked a question of the President that was not on the list that he submitted. He asked Aquino about the inadequate support for typhoon victims and the snail-paced rehabilitation effort in Northern Cebu.
Aquino talked lengthily on what his administration has done so far to assist Yolanda victims to get back on their feet. He questioned the veracity of Pineda’s assertions about what the administration has done.
The situation and the mood did not change when Aquino and party went to Leyte and Samar, the areas most ravaged by Yolanda. In Leyte, People Surge laid for him a stunning welcome. The streets and lampposts were festooned with violet ribbons, in stark and marked contrast to his cherished yellow.
Moving to Davao Oriental in Mindanao, Aquino was greeted by the news that one typhoon ravaged area was still without electricity, because of differences between the energy department and the budget department regarding funding. PNoy blew his top and threatened to fire the concerned Cabinet secretaries
To top it all, as PNoy left Mindanao, the entire island was plunged into a massive blackout, which no one could explain.
US role in Marcos’s ouster
As these little dramas were playing out in the South, Manila media was also filled with many stories and commentaries on the Edsa revolt.
One unintended consequence of the administration’s new strategy is that the media subjected the event to closer and wider scrutiny.
One theme that came out in bold relief was the role that the United States played in the fall of the government of President Marcos.
In his column in the Standard (“The Real EDSA Question,” 28 February, Manila Standard), former Sen. Kit Tatad raised the following points:
1. Senator Enrile informed in advance the US ambassador, Stephen Bosworth, about the plans of his group to withdraw support for President Marcos.
2. Despite President Reagan’s unwavering support for Marcos, the State Department and the Pentagon were determined to see Marcos out. They launched an elaborate effort to compel him to call a snap election, and to discredit him should he win that election.
3. When the Edsa revolt took place and the crowds started massing at EDSA, the Americans told Marcos not to use force under any circumstance, otherwise the US would intervene. Given this, Marcos restrained then AFP chief of staff Fabian Ver from taking military action in the EDSA standoff.
4. The Americans were mainly concerned about the future of the US bases in the Philippines. They were wary of Marcos. It was he who reduced the lease of the bases and set the end of the basing agreement in 1991. It was also Marcos who insisted that the Philippine flag be flown in Subic and Clark.
Tatad concludes his piece with the conjecture that Marcos could have stayed in power, had he assured the Americans that he would agree to an extension of the basing agreement.
Who won the ’86 snap election?
Another revealing take on 1986 events is the column of Tony Lopez in the Standard (“Setting the record straight on Edsa 1,” 28 February, Manila Standard).
Lopez, former Manila correspondent of Asiaweek, makes the following revelations:
1. Lopez attended the civil disobedience rally staged by Cory Aquino in Cebu in the afternoon of February 22,1986. While cory was speaking, word broke out among the foreign correspondents that Juan Ponce Enrile had staged a breakaway from Marcos. They then rushed to the airport to fly to Manila.
2. Lopez and company proceeded to Camp Aguinaldo upon arrival from Cebu. Te camp commander welcomed the foreign press with open arms. Enrile and Gringo had no troops at the time. Enrile had made a deal with Marcos—No shooting on the first night. Also, foreign correspondents were to be allowed inside Camp Aguinaldo.
Enrile and Ramos were giving an extended press conference. Lopez asked them if Cory Aquino called them up. Enrile said yes. “What can I do for you?” she asked. “Nothing, just pray,” Enrile replied.
3. Initially, Cory Aquino did not have any participation in the four-day People Power revolt of Feb. 22-25, 1986. She hid in a Cebu convent the first night. Enrile wanted to take over as President. But RAM wanted a more acceptable political figure — Cory.
4. In the recount of the votes in the snap election by Namfrel, after Cory took over, Marcos was shown as the real winner of the February 1986 snap election. Marcos did not win by two million votes, as canvassed by the Batasan, but by 800,000 votes as recounted by Namfrel.
So Corazon Aquino did not win the snap election. It was won by Ferdinand Marcos by a margin of 800,000 votes. In the Comelec-sanctioned official count, the legal and official winner was Marcos, by a margin of 1.7 million votes.
In sum, the new approach to the EDSA revolt may have fathered not only a new way of commemoration, but a new wave of research and interest to bring out the whole truth about the events of February 1986.
There is much material waiting to be declassified and mined. Who knows, there may be a CIA officer like Joseph B. Smith itching to tell all he knows about this historic period in our history.
Smith was the CIA man in Manila who disclosed the decisive role of the spy agency in President Magsaysay’s election in 1953, in his book, Portrait of a Cold Warrior (Putnam, 1976).