Senator and vice-presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos recently claimed that the 1986 EDSA People Power revolt was “American inspired.” Speaking on ABS-CBN radio to respected broadcast journalist Karen Davila, Bongbong recalled how he was witness to several back-and-forth exchanges between his father and US Ambassador to the Philippines, Stephen Bosworth. “Ako, nasa Palasyo ako nung panay ang message ni Ambassador Stephen Bosworth sa father ko na ganito, ganyan dapat gawin. Ang sinasabi ko lang, involved sila.” (Translated: “Me, I was at the Palace when Ambassador Stephen Bosworth was constantly sending messages to my father that this, that should be done. What I’m just saying is, they were involved.”)
It’s a fact that the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino on August 21, 1983 marked a major turning point in US policy toward the Philippines. By November 1984, Washington had become extremely concerned by the deepening civil unrest and the government’s failure to bring Aquino’s killers to justice. Serious pressure was put on Marcos to enact political, economic and military reforms to “counter the communist insurgency.” When US intelligence reported massive fraud in the February 7, 1986 elections, which Marcos was declared to have won, Washington drew a red line.
US President Ronald Reagan had known Marcos since 1969 and was sympathetic toward the man the US valued as an important ally. But, in a statement made public on February 15, Reagan condemned the election. The stream of communications from Reagan’s advisers to Marcos, pressing for a peaceful transition, became increasingly blunt. As one diplomat put it, “the screws were really tightened” (New York Times, Feb. 26, 1986).
Is EDSA, then, the product of an American-made conspiracy as Bongbong claims? Hardly. The sequence of events, as they unfolded over three tense days and nights, could not be further from Bongbong’s outlandish fantasy.
His claim is an insult to all Filipinos who risked their lives at EDSA and an attempt to belittle the momentous People Power revolt against his father’s regime.
As is well-known, on February 22, a small group of military rebels headed by Marcos’ Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, and constabulary chief, Lieutenant General Fidel V. Ramos, attempted a coup. Headquartered in Manila’s military Camp Aguinaldo and adjoining Camp Crame, the rebels demanded that Marcos resign. Is there any evidence to show their actions were at the instigation of Washington? None.
Marcos responded by mobilizing troops to crush the mutiny. Broadcasting over the Catholic-run radio station Veritas, Cardinal Sin appealed to the general public to block Marcos’ troops and protect the rebels. Was the Cardinal acting at the behest of Washington? No.
Heeding the call, more than a million people — nuns, priests, ordinary citizens, children — massed on the broad highway called EDSA. In an extraordinary show of non-violent confrontation, people bravely put their bodies before tanks and appeased heavily armed soldiers with food and camaraderie. As military defections rose, the dynamics of the demonstrations shifted. The aim was no longer just to protect the rebels. People were there to end the Marcos dictatorship. This assembly in the streets effectively stripped Marcos of his mandate and legitimized his successor, Corazon Aquino, who took her oath of office at the Club Filipino, just a few blocks from the crowds. Did Washington have a hand in any of this? No.
Back in Malacañang Palace, Marcos was sleepless. The latest message he’d received from the US State Department unequivocally wanted him to step down. It is now February 24th, a Monday night. Imelda has prepared a range of stunning outfits for inauguration celebrations she thinks will last a few days. Bongbong, at 28 years old, is mature enough and informed enough to know what is going on. He hangs around in haute couture combat fatigues waiting to see what Dad will do. Everyone, in fact, wants to know what Marcos’ next move will be.
Marcos telephones Washington and gets to speak with Paul Laxalt, a Republican senator from Nevada, with whom he has long enjoyed a good rapport. In a conversation lasting around 20 minutes, Marcos asks in vain about ways in which he can stay in power, including the chance of sharing power with Corazon Aquino. He could help her secure loans from the International Monetary Fund or fight the communists, he pleads. He worries about life in the US and fears harassment. He wants to know if he can stay in the Philippines, perhaps in Ilocos. He doesn’t want to die in exile, he whines. He wants assurances that if the new government took over, he and his family, and his close associates, would not be harmed. “He was a desperate man, grasping at straws,” Laxalt thought. (Washington Post, Feb 26, 1986).
In the meantime, Bosworth is busy keeping in touch with the Marcos side, the Aquino supporters, and the military rebels. To Enrile and Ramos he stresses America’s wish for a peaceful transition. He assures the Marcoses that the US is ready to offer them all a safe haven, and promises medical aid to Marcos who suffers from kidney problems. Perhaps it is these communications that Bongbong overhears, which are burned into his memory.
Marcos calls Laxalt for a second and final time. It’s around dawn on Tuesday 25 February, 1986. In this phone call, the Dictator who ruled the country with an iron fist for almost 20 years, asks the senator from Nevada what he should do. “Cut and cut cleanly. The time has come.” Laxalt replies.
That evening, at 7:15pm Manila time, Marcos takes the decision to leave the Palace and relinquish office. There is a last minute request from Marcos who begs to be allowed to remain in the Philippines, “somewhere out of sight.” The message is relayed to Ramos, via Bosworth. The request is denied.
Four US helicopters arrive soon after, and, under the cover of darkness, ignominiously scramble the Marcoses out of the country.