People Power, the US, and Marcos’ final hours

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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.

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20 Comments

  1. Felix Servidad on

    After 30 yrs. Of the so called Edsa revolution, if the leaders started from Cory up to present time are not corrupt the Philippines should be more progressive than it was before when these leaders took over. Look around us, our #1 problem is poverty, inequality is the main reason because of greed. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. This coming election in may the oligarchs will again finance the election campaign of the candidates to make sure that they ( oligarchs ) will again in control. Let me put it this way, the car is the elected officials and
    the oligarchs controls the wheel.

  2. Did either Benigno S. Aquino,Jr. + or Salvador Laurel + , both now deceased and former Senators, apologize for their father’s roles in Occupied Manila 1942 to 1945 ? No.

    • Felix Servidad on

      Yeah the grand fathers of pnoy and mar Roxas were a Japanese
      collaborator during world war 11. They’re worst than Marcos,
      They are traitors.

  3. I think what the author trying to say is a figment of her imagination. when she say perhap about what bongbong means, it only portrait of her ignorant of the what transpired before and she hope we can accept what she says. SORRY MAM HINDI DAPAT GANYAN.. dont feed us wrong information please.

  4. Well, it is a fact that US has influence in every major political event in the country, F16 died over Malacanan during 86 fake revolution, US support give confidence to the mutineers and power grabber yellowish people..Ver asked Marcos to bomb Crame or Edsa but Marcos refused, it was a fact broadcast televised, now if that was not humane, what would we call Marcos Sr…!!

  5. lorenzo Tiglaw on

    From the WWII heroism to the tasadays, and now, EDSA as an American invention, – The Marcoses and their loyalists are liar-to-the-bones!

  6. Noel Barrameda on

    A sour time in the history of the Philippines. America made the decision, not the people.

  7. Bert O. Romero on

    The diffusion of power in the US in policy and decision making on international issues had never been more apparent than in the handling of Marcos during the last days of February 1986 popularized as the EDSA revolution. The White House because of the Reagans’ personal friendship with Marcos and Imelda and Reagan’s ultra conservative stance on the need to preserve the American bases as an anti-communism foil continued to support Marcos till the very end. When asked in a forum at the San Francisco World Affairs Council on 20 February 1986 if the Reagan administration will continue to prop the Marcos dictatorship despite reports of the latter’s reported cheating in the recently concluded elections, then Secretary of State , George Shultz, unhesitatingly replied that reports of election shenanigans were committed by both sides ( San Francisco Examiner, 21 February 2006).
    Some members of Congress, however, exemplified by the late Congressman Stephen Solarz of New York were militant in their condemnation of Marcos and who was in fact the US – based anti-Marcos steak commandos’ link with the American foreign policy establishment. These steak commandos believed that like Vietnam, the Philippines would fall if Marcos’ support by the US is removed.
    From various accounts of the February 22-25 withdrawal of support by Enrile , Ramos
    and RAM, it appears the American foreign policy establishment both in PH and in US was fully informed of the four-day upheaval . For one, why did Israel allow the importation by Enrile of Ghalil and USI submachine guns, the distinctive armory sported by RAM distinguishing them from the other members of the AFP? It could have been done only wit the intervention of the US.
    Till the very end, Marcos tried to negotiate for his exile to Paoay ( The Reagan Diaries, 2007) but Reagan supported Cory Aquino’s objection to Marcos’ request fearing the possibility of a civil war in case Marcos was allowed to stay in the Philippines.
    In conclusion, Cory and her admirers – Pimentel, Mitra, Cuenco, etc were all in Cebu monitoring Manila developments from inside the walls of a convent- should be the last to claim authorship of the EDSA upheaval .

  8. wannabe analyst on

    A very shallow reasoning of Marcos Jr. based on NOTHING, that the Americans influenced the 1986 EDSA Power Revolt. The Americans only wanted the family to leave the country and they provided them the means for safe passage. Throughout the history of nations, people revolt against their government because they wanted a CHANGE. The basic fundamental change that the Filipino people at that time was the restoration of DEMOCRACY, and until now, Filipino people still paying for the loans stolen by their family, made under the Philippine government. The couple used to go overseas, asking for loans. Ferdie used to go begging, while Imelda goes shopping.

    Marcos Jr. and the whole family also aware that their wealth were came from the Filipino people during their father’s regime (it is a common knowledge). These wealth have not made it back to the BSP, nor the victims under his father’s regime were compensated, as of yet.

  9. J. Perkins Economic Hitman…read and ask FVR, JPE Mr. R. Tiglao and F Tatad..u will be surprised about how big u need more to know and how outlandish you are to just dismiss BBM. They’re still alive go and ask these insiders.

    • Yeah!,,And Ms.Reyes everything that you’ve written here can be read in a lot of published reports,,anything new that you can at least add to those?

  10. Franck Frego on

    Well I don’t know who you are, but I read many other stories that are far from your scenario.

    Were you there in the Palace?

    • Please ask the people during that time who were picked up and suffered. Marcos may not be totally blamed for that, the military too, but martial law gave them the power and the beginning of total suppression of rights began. Bongbong could be a good man, I haven’t seen him to be involved in any human rights suppression. Who knows, he could be president one day too. But the rule of his father had many negative stories to tell, most directly from those who were tortured. I believe they won in their claim for renumeration for their sufferings, I am not just sure how the money was distributed among them because there are those who were not lucky to survive.

  11. American inspired? No. American approved, certainly. I watched from the US and was
    so excited when the revolt was over and Marcos was gone. It’s astonishing to me that people here keep electing that family to high positions.

    • Marcos has a lot of followers specially Ilocanos that is willing to die for him. They are just blinded like Filipinos that voted for Imelda, Imee, Bong Bong. A lot of Filipinos owe the Marcoses their wealth they amassed during Marcos time. My neighbor is an Ilocano and a presidential security of Marcos. The details reported was fairly accurate but he was not privy with Marcos telephone calls to the American politicians. He was in Malacanang but the calls were held private. What he is saying was the Marcos family was not prepared to leave.

  12. You have a distorted view of History and reality. History will be kinder to the Marcos’ and all those who maligned them will face the wrath of God. There will be retributions.

    • All my classmates in UP that were arrested during the declaration of Martial Law I have not seen after that dreadful night in the dormitories in Yakal and Narra dorms in UP. Only God knows who is to be blame but those students sacrifice their lives to satisfy the hunger for power of Pres. Marcos. I hope you were there. Their families will never see their sons alive.