IT’S that time of year when Edsa’86 veterans again validate what the Durants say: All autobiography is vanity. This week, I recall two RAM elders, Col. Joe Almonte and Col. Eugene Ocampo. The latter perished early on and was in no position to be vain. Last we talked in 1987, he said he no longer understood what RAM was for, insisting that military and civilian authority was at par. Now, the Inquirer said the other day that RAM said: “We won.”
It seemed to me the brave, audacious but trapped, doomed coup plotters had lost, waiting to be barbecued, until the People rescued them. Not RAM, but PEOPLE POWER then. We owe Joe Almonte and Eugene plenty but I never heard JoeAl criticize RAM in any of their failed coups, and in murdering Ka Lando Olalia and his driver in 1986 (trial pending?).
Feb. 25 was about the triumph of the Parliament of the Streets via People Power at Edsa. Feb. 22 was about Soldier Powerlessness. Some ask where Cory Aquino was during those four days of 1986. She was there on Sept. 23, 1972, and never left. For crying out loud.
Vain I was Present at the Creation. The failed putschists had bravely planned to attack the Palace; instead, exposed, they retreated to the camps where they were rescued by Cardinal Sin, Butz Aquino, and the PEOPLE.
My own narcissistic ‘memoir’
Feb. 22, 1986, Saturday. Lunch with the US charge d’affaires Philip Kaplan in Forbes. Philip Habib (Reagan’s special envoy) had just flown home. I was then spokesman of candidate and Prez-elect Cory, who had told Habib, “I won, and I will take power.” I went to Cojuangco Bldg., our headquarters. Eggie Apostol and Teddy Benigno had called about the unlikely commotion at Edsa. Cory was in Cebu. Was it what RAM was telling us the year before (Aug. 1, our first meet)? That night, my ever-loving wife and I drove around — in our battered “masillaed” Ford Cortina — the Edsa camps and saw little activity. On radio, Eddie, Johnny, Cardinal Sin and Butz Aquino asked for help. I did not go, heeding the advice that the presence of the mouthpiece could be mischaracterized. Lutong Macao? The Left stayed away. An air of unreality. On Radio Veritas, Roy Golez and Justice Nestor Alampay made their electrifying defection announcements. I called Cebu; Miguel Perez Rubio said all hands were safe.
Feb. 23, 1986, Sunday. Dulce and I went to Sunday Mass early and shopped for the possible long haul ahead (boycotting crony products). I went back to Cojuangco Bldg.. Joker Arroyo, Raul Contreras, Ed Zialcita, et al., said: “Thou shalt not go to Edsa.” I strained at the leash. Cory earlier flew back from Cebu to Manila. I prevailed on Joker to let me go to Edsa. So off we went, with my Dulce, and Fely Aquino, to Camp Crame. Butz Aquino was dozing off in a Beetle along Edsa. Mario Raymundo had the mic at the camp gate. Ed Ermita stressed that the civilian component led by Cory and Doy Laurel should move in. Power abhors a vacuum.
Toward dusk, the tanks and APCs turned around to the relief of the cheering throng. I saw Rod Reyes at eventide, in Crossing; he said that, for Marcos, it was all over, which the foreign press echoed.
Feb. 24, 1986. June Keithley ruled the radio airwaves. There was very early-morning cheering at Cojuangco Building. Makati’s confetti canyons were agog at word that the Marcoses had fled. False alarm, but there was no stopping now the tsunami of history. I joined Cory about mid-morning in Wack-Wack. Over her security’s vigorous objections, she insisted on speaking at Edsa, at the POEA Bldg. My Dulce joined Sid Hildawa in speaking to a group.
Sotelo and Hotchkiss were on everyone’s lips as they defected and landed in Crame.
Cory and Doy met with opposition leaders (e.g. Sen. Lorenzo Tanada, Ka Celing Palma) in his Mandaluyong manse. We later moved to Speaker Pepito Laurel’s place nearby. By then, Channel 4 was ours. I drafted Proclamation No. 1, assisted by Neptali Gonzales, Raul Gonzalez and Nick Jacob. I helped prepare Executive Order No. 1. I crafted the unconventional oaths of office of Cory and Doy, assisted by Louie Villafuerte (he had suggested that we arm ourselves, saying that Marcos would be capable of “one last act of madness”).
The inauguration was supposed to take place that evening in Club Filipino. I had asked management whether the Club would be willing to host the affair. The directors were all at Edsa, led by Dr. Ramon Suter, club president, who said, through Marquitos Roces, “Yeees!” I had talked with Ms. Remedios Morco, the operations manager, to tell her Cory might hold office there. Yeees! Someone called to say that Club would be bombed. The response: “Make our day!” We had mastered the art of pretending not to fear. The staff slept there to be around for the inauguration early the next day.
When the idea of a February 24 oath-taking was junked, I went back to Club to face the disappointed throng expecting to see Cory and Doy that night. Back at Wack-Wack, Cory, Uncle Jovy, Jimmy Ongpin, Teddy Boy Locsin and I picked the first Cabinet members. I went back to Doy’s residence. Lito Puyat lent me his driver and car. At home, Marcos, on TV, called me a commie, saying I had been seen raising a red flag somewhere with one Ed Salandanan. Pathetic.
Feb. 25, 1986. Inauguration Day in Club Filipino. Cory had said earlier “no” to an oath-taking in a military camp. Eddie and Johnny arrived rather late but flashed the Laban sign and gamely sang “Bayan Ko.” The speech Teddy Boy drafted the night before for Cory had been misplaced; he rushed a new one on the spot. We had lunch, courtesy of Ruby Borja in her nearby Takayama Restaurant. We saw on TV the inauguration in the Palace which was cut off as Col. Mariano Santiago captured Channel 4. That afternoon, Cory named Joker as executive secretary, and me as her spokesman. Stunned, speechless we looked down at our shoes; we got a lecture. Nag-alboroto ang ale. Nakupo! No transition period when just maybe I could have extricated myself.
Steve Psinakis called me from San Francisco to say that Marcos would be flown out. Secretary George Shultz, on TV, confirmed what the US envoy earlier relayed to Cory. Just as I had said in my presscons, there was to be dancing in the streets while the world’s imagination was baffled by the riveting facts.
Edsa’86 was caught on international cable TV. The first of its kind was the four-day Carnation Revolution of April 15, 1974 in Portugal. Colonels had also triggered it. Only four were killed like in ours. Women also placed flowers (carnations) in the muzzles of the guns of soldiers who could not fire on their own people. Sorry for Portugal. No CNN at the time, when we asked what we could do for the country (we fervently sang “ang mamatay ng dahil sa ‘yo” and meant it, like the 14 Spartan SAF Cordillerans), not what the country could do for us.
In the Siege of the Alcazar, Colonel Jose Moscardo was told by phone by his captive son, Luis, 16, on July 23, 1936, that, if he would not surrender in ten minutes, the foe would execute him, and asked what he should do.
Pa said, “Then commend your soul to God, cry Viva Cristo Rey! Viva España! And die like a patriot. The Alcazar does not surrender. Good-bye my son.”
Luis: “That I can do. Good-bye.” The true spirit of Edsa’86, which was not about claiming credit. Some saw it as the beginning of the end. Churchill might have said it was the end of the beginning. We could have put in more bricks in our national cathedral were it not for RAM which mounted many failed coups, beginning with the botched Feb. 22, 1986 sortie.