1986 EDSA People Power revolt averted civil war

By Ben Cal

MANILA, Feb. 23 (PNA) — The Philippines would have been plunged into a civil war had the military-backed EDSA People Power Revolution in February 1986 failed.

The four-day bloodless military-civilian uprising abruptly wrote finis to the one-man rule of then President Ferdinand E. Marcos who stepped down from Malacanang and fled to Clark Air Base in Pampanga before he was flown to Hawaii, together with members of his family and close aides.

But just in case the uprising would be crushed, the military rebels led by then Defense Minister and now Senator Juan Ponce Enrile and Armed Forces vice chief of staff and concurrent Constabulary chief Maj. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, who later was elected as the 12th President of the Philippines, would implement Plan “B” by fleeing to Northern Luzon, particularly in Cagayan Valley where they would mount a protracted guerrilla warfare.

Prominent military officers-turned-rebels who called themselves Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) were then Army Col. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, PC Col. Tirso Gador, Air Force Col. Eduardo Kapunan, Air Force pilot Col. Tito Legazpi, Army Maj. Noe Ong, among others, formed the core group of the military rebels.

Yongyong Afable, a civilian member of RAM and former spokesman of Enrile, related to the Philippines News Agency an account on what transpired during the four-day people power revolution that electrified the world.

But many believed that the triumphed at EDSA ’86 was due to Divine intervention.

With the military rebel forces outnumbered and lacking in guns and bullets to defend themselves, they have practically no match against an onslaught by government forces loyal to Marcos.

But by Divine intervention, outspoken Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin was awakened from his sleep on the night of Feb. 22, 1986 by one of his subordinates and informed that Enrile and Ramos need his help as they have mounted a rebellion against Marcos.

Without hesitation, Cardinal Sin went over the radio to call on the people to go to EDSA (Epifanio delos Santos Avenue) to protect the Enrile-Ramos forces from being attacked by Marcos loyalist troops.

People from all walks of life spontaneously heeded the urgent call of Cardinal Sin and went to EDSA en mass to protect the military rebels from being harmed.

Despite the risk of being killed or wounded, it was the only strategy to persuade Marcos forces from attacking the military rebels entrenched in Camp Aguinaldo and later in Camp Crame.

From an initial number of a few thousands in the early evening of Feb. 22, 1986, the crowd ballooned to an estimated two million people during the four-day (Feb. 22-25, 1986) bloodless revolt that eventually forced Marcos and his family to flee from Malacanang.

Afable attended RAM secret meetings that enabled him to know RAM’s plans.

As early as 1981, RAM made known of its existence at the graduation rites of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) as members of PMA Class 1971 carried placards calling for reforms in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

In fact, Marcos saw with his own eyes the RAM’s demand for reforms and was a bit bothered. There were reports that Marcos later asked his chief security officer, Maj. Gen. Fabian Ver what RAM was all about.

Ver, then commander of the Presidential Security Command (PSC), reportedly dismissed any threat posed by RAM.

With Ver’s assurance, Marcos apparently was placated and took RAM’s demand for reforms as non-issue.

All the while from 1981 when RAM went public at the PMA graduation, the group regularly met at the Ministry of National Defense (MND), AFP General Headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo and other military camps in Metro Manila without being worried from being stopped. But still the RAM boys were extra careful so that theri motive would not be detected, Afable said.

Afable said that unknown to the AFP hierarchy, many AFP officers and enlisted men, including members of the intelligence community, particularly the Intelligence Service of the AFP (ISAFP) were part of RAM.

They were all tight-lipped about what were discussed during RAM meetings.

Had the authorities discovered RAM’s agenda early, it would have been nipped in the bud and they would all be arrested, Afable said.

But after over four years of existence, it was only then that Malacanang uncovered RAM’s plan of a coup in the offing.

“Nabisto na,” Afable said, referring to the discovery by authorities of RAM’s plan.

The unexpected event happened so fast that the next time Afable knew was that Enrile and Ramos had called a press conference in the afternoon of Feb. 22, 1986 to announce to the whole nation and the world that they have severed their ties with Marcos.

It was a historic event that changed the course of the country forever. It caught the whole world by surprise with a handful of military rebels defying Marcos’ iron-fist policy.

When asked why the country would plunge into civil war had the EDSA 1986 revolt been crushed, Afable enumerated three factors. One the Armed Forces would be divided. Number two, the New People Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), would take advantage of the situation and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) would also intensify its armed struggle in southern Philippines.

Chaos would prevail all over the country, Afable added.

But there was a dramatic turn of event that preceded the EDSA ’86 uprising when an over-confident Marcos declared a presidential snap election in 1986 with the aim of satisfying the Reagan administration at that time which was critical of Marcos government.

The opposition put up Mrs. Corazon “Cory” Aquino, widow of slain opposition Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr., against Marcos.

The election was a major upset for Marcos.

An independent counting of votes by the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) consistently showed a lead by Cory Aquino. However, government tabulations at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) showed otherwise.

As what served as an indictment of the fraudulent election, 30 computer programmers walked out in protest over the counting and results of the election. At this juncture, the powerful Catholic Church in the country condemned the election.

The US Senate echoed the protest. The stentorian cacophony of dissent reverberated across the land.

For the first time in its history, the Philippines was on the brink of anarchy. Marcos witnessed the wrath of a nation deprived of freedom and democracy.

Marcos was proclaimed by the Batasang Pambansa, the Philippine parliament, as the winner in the snap election and vowed to stay in power in spite of the condemnation of the fraudulent election by the Catholic Church, the Reagan administration and other countries, including the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) of which the Philippines is a founding member.

He threatened to meet force with force, leaving no doubt that he would use the Armed Forces to enforce his mandate.

The gap between the rhetoric of Marcos and the cruel realities of the civil chaos only aggravated Gen. Ramos’ disillusionment of the government.

Before the election, Ramos, who was then the acting AFP chief of staff, was in the depths of personal grief. His father, Narciso Ramos, former secretary of foreign affairs, died on Feb. 4, 1986.

However, it was not this that weighed down his mind, but the thought of what would happen to the 110,000 officers and men of the Philippine Constabulary and the Integrated National Police (PC/INP), if he did anything rash at the time.

The general’s wife, Mrs. Amelita “Ming” Ramos would later say this was an unhappy period for her husband.Gen. Ramos told her, “If I resign what will happen to the professionals. They (Marcos and Ver’s men) might go after them.”

Ramos would act when the time was right and he did.

February 22: The breakaway

At about 3:30 p.m. of Feb. 22, 1986, Col. Honasan, Col. Eduardo Kapunan and Maj. Noe Wong arrived at the residence of Enrile in Makati City. They informed Enrile of their impending arrest. At this juncture, Enrile called on Ramos for support. Then Enrile and his RAM security proceeded to Camp Aguinaldo.

Earlier that day, Minister ((Jaime)) Ongpin had called to inform him that his security men were arrested the night before. The government’s effort to cut down publicity gave rise to suspicions that a crackdown was in the offing. The arrest of Ongpin’s bodyguards was ominous.

At his house in Alabang, Ramos received the shocking news that Enrile was about to be arrested. Soon after, Enrile himself was on the phone, calling on the PC/INP chief.

Enrile said: “Eddie (nickname of Ramos), the time has come. Are you with me?” Ramos had earlier promised Enrile that he and the entire PC/INP would back up the defense minister.

As always, Ramos stayed calm despite private thoughts that he too was in imminent danger of being arrested.

At this stage of the confluence of unfolding events, a full-blown revolution erupted against the Marcos regime.

Ramos prepared to join Enrile in Camp Aguinaldo. He instructed his driver, M/Sgt. Abel Modequillo to take a circuitous route as a security measure. His convoy arrived at 6 p.m. in Camp Aguinaldo.

At a hastily called press conference at the Social Hall of the Ministry of National Defense, Enrile and Ramos jointly declared their breakaway from Marcos who had ruled the country for 20 years, including nine years under martial law.

Their defiant outcry was beamed live on television worldwide. Marcos who was in Malacanang was shocked upon learning that his two former close allies had not only abandoned him totally but virtually challenged his government.

Intelligence reports indicated that Marcos had issued an order to arrest Enrile after the PSC uncovered a coup plot by RAM which was closely identified with the defense minister.

For Enrile and Ramos, the die was cast.

“Enough is enough, Mr. President,” Enrile’s voiced thundered during the press conference.

For his part, Ramos openly declared that he was casting his lot with Enrile. “The reason for my being here is because the Armed Forces of the Philippines has ceased to be the real Armed Forces which is supposed to be the defender of public safety and enforcer of the law. What has developed under Marcos and Ver is an elite armed forces within the AFP that no longer represents the ranks and the officers’ corps of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”

Then Enrile butted in: “If anyone of us will be killed, then all of us will be killed.”

This writer was the night editor of the Philippines News Agency (PNA), a state-owned wire service, when the EDSA uprising broke out. I monitored closely the unfolding events on TV. I thought of the consequences anticipating a bloody confrontation.

By this time, the outspoken Cardinal Sin went on air over “Radyo Bandido” and appealed to the people to go to EDSA to protect the Enrile-Ramos forces.

Butz Aquino, brother of slain former Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr., responded to the call of Cardinal Sin and went to Camp Aguinaldo that evening of Feb. 22, together with his supporters known as ATOM (August Twenty One Movement), a group he organized after the assassination of his older brother on Aug. 21, 1983 at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport upon arrival from a self-exile in the United States.

He declared that they were ready to protect Enrile and Ramos and the rest of the rebel soldiers “with our bodies.”At 9 o’clock that evening, Ramos moved to the PC/INP headquarters in Camp Crame fronting Camp Aguinaldo to consolidate his defensive position.

Marcos thought he could persuade the rebel troops to surrender in a few hours. He was wrong.

At the outset of the revolt, the RAM boys numbered a few hundreds. During those critical hours, Marcos could have launched an attack and wiped out the fledgling rebel forces but Marcos did not. His failure to crush the rebellion during the first 12 hours proved to be a fatal mistake that led to his downfall.

From an initial crowd of some 50,000 civilian supporters gathered at Gate 1 of Camp Aguinaldo along Boni Serrano Avenue that evening, the crowd ballooned to over two million people during the next three days.

Just before midnight of Feb. 22, Marcos appeared on TV and accused Enrile of plotting a coup. Marcos warned Enrile and Ramos that he could annihilate them, together with the rebel forces and called on them to surrender to end “this stupidity.”

The psychological battle between the rebel forces and Marcos went into high gear that night until the following day, Feb. 23, holding press conferences to air their charges and counter charges.

Enrile told Marcos that he “will not surrender because I did not commit a crime.” He declared that he was ready to die if necessary. Then Enrile unleashed a stinging statement that might have touched many compatriot Filipinos: “If I will be killed, let my blood be a part of the Philippine soil. If he (Marcos) sends troops here, the President will become the butcher of his soldiers. He cannot cow us anymore.”

A defiant Enrile added: “Mr. President, you know that your time is up. I am morally convinced that Mrs. Corazon Aquino is the duly elected President and we will support her.”

Cut off for the first time from Gen. Ramos whom I have covered for many years, I relied on other sources for my news dispatches. I learned from one such source that the rebel forces of Enrile and Ramos had prepared a contingency plan for any such attack.

They would defend Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame for a while after which they would disperse into small groups and fight the Marcos regime in guerrilla warfare that could spark a civil war throughout the country.

The burgeoning crowd that gathered along EDSA stood their ground. Brig. Gen. Alfredo Lim, commander of the Northern Police District, defied an order from Marcos to disperse the crowd. Instead, he and his men defected to the Enrile-Ramos camps.

Meanwhile, in Northern Luzon, the so-called Cagayan 100 led by Col. Tirso Gador dodged checkpoints while heading towards Manila to support the rebel soldiers. By then, Ramos had called all 12 PC/INP regional commanders for support.

On the second day of the uprising, Cardinal Sin continued his call for people power over “Radyo Bandido” with the help of intrepid broadcaster June Keithley.

Government troops loyal to Marcos were at a loss over the location of the defiant radio station which was only about two kilometers from Malacanang.

Preparing for any eventuality, the military rebels prepared for an attack by Marcos forces. On the second day, Ramos invited Enrile to join him at Camp Crame nearby. Enrile and the RAM boys joined Ramos at the INP headquarters that afternoon.

That morning, military rebels went into action by attacking the government owned TV staton Channel 4 where a firefight broke out with government troops loyal to Marcos. The rebel soldiers overran the TV station after a brief gunfight.

I proceeded to Camp Crame where I saw sea of humanity hitherto unseen in the annals of the country’s history.

A column of armored Landing Tank Vehicles (LTV) and Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) from the Philippine Marines, backed by other military vehicles under Brig. Gen. Artemio Tadiar arrived near the vicinity of Ortigas Avenue along EDSA.

The tanks threatened to mow people down under its massive metallic weight unless the crowd cleared the path leading to Camp Crame. But the huge crowd stood their ground amidst the risk of being crushed. Steadfast in their faith, the people knelt in the middle of EDSA, raised their rosaries, brandished their crucifixes, and lifted their voices in prayers that drowned the sounds of the LTV and APC motors.

Tadiar was full of compassion of what he saw and gave the order to withdraw to Fort Bonifacio, aborting a blitzkrieg bloody assault on the military rebels holed up at Camp Crame.

In the hearts of the Filipino people, the withdrawal of government forces was a Divine intervention. Prayers and faith have averted what could have been the biggest bloodbath on a single day not only in the Philippines but the whole world.

Meanwhile, another Marine officer, Col. Braulio Balbas, who was the commander of the Marine artillery unit based in nearby Camp Aguinaldo also defied an order from higher headquarters to unleash a battery of 105mm howitzers at Camp Crame where the Enrile-Ramos forces were holding their defense position.

Balbas made an alibi over the phone that he had to position the big guns but confessed later his conscience would not allow him to annihilate his comrades-in-arms and innocent civilians. Instead he defected to the rebel camp and never regretted his decision.

On the second day of the uprising, more soldiers defected to the Enrile-Ramos camp, and on the third day, Feb. 24, an unexpected turn of events occurred when the 15th Strike Wing of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) led by Col. Antonio Sotelo also defected to the rebel forces.

But for several minutes, tension gripped all over Camp Crame when five helicopter gunships circled overhead. Everybody was preparing for an air attack.

However, the military rebels and the huge crowd had a sigh of relief when the fleet of Sikorsky and “Huey” helicopter gunships armed with air-to-ground rockets and M60 machine guns gracefully landed one by one at Camp Crame ground as Sotelo and the pilots declared their defection.

Many of the crowd cried with tears of joy thanking God and through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the patron saint of the Philippines, for answering their prayers at the time the country needed most.

The defection of the Air Force pilots was the turning point of the civilian-back military uprising.

Col. Sotelo said: “We followed our conscience. I think I have not really done much in my life. For once, I wanted to make a decision for my country.”

Then two PAF F-5 fighter planes thundered overhead. The people craned their necks to get a glimpse of the war jets zoomed in the sky, breaking the sound barrier. It turned out that the F-5s were piloted by friendly forces.

It was the third day. Then two Sikorsky helicopter gunships circled over Malacanang and after a minute or two the lead chopper fired successive air-to-ground rockets as the second also unleashed a pair of rockets at the Palace ground apparently as warning shots. This was followed by machine gun fire.

On Feb. 25, 1986, the fourth day of the uprising, the famed First Scout Ranger Brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. Felix Brawner defected to the rebel camp. It was the last major fighting force of the Marcos regime.

With no more military forces to speak of on his side, Marcos and his entire family fled. They were picked up by a US Air Force helicopter from Malacanang to Clark Air Base in Pampanga where they boarded a US jet to Honolulu, Hawaii that peacefully ended the EDSA Revolt.

Twenty-eight years, former President Fidel V. Ramos- turned-newspaper columnist, in his column in the Manila Bulletin last Sunday, asked, “Is EDSA 1986 for Filipinos?”

FVR, as he is fondly, called admitted that the first day of the revolt on Feb. 22, 1986 “was the most crucial” for the success or doom of the civilian-backed military uprising as he paid glowing tribute to the fallen heroes of EDSA.

“Looking back, it seems many Filipinos have forgotten that soldiers and constables/policemen made the do-or-die decision on 22 February 1986 to move against then President/Commander-in-Chief Ferdinand Marcos and his authoritarian regime,” FVR said.

“It was the day that the first tiny handful — then the greater majority of the Philippine Army, Navy and Air Force, including the Constabulary/Integrated National Police (as the 4th AFP Major Service) — made that fateful ‘cross-over’ to side with the people fighting for freedom against the dictatorship. It was a “patay–kung–patay”(do-or-die) situation for the anti-Marcos rebels when they decided to offer their lives, fortunes, and futures on the altar of freedom, and implored God to support their noble cause,” he said.

FVR pointed out that: “This transforming event (hailed worldwide because it was non-violent and resulted in our democratic restoration) could be called the crowning glory of the men and women of our DND-AFP and National Police.”

The EDSA uprising did not happen overnight. It started to build up slowly on Ninoy Aquino’s assassination on August 21, 1983.

But it was only on Feb. 22, 1986 when Enrile and Ramos announced their breakaway from the Marcos regime.

“We need to continually remind ourselves of the Spirit of EDSA, to renew our pledge of service to the nation and to rise above self, thereby contributing to the common good.

“EDSA showed that Filipinos want to live in freedom, peace and justice — to bring up our families with decency, to be secure in our homes, and our workplaces and in the streets.

“These are all natural, but unifying aspirations. When we neglect them, we degrade what is best in ourselves, we betray the Spirit of EDSA, and we fail to faithfully serve God, country, and people.

“As we pray, we must perform; but as we perform, we must also pray,” FVR concluded. (PNA)