EDSA I triggered by greed, won by a lie

Edsa I was triggered by greed and was won by a lie.

For four days, Feb. 22-25, 1986, I was at People Power I, as Asiaweek senior correspondent.

On the first day, Feb. 22, 1986, a Saturday, I was lucky to be both in Cebu, for Corazon Aquino’s 4 p.m. civil disobedience rally, and in Manila, 9 p.m., first night of Juan Ponce Enrile’s breakaway coup.

Til midnight of Feb. 22, Enrile had no troops, only two dozen RAM soldiers. His shock troops at Camp Aguinaldo were us, foreign correspondents, numbering about 40.

June Keithley had announced on radio at 7 a.m. of Feb. 24 that the Marcoses had left. It was a lie. In their glee and feeling that finally it was all over, people trooped to Edsa to celebrate. The lie was a psy-war of general Fidel V. Ramos.

The crowds that massed on Edsa on Feb. 24, 1986, Monday, and on Feb. 25, Tuesday, were there not to stage a revolt but to hold a picnic. Cory has no photo addressing the crowds.

The greed arose a few days earlier when a Chinese forex trader violated the peso-dollar trading band imposed by Trade and Industry Secretary Roberto V. Ongpin’s Binondo Central Bank to budget scarce dollar reserves.

The dollar trading violator was arrested and loaded into a van. Unfortunately, he died. The trader happened to be a man of then-Armed Forces chief Fabian C. Ver.

At 11 a.m., Feb. 22, at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ongpin went looking for his security men. He called up Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile who was with the Club 365 at the Atrium in Makati.

Earlier, at 4 a.m. Feb. 22, Ver had 22 of Ongpin’s security men arrested, to be killed at Corregidor island. Led by Mike Asperin, the men were marching in full battle gear and dressed in SWAT uniform in Fort Bonifacio when collared.  Ariel Querubin, the marine officer assigned to arrest the Asperin boys, refused to execute Ongpin’s men.

Enrile thought the arrest of the Ongpin 22, RAM Boys of Col. Gringo Honasan, was part of Marcos’ anti-coup crackdown.

Since 1982, JPE had grown disenchanted. Marcos had become very ill following a botched kidney transplant three years earlier. The defense chief, who had no direct command of AFP troops, had become wary of the palace cabal led by Ver and the First Lady, Mrs. Imelda Romualdez Marcos.

Saturday noon, Enrile summoned his boys to his Dasmariñas house on Morada Street. Surrender. Flight. Fight.  Or die?

RAM decided to make a last stand at the suburban armed forces headquarters Camp Aguinaldo.

At 2 p.m., Enrile called then Vice Chief of Staff Lieut. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos. “Are you with us?” JPE asked Eddie. “I am with you all the way,” Ramos assured.

It was not until late evening that Saturday that Ramos went to Camp Aguinaldo. The West Pointer general tried to mobilize troops of his loyal PC-INP commanders, like Rene de Villa in Bicol, and Rodrigo Gutang in Cagayan de Oro. But the troops could not be airlifted to Aguinaldo.

Cory learned from radio of the Enrile rebellion Saturday afternoon in Cebu. She had led a destabilization and boycott rally there.

With Enrile’s defection, I flew back to Manila, landed after 9 p.m. and rushed to Camp Aguinaldo. I was surprised to find the camp commander welcoming us with open arms. Enrile cut a deal with Marcos – no shooting on the first night. Also, foreign correspondents were to be allowed inside Aguinaldo.

At the Defense Ministry, Enrile and Ramos gave an extended press conference. I asked if Cory Aquino called them up. Enrile said yes. “What can I do for you?” Cory asked. “Nothing, just pray for us,” Enrile snapped.

Cory had little, if any, role in the immediate events that triggered EDSA I. She hid with the nuns in Cebu the first night.

Cory got the presidency. Namfrel recounted her votes in the Feb. 7, 1986 snap election. Marcos won handily – not by two million votes, as canvassed by the Batasan, but by 800,000 votes as counted by Namfrel. In the Comelec-sanctioned official count, the legal and official winner was Marcos, by a margin of 1.7 million votes.

It was thought Marcos had cheated because his Solid North votes were transmitted very late to the tabulation center at the PICC because two Namfrel volunteers were hanged in Ilocos. The Ilocano votes were enough to overwhelm Cory’s lead in Metro Manila and other places.

The delay enabled canvassers to claim Marcos was cheating and, led by the wife of a RAM major, they walked out, as if on cue. The day before their walkout, we, foreign correspondents, had been alerted about the planned walkout and to be there to cover it.

The Aquino family has been the biggest beneficiary of People Power. They were awarded two presidencies totaling 12 and a half years, more than enough compensation for what opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. did in his political lifetime, which was to heckle and needle president Ferdinand Edralin Marcos Sr., during 17 of his 20-year presidency.

In 1983, Cory Aquino had blamed Marcos for her husband’s assassination and launched a destabilization campaign. Upon America’s prodding, Marcos was forced to call a snap election to end the post-assassination crisis.

Marcos was confident he would win the snap election. In 1982, the Reagan administration praised FM’s “adherence to democratic principles.” The Philippine economy was stable, having weathered what could have been a crippling downturn.

Sensing Marcos was very sick (he was, having undergone two kidney transplants), Ninoy Aquino attempted to return in 1983 and grab power from the president. The opposition senator was instead felled by a bullet at the airport tarmac.

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Email: biznewsasia@gmail.com

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