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The lie of EDSA

About 90 percent of those who were at Epifanio delos Santos Avenue yesterday to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Edsa People Power were not at the original revolution. Not President Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III, not Senator Bam Aquino who was barely 10 when the 1986 coup erupted, and indeed, not many of those who were at the commemoration. They were either too young, abroad or far away from the scene of 30 years ago to have influenced it.

The Cojuangco-Aquino family of BS Aquino III has appropriated Edsa People Power as if it were their brand, their franchise, their business.   That’s a lot of BS.

Corazon Cojuangco Aquino was in Cebu hiding in a convent during the first and most dangerous night of People Power, on Feb. 22, 1986.   Her son was too engrossed with many other things to have participated, too.  I was at People Power I as a foreign correspondent.

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.  Ninoy died from a military bullet in August 1983.  And what did the people get for having two Aquino presidents?

In 1983, Cory had blamed Marcos for her husband’s assassination and launched a destabilization campaign.  Upon United States prodding, the strongman was forced to call a snap election to end bring the crisis, in February 1986. Marcos was confident he would win the election. In 1982, the President still had the support of US President Ronald Reagan.  The Philippine economy was stable, having weathered what could have been a crippling downturn.  Basic services were in place. But Ninoy’s murder turned things upside down.

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.

The Aquino-Cojuangco family has no more right to claim Edsa as theirs than every Filipino, you and I. Their Edsa failed us, the people.

On the first day of Edsa I, Feb. 22, 1986, I was lucky to be both in Cebu, for Cory’s civil disobedience afternoon rally, and Manila, for the first night of Enrile’s breakaway coup. Enrile had no troops, just about two dozen RAM soldiers.  His shock troops were us, foreign correspondents, numbering about 40.

Not many people know it but Edsa I was triggered by greed and was won by a lie. The crowds that massed on Edsa on Feb. 24, 1986, Monday, and Feb. 25, Tuesday, were there not to stage a revolt but to hold a picnic. 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 greed arose from a Chinese forex trader who violated the peso-dollar trading band imposed by the then unofficial central bank, the Binondo Central Bank managed and headed by then Trade and Industry Secretary Roberto V. Ongpin. 

Ongpin had the erring trader arrested and loaded into a van.  Unfortunately, the forex trader died. Unfortunately again, the trader happened to be a man of then-Armed Forces chief Fabian C. Ver. Angered, the dreaded military chief had 22 of Ongpin’s security men arrested.  They were marching in full battle gear and dressed in SWAT uniform at about 4 a.m. inside Fort Bonifacio when arrested on Feb. 22, 1986, a Saturday.

At 11 a.m., at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ongpin went looking for his security men.  He called up then-Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile who was with the Club 365 at the Atrium in Makati.  Enrile thought the arrest of the 22 Ongpin security men, who turned out to be RAM Boys of Col. Gringo Honasan, was part of the crackdown against the plot to oust Marcos.

The putsch was being planned by Enrile and his RAM Boys.  The defense chief had grown disenchanted with Marcos, who was very ill following a botched kidney transplant three years earlier.  JPE had become wary of the palace cabal led by Ver and the First Lady, Mrs. Imelda Romualdez Marcos.

Enrile summoned his boys to his house on Morada Street, Dasmariñas Village.   There they plotted their next moves.  They decided to make a last stand at the armed forces headquarters, Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. 

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,” the latter assured.

It was not until late in the evening that Saturday (Feb. 22) that Ramos actually joined the rebellion at Camp Aguinaldo. He had contacted his loyal PC-INP commanders, like Rene de Villa in Bicol, and Rodrigo Gutang in Cagayan de Oro and found to his dismay no troops could be readily airlifted to Manila to reinforce Enrile’s men, who were undermanned and under-armed.

Cory learned about the brewing rebellion at 4 p.m. the same Saturday in Cebu. She had led a destabilization and boycott rally there, which I covered.

After hearing about rumors of the Enrile defection, I went to the Mactan airport to book a flight to Manila. I landed in Manila shortly after 9 p.m. With Boy del Mundo of then UPI, I took a taxi to Camp Aguinaldo.

I was surprised to find the camp commander welcoming us with open arms.  Enrile and Gringo had no troops at that time. Enrile had made a deal with Marcos—No shooting on the first night. Also, foreign correspondents were to be allowed inside Camp Aguinaldo.

Inside the Defense Ministry headquarters, Enrile and Ramos were giving an extended press conference. I asked if  Cory Aquino called them up. Enrile said yes.  “What can I do for you?” she asked.  “Nothing, just pray,” Enrile replied.

After Cory got the presidency, Namfrel made  recount of the votes cast in the February snap election.  The tally still showed Marcos was the real winner, not by two million votes, as canvassed by the Batasan, but by 800,000 votes as recounted 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. Two Namfrel volunteers were hanged in Ilocos. The Ilocano votes were enough to overwhelm Cory’s lead in Metro Manila and other places. The canvassers claimed Marcos was cheating and so led by the wife of a RAM major, walked out, as if on cue.  The day before the celebrated incident, we, foreign correspondents, had been alerted about the planned walkout and to be there to cover it.

Cory Aquino didn’t have any participation in the four-day People Power revolt of Feb. 22-25, 1986 or Edsa I. 

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Topics: Tony Lopez , The lie of EDSA , Epifanio delos Santos Avenue , 30th anniversary of Edsa People Power
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