“People Power was triggered by greed and won by a lie.”
This February, we again celebrate the anniversary of the Feb. 22-25, 1986 so-called People Power but probably in more subdued form. People Power is also called EDSA I, after the broad avenue where up to one million people were said to have spilled into in protest over a dictatorship.
There are three People Power revolts –EDSA I, EDSA II, and EDSA III.
EDSA I ousted Ferdinand Marcos and installed Corazon Cojuangco Aquino.
EDSA II is the Jan. 20, 2001 church- and NGO-backed military coup that ousted Joseph Estrada and installed Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
I covered all three EDSAs. The legendary bemedaled marine Col. Ariel O. Querubin participated in both EDSA I and EDSA II, and indirectly, in EDSA III.
The third EDSA is the May 1, 2001 popular and pedestrian uprising that nearly ousted Mrs. Arroyo, were it not for the effective sniping job done by the military and the police on the protesters.
Nobody knows for sure how many people died or were killed by the military to protect the palace from a hoi polloi revolt. Nobody remembers about this 2001 EDSA III anymore.
To me, EDSA III was the most spontaneous and most genuine of the three revolts. But it was foiled by the military, by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s military.
Not many people know it, but EDSA I was triggered by greed and was won by a lie.
The crowds that massed at EDSA on February 24, a Monday, and February 25, a Tuesday, 1986, were there not to stage a revolt but to hold a picnic. June Keithley had announced on radio at 7 a.m. of February 24 that the Marcoses had left. It was a lie. Naturally, feeling that it was finally over, people trooped to EDSA to celebrate.
The greed arose from a Chinese forex trader who violated the peso-dollar trading band imposed by 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 19 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.
On Wednesday, Feb. 19, 1986, Querubin, then a marine captain, was assigned to arrest the 19 Ongpin security men under Mike Asperin, bring them to El Fraille Island at the mouth of Manila Bay, and eliminate them.
“Patchy but recurrent reports provoked suspicions that RAM was set to mount a coup,” recalls Querubin. “We learned that on Feb. 19, 1986, in what looked like a dress rehearsal, 19 men detailed to Trade and Industry Minister Roberto Ongpin and led by a navy lieutenant conducted a night run on the Fort Bonifacio naval grounds.”
In a forthcoming book, Ariel narrates what happened next on Feb. 19, 1986:
“Called to an inquiry, the commander of the Military Police for the Marines, Captain Benjamin Dolorfino, not only confirmed the night run, but let on that it was the first of two, the next one set for two nights later, and that both runs had been cleared by the operations officer of the naval station, Navy Captain Pablo Ong. Surely the night runners could not have acted with such confidence if they had no well-placed contacts inside the camp.”
“The trap was laid on Feb. 21, 1986. At about 10 p.m., on a stretch of road between the Marine headquarters and the Bachelors Officers Quarters. With me was 2nd Lieutenant Alexander Balutan on OJT with the office. We shined our searchlights on the night-runners and warned they were surrounded. The men froze in their tracks. Their leader, Lieutenant Junior Grade Michael Asperin, walked up to tell me they were men of ‘Vulcan,’ the call sign of Colonel Honasan, apparently hoping to make an impression. It did.”
“I told him (Asperin), it was precisely the reason we were bringing them in. According to my boss, Lieutenant Colonel Jorge Floro, Malacañang’s order to his own boss, Colonel Guillermo Ruiz, assistant chief for intelligence, was to take the night-runners to El Fraille, an outcrop of land in the waters of Cavite province, somewhere between Naic town and Carballo Island, near Corregidor.”
“Sea navigators used El Fraille as a reference point; but, according to credible talk, police and military enforcers used it for summary executions. I myself had not been there. Anyway I decided on my own to take the captives to the camp’s firing range, for questioning. Intelligence operatives promptly worked on them and deduced that their role was to snatch the flag officer in command, Rear Admiral Brilliante Ochoco, and the Marine commandant, Brigadier General Artemio Tadiar (a brother-in-law of Floro’s), thus neutralizing their commands.”
“That same night Brigadier General Tadiar left an order for the airlift of the 5th Marine Battalion from the south to reinforce the defense of Malacañang before proceeding there himself with Colonel Ruiz to apprise the armed forces chief, General Fabian Ver. They took my car to avoid being compromised, and came back with an order from Ver to raid the RAM headquarters in Aguinaldo, the armed forces camp, and arrest the RAM leaders.”
“In Malacañang itself, a crackdown had begun, and my own cousin Major Allen Querubin was among the first arrested, along with Captain Ricardo Morales, for their ties to Honasan. Both were with the Presidential Security Command.”
“Also taken were three top plotters – Lieutenant Colonel Marcelino Malajacan, Lieutenant Colonel Ricardo Brillantes, and Major Saulito Aromin, battalion commanders all. That earned me the promise from Colonel Ruiz of a recommendation for a temporary promotion to major, while most of my classmates were still working for their captainship. I didn’t think much of it, and just as well; with Marcos’s fall, the promise, as with all promises made in his name, would prove empty.”
Querubin disobeyed the orders to eliminate the Ongpin 19. And the rest is history.
(To be continued)