EDSA 20: “We knew nothing about People Power”

Just heard retired general Jose Almonte on Ricky Carandang’s show. By and large, he didn’t say anything new; the details of the military plan to take over Malacanang in late 1985 or early 1986 have been revealed before. What struck me, however, was Almonte’s throwaway phrase, uttered in the show’s last few minutes. "When we launched the Edsa revolution," he said … and in my outrage (I think I screamed at the TV in the newsroom) I didn’t hear him finish the sentence.

The military reform movement was certainly involved in the Edsa revolution; we can even say that the military reformists triggered the historic event. But did they "launch" it? That’s like asking whether "Kabuki," Almonte’s famous charge in the early 1990s, wears no makeup. The answer is an emphatic No.

They could not have launched it, because it was not part of their plan. That’s why it was crucial for them to get Fidel Ramos over on their side; he was their seal of good housekeeping, their badge of credibility. In the interview for the EDSA 20 documentary, Butz Aquino made a special mention of Ramos’s role, precisely as a guarantee of the Enrile faction’s good intentions.  (Of course, the Makati congressman added, that was then.) If Ramos had not been part of the defection, Aquino would not have called on people to troop to Edsa.  I doubt whether Cardinal Sin would have made his more famous appeal too.

Launch the revolution? That implies that the People Power that redeemed the aborted coup was a deliberate unfolding of events, instead of the series of inexplicable accidents that surprised all of us, and reminded us of the better angels of our vexed and vexing nature.

In his EDSA 20 interview, reformist leader and Army colonel Gringo Honasan waxed inconsistent on that very question. At certain points he would refer to the political component of the plan, which involved reaching out to Cory Aquino’s camp (We offered her security, he said, and all Cory said was, Why don’t you just vote for me?). His intention was to present a more comprehensive explanation of the events of 1986. But at certain points, he also could not deny the simple reality. Ours was "a military plan," he said. "Wala kaming kamuwang-muwang sa People Power. Wala kaming sinasandalan na People Power [We knew nothing about People Power, we did not rest our plans on People Power]."

The military rebels did not launch the revolution; like charity, which the Bible assures us covers a multitude of sins, the People Power revolution that redeemed them descended on us like a gift.

PS. Resty Odon has some choice words on the miracle of Edsa.

PS2. As Champ Reyes proudly pointed out, the Star has this heartwarming story about a man who called for People Power hours before Butz Aquino and Cardinal Sin even thought of doing so.

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9 Comments

Filed under Readings in Media, Readings in Politics, Readings in Religion

9 responses to “EDSA 20: “We knew nothing about People Power”

  1. Trish de Leon

    I always feel like I have no right to comment on the events of Edsa I (since I was just 6 months old when it all happened). But despite the bad press it’s been getting lately, somehow I’m still thankful people power happened. If it hadn’t, I might not be working in the media.

    By the way, this is Trish, from the Inquirer. I got your link from Bryant of PJR. ūüôā

  2. Hey, Trish. Looks like we’re both slacking off in the office!

    I do think that the Edsa story today is all about the next generation; it’s important to get both the details and the spirit right, but only because they matter, or ought to, to your generation. (Don’t mind us who squandered the miracle.)

    I am worried (just to give one example) that the young men associated with the Magdalo mutiny got their history wrong. Edsa happened IN SPITE OF their predecessors in RAM. Gringo et al certainly played a role, but it is not the role they had prepared for themselves. I hope that, in time, the Magdalo boys will understand that, and come to terms with it.

    So by all means comment away. It’s your generation’s turn.

  3. I don’t believe that it has something to do with defection of key personalities, rather, it was the (then) constructive role of the media that shaped the rippled public opinion, thus, turning the events into a surprising revolution.

    It was the crux of events that gave Ramos and others the window of opportunity to become reformist, as the defection was carefully crafted or planned as early as 1982 but they all knew that a mass base support is needed to launch a revolution, different from those what we have in mind.

    Today, the question lingers, is people power alive? I say, yes, if we can again shape the public opinion constructively just as we did it twenty years ago. Media plays an essential role more than those key personalities. A brief view though and as a result of a continued examination of our history, I was at senior in high school when it happened. Of course, my assumption could be wrong.

  4. Thanks, Regor. I think I see what you mean. Being in media myself, I tend to downplay any grand claims made for or on behalf of the role of journalists. Yes, the media did play a role during the four days of Edsa. That’s why it was important for us working on the Edsa 20 documentary to make sure that June Keithley’s story was included; as Eddie Ramos said at a ceremony a few months after Edsa, Keithley was the “field marshal” of all those millions of people who marched to the beat of Mambo Magsaysay. But the shaping of public opinion that you refer to, in the run-up to Edsa, took place DESPITE traditional or establishment media. The opposition papers that dared print the truth about Marcos were, quite appropriately, called the mosquito press, etc, etc.

  5. Jessica Dayrit

    I was 12 years old then when the people power 1 happened, i can still remember the famous words used by mrs. aquino “tama na” “sobra na” “palitan na ” dahil mahal na ang galunggong. The people power was indeed a successful one, the dectator was ousted.

    A year after the famous people power the price of the famous galunggong was still the same.Years under the cory administration the price of galunggong has risen up, an exact opposite to what the administration has promised. During that administration,plenty of activist were killed, again an exact opposite to the cry of edsa ” kalayaan ng mga pilipino”

    Years by, we have ramos, we have estrada as presidents of our beloved philippines..what happen to galunggong? P120-P130 per kilo? Where are the promises of edsa 1?

    Filipinos made another history, the edsa 2 ousting estrada from power. The cry of the nation ” mahal na ang dollar ” ” mahirap na ang mga filipinos” ..After estrada how much is the dollar vs our peso? Where are we now? are we on the same level as japan and even thailand?

    And now..are we going to make another history? another edsa? edsa 3? for what? mahirap na ang mga filipinos? Are we not stupid? How many edsa’s do we need to bring this nation to a better place on earth. Do we still have to believe on the people behind these 2 edsas and the promises to make this nation a better place to live in?

    “Tama na” “Sobra na” ang people power.

  6. It was your (media) greatest treasure John more than anything else here in this world, it is a reminder that once, you fought for freedom in one strong voice that gave the people something worth believing in for.

    And it pains me to know that self-interest and greed brought them before this generation of ours into a form of betrayal… into form of deceit. Though, I don’t think that walls were put before us to divide or separate our senses from everything, I think it was made to see if who would break them through.

    Democracy and freedom is something that cannot be taught in schools, not by people or by any institution– it can only be taught through hearts and minds, and it was the same belief that you and others started. Character will hone our destiny; it can only be the way — then everything follows.

  7. Jojo

    Hi John,

    Ahh, the spin. Almonte is about to publish his memoirs so one understands the embellishments. But the record would show that

    (a) RAM had to go back to the camps because their coup plot against Marcos failed, and it failed because they could not keep their mouth shut (Rex Robles all over the place yakking away about how to depose Marcos was what was imprinted on my mind between January and February 23, 1986. Since then all of RAM’s attemped coups were failures (the nearest thing to a success, at least in the battle over who would control either Camp Crame or Aguinaldo was 1989)

    b. the RAM retreat of February 1986 was a recognition that their dream of establishing a junta was over. They were, in the words of Juan Enrile that night “handa nang mamatay”.

    c. Ramos was a latecomer because RAM mistrusted him. His code name then was supposedly “wa balls” — coined by RAM to describe his wishy-washy stand. And Ramos had his hands tied indeed: he was Vice Chief of Staff but also once headed the Constabulary, the most dreaded of all military institutions for its brutal human rights record.

    d. Ramos did term it “people power revolution,” but the substance came from the crowd that milled around EDSA. And when he declared it I doubt if he (and Joe Almonte) had something similar to what RAM had in mind.

    Since then — as I stated above — all military coups failed. And the eerie thing about the current attempt is that it shows the reason why: not only do these plotters talk a lot about their plots, they also have a tendency to repeat the same strategy and tactic. No imagination at all. No one among these folks read Edward Luttwak’s classic Coup d’Etat (despite Gringo once after 1986 boasting that they did). Neither did they learn anything from Al McCoy’s Closer than Brothers, in spite of the fact that the AFP basically bought out the first edition once Anvil published it.

  8. Rochelle Azure

    “Are Filipinos really worth dying for?”
    Ninoy knew that he would be killed yet he willingly went to the Tarmac and the rest is history.

  9. Pingback: Column: Is there a future for Edsa? « Newsstand

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