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Philippines Free Press
May 17, 2004
Perception is King
by Manuel L. Quezon III
IN the Philippines, perception is king, and plausibility is queen. If things are perceived to be, then they are, regardless of reality. At the same time, if something is plausible, it is viewed as probable –again, regardless of reality.
The reality is that the counting isn’t over, and only the counting will reveal what is true. But until the counting is done, the battle over perception and the campaign to enlist plausibility in aid of the campaign continues.
This early on, however, certain trends can be deduced from the recently-concluded national elections.
The first is the return of the importance of machinery, and an accompanying crisis of confidence in media driven campaigns. The failed campaigns of Ramon Mitra, Jr. in 1992, and of Jose de Venecia in 1998, convinced many observers that the era of the party machine had passed. Succesful campaigns, it was thought, would succeed or fail based on a combination of media savvy and shrewd back room operations (including dirty psychological warfare tricks). The campaigns of Fidel V. Ramos and Joseph Estrada were supposed to bear this out.
On the other hand, the dizzying success of Joseph Estrada’s 1998 campaign brought to the fore the importance of show business and personal charisma. The concept of effective communication being essential to a campaign is as old as politics itself: but the fact that Estrada was an actor seemed to indicate something new. The result was that the 2004 campaign suffered from the perception that popularity, in particular show-biz popularity, would rule the roost. This was a particularly dangerous delusion to suffer from on the part of the opposition, but it also put the administration in a demoralized position at the start of the campaign.
What everyone forgot was that the Estrada campaign had succeeded because it combined the old and the new; it had its own machine and its candidate (Estrada) spent as much time cultivating his media image as he did on doing the rounds with provincial kingpins to enlist their support. In that fight, his opponent had machinery but no charisma, and so, all things being equal, electoral success was actually determined by the tried and true electoral formula, “politics is addition.” The candidate with charisma and popularity could do well if he had a serviceable machine; the candidate with machinery alone, however, wouldn’t be able to sustain his momentum in the face of charisma.
The administration carefully cultivated the impression it had all the machinery, when in fact, had the opposition paid more attention to its own machinery, it could have seriously wrecked the administration efforts. The President was viewed not only as a party outsider, but an unpopular one, at that. But when the hustlings began, she did what her opponent failed to do: assiduously court the support of local kingpins. They could not wait in the wings forever. By imposing her personality on her campaign leaders, the president showed more inclinations to act as a leader who understood the rules of the game, thereby becoming palatable to local leaders. She did not shrink from the traditional role national leaders play in elections, which is to act as broker and referee in closely-contested local races. She therefore created a political infrastructure while being careful to give the impression it was there all along, even while she was cobbling it together.
The opposition’s main contender, on the other hand, either refused, or was unable, to play the game, and alienated local support. He stood to inherit the Marcos political machine as reinvigorated by Estrada. Instead, he squandered his opportunities by ignoring local leaders and refusing to mediate their various quarrels. Leadership for him was a zero sum game in a system in which the leader who can dole out the most gravy to everyone comes out ahead.
Fernando Poe, Jr. and his handlers bet on showbiz glitz and bet big. Not even Estrada had done so. When the President, having consolidated her machinery, then took the fight into the very field Poe’s people assumed was theirs for the taking, real trouble began. Taking the fight to Poe’s home ground points to the next trend observable in this election.
The second trend is a generational shift in national, and even local, politics, with interesting implications for the future. The strength of Poe was anchored on his ruling the showbiz roost. But as the campaign dragged on, his kingship was seen to be a titular one. The showbiz elite, in general, it is true, answered his call. Out of loyalty or fear, the majority of the powers that be gravitated to his campaign. But his command was eventually exposed as limited, not all-pervasive. In the first place, while only a small minority of showbiz personalities openly defied him, showbiz insiders did whisper that a significant number of actors and directors and producers kept a discreet silence. More significantly, the minority that did dare to go against him tended to come from the ranks of younger celebrities. Celebrities who, it must be remembered, had already demonstrated their capacity to eclipse Poe at the box office. Such was the case with Ai Ai de las Alas, whose “Tanging Yaman” had killed Poe’s “Pakners” at the box office, and whose own following was mobilized through her endorsement of President Arroyo. Raul Roco and Bro. Eddie Villanueva, too, had their own cast of showbiz supporters, generally young, generally more in tune with the audiences whose votes were being courted.
That audience –the electorate- it must be remembered, is predominantly young, and speaks a different language from its elders, whose rhetoric it despises. Poe’s fans are increasingly aging; his political lieutenants political dinosaurs; his machinery, aging as well. His opponents were more vigorous, and perhaps, more ruthless –certainly, more creative. The class-based rhetoric of Poe belonged to an earlier age, and was somewhat ineffective in light of a less rural, more mobile, and more sophisticated citizenry which had already rejected the two past masters of fostering class divisions, Marcos and Estrada. The numbers to whom this kind of rhetoric appeals, it is true, is significant, but still, a minority. And that minority, which could have spelled overwhelming victory if it had been nurtured, was disgruntled by their candidates inability to put up a strong fight. Those really wanting an iron-fisted leadership clung to Lacson, while those who disliked the incumbent, but also disliked her predecessor, either supported Villanueva or Roco. The President, fairly young herself, and surrounded by more young people than Poe, was better able to entice the young.
The third, and final, trend, is a longer, more strategic view of campaigns on the part of certain candidates. New forces have been unleashed, for whom the 2004 campaign was merely a prelude for 2007 and 2010. These include first time voters, and those slightly older, but for whom their first political experience was the Estrada impeachment. They include a new class of younger entrepreneurs and the remnants of the middle class, who want strong, even authoritarian leadership. And it includes those who have rejected traditional religious institutions, becoming, instead, born again Christians. The Roco, Lacson, and Villanueva campaigns were the most creative and demonstrated the inroads alternative machineries can make in traditional politics. Their techniques will have an impact on the techniques of their more traditional colleagues. Their electoral failure must be balanced by the surprising cohesion of their supporters, and their remarkable showing in the polls. They have tasted blood, so to speak, and their thirst for more will be hard to quench. They will, to a significant degree, affect the lay of the political land for some years to come.
Whatever the surveys say, the campaign was a closely contested one, and the eventual outcome still holds some surprises. The battle for perception continues, because try as they might, the two leading contenders weren’t able to conjure up the perception of an overwhelming, or at least, inevitable, victory. At present the administration is trying to preserve its gains, but the closely contested national contest is being replicated in enough local contests to offer the opposition the opportunity to raid the squabbling local groupings of the administration, some of whom may be desperate for help, any help, to bring them victory. Therefore, the administration is busy guarding its machinery to ensure it doesn’t break down, while the opposition, back against the wall, is ruthlessly attempting to deny the administration a plausible victory.
The surveys prior to the election, and immediately after, offered the administration the chance to declare its victory plausible. But the manner in which the Commission on Elections bungled the voting, in particular the disenfranchisement of voters estimated by the Social Weather Stations to have reached 900,000 individuals, offers the opposition the chance to declare that enough people couldn’t vote to put the results of a close race in doubt. The collapse of the Namfrel quick count, too, places its efforts as an antidote to cheating –or the perception of cheating- in doubt. Monkeying around with the results on both sides becomes that much more plausible. The result is the denial of the administration of the perception of the inevitability of its victory, and affords the opposition a second wind –one coming at the heels of its blitzkrieg effort in the closing 10 days of the campaign, when its candidate finally came out swinging in a blizzard of ads. The effects of those ads, it seems, can be directly correlated with the closeness of the race. Smart money remains on a victory by the President. But in the continuing battle for perception and plausibility, the opposition is showing a startling resilience.
Remembering Teodoro M. Locsin
by Manuel L. Quezon III
January 26,2002—ANECDOTES told by those who knew him in his prime assure me that Teodoro M. Locsin was a man who possessed a sense of humor, indeed a sense of fun, even what could be said to be an impish wit. He liked good drink and song; we all know he wrote well. But it is the elusiveness of this characteristic that has always intrigued me. If the sons of a man are any reflection of the father, then the assurances given me by my elders that Teddy Locsin, Sr. had a sense of humor must be true; one only has to see his two elder sons to know they have a sense of humor in spades. Yet Teddy Locsin, Sr., if one depends on his writings, comes across as a man of manic anger, of near-hysterical indignation. That was the public man, the crusading journalist.
He described himself, many years ago, reminiscing right after the death of a close friend and recalling the days of Liberation then merely a few years back:
“We had,” he wrote in 1949, recalling the time before the FREE PRESS reopened after being shut down by the Japanese, “with Jose Diokno, the son of Senator Diokno, put out a new paper, the Philippines Press. Diokno was at the desk and more or less kept the paper from going to pieces as it threatened to do every day. I thundered and shrilled; that is, I wrote the editorials. Philip was the objective reporter, the impartial journalist, who gave the paper many a scoop. That was Philip’s particular pride: to give every man, even the devil, his due. While I jumped on a man, Philip would patiently listen to his side.”
Teddy Locsin, Sr. was famous –or infamous, depending on who was reading his editorials and articles and who was being attacked in them– for “jumping on people.” His was the the anger of the man who had fought for his country as a guerrilla; his was the highly-developed moral conscience inculcated by his love of books and the mentorship of Robert McCullough Dick; his was the mind of a poet turned to penning the philippics and jeremiads of a reformist, a man who would give and take no quarter as he was proxy for Juan de la Cruz in fighting corruption, stupidity, cupidity and avarice in and out of government.
Yet there is one instance of his writing reflecting a wit, though, since written as a journalist, the merciless kind of wit. One of my favorite pieces is one he wrote on then Senatorial Candidate Pacita M. Warns on October 22, 1955.
He began the piece self-deprecatingly, writing, that when it came to tackling controversies involving women leaders, “It is difficult to write critically about a woman. Whether you are right or wrong makes no difference; you are being hard, it will be said, on the weaker sex. At the same time, it isn’t fair that just because a woman occupies an office, it should be above reproach. Where does chivalry end and civic duty begin? One cannot always tell. A gentleman has been defined as one who never inflicts pain; a newspaperman sometimes seems to do nothing else but inflict it. It is no use arguing, with people and with oneself, that it is a job that must be done. ‘How can you be so cruel to a lady!’ is the first and last reaction. And when the official, upon meeting you, instead of scratching your eyes out, speaks of the high standard of your paper and how, in only this case, it has fallen from that high standard, how she has admired your writing and thought you a man of principles, fair and objective in your reporting, and how disappointing that you have been less than fair and objective in dealing with her, what a gentleman she always thought you were, and look at you now—as she goes on heaping compliments and reproaches on your head, what can you do but say, ‘I am a dog?’”
In the process of the interview, the self-deprecation remained even as he let his subject pillory herself:
“. . . .Last Wednesday, we had an interview with Mrs. Warns. It was arranged by an officer of the SWA, Victor Baltazar, who came to the office and asked us if we would talk things over with the former SWA head. Certainly, we said.
“We met Mrs. Warns at the Jai Alai Keg Room. With her were Baltazar and two women connected with SWA. With us was Melecio Castaños of the FREE PRESS….”
Locsin asked a question concerning the controversy of the day: “How about those pictures of yours which we saw in the SWA? They were glamour shots and were autographed. Is the SWA supposed to distribute them?”
And Mrs. Warns replied, “Oh, they are my personal property, left there when I resigned. People kept asking for my pictures while I was administrator. The poor pasted them on the wall of their huts alongside the picture of the Virgin Mary. . . .”
Locsin writes that he responded,”No.” And the interview goes on to its –to this writer, anyway– hilarious conclusion:
“Yes.” [replied Mrs. Warns] “ If you could only see how the poor greet me wherever I go! They kiss my hand and tell their children to kiss the hem of my dress.”
“’Do they really paste your picture along that of the Virgin Mary?’
“’You may find it hard to believe, but they do. If you could come with me, I would show you. . . . Ah, you do not know what it is like to be poor! If you had lived with them, eaten with them, seen how wretched they are, you would understand how they feel toward me, why they would paste my picture beside that of the Virgin Mary and kiss my hand and tell their children to kiss the hem of my dress.’
“Speechless, we listened. She went on.
“’I have always admired the FREE PRESS for its crusading spirit and I have read your articles and thought you to be fair, just, principled newspaperman and when you do not even give me a chance to explain. . . .’
“’But I did give you a chance. I called you up, you will remember, and you told me you did not know how much the SWA spent for photographic materials but you gave your salary to the poor. . . .’
“’Not only my salary, I gave my own money daily to the poor. I only wish I could go on helping the poor. . .’
“’I am sure you can afford to do that immediately.’
“She looked at us with eyes full of pity.
“’Do you know what they are saying about the FREE PRESS now? In the provinces, in the barrios, wherever I go, the people are saying, having read your story about me and the SWA, ‘The FREE PRESS has become just like of the tabloids. It has attacked our Virgin Mary.’ That is what some would say. Others would correct them: ‘Not our Virgin Mary but our goddess.’ That is what the people of this country are saying about the FREE PRESS after your article.’
“’Will you please repeat that.’
“’Well, to show you how objective the FREE PRESS is, I am going to report what people are saying about it and about you in my next article.’
“’But do not say that I said I am the Virgin Mary and a goddess. It is the people who are saying that.’
“’I shall say that the people are saying that the FREE PRESS has become just like one of the tabloids because it has attacked their Virgin Mary or goddess. Is that correct?’
Magnificent. And one of the few examples I’ve found of Locsin letting his sense of humor shine through any of his articles.
He was always a shrewd observer; his journalism is replete with telling details and observations that endure. A short piece he wrote on August 10, 1946, titled “The Big Scramble,” could have been written yesterday, and can be written tomorrow. Just change the names, and the scramble is still there –the only thing different is the uncompromising morality of Locsin, then and always anti-collaborator.
“The young men of Capiz,” Locsin wrote, (referring to the new administration of Manuel Roxas), “according to reports reaching the FREE PRESS, are flocking to Manila, to shake the hand of their province mate, the President of the Philippines, to congratulate him on his election—and to ask for a job.
“Thus it was in Quezon’s time, and it was no different during the Osmeña administration. When Malacañan corridors still echoed with the oaths and curses of the High-Strung One [Quezon] as some cabinet member was called to account for some act of omission or commission, as the Church puts it, the Chosen People came from Tayabas. During the brief reign of Sergio the First and probably the Last, the Lucky Ones spoke English with a thick Cebuano accent. In the 2604th year of the reign of Showa, when Laurel was ‘President,’ Malacañan was a home away from home for Batangueños. Now, in the first year of Roxas, the Palace by the Pasig is being stormed by determined Capiceños, all animated by one single thought—a government job.
“In the palace itself, according to intelligence reports received by the Minority Camp, there are intra-mural hostilities between the De Leon side and the Acuña side of the Presidential family. The Acuñas are said to be increasingly bitter at the way the Bulakeños are getting the best jobs, and there are many dark references to blood, how it should be thicker than water.
“Meanwhile press communiqués indicate that while the Bulakeños and the Capiceños were arguing with each other who should have this job and who should have that, the Ilocanos—Quirinos—boys—have quietly infiltrated the lines and taken over the choicest offices. Determined to hold their positions at all cost, the Ilocanos were last reported to be forming suicide squadrons and building road blocks against future counter-attack by the boys from Bulacan and Capiz. In the face of a common enemy, they may even join forces and as one united army attack the Ilocano positions.
“From Capiz itself comes a report—the author keeps himself anonymous, and wisely, too, probably—that school teachers who made the simply unforgivable error of voting for Osmeña are finding themselves either dropped or assigned to distant barrios where nothing more is heard of them. Osmeña himself was given an honorary elder statesman’s job, but those who voted for him the last time are being slowly—and not so slowly — frozen out of the government, the report concludes.
“In Manila, things are not so bad. Many government employees took the precaution of voting for Roxas during the last election. If Osmeña won, they would still have their jobs, but if Roxas won—well they voted for him, didn’t they?”
And Locsin concluded with an observation that still speaks to us, today:
“Most government jobs are low paid, and one wonders why there is such scramble for them. Then one recalls the story of the pre-war Bureau of Customs employee who had a two story house, a car, and who sent his two daughters to an expensive private school—all on a salary of less than P100 a month. Who knows, once you are in the government, when such an opportunity will strike? The thing is, be prepared—and enter the government.”
Teddy Locsin, Sr. was not a prophet; he was a journalist, but the best kind; from his early post-war writing one is moved to jump to one of his last pre-martial law interviews, this one of his close friend Ninoy Aquino. The same Ninoy he advised, in 1983, not to return to the Philippines because, as Locsin’s middle son once recalled, “bravery achieves nothing, my father told him [Aquino], especially in a country of cowards. Yet that putdown of courage may have tipped the scale for Ninoy’s return. The worse the odds, the more inviting the challenge.”
This is only part of an interview, titled “Mission Impossible?” Locsin wrote on March 21, 1971. The issue of the day was the Jabidah massacre; there was an officer whose wife was looking for her husband. Locsin wrote,
“Captain Titong’s wife wonders, not only where her family’s next meal will come from, but where the hell her husband is.
“What happened to Captain Titong?
“’Five possibilities,’ said Aquino:
“’First, he could be absent without leave. The law demands that if he is AWOL, he should be court-martialed. But, thus far, no charge has been filed against him.’
“’Second, he could have been killed in action.’
“’Third, he could be missing in action.’
“’If the second or the third, then his dependents must receive a decent compensation, but this has been denied them.’
“Fourth, he could have deserted. But before one can prove desertion, one must first prove that the accused has no intention of returning or that he has joined the enemy. If he has deserted, then the officer who sent him on this last mission, even while he was facing charges before a General Court-Martial, has a lot to answer for.’
“’The fifth possibility is that he could be on a mission. This is the army position. But who would be so stupid as to send an exposed agent on a mission? Even the foreign press knew of Captain Titong.’”
Having allowed his readers to see Ninoy’s mind at work, now came Locsin’s turn to reach his own sinister conclusions:
“To send an exposed agent into the field of espionage,” Locsin continued, surely speaking from experience during the War, “again is like leading a sheep to slaughter. In October 1970 a Filipino secret agent identified as Capt. Solferiano Titong was reported to have been apprehended by Malaysian security forces. Some sources say that he has already been executed; others that he is still a prisoner in Kota Kinabalu.
“Where is Captain Titong and what is his fate? If he has been killed while on a mission his dependents should be supported. It is not only the humane, but also the legal thing to do. But if he is on a mission—or was, if he has been captured or killed—why was he sent on a mission while he still faced charges before a General Court-Martial? If he is a deserter or AWOL it could only be because he was given more freedom of movement than he was entitled to. He should have been closely watched. Why was he not?”
Locsin steps back to let Ninoy pose a question that Locsin then answers:
“’I will continue blocking General Ramos’s appointment until he satisfactorily explains what happened to Captain Titong,’ Aquino told the press. It is not true that he is blocking it because General Ramos is President Marcos’s second cousin or because he is ‘an anti-Huk fighter,’ as Malacañang has alleged…
“’Who is more responsible,’ Aquino retorted, ‘I or the man who put the lives of our young men in danger and most probably pushed this country to the brink of conflict?’
“Suddenly Senator Aquino realized that there was something odd about Malacañang’s reaction to his questions about Captain Titong’s fate. Why its deep concern? At the same time he heard from Moslem leaders about a certain individual who stood to profit greatly if the Sabah claim was pressed.
“Malacañang called Aquino, ‘unpatriotic.’
“Against whom? Aquino asked. President Marcos is not the Filipino nation. Or is he? …” Locsin goes on to go into the details on the claim on Sabah and the claim by Ferdinand Marcos that he had a power of attorney from the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu –a complicated question, but which, in the end, boils down to a question pregnant with foreboding:
“Either President Marcos does not envision anyone ever succeeding him as President or it is legal for a private individual to deal with himself as the highest official of the government.”
And so it came to pass. Locsin could see it coming. When the knock came on September 23 he was ready; he went into capitivity willingly. A country unwilling to resist tyranny might as well have examples of those willing to suffer imprisonment for principles upheld. Released, he kept silent –he would not dignify the dictatorship with his journalism. He took up his pen and wrote poetry, his true love; he wrote short stories, he brooded in his library and advised his friend Ninoy that a nation of cowards deserved what it was getting.
But when Ninoy died –the time had come for Locsin’s last crusade. In a sense, it was his Indian Summer, the last hoorah of a mind rejuvenated; he would praise Ninoy and exalt his widow; he would nod at the way a nation redeemed itself –only to keep pounding away at his typewriter as his country degenerated into the same sort of scrambling he had so trenchantly written about as a young man.
The mind of Teodoro M. Locsin, Sr. is best understood as the mind of a romantic; and like any lover of romance, he had his paramour –his country. He had the heart of a minstrel poet yet set it aside in order to be the guardian of the country he loved, betray her though she might, dissapoint her as often she may have done; still –to the end, the would be the man of the days of Liberation who would jump on anyone should they try to take advantage of the country he loved.
There is no other way to make sense of a man who seemed to be so violent in his prose and so forbiddingly distant when it came to his public persona, and yet who was the doting father and loving husband who would sing and drink his scotch and later, wine. The man who, in the twilight of his life said so little, even as he decided to write no more, is the man we see all over. The man who loved, and loved true; and yet refused all recognition for his long arduous hours of guardianship.
Free Press cover story
January 13, 2002 issue
Too early the birds of prey
by Manuel L. Quezon III
MAKING an ass of one’s self should be a basic human right, if only politicians could be denied this right because of the problems it causes other politicians and most of all, the public. To put matters in historical perspective, of the past presidents of this country, two were reelected to office (Manuel L. Quezon and Ferdinand E. Marcos), and only two former presidents ran for the position of president after having served as head of state: Emilio Aguinaldo, who went down in grumpy defeat in 1935, and Jose P. Laurel in 1949, though Laurel was the nobler in at least telling his supporters, who were as angry as Aguinaldo’s had been, not to mount a revolution.
Yet in the case of Aguinaldo and Laurel, there were extenuating circumstances in the cases of their candidacies. Aguinaldo was a political enemy of Quezon from 1922 to 1941, and was pushed by his supporters to run as a symbol of the aspirations of the Revolution; Laurel ran as much to vindicate his name as to achieve a mandate, never having been directly elected by the people to a position he served as a well-meaning head of a puppet government -indeed, it is interesting to note that both Aguinaldo, who ran in the first national presidential elections in 1935, and Laurel, who ran in the elections of 1949, were haunted by a desire to achieve what they never had when they were president: a genuine national mandate at the polls.
But one must consider, on the other hand, the cases of the only two presidents reelected: Quezon in 1935 and 1941, and Marcos in 1965 and 1969. Both tarnished their reputations by clinging to power beyond the terms allowed them by the Constitution under which they were elected. To this must be added the inevitability in the minds of many that had Quezon lived, he would have stepped down for a brief 2 years in order to run again in 1946 to be the first president of the independent Republic, and that Ramon Magsaysay would have run —and won— again, after his first term (and there are even those who suspect that Magsaysay, who imitated Quezon in so many ways, would have found a way to stay in office as long as possible as well). But fate decreed Quezon’s death in large part because of the strain of his final battle with Sergio Osmeña to cling to power, and fate had it in the cards that Ramon Magsaysay, like Manuel Roxas, would die before his first term ended, leaving Ferdinand Marcos to make every liberty-loving and democratic Filipinos’ nightmare come true: scrapping the Constitution, ignoring the laws, setting up a dictatorship that only fell when a country regained its dignity and courage and threw the man out of Malacañang.
Now to these negative examples add the examples of past presidents who could have run for office after the Constitutional limitations passed, and yet did not: the list is long. Sergio Osmena; Elpidio Quirino; Carlos P. Garcia; Diosdado Macapagal; Corazon Aquino. Except for Aquino, all the rest suffered defeat in their quest for reelection to a second term, yet had an opportunity (at least in the cases of Osmena, Garcia and Macapagal) to run for president again if they wished. But they never wished to. None of them ever fully retired from politics; they preferred to be consulted as elder statesmen; two of them, Garcia and Macapagal, chose to run for, be elected delegates to, and then presidents of, the 1971-73 Constitutional Convention. But the presidency, having been denied them in the past, was something they never sought again as a political prize.
The fact is that it should be enough for a former president to have had the honor and privilege of serving the country once, or in the old days twice, and end it at that. The exemplar of how a former president should conduct himself after leaving office is of course, Sergio Osmena, who represented many of the political virtues of the country, anyway; to a lesser extent, there are the examples of Aguinaldo and Laurel, the former reconciling himself to playing elder statesman, the latter choosing to serve in the senate as long as he could and even serve other presidents. There are the examples, too, of Garcia and Macapagal: the former went into quiet retirement until the ConCon and then died 24 hours after being sworn in as president of the convention; Macapagal, after a checkered experience with presiding and eventually losing control over the ConCon at least followed Aguinaldo’s path and quietly learned to enjoy the role of elder statesman; poor Elpidio Quirino lived too briefly after leaving office to accomplish much more than begin his memoirs and reach a touching reconciliation with his erstwhile protégé, Magsaysay.
Enter Fidel V. Ramos, former and, to the minds of too many, including quite possibly the mind of Mr. Ramos himself, future President of the Republic of the Philippines. Enter Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, present president and, almost indubitably, candidate for the position in 2004. What of them?
Of Fidel Ramos, one should note immediately what has been whispered about town almost from the moment he left office -the man has never grown accustomed to not wielding the reins of power. He wanted to amend the Constitution to allow himself either two more years in the manner of Quezon, or transform the country to a parliamentary system which was the original Marcos plan to perpetuate himself in power. This grand design failed in the face of the intransigence of Corazon Aquino (former president who seems not to miss being president at all), Cardinal Sin, a multitude of Filipinos, and one Joseph Ejercito Estrada who would be damned if his sure election to the presidency would be postponed even for a minute by a man he loathed.
Result? A lost kibbitzer, which Mr. Ramos is of the first order, as proven by his most unpresidential behavior during Joseph Estrada’s inauguration at Barasoain. The man tried to steal the limelight every moment he could, and then loftily proclaimed that under Estrada, he would be pleased to play the role of Elder Statesman in an official capacity, much to the amusement of everyone who head Ramos say these things. However, neither public derision, or skepticism, or outright hostility has ever deterred Mr. Ramos from doing what he pleases, and it has pleased him to use the time in between his never-ending globetrotting to keep himself in the limelight, including first, playing a lecturing uncle to Estrada, and then supposed pillar of the opposition when Estrada grew impatient with his “advice,” and now, gadfly and thorn in the side of Mrs. Arroyo. Perhaps Mr. Ramos feels that if Cory Aquino can bring down one government after stopping the attempts at charter change of two other presidents dead in their tracks, he has similar powers.
Perhaps. Although if this is the case, then it only proves that the man has an axe to grind against the woman who broke tradition to attend his inauguration (for perfectly legitimate symbolic reasons, the inauguration of Ramos was the first democratic handover of power since 1965) and put country ahead of her having given him her previous blessings in firmly saying “no” to his obvious desire to prolong his stay in office. One is forced to wonder if Fidel Ramos is not only ungrateful when it comes to Cory Aquino, but whether he actively dislikes her now -which would make him a petty, mean, and small-minded man.
Or could it be Fidel Ramos simply is getting old and too dense to realize the reason Cory Aquino can be an influential ex-president and Fidel Ramos may be influential, but not popular, and lacks what he seems to crave: a nation, on bended knee, begging him to return to Malacanang? Were this the case, then at least one can conclude Fidel Ramos is not petty, mean and small-minded but suffering from well-intentioned delusions: of being an irreplaceable man, of believing as gospel truth the insincere flattery of the sycophants that surround any politician, and the quite human refusal to recognize his own mortality and accept being put out to political pasture, since he is by no means, ancient. The reason Cory Aquino has the influence and respect she has, and Ramos does not, is that she is the only president in our history to say one term is enough, I’ve had it, and left Malacanang without looking back and probably murmuring “good riddance” the whole time. In short, she has what Fidel Ramos has never, ever, had in his life or career: moral ascendancy.
Fidel Ramos is too fidgety, too eager the attention-seeker, too enthusiastic the opiner, too happy the meddler, to be respected or have moral ascendancy of any sort. This is not to say he does not have influence, for he does; this is not to say he does not have political supporters, for he does; but it is to say that as far as the public is concerned, Fidel Ramos is history and had better accept the fact that he belongs to the past and not the future. One need only listen to the verbal abuse he was subjected to by the great unwashed at Edsa III to recognize this; and aside from the usual businessmen who value the illusion of Fidel Ramos being “Steady Eddie,” and who crave a man who will be content to go on junkets and turn a blind eye to anything so long as he gets the perks (a bad executive habit he shared with Joseph Estrada except in comparison to Estrada’s being uncouth about corruption, even Ramos’s most vicious detractors give him credit for being suave when it came to the corruption they are convinced he was a party to during his term).
To be a president or past president is, of course, not to be divine; which means Fidel Ramos is as likely to fall prey to illusions as much as the next man. He probably thinks the can still do good for the country, that the country needs him, and if the country were only given a chance it would fall to the ground in gratitude and kiss his feet were he to have the chance to be president again. This explains the never-ending and, really, tiring controversy of the day, which is the alleged rift between President Arroyo and former president Ramos over an election two years away. Fidel Ramos already suffers from the perception too widely held that he at one point pulled all the strings in the new Arroyo administration, or tried to, which made him as much the object of the poor’s equally deluded wrath in May 2001, as President Arroyo herself. And as for President Arroyo, she suffers from two insecurities: the fact that she was elevated to the presidency by succession and not election, and under the most confused of circumstances at that; and that she is the first child of a president who seems to have a chance to break the long curse, it seems, that has afflicted the children of past presidents -none of them ever make it to Malacanang although the senate and Vice-Presidency have been proven to not be beyond their reach.
For a politician and a businessman and even a soldier, and even for certain members of our uncivilized civil society, Fidel Ramos has the virtue of exuding an aura of dynamism, of calm, of precise, methodical working habits and discipline. How close perceptions are to the truth only those truly close to him can answer; but the fact is that there are those with influence and money who believe there exists a Steady Eddie and wouldn’t mind Ramos back. For the same politicians and businessmen, the problem with President Arroyo is that even if she is equally hard working, she happens to be frugal, as hot-tempered as Ramos but far from being his peer in hiding the fact, and she is a woman who suffers from the idea she has nothing to lose by actually giving the country as honest an administration as is possible given our society’s limitations. That, and the fact there is that onus on presidential children and that they might get stuck with her for nine uninterrupted years. The ramifications of a fairly clean, competent, and hard-working government are simply too frightening for these people to contemplate.
And thus the need to at least obtain leverage on Mrs. Arroyo by way of using Fidel Ramos as a threat. After all, Mr. Ramos is willing and able to be used as such a tool, indeed he may have thought up the idea of using the bogey of a Ramos for President campaign in 2004 as a potential spoiler to exact concessions from the administration, which has enough of a problem on its hands with fulfilling its promises, neutralizing its enemies, and keeping the country together during tough times.
Fidel Ramos would never win another presidential election even if Mrs. Arroyo dropped dead and a way was found to make monkeys run against Ramos the way Marcos engineered his farcical martial law presidential elections. What can happen is Fidel Ramos could ensure that if he can’t win, neither can Mrs. Arroyo, but it wouldn’t be in the interest of either to give away the election in 2004 to the opposition, which is indeed vicious, ruthless, has many axes to grind, and much dirt to dish out against the two.
Hence the view of this writer than Mr. Ramos is either extremely delusional or out to keep himself in the political loop and be a powerbroker of sorts, if not an actual shadow president (the best of both worlds). The fact that Joe de Venecia, who has the biggest chance of being Prime Minister for life were we to go parliamentary, is as usual going out of his way to get into trouble trying to patch things up between former president Ramos and President Macapagal, is no surprise or mystery. De Venecia is simply too nice, too compleat the politician, to give the opposition ammunition when things could all be quietly smoothed out to his party’s advantage.
The spoiler of course is Mrs. Arroyo’s determination not to be anyone’s patsy; she may have, as all presidents have done, tried to pay her dues in the early part of her administration, but she can clearly see, if she has half a brain (and no one doubts she has not just half but quite a complete one), that she needs a mandate, a real mandate, and that her political destiny must be played out as her father’s was -either to a happier conclusion by way of election in 2004, or defeat, as her father endured in 1965. But she has no other option but to stay the course and fight.
That having been said, this is all, then, a testing of the waters. The West Pointer in Ramos is probing the defenses of the administration, looking for its weaknesses. His archskeptics are under the impression his real aim is to simply be done with a Constitution that he could not amend to satisfy his ambitions, and be called upon to trot out on a white horse and restore the lost era of Philippines 2000. No one with any intellectual honesty can deny that Mr. Ramos’s actions to date, down to calling a radio station to muse on the need to file a test case to figure out if he’s entitled to run legitimately in the next election, only serve to reinforce the worst perceptions that exist of the man. Nor can anyone deny the political and even personal imperatives that would drive Mrs. Arroyo to seek election in 2004 come hell or high water, if only to prove her critics wrong, and be remembered not as a woman who inherited the presidential mantle, but who earned it in her own right.
So Fidel Ramos says he is not running —period, period, period. Though the country is used to his three periods being the ellipse that leads to a pregnant pause that leads others to begin to have paranoid attacks (which Ramos surely enjoys). The President, on the other hand, truthfully says she is too busy worrying about the here and now to fuss over 2004, though even in that she is being disingenuous -but then which president entitled to reelection, with the exception of Cory Aquino- ever was anything but disingenuous about the possibility of their running again? Even Cory Aquino, who was not bound by the term limitations of the Charter approved during her term, kept her options open if only to keep from becoming a lame duck. The only president in our history who ever committed political suicide was Joseph Estrada and neither Ramos nor Arroyo are Estrada. There is no surer way to commit political hara-kiri than to say you have no intention of running for reelection when you can -and be believed.
The whole non-issue then boils down to a rift between the Lakas-NUCD people who grew fat and soft under Ramos, and who aren’t pleased that they are expected to stay relatively lean during the Arroyo New Era Part 2. The whole issue is that having abandoned the Liberals, and never having established a cohesive hard-core party of loyalists of her own, Mrs. Arroyo is not in full control of the party she is putatively the chief of, but which recalls its salad days as having been under Fidel Ramos. Ramos may be circulating offering them a chance of reliving the good old days when boys could be boys, businessmen could do business under a regime that was all light and sound, and not hard work as it is at present.
Pie in the sky, Ramos-style, versus the drudgery of the dirty kitchen, Arroyo-style. Were you a politician you would at least give pause to the thought that life would be tough under another six years of Arroyo, and positively miserable if not dangerous to life and limb under a Ping Lacson regime: so why not, indeed, a return to steady Eddie.
We shall have to see who has the last wink. Or who raises her eyebrow last in satisfaction as her opponent folds.
The May Day Rebellion
by Manuel L. Quezon III
May 12, 2001
IF politics, even the politics of a rebellion, is addition, then we must begin with doing the math. At the height of the gathering of the masses at the Edsa Shrine, three million Filipinos gathered in a shared hatred for the administration, the Church, so-called “Civil Society” and their allies in government. A source speculated that of these, roughly a quarter were paid to attend, another third went of their own volition, and the rest either attended out of obedience to the religious allies of Joseph Estrada, or simply out of curiosity and to join in the “fun”. Using these estimates, which are as good as any, this means at its height, the allies of Joseph Estrada, if not his family itself, managed to pay 750,000 Filipinos to go to the shrine; and a full million went there because they sympathized not only with Estrada, but with what speaker after speaker bellowed on stage: resentment and hatred of the prelates of the Church, of Civil Society, of the President, of the politicians and the pervasive nature of the poverty they felt was the fault of big business and their Leftist and intellectual allies.
Reduce, if you will, the crowd to a million, which may have been at the Edsa Shrine on the fatal early May Day morning when the crowd’s patience finally cracked and they either spontaneously decided to stop agitating and actual rise up, or were told to storm the Palace, and the numbers still astound: 250,000 paid hacks, close to 340,000 convinced individuals; and of these, perhaps a hundred thousand dared to actually begin the march to storm the Palace though accounts vary as to whether 50,000 or less actually made it to Mendiola and J.P. Laurel. Government itself said it had to fight off ten thousand of its countrymen in what the media -which suddenly had the courage to dodge rocks and risk bullets, face being lynched and otherwise face the loss of life and property it dared not risk the previous six days- christened “the battle of Malacañang.”
This is the story of the days that led to that battle. A battle which was won by the government but which only in retrospect could be said was one government could inevitably win. At the time, as the Americans put it, it was too close to call. The reasons for the defeat of the mobs at Edsa are obvious: not only the superior firepower of the AFP which backed up the truncheons of the police, the firmness of the President in the face of adversity, but the cowardice of those behind the rebellion and thus, the lack of any cohesive leadership on the field.
August 30, 1998
The National Centennial: Who cares?
Filipinos will have nothing to celebrate but every reason to curse the government for yet another great waste of taxpayers’ money
by Manuel L. Quezon III
ITS logo can be seen everywhere: a stylized red, white and blue ribbon forming the number 100, surmounted by three gold stars and bearing the legend “Freedom, wealth of the nation” underneath. You can see this logo emblazoned on the aircraft of Philippine airlines, on vanity license plates, on stickers and in advertisements on television and newspapers.
The logo is that of the National Centennial, which Filipinos will be celebrating in 1998. Well, some people in government at the very least.
The Centennial and the patriotic events leading up to it are the concerns of the National Centennial Commission, headed by Salvador H. Laurel, an honest and decent man who, obviously, is not much of an executive. The commission over which he presides with well-meaning good humor is attached to the Office of the President. In keeping with the nature of the administration under which it was created, and to whose largesse it owes its existence, the centennial commission has found itself the subject of criticism for such things us fact-finding missions to observe the Tournament of Roses parade in the United States, for saying some very nice things that are then made a mockery of by its actions, and for generally allowing itself to be dragged into controversies as a result of the President’s tendency to unilaterally announce hare-brained schemes without warning his subordinates that they should expect some heat. In other words, the centennial commission is a characteristically Philippines 2000 institution, headed by people who have their hearts in the right place but who end up befuddled by the shady politicking that swirls around the administration.
The vague nature of the centennial commission’s mandate is at the root of the impression many people have that Laurel’s agency is adrift, and thus incapable of focusing its energies, much less mustering the popular support needed to make the Centennial meaningful.
Laurel’s commission is supposed to come up with programs and events to commemorate the Centennial. But what the Centennial actually is remains unclear. At first, sensibly enough, the commission said that the Centennial, which will take place on June 12, 1998, is no less than the hundredth anniversary of the proclamation of Philippine independence from a window of the Aguinaldo mansion in Kawit, Cavite.
Sounds clear enough. But every Independence Day since the creation of the commission—that is, the five June 12th’s celebrated since President Ramos took his oath of office—featured enormous placards and billboards proclaiming that June 12th to be the 94th, 95th, 97th, 98th, or 99th anniversary of independence.
Now there is very clearly a difference between commemorating the anniversary of the proclamation of independence and observing the anniversary of actual independence. The first is the anniversary of the particular moment in time when, with flags waving, bands playing and people cheering, Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed that the Philippines and the Filipinos were, and ought to be, free. The second is the ritual commemoration of a reality that began at a certain point and has continued existing up to the present without interruption.
So which is it? Will we, in 1998, be commemorating the proclamation of our nation’s freedom, or will we be joyously celebrating four generations’ worth of emancipation from colonial rule?
To commemorate the former would be justified and grand; to commemorate the latter would be a self-induced deception and a lie. And yet, after the simple and lucid definition of purpose made when Laurel’s commission was created, it has done nothing to clarify this issue.
And this issue is vital. If the commission cannot even figure out its true mandate, how can the nation be expected to have a sense of purpose? A nation and a people should not be made to expend their energies in a nationwide fiesta celebrating an ambiguous state of affairs. One doesn’t need a degree in Philippine history to realize that our country has been independent for only two generations, that is, since July 4, 1946. In fact, a serious case could be made for dating our independence to an event as recent as the removal of the US bases. To assert that we have enjoyed the blessings of freedom uninterruptedly since 1898 is to go against the experience of the generation that fought the Japanese in anticipation of the independence promised—and fulfilled—in 1946. A generation whose members are still very much around to challenge any claims to a century of freedom.
There’s more. Apparently unsure of its true purpose, lacking the will to grapple with the problem, content with trying to please everyone and thus alienating almost everyone, the commission has spent the past five years on the defensive, trying to wriggle out of controversies instead of taking up the initiative. It has devoted its time to planning colorful events that have fallen flat because they were extravaganzas without a crucial component: the Filipino people.
With less than a year to go before the grand finale of the Centennial effort, it would be useful to look into the other reasons why the Centennial effort has been an unqualified flop.
The master plan hinged on the commemoration of a series of events, particularly the centennial of the beginning of the Philippine Revolution and the martyrdom of Rizal.
In both of these great anniversaries, the commission immediately handicapped itself by placing too much importance on the descendants of those who participated in the Philippine Revolution, among them the relatives of Rizal and ardent Rizalists. Not that the descendants of our freedom fighters should have been ignored; far from it. It is both necessary and proper that their patriotic legacies should be honored. But in settling for organizing reunions among the families that formed Kaanak and similar organizations, the commission set itself up in a position for which it was manifestly unqualified: arbiter among the factions that started to squabble over star billing in the Centennial celebrations.
The descendants of the Katipuneros from Tondo began to fight with the descendants of the fighters from Cavite; Magdiwang and Magdalo divisions sprang up once more with a ferocity intensified by a century of familial resentments. The commission, sensibly enough for a body tasked with focusing its attention on the proclamation of independence at Cavite, featured a number of descendants and sympathizers of Emilio Aguinaldo. Only to find itself being taken to task by admirers and relatives of Andres Bonifacio. To complicate things further, contending ideological points of view that have already been boiling since the 1960s, the last time the nation focused its attention on the revolutionary heroes, come to the forefront once more. The commission accused of being cozy club of ilustrados who were pointedly playing down the importance of the proletarian revolution led by Bonifacio.
The enormous amount of energy and media attention focused on these intramurals diverted attention from the fact that other than the Aguinaldistas and Bonifacionistas, the Caviteños and the Department of History of the University of the Philippines, no one else seemed to give a damn about what was going on. This marked the derailment of the Centennial effort from what should have been its primary purpose: to excite the majority of Filipinos who cannot trace their family trees to a veteran of the Revolution so that they will be inspired to proclaim that while they may not be able to trace an ancestor to the fight for freedom, they are prepared to exult in the fact that they are around today to enjoy that freedom.
In yet another example of how close the commission came to fulfilling its greatest task—only to swerve away from it—it got as far as proclaiming 1996, the year in which Bonifacio’s revolt and Rizal’s sacrifice were commemorated, the “Year of Filipino Heroes.” This took the spotlight away from personalities and finally gave recognition to the legions of heroes whose names have been lost to us. The commission’s lack of focus made the proclamation an empty slogan.
To make things even worse, the commission ended up holding the bag for the President, who decided he wanted a tower erected in Rizal Park ostensibly in commemoration of the Centennial but actually to glorify his incumbency. The resulting furor from artistic circles, gleefully echoed by the media, alienated the commission further from the very people in the best position to help it achieve its aims. Things went downhill from there. A convocation of scholars from around the world was held in Manila to tackle the significance of the Philippine Revolution. It ended up being a convention of Rizalists who delivered papers on every subject conceivable, except on the Philippine Revolution, and, most of all, Andres Bonifacio. Which further alienated the groups already convinced that the August 1896 anniversary was deliberately being turned into a nonevent, a suspicion confirmed on the centennial of the start of the Revolution when the deputy prime minister of Malaysia was made a Knight of Rizal in an official, face-saving gesture to make up for the embarrassment inflicted by Malaysia when it convened a conference on Rizal ahead of the Philippines.
Creating a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Knights of Rizal was the least the admirers of our national hero and the government could do to thank Malaysia for its friendly interest. But it was absolutely the worst thing anyone could do as far as slighting the admirers of Bonifacio was concerned. The commission became a party to this highly undiplomatic act undertaken in the name of diplomacy, which achieved nothing internationally while making enemies of a significant section of the already small number of people who cared about the Centennial in the first place.
The commemoration of the martyrdom of Rizal was accomplished with a little more success and less bruised feelings, something owed to the long-standing cohesiveness of the admirers of Rizal than to any effort of the government, whose single strike of genius was to put the ceremonies under the direction of Zeneida Amador, who managed to pull off a moving reenactment of Rizal’s final moments.
Since the storm and stress of 1996, things have been quiet, almost comatose, as far as the Centennial front is concerned. The most newsworthy Centennial-related event was a negative one—a tongue-lashing from a fuming Ramos offended by the apathy of the tiny audience that listened to his proclamation of the Centennial theme for this year. (What’s the theme for 1997? Can anyone remember? Anyone?) A presidential scolding that Laurel mercifully missed because he was out of the country.
The good news this year is courtesy of the Armed Forces, which raised the funds for the purchase of the house where the Tejeros Convention took place. The happy event was negated, however, by the scandal associated with the “restoration” of the Malolos Cathedral.
Patriotism and nationalism cannot be conjured from people’s hearts at the drop of a hat. All the balloons and brass bands in the world will never be able to evoke feelings of pride in one’s country, of solemn appreciation for the long and bloody history of our struggle for freedom. A people must understand that a nation’s history, like our lives is a combination of the sacred and the profane, the noble and disgraceful, the silly and the sublime. Instead of fostering understanding and an appreciation of our past and its contradictions and unifying themes, what was sown was division and discord. Instead of reaping public support, the commission has found itself subjected to derision and active opposition. It has provoked discord among intellectuals and factions, without achieving the mobilization of the majority of citizens as part of the effort to render homage to our heroes.
Saddest of all, all along it has meant well.
The hollowness, the emptiness of the Centennial effort is best demonstrated by an event that was reported to have taken place recently when a new monument to Andres Bonifacio was unveiled in Manila.
A few news reports mentioned that during the unveiling ceremonies, the descendants of Andres Bonifacio and the descendants of Emilio Aguinaldo came forward and publicly declared that they were putting an end to the animosity and resentment between their two clans as a consequence of the execution of the Supremo. And that they were calling on all their friends to forgive and forget in the name of national unity.
This declaration should have been an occasion for national rejoicing. In another era, it would have been reason for a Te Deum to be sung at the cathedral. For the declaration marked one of the noblest, most admirable, and meaningful events of the Centennial period.
And yet, no further mention of it was made in the papers. NO effort was made to propagate this joyful news in the media. The commission did not say a word.
Why not? Because the event took place at a ceremony under the auspices of Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim? Perhaps. A pathetic, petty reason, if true. Reason enough to understand why the Filipino people will not be filled with pride and awe on June 12, 1998. What will they have to celebrate? Pomp and circumstance at a scandalous cost, of no relevance to themselves and their loved ones, and of no consequence for a country that will be witnessing one more example of official extravagance.
To understand why no one cares about the Centennial is to understand why no one cares about the government, save those who directly benefit from it. It does not belong to the people. It belongs to a different world that feeds off us.
The reader may be tempted to ask, at the end of this catalogue of lost opportunities and squandered resources, if such an analysis isn’t counterproductive, leading to a feeling of cynicism that does nothing to salvage what must surely be one remaining opportunity to sort things out in time for the Centennial.
The answer would be: It is precisely to try to salvage something out of this sad state of affairs that harsh criticism such as this need to be made in public.
If it is important—and most people will agree it is important—to commemorate the anniversary of the proclamation of our independence, on the eve of the birth of the Malolos Republic, then we cannot leave such an important event in the hands of elected officials. It would be as futile as waiting for reforms from Spain in the time of the Propagandists. It is up to ourselves to make the Centennial meaningful just as it was up to ourselves to wrest our freedom from Spain and cajole it back from the hands of the Americans.
The Centennial of the beginning of our Revolution against Spain (which, incidentally, was the centennial of our first declaration of independence, reiterated in Kawit two years later) resulted in a marvelous musical, 1896, staged by Peta and which owed nothing to official support. It was a triumph in all respects, and lifted the hearts of the young and old, without glossing over the more sordid aspects of our freedom struggle. Watching it, one experienced in an hour and a half the exhilaration, the tearful pride, the compassion, the joy, anger and resolve that well all should feel when we think of the Revolution and the Centennial Feelings made possible by the songs and acting of a small group of young men and women. One saw what a true love for our past combined with dedication to make it mean something for people here, today, could accomplish.
So let those whose hearts and minds are in the right place take over. Stop waiting for the parade. Seek those who are doing the things that count and make people think.
As for the National Centennial Commission, its only legacy to us, besides the millions of pesos in taxpayers’ money wasted on its account, will be a concrete and ignoble one: the alteration of our flag.
On flagpoles everywhere, a new and different flag is masquerading as the emblem of our country. The color of its blue stripe is a neither-here-nor-there shade of blue lighter than that of the flag that three generations had honored; its red stripe is different, too. The proportions of the white triangle, with its sun and three stars, however, continue to be those of the flag specified by executive order during the Commonwealth, making this new flag neither a restoration of the slightly different proportions of the flag raised at Kawit nor a complete abolition of the flag we all know. These, without any enabling law, without public consultations, without even bothering to inform the very people who swear allegiance to it every morning.
The bastardized flag may owe something to the flag that went down in defeat under Aguinaldo, but it also harks back to the same flag raised at the inauguration of the Puppet Republic in 1943, and a variation of which was inflicted on a subjugated nation under Marcos. A flag dishonored through association, and whose legitimacy was long supplanted by the flag Filipinos fought for in Bataan, raised in triumph in 1946, borne at Ninoy Aquino’s funeral, waved at EDSA, and finally raised over the former US bases in 1992.
This is not the sort of legacy Salvador H. Laurel should want to leave us.
Cinderella’s invited to the prom
October 26, 1996–A FEW weeks ago, the leaders of the world’s richest countries wanted to feel good about themselves. They also wanted the world to feel good about them. So they announced that thenceforth the foreign debts of the poorest Third World countries—mostly in Black Africa—would be forgiven by them. Oh, how noble, how generous they were. It was hopeless, they said, to expect these blacks to pay the interest, let alone the principal, on their countries’ foreign debts—mostly stolen by black dictators, just like our foreign debt was largely stolen by an Ilocano dictator. Also dark.
That was several weeks ago.
Last week, the International Monetary Fund announced that the Philippines had been invited to share in paying off the debts of the world’s poorest Third World countries.
What they were saying was, as if it was a great honor, “Welcome to the club.”
Yes, indeed, like the totally tasteless and parvenu couple John and Marsha, Mother Philippines and her beau, our President, have been invited by the nabobs of the IMF to the world debt prom.
The IMF, lest ye have forgotten, was the cruel fiscal stepmother that had our country—poor starry-eyed heroine just recently free of the dictator’s shackles—scrubbing floors and eating dirt to pay the credit card bills of Makiki exiles Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.
At a time when we were the world’s inspiration, heroes of democracies, we were told that we would be bereft of honor if we did not pay—and pay, and pay.
That debts were dubious and downright immoral did not matter. You did not argue with the IMF, which had the power of economic life and death over an economy struggling to restore a free market. They had the recipe for success, they said, and we had better follow it. Or else.
The recipe was simple: pay up. Pay the debts of the conjugal dictatorship; never mind that the money was stolen or wasted. And then you would, if not get better, certainly feel better about yourself.
And so when Solita Monsod, then NEDA director general, dared suggest that we repudiate at least some of the debts incurred by Imelda Marcos and her husband, a howl rose from the bankers. And they hastened Monsod’s exit from the public service and the conversation of the NEDA into the Merril Lynch of Philippine officialdom. (Today the NEDA regularly leaks GNP figures to the stockbrokers of the Palace inhabitants.)
One day our country looked up from her drudgery and saw former communist nations such as Poland grandly absolved of their debts—absolved by the same demanding gang of overseers that insisted we pay back every penny stolen by the Marcoses. And our nation sighed, is there no fairness, no justice?
How sad it was to see a nice country finish last. If we’d had missiles and belonged to the Warsaw Pact—the alliance of communist powers aimed at Western Europe—perhaps we would have been treated better. Oh, well.
So we slaved on, until we were finally able to say that, despite the onerous burden of illegitimate debts, we were able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.
Well, by golly, it seems that the IMF has recognized this fact and invited us to take a seat at the table of lending countries. Well, not the presidential table, perhaps, but a table somewhere near the swinging doors to the kitchen. But who cares? Cinderella Philippines has been invited to the prom: we have arrived. now, the IMF tells us, we are in a position to help countries less fortunate than ourselves. This is better than letting the rich countries do it alone.
We hope the government doesn’t get into its daffy head to accept the IMF proposal. A nation that had the class to stand up for democracy, and that doggedly worked to dig itself out of an unjust economic situation, should not be forced by its lenders to give away the money it has so painfully earned. After all, it still has to pay for its own debt. A debt still due and, oddly, growing monstrously by the month. It has grown to $45 billion and still growing. But the economy has grown strong enough to meet the monthly installments on time.
To the bankers that means the economy has also grown strong enough to help pay off the debts of other countries who have no hope of paying any part of them.
We may be on our feet, but we are in no condition to throw money away. Ours is still a nation of indentured servants abroad and starving workers at home. We must keep what we have for the benefit of ourselves, and by “ourselves” we don’t mean the slick Central Bank types in league with the IMF.
It is true that there is nobility in poverty, in working to satisfy the demands of heartless people. But there is no nobility in allowing yourself to be fooled. The servant invited to dine at his master’s table—but a potluck dinner, where he must also bring his own plate—is not ennobled but further debased by the insult to his intelligence.
The Anatomy of Loyalty
By Edward R. Kiunisala
August 27, 1988–WHEN word reached them that Malacañang was under attack, they both jumped out of bed, made a few quick phone calls and, assured of the President’s safety, decided to report to the besieged Palace in that unholy pre-dawn hour. Bound by a common commitment and loyalty, two different persons, acting independently of each other, came up with the identical response and decision at a time of grave national crisis.
On their separate routes, unmindful of the risks involved, each went out to check up on government facilities and to monitor what was going on. Before daybreak, they were at their respective desks in Malacañang, carrying out the orders of the President.
Beyond the Call of Duty
They could have opted to play it safe, to discharge their duties by remote control: they chose to be where their leader was. Their response to the national emergency was above and beyond the call of duty. It was no gung-ho, derring-do feat; they acted simply from an unwavering sense of duty.
Of the 24 Cabinet members, only Joker Arroyo and Teodoro Locsin, Jr., were at the side of the embattled President during the most crucial moments of the bloody August 28 Honasan mutiny. National Defense Secretary Rafael Ileto could not be reached during the early hours of the coup. Other Cabinet members, called to an emergency meeting at 5:00 a.m., could not come.
“We die at our post,” said Arroyo.
Worse, the hotline to the Armed Forces chief of Staff Fidel V. Ramos, who had earlier rushed to Camp Crame, was dead. Meanwhile, rebel forces had already penetrated Camp Aguinaldo and Villamor Airbase and taken over two television stations, Channels 9 and 13, while surrounding Channels 2 and 4. Rebels were reported to have also taken over the military camps in Pampanga, Legaspi City and Cebu.
In Metro Manila CAPCOM forces simply remained in their barracks, awaiting orders from high military command which had been immobilized by Honasan forces in Camp Aguinaldo. But for the timely arrival in Malacañang of a combat-ready brigade of marines and the prompt mobilization of the Manila police under General Alfredo Lim, the situation in the capital region looked bleak. The rebel forces seemed to have the upper hand.
Although the President had gone on the air early on to assure everyone that the government was on top of the situation, the people remained worried, especially when Channels 2 and 4 suddenly went off the air. The people’s apprehension heightened when Honasan himself cockily fielded questions from media even as the rebel-held Channel 13 telecast rebels’ claims of sure victory.
Some radio broadcasters readily sided with Honasan as they painted a grim picture of the government under siege.
Crush the Coup!
Another would have already capitulated or fled. But in her 18-month-old regime, Cory had seen enough of military mutinies and coup attempts—four, to be exact,—to be easily intimidated by another one. Determined to stay in Malacañang at all cost she assumed total command with only Arroyo and Locsin serving as her adjutants. Her iron will surfaced in the decision to crush the coup at once.
It was no impulsive judgement, but she had learned from the lessons of the February Revolution. Cory wanted to avoid the two big mistakes that led to the quick downfall of Marcos: loss of will to act immediately; and desertion of his post. The so-called “most decorated Filipino soldier of World War II” lost the biggest battle of his life because of failure of nerve.
President Aquino’s nerve didn’t fail her in the bloodiest ordeal of her 18-month-old administration. She knew that protracted negotiation could touch off an avalanche of defection. Her strategy was to bring the situation to a head, knowing as she did that the main bulk of the military, by training and tradition, would remain loyal to the flag unless forced by circumstances to defect.
Thus when Locsin motored to the “battle zone” to establish a direct line between Camp Aguinaldo and Malacañang, he knew exactly what to do: convey to the Chief-of-Staff the President’s orders as clearly and emphatically as possible. The rebels, led by Colonel Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, in Camp Aguinaldo, were to be crushed pronto! The President herself, in a telephone connection arranged by Locsin, verbally confirmed the order to General Ramos.
When the execution of the Malacañang order got delayed, Locsin minced no words: time was of the essence! A professional soldier, Ramos probably didn’t want to go half-cocked, knowing he didn’t have sufficient back-up troops to sustain an all-out attack. He might have even doubted that the soldiers around him would obey his order to attack the rebels they considered their brothers-in-arms.
But Locsin was only too well aware of the consequences of inaction and delay. Time was on the side of the rebels. Inaction could be taken as weakness, a situation that could trigger mass defection to the side perceived to be winning. He feared that if the government military forces held their fire longer, Honasan would gain more adherents—even from Camp Crame itself. Smelling defection, Locsin could only shake his head, muttering aloud to himself, “Somebody is going to get demoted for this.”
There were other instances that caused Locsin’s blood pressure to shoot up. One such case concerned five Metro Manila radio stations which aired materials that, in Locsin’s view, constituted a clear case of treasonous disinformation. The presidential counsel contacted the National Telecommunications Commission to get those stations off the air. The commission immediately complied, except in the case of DZRH, which it allowed to continue operating upon the intercession allegedly of Sen. Agapito “Butz” Aquino and National Press Club president Art Borjal.
But what really raised Locsin’s hackles was the case of Channel 13, which had been seized by rebel forces, along with Channel 9. Locsin wanted the military to retake both stations or knock off their transmitters to prevent the rebels from telecasting anti-government stuff. What the military did was cut off the Meralco power supply of those two channels—forgetting that they had back-up generators.
What Locsin feared, happened. Channel 13 went on the air, showing in portrait fashion a group of rebels in full battle gear, with their spokesman, a certain Lieutenant Mendoza, claiming widespread military support and predicting final victory before the end of that day. Worse, Channel 7, left unmolested by the rebels, took it upon itself to tape the rebel telecast and to replay it immediately, giving the impression that the Honasan forces were in control.
The presidential counsel hit the roof. He picked up a telephone and asked for the Presidential Security Group. Within earshot of General Ramos and other high-ranking military officers, he told the other end of the line to get “some of your people” to bomb Channel 13 “because nothing is moving from this end.” That form of reverse psychology worked. The military eventually managed to put Channel 13 off the air—without having to bomb it.
If Channel 13 remained in rebel hands and continued to air pro-Honasan propaganda, the government would have found itself in great trouble. It would have caused more confusion not only in the military but also among the public, and created a bandwagon effect in favor of the Honasan mutiny. During the February Revolution, control of television stations by the anti-Marcos forces was vital in demoralizing the Marcos camp, loosening his grip on power.
Key Word: Action
In this light, Locsin’s publicly perceived impetuosity vis-à-vis the Channel 13 case was only a logical reaction to a clear and present danger to the Republic. Although it meant sailing too close to the wind, it helped preserve the integrity of the State. It would be plain stupid just to wait and be clobbered by one’s enemies without hitting back.
If the nation is to survive, it must be ready to use all means available to protect itself. It cannot afford to be negligent, squeamish or wishy-washy. That is the natural law of survival and those who ignore it will live to regret it, if they live at all. The iron rule in emergency situations, according to Henry Kissinger, is: “Whatever must happen ultimately should happen immediately.” The key word is action.
That is the message of the Locsin behavior, which some media practitioners and professional critics completely missed. It is the message that Arroyo wanted to underscore when he wondered aloud why it took the military about 16 hours to quell the mutiny of a small band of rebels. Like Locsin, Arroyo was bothered by the military’s hesitation to obey the Commander-in-Chief’s order to attack.
The roles that Arroyo and Locsin played that August 28 became Metro Manila’s liveliest conversation piece for quite some time. While they eventually reaped more praise than criticism, their detractors obtained more mileage, coming as they did from the more influential and vociferous gentry, which included prelates, politicians, press people, businessmen and some members of the military. It was a masterfully orchestrated propaganda blitz to discredit the two whose no-nonsense, abrasive style had kept the hyenas, jackals and wolves away from the doors of Malacañang.
Arroyo and Locsin, who had stuck it out with the President, were being made to appear like heels, while the rebels who wanted to grab power, killing and wounding hundreds, were hailed as heroes. For obeying the President, they were charged with interfering in military operations, as if the Commander-in-Chief had no right to tell the military what to do.
Lamented Arroyo: “We should have rejoiced after winning, but suddenly, Teddyboy and myself were being treated like Gringo, as if we did the damage.”
In an appearance before a jampacked Congress, Arroyo brilliantly defended his and Locsin’s action during the Honasan coup as he put his critics to shame for wanting “to make decisions for us.” Then he started dropping bombs. To an overwhelmingly appreciative gallery, Arroyo and Locsin were heroes of the hour. It was Arroyo’s finest hour as he scored the greatest political performance of his life.
The first targets were three businessmen linked with the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference. Arroyo charged the trio with “treason of the highest order,” as he damned businessmen who wanted to take advantage of the country’s financial conditions to gain more economic power.
Arroyo then went on to deal with Vice President Salvador Laurel, Finance Secretary Jaime Ongpin and AFP spokesman Col. Honesto Isleta. He accused Laurel of “fomenting” trouble in the military, blamed Ongpin for the Planters Products fiasco, and dubbed Isleta as the Goebbels of the military establishment. Arroyo minced no words.
During interpellation, Arroyo took on a number of congressmen who wanted to test his mettle. One by one they fell as he demolished them by sheer force of logic. But that was to be Arroyo’s valedictory. The President accepted his resignation, along with Locsin’s, Ongpin’s and Laurel’s. Like a good soldier, Arroyo was ready to go.
But while the President accepted the resignations of Laurel and Ongpin with no more than a courtesy “regret,” she praised Arroyo to the skies and retained the services of Locsin as consultant, not to mention chief speechwriter. To let go of a long-time friend and defender must have been extremely difficult decision for the President to make but it had to be made in the interest of unity of the Cabinet.
The Green-eyed Monster
The enemies of Arroyo and Locsin did not surface all at one time. Some had been friends and allies in the struggle against the dictatorship. But somehow things changed right after Cory Aquino assumed power, especially after Arroyo and Locsin emerged as her closest advisers. But what really got some people angry with Arroyo and Locsin was that they were beyond manipulation or corruption.
There were other reasons that fueled the antagonism of their enemies: 1) envy; 2) differences in political perceptions; 3) variance in ethical principles; 4) contrast in styles. While some of the causes were peripheral, others were too fundamental to be glossed over. They touched the very basic issue of quality in the public service.
But first, let’s discuss cause number one: envy, the most common wrecker of human relations. Envy is the resentment one feels because someone else possesses or has achieved what one wishes to possess to have achieved.
In the case of Arroyo and Locsin, they were perceived to posses, or to have achieved, something enviable: the President’s respect and admiration and the distinction of being considered her closest advisers. No other Cabinet member enjoyed such rapport with the President.
More than rapport, Arroyo and Locsin also had the full trust and confidence of the President, who reportedly gave more weight to their counsel than to that of others. What’s more, they wielded not only the powers inherent in their offices but also those delegated by the President. In her foreign travels, she would bring Locsin along with her to top-level conferences not accessible to other Cabinet members, while leaving Arroyo behind to take charge of the government in her absence.
One of the saddest things about envy, says Karl Olsson, a noted thinker, is its smallness. To be envious, he points out, is to turn eternally like a caged rat within the tight radius of malice, an evil intent to injure others. Olsson believes that the biggest obstruction to a successful team effort is envy.
Now to the basic differences in political perceptions. Arroyo and Locsin, though highly politicized, are non-politicians. They owed no allegiance to any political party and entertained no ambitions to any elective office. They seemed obsessed with the idea of restoring politics as the science of good government, not as an art of plotting and scheming and wheeling and dealing for personal power, glory and fortune.
While Arroyo, a human rights lawyer, is considered a leftist, and Locsin, a corporate lawyer, is believed to be a rightist, they are really both within the centrist fold.
They are intense believers in republicanism, while harboring deep-seated distrust of militarism, a condition that led many to suspect that they were anti-military. As technocrats, they were drawn to problems and issues rather than to rankings and personalities. They belonged to that rare breed of public servants who go about their tasks without fear, favor or fanfare. Playing ball with power brokers, influence peddlers and get-rich-quick schemers violated their sense of honor.
They were, therefore, both an enigma and an obstruction to traditional politicians.
Then there is the variance of ethical principles. The norms of political conduct of Arroyo and Locsin vary from those of traditional politicians. The duo embrace an ethic founded on the Fourth Commandment: Thou shalt not steal. With emphasis on the value of honesty, probity and integrity, they eschew the politics of accommodation as demonstrated in the common practice of scratching one another’s back.
Despite tremendous temptations that came with their territory, they remained upright and incorruptible in office. No one could accuse them of hanky-panky in the 18 months that they held power. While graft and corruption continued to bedevil the Aquino administration, they succeeded in keeping their noses clean. Honesty is the best policy; it is also, a dangerous policy. It is discouraging to think, says Noel Coward, how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit. So rare a commodity is honesty that people don’t easily believe it even if it’s staring them in the face.
At work, such people as Arroyo and Locsin are not usually fun to be with. They look for perfection in others as they demand it from themselves. Worse, they are not likely to hide their feelings or sweeten their language. Popularity means little to them. Consequently, they are often perceived as arrogant, discourteous, belligerent.
Thus, when Senator Ernesto Maceda and Congressman Emigdio Tanjuatco took the Cabinet to task, making a dig at Arroyo and Locsin, the latter promptly countered by telling the two solons “to keep their sticky fingers to themselves.” Arroyo hit back by describing some congressmen as “the best argument for birth control.”
To demagogues, such a style is outrageous because it leaves very little room for bargaining, the principal source of political power. The politician is powerful because of his role as patron of his bailiwick, the dispenser of largesse, like contracts, jobs, franchises, permits, grants, etc. If he loses his bargaining power, he loses his hold on his followers.
Honest officials are naturally on a collision course with some traditional politicians. Honesty, sincerity and uprightness in public service pose a real threat to demagoguery. But honest public officials, of course, constitute only a small minority in the government.
Said Shakespeare: “To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one picked out of ten thousand.”
Although they had done their duty as best they could, Arroyo and Locsin knew that “as this world goes,” their services were expendable, that in the business of running a government, choices are not limited to black and white, but include many shades of color in-between. Their loyalty to the President was unequivocal: They trusted her as much as she trusted them. When the President finally made her decision, Arroyo and Locsin understood.
What’s with Doy?
Only a heartbeat away from the Presidency, the Vice-President is disliked if not despised by the press which either damns him outright or damns itself by silence over his questionable acts. Worse, even his friends . . .
October 3, 1987–YET he had yielded in favor of Cory as presidential candidate of the opposition then and agreed to be second to her. The Presidency had been Doy’s life ambition. His father was President, albeit only by appointment by the Japanese invaders in World War II, and faced trial for treasonable collaboration with the enemy after the war. (Together with Claro M. Recto, who had served as secretary of foreign affairs, and Benigno Aquino, Sr., who was Speaker in the made-in-Japan government.) Lorenzo Tañada headed the People’s Court that would have tried them — but for the grant of amnesty by then Pres. Manuel Roxas. Laurel Sr. went on to run for President against then Pres. Elpidio Quirino and would have won and been a truly elected President of the Republic if he had not been so grossly cheated in that 1949 election by the First Great Ilocano’s political gang.
What his father was cheated of, Doy would win and be President — despite the predictable resort by the Worst Ilocano to mass vote-buying (with billions from the Jobo-headed Central Bank) plus fraud (with his Commission on Fake Elections) and, of course, plain terrorism — as events bloodily proved. He, Doy, should be the opposition’s presidential candidate, not Cory, a “mere housewife”. Didn’t his UNIDO pit candidates for the Batasan against the Dictator’s candidates and win — yes, not many seats but at least some? Pit a politician against a politician.
But all but Doy — at least initially—could see that he could not win against Marcos. He was the “ideal” candidate of the opposition as far as the Dictator was concerned. He could lick Doy—even in a clean election, he was assured — by his cohorts and himself. In the end, sense prevailed and Doy agreed to run for Vice-President to Cory’s President. And won with her.
Or, to be precise, lost with her. Marcos was proclaimed duly reelected President and his runningmate, Arturo Tolentino, elected Vice President, after a scandalously false count of votes by his Commission on Fake Elections, by the bats (political birds that flew in the night) in his Batasan. Marcos was still President — under his fake Constitution. (One never approved by the people in a plebiscite as it provides before it could become The Law.) Under that charter — under which Cory and Doy had run — they had both lost.
But they won just the same after the People Revolution of Cory’s faithful proclaimed her the truly elected President of the Philippines — and Doy the Vice-President. It was not by virtue of Marcos’s Constitution that Cory assumed the Presidency and Doy the Vice-Presidency but by the Will of the People. As expressed in an unprecedented revolution — one not stained by blood.
And that Will was expressed again in the February plebiscite that ratified her Constitution—replacing the Freedom Constitution which was also hers. More than two-thirds of the electorate voted for the charter, not because they had read it — most did not bother — but because it was hers. And the Will was reaffirmed in the May congressional election in which 22 out of 24 senatorial candidates came out as winners — mainly because they were her candidates. Most of the voters did not know most of the winning senatorial candidates administration from Adam. One won despite what people knew or thought of him — because he was Cory’s candidate.
Corazon C. Aquino is the elected President of the Philippines and Salvador Laurel the Vice President — by the Will of the Filipino People, not by virtue of the Marcos fake Constitution but by the People Power revolution and the overwhelming reaffirmation of confidence in her presidency in the February plebiscite and May election this year.
For his political collaboration with Cory, Doy was rewarded with the position of premier, which went out of existence with the Batasan under the Freedom Constitution, and secretary of foreign affairs. Under the American system, the Vice-President is just a spare tire. He’s nobody until the President dies, naturally or by assassination, or becomes incompetent to discharge the duties of his office—or impeached, as Nixon nearly was because of Watergate, saving himself from that shameful rejection through resignation. Leaving with his tail between his hind legs, as then American President Johnson said the United States would never do in Vietnam. A terrific musical comedy of Pre-World War II vintage, Of Thee I Sing, with words and music by George and Ira Gershwin, had a bewildered man as Vice-President of the United States or candidate for that position. He didn’t want it. Maybe he was a nobody, but he did not want it to be made official. As it was, nobody could remember his name.
“Of thee I sing, baby . . .” went the song, but how could anybody sing the Vice-Presidential bet’s name if nobody knew it? Who he?
To compensate the American Vice-President for his sorry but expectant position in political life, he is designated presiding officer of the Senate, rescuing him from total anonymity. Such is George Bush, who has proven his fitness for removal from public memory by hailing Marcos’s “devotion to democratic principles” or such bull as that.
Not Made in Heaven
In the case of Doy, what now? That his political union with Cory was not made in heaven — of political ideas and principles — was made clear soon enough with his demand to be “parallel” President with her. He was elected as substitute if she died or was incapacitated, not co-equal. But Doy wanted to be President, of only on a half-and-half basis. Nothing doing, Cory soon made it clear to Doy.
Must Doy then wait for five years, until the 1992 presidential election, before he could be President? Sure, Cory has said she did not want reelection, and the new Constitution appears to ban that, but what if a million or more signatures were gathered calling for amendment of the charter to allow her to run for reelection? Even if she retired wearily into private life, could Doy be certain he would have her support in the presidential election? Would he be her candidate? How about the other presidential hopefuls in the ruling party she might like more than Doy? Does she like him more than any of the others? Why like him — after all the trouble or problem he has been causing her.
If Doy ran for President five years from now, how many would vote for him? The political field would be divided how many ways? Doy’s UNIDO would just be “one of those things” — those political things. And if Cory were to come out in support of a candidate other than Doy . . .
Cory has said nothing in the least derogatory to Doy. But the press has been giving him hell, not only righteously but with enjoyment, one gets the feeling. It is having fun with him — as he goes on making, in its opinion, a fool of himself.
When Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo was invited to speak before the House of Representatives on the political situation after the August 28 attack by AFP renegades on the government — a nearly successful one — Malaya headlined the Arroyo address thus:
“ARROYO HITS LAUREL, 3 TOP BUSINESSMEN
“Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo yesterday accused Vice-President Salvador H. Laurel and three prominent businessmen of destabilizing the Aquino government as he denied charges that he and Presidential Counsel Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. meddled in military operations during the failed Aug. 28 coup.”
How was Doy destabilizing, or trying to destabilize, the Aquino government? What would he have gained by it if he had succeeded?
Business World’s Ninez Cacho-Olivares, whose Cup of Tea has never been Doy, not even before the 1986 presidential and vice-presidential election, recalling then the long past services to Marcos of Doy and his brother Pepito and his father who got Marcos off the hook when he was tried for murder of his father’s political rival — Doy’s most dedicated nemesis in the press had this to say about Doy’s latest act:
“Irresponsibility at Its Height
“Vice-President Salvador ‘Doy’ Laurel has belly-ached many a time to the media that he is being bypassed or that he is being ignored by Malacañang. The general perception is that he is ‘out’ of the decision-making process in the Guest House.
“And, indeed, in many instances, it does seem — as far as media reports go — that the President generally ignores her Vice-President and Minister of Foreign Affairs.
“But I know of no one who disapproves of the attitude the Palace officials have displayed towards Mr. Laurel. One even appreciates that Palace attitude, for Mr. Laurel has proven, through his recent actuations, to be an utterly irresponsible public official.
“Mr. Laurel was highly visible after the aborted coup, and has engaged in dialogs with officers and men of the AFP. He told all and sundry that he has been authorized by the President to hold dealings with the military to assess the soldiers’ grievances and complaints. Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo confirmed this, however, he pointed out that Mr. Laurel has not been authorized by the President to create a wedge between the military and the civilian government.
“And that is precisely what Mr. Laurel has done through the set of questions he posed before the soldiers. He added fuel to the fire when he asked the soldiers whether they wanted Arroyo and Locsin out of the Cabinet. He displays the height of irresponsibility when he, as the second highest official in the land, asks soldiers the question, ‘Should we remove the Communists in the government?’
“And for all his outrageous actuation, he reportedly said, ‘It is better to allow them to shout than to shoot,’ adding his dealings are very positive steps in addressing the grievances of soldiers. ‘It has helped to defuse an otherwise tense situation. This is because our soldiers have been made to feel that the Government is willing to listen to their grievances and to act on those that are legitimate and reasonable.’
“With a Vice-President like that, I dread the thought of his ever succeeding the President. What he had done, in my opinion, was to allow the soldiers who have been fed the disinformation that there are Communists in the Aquino Government to call the shots on the matter. The question presupposes that there are Communists in the Aquino Government and this smacks not only of irresponsibility but of malice. He has done the Aquino Government a disservice and really should be shown the door for his misdeed. It is evident that he wants certain Cabinet officials out, and he used that opportunity to boost the demand to oust these Cabinet officials and in the process, he succeeded in driving a deeper wedge between the military and the civilian government.
“Obviously, Vice-President Laurel was playing up to the soldiers and engaging in the same game Juan Ponce-Enrile played. He wanted to add fire to the anti-Communist hysteria being fanned by the mutineers and, at the same time, be identified as the soldiers’ defender and ally. But at whose expense? The President’s? The Government’s?
“The Vice-President was given a job to do by the President. He botched it, and he deserves to be out.”
And here is a Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial — with cartoon yet:
“What is Laurel Really Up To?
“On Aug. 27 ranking officials of the so-called defense establishment and Vice-President Laurel met behind closed doors for two hours at the latter’s office. When they emerged out from that gathering, Defense Secretary Rafael Ileto, AFP chief of Staff Gen. Fidel Ramos, vice-chief of staff Lt. Gen. Renato de Villa and an official of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, refused to answer questions raised by reporters at the scene. For his part, the Vice-President said that he had merely been given a briefing on the peace and order situation.
“The day before that closed-door meeting, a widely successful protest against raised fuel prices had been staged. On that Thursday itself, the mass arrest of leaders of militant union and transport workers was underway. Conservative politicians and their reactionary spokesmen in media were agitating for even more draconian measures and a more thorough crackdown on ‘leftists.’ Reporters who caught the defense officials emerging out of Mr. Laurel’s office could not help suspect that something was afoot. Several hours later, Gregorio Honasan launched his bloody venture to unseat, if not actually murder, President Aquino.
“As the mutiny was in progress, nothing was heard from Mr. Laurel — highly uncharacteristic of a public figure who almost always has something to say about anything. Throughout that Friday morning foreigners, presumably Americans, were seen going in and out of his house. It was only in the afternoon, when the tide had turned clearly in the favor of the government, that the Vice-President became accessible and joined the indignant chorus of ruling-coalition politicians condemning the military rebellion. In the days that followed, Mr. Laurel would also join other conservatives both in and out of government in pressing Malacañang to look into the ‘causes’ of the rebellion. And as far as they were concerned these causes were the low pay of the soldiery and allegedly Communist advisers surrounding Mrs. Aquino. Strangely few of them demanded justice for the innocent victims of the rebellion. What in effect these conservatives were demanding was for the Aquino administration to give in to the mutineers’ demands — the very same demands that were delivered through the barrel of the gun.
“Over the past few days, Mr. Laurel has been making the rounds of military camps throughout the islands on a purported mission of ‘dialog’ (a much abused term, which as currently used, has no exact definition) with AFP servicemen. But from what we have been able to gather, the Vice-President has in fact only succeeded in agitating further the already restive soldiers. So what is Mr. Laurel really up to?
“Evidently, the Vice-President has some serious explaining to do, not only to his immediate superior, the President, but also to the people. His puzzling behavior immediately before, during and after the Aug. 28 mutiny has led observers to suspect that he is more involved in recent developments than he would care to make the public believe. Moreover, Mr. Laurel’s much-publicized links to an ultra-rightist international organization of modern-day witch hunters has not allayed the growing misgivings about him.”
And here is Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Hilarion M. Henares, Jr., who claims to be a friend of Doy’s, with the most searing indictment of his “friend”, making the enemies almost friendly:
“Sadly, Sadly . . . What Are We to Do With You, Doy?
“What’s wrong with this guy Doy Laurel?
“Volunteering to ‘survey’ the feelings of the Armed Forces, he harangues them with pointed leading questions—Do you want Cory to fire Joker? Teddyboy? Noel Soriano? Do you favor amnesty for Honasan?
“He never asked: Do you want Cory to fire Doy?
“He did this once before, you know, riding in on people’s pent-up emotions to promote his obvious ambitions for the presidency.
“Last year, in the reconciliation meeting between President Cory and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, Doy Laurel spoke out of turn, saying that the only way to achieve reconciliation is to acquiesce in a ‘previous top level meeting’ — get rid of three Cabinet members, Aquilino Pimentel, Bobbit Sanchez and Joker Arroyo.
“Cardinal Sin denied he ever made such demands, and went into his chapel to pray for the soul of a fool.
“Ambassador Bosworth maintained a pained and stony silence, and wished he could stuff his shoes into the mouth of a fool.
“Doy Laurel just felt foolish.
“These days, the fool is ever the fool, a louse as he ever was.
“I have mutual friends with Doy than most people I know. I genuinely respect his father and brothers. In La Salle, he was the classmate of Ronnie Velasco, my brother, and many others—a class of machos where Doy is acknowledged to be the fastest with the mostest.
“If brother Teddy, the meanest cock in the Henares coop, takes his hat off to Doy, then Doy is IT, better than that high-spending tourist Tony Gonzalez.
“I asked our mutual friends, most of whom grew up with Doy, Will you vote for Doy? Silence and a vigorous shaking of the head.
“Why not? Silence and a shrug of the shoulder.
“Is Doy a thief, a crook? No . . .
“Is he ugly, repugnant, abominable? No . . .
“Is Doy an unmitigated liar? Not really . . .
“Is Doy a hypocrite, a scoundrel, a con-man? No . . .
“His smile that looks halfway between a snarl and a smirk? No, that’s the problem of his dentures . . .
“Then why wouldn’t you vote for him? I do not know . . . but I will be damned if I will vote for him.
“Now that is the eternal dilemma of Doy. If he only knew why his friends won’t vote for him, then perhaps he can do something about it.
“But he does not know, nobody knows, and that’s his problem.
“Well, I know the reason why, Doy. You have been a special study of mine for the last two years, and I know. And being your friend, I will tell you.
“I ran for the Senate at the same time you and Ninoy Aquino did. I lost while you and Ninoy won. Our mutual friends voted for you then, even if you were on the side of Marcos. You were terrific in the Senate, Doy, you were nationalistic . . . you exposed the secret protocols Carlos Romulo signed with the American ambassador.
“When I was chairman of the National Economic Council, I was approving all proposals of American firms for US guarantees against political risk in the Philippines. Imagine my chagrin when you exposed a secret agreement that bound the Philippine government to compensate the US government for losses arising from political risk! That Romulo!
“I admired you for that, Doy. You were okay, just like your papa and cuyas.
“Even during martial law, still allied with Marcos, at least you and your brothers maintained an independent posture, and in the end severed your connection with the dictator.
“You were still OK then, especially during the time of troubles after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino.
“I think you started to change when you entertained the notion of being nominated for president. That’s no sin, but when you began to kowtow to embassy officials and make pro-American noises in order to get the support of the CIA and neanderthal Americans, you took the fatal step to perdition.
“But you gloried in it — you hired an American Steve Thomas as security guard, and our friend Roger Davis as your publicity man, so people would think you were favored by the CIA.
“The change from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde occurred I believe when you announced during the crucial time we expected to be presented a Cory-Doy ticket, that the deal was off, and that come what may, you’d be a candidate for the presidency.
“You were never a viable candidate. You were being used by the Americans to extract a commitment from Cory on the American Bases, so Cory had to backtrack from ‘Bases out in 1992!’ to ‘I want to keep my options open.’ You were the cat’s paw, Doy, and you knew it.
“After the revolution, Doy, you became not only vice-president, but also prime minister and minister of foreign affairs—three powerful positions, Doy—while your colleagues in the Unido got nothing, except Orly Mercado who was appointed Rizal Park attendant. Your faithful Rene Espina gritted his teeth, acquired a couple more bags under his eyes, and bolted to the opposition.
“Then you came up with the idea of a Parallel Presidency, to have your own official line organization all the way down to the barangay level, that will allow you to exercise the powers of the presidency. Admit it, that was the idea of Bosworth and Kaplan, right?
“In effect you and your American friends implied that Cory as a housewife is not competent to be president, that you Salvador Laurel should take over the reins of government and assure the Americans of their bases and business monopolies.
“Fortunately, Cory Aquino is no fool, and her advisers no pushovers for the neanderthals.
“You struck out on that one, Doy.
“Poor Doy, even the lowest embassy employees do not respect you as foreign secretary. They totally bypass your office and directly deal with our highest officials, against all rules of protocol.
“Sadly, sadly, we ask Cory to relieve you of the foreign affairs portfolio.
“What are we to do with you, Doy?”
Even the Communists, whom one might think consider him a good argument for communism, don’t like Doy. Here goes a Malaya report:
“LAUREL ACCUSED OF ‘FOMENTING’ UNREST IN AFP
“Former rebel peace negotiator Satur Ocampo accused Vice-President Salvador Laurel of political grandstanding and fanning unrest within the already divided military . . .
“Commenting on Laurel’s visits to military camps last week, Ocampo, who went into hiding early this year following the collapse of peace negotiations with the Aquino government, said the Vice-President has been more concerned with projecting his political image than looking into the causes of unrest within the military.
“’What he is doing now is projecting himself, but at the same time creating unrest within the military.’”
But why should Doy be doing that?
Divide the AFP — so the Communists will win?
Make more AFP rebels against the Aquino government if their demands, as proclaimed by Doy, are not granted?
Among the demands of the officers and soldiers with whom Doy cuddled up during his military camp visits, is amnesty for Gringo Honasan and his followers in the attack against the government. This demand the government has made clear is totally unacceptable. Not only to the government but to the AFP top command. But Doy played it up — for all it was worth to him.
So, if the impossible demand and others of the same category are rejected, more of the AFP would defect to the rebel camp?
And help mount another attempt at a coup to overthrow the Aquino government?
Turning Cory into a ceremonial President if not killing her?
But who will head that government? That military junta? Enrile? If not Enrile, then Gringo? Why not Gringo — who laid his life on the line to seize power?
BUT SURE AS HELL, NOT DOY!
He just has to wait until Cory drops dead or becomes incompetent to discharge her duties as President. In which latter case, there might well be another attempt at a military coup and the next head of state would be anybody but Doy.
Doy will just have to wait until Cory dies—of natural death.
Last week, Doy tendered his irrevocable resignation as secretary of foreign affairs from the Aquino cabinet.
The President accepted it.
“Good!” many sighed in relief.
C’est la vie — political wise.
“THEY WERE OUT TO KILL ME!”—Pres. Corazon C. Aquino
September 19, 1987–THE mutiny staged by the Reform Armed Forces Movement (RAM) headed by Lt. Col. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, former chief of the security group of about 600 men assigned to then Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile, was the fifth coup attempt in the 18 months that President Corazon C. Aquino has been in office. It was the same group behind the failed coup attempt against then President Marcos last year. Only Cory’s People Power Revolution saved the leaders of the “revolt” from the guns of the dictator. Anyway, Gen. Fidel Ramos cited Honasan as “hero” of the Revolution.
The first coup attempt was in July 1986, when Arturo M. Tolentino, who was Marcos’ s running mate in the February 7 snap election which they lost, declared the existence of a rebel government with himself as Acting President. About 400 Marcos loyalist troops, led by four generals, took over the Manila Hotel to serve as Tolentino’s “Malacañang”, only to be washed up within two days, along with Tolentino’s fantasy, after all its telephone lines and electric and water supply were cut off. As punishment for all the military personnel involved, Gen. Ramos ordered 30 pushups for the “rebels”.
The second attempt, set in November last year when President Aquino was visiting Japan, fizzled out after General Ramos called the plot leaders and engaged them in a bull session that lasted all night.
The third coup attempt took place in February this year, timed with the announced return of deposed President Marcos — which did not materialize. Rebel soldiers numbering about 300, most of them coming from military camps in Central Luzon and led by officers assigned to the area, took over GMA 7, the television station along EDSA in Diliman, Quezon City, and occupied it for two days.
The fourth coup attempt took place last April, when rebellious troops from a military camp in Central Luzon forced their way into Fort Bonifacio in the early hours of Easter Sunday and freed the soldiers involved in the GMA 7 takeover who were being detained in the stockade near the headquarters of the Philippine Army. Both rescuers and those whom they rescued from detention were rounded up.
Nothing serious. Petty misadventures and nothing more.
But this fifth coup attempt is something that cannot just be shrugged off. If it succeeded, a military junta was to be set up after killing Aquino and ousting General Ramos as Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff. The military junta would be headed by Honasan.
And for a time it did look like the RAM mutiny would succeed.
The surprising, nay, puzzling thing about this RAM mutiny was that it was known well in advance that a putsch was brewing but nothing effective was done to abort it.
Key officers in scattered military camps in various parts of Metro Manila, the regional command areas in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were in frequent radio contact with the key plotters. These communications were monitored. Except to hide their identities under flimsy guise of NPA commanders operating somewhere in Quezon, the plotters transmitted their messages seemingly without any care for secrecy on police frequency radios.
One such radio transmission was intercepted by the lady radio operator at the Pasig, Metro Manila headquarters of the Eastern Police District, Metropolitan Police Force. The radio message, intercepted at five o’clock in the morning of August 27, spelled out the grim terms of the plan and the timetable for its execution:
ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT AQUINO BEFORE THE END OF THE MONTH (AUGUST).
Informed of the interception of the radio message, the command duty officer of the Integrated National Police (INP) circulated the intelligence information among higher armed forces and police authorities. A Metro Manila-wide red alert was issued.
Malacañang and the commanders of the major armed services were alerted Thursday afternoon, August 27, to an impending mutiny from the direction of Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija. Why was no counter-effort made?
Between eleven o’clock and midnight of Thursday, August 27, the movement of troops from Nueva Ecija on board commandeered passenger buses as well as Army trucks bound for Metro Manila was already known to some civilian officials. They did try to alert GHQ, AFP to this grim development but there was no one around to receive their frantic calls although the electronic alert system was functioning.
Metro Manila Governor Jejomar Binay at midnight hied to the home of Executive Secretary Joker P. Arroyo in Dasmariñas Village in Makati to confer with the Malacañang official on the upsetting report of unauthorized troop movements he had received earlier in the night. There they were joined by the President’s only son, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, who had also received similar reports.
It was 1:30 a.m., Friday morning, August 28, when the report came in that shooting had begun at Malacañang. Noynoy, accompanied by his security escort of three soldiers belonging to the Presidential Security Group (PSG), all in a back-up car, and a civilian agent who sat beside him in his white Mercedez Benz car which he himself drove, rushed back to Malacañang to “link up” with his family. Driving down Nagtahan Bridge, they saw civilians milling about the rotunda and thought that the troops they saw there were friendly forces. Approaching Arlegui Street (where President Aquino stays in a government guest house) across Jose P. Laurel, Sr. Street from the Malacañang compound, they saw heavily armed soldiers in combat position, and Noynoy, still thinking that they were friendly forces, introduced himself. They fired at him and his companions, killing the three PSG men on the spot and seriously wounding the civilian agent who shielded Noynoy’s body with his own. Though also wounded, Noynoy managed to call for help on his car’s two-way radio.
At that very moment. Col. Voltaire Gazmin, commander of the PSG, was maneuvering the tanks to the Malacañang defense perimeter. He dispatched two armored vehicles to rescue Noynoy’s group. The attackers hurriedly left the area but not before collecting the firearms of the slain PSG men and that of the civilian agent and divesting Noynoy of his wallet which contained some P4,000.
The shooting at Malacañang, which started at about 1:30 that Friday morning, lasted up to three o’clock in the pre-dawn hours. Though greatly outnumbered by rebel troops at the start of the battle, Gazmin’s PSG force succeeded in repelling the attack. About one-fourth of the PSG force had left Manila the day before for four Central Luzon provinces (Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales and Bulacan) to secure President Aquino who was scheduled to go on a consultation tour of the four provinces and meet with local officials and development officers. The PSG men deployed in these four provinces were to serve as the President’s advance parties. They were immediately recalled to Malacañang.
Marines to the Rescue
It was the Marines who saved the morning for the PSG. They responded with lightning speed to the PSG’s SOS call and effectively helped in repelling the rebel troops’ attack on Malacañang. After a while, past three o’clock, when it was clear that the rebel troops were not mounting a counterattack, Brig. Gen. Rodolfo Biazon, commandant of the Marines, got the order from President Aquino to send his men after the rebel troops who had moved to Camp Aguinaldo.
“Hit them!” the President ordered General Biazon. “I don’t care how you do it, but do it!”
About that same time, quarter of an hour past three o’clock, the main body of rebel troops that came from Central Luzon divided into two groups — one converging at Camp Aguinaldo, and the other at the ABS-CBN compound at Bohol Avenue, both in Quezon City. The rebel troops converging at Camp Aguinaldo were directly led by Honasan, those converging at the ABS-CBN compound by Col. Eduardo Matellano, PC provincial commander of Nueva Ecija.
In the glowing skylight of the pre-dawn hours, the rebel troops displayed their mutinous sign of the RAM: the inverted Philippine flag with patch of red above the color blue. They flew this sign of the RAM on their armored vehicles or wore the miniature flag above the breast pockets of their combat uniform.
Earlier that morning, the inverted flag flew over Camp Olivas in San Fernando, Pampanga, where renegade Col. Reynaldo Berroya and renegade Maj. Manuel Divina, former PC provincial commander and assistant provincial commander, respectively, had taken Brig. Gen. Eduardo Taduran, chief of PC Regional Command (Recom) 3, along with his six senior staff officers, hostage. The takeover of Camp Olivas by the rebel troops was effected at one o’clock, Friday morning. Basa Air Base in nearby Floridablanca, home of the Philippine Air Force’s fighter planes, also fell under rebel control.
Held hostage by the rebel troops along with Gen. Taduran were Col. Miguel Fontanilla, deputy Recom 3 commander for operations; Col. Wilfred Nicolas, Recom 3 chief-of-staff; Police Lt. Col. Agusto Cuyugan, deputy Recom 3 commander for police matters; Major Enrique Galang, chief of the civil relations service; Maj. Abdul Rahaman Abdulla, commander, Headquarters Service Co.; Maj. Vidal Querol, Recom 3 assistant chief of staff for operations; and Lt. Rufino Mendoza, aide-de-camp.
They were held hostage while meeting in the office of General Taduran for an emergency staff conference on reports of unauthorized troop movements from Nueva Ecija to Metro Manila. The hour was 2:30 a.m. when the renegade officers confronted them. It was only then that they learned that Camp Olivas had been under rebel control as of 1:00 a.m. that morning. Colonel Berroya and Major Divina had been AWOL (absent without official leave) since their involvement in the February take-over by Marcos loyalist troops of GMA 7 in Quezon City.
At 1:30 a.m. that Friday morning, in Villamor Air Base, headquarters of the Philippine Air Force (PAF), negotiations started between Maj. Gen. Antonio E. Sotelo, PAF chief, and Brig. Gen. Federico Pasion, Jr., PAF vice commander and camp commander of the base, for General Sotelo to yield command to the other. Sotelo, a true soldier and authentic hero of the February 1986 EDSA Revolution, bluntly told Pasion that only President Aquino could relieve him of his post. The negotiations lasted for five hours.
Later in the day, taking the fire escape route after leaving his office on the third floor of the PAF headquarters building through a window, along with a group of officers loyal to the government, General Sotelo reached the office behind the headquarters building of Col. Leopoldo Acot, A-2 (Air Intelligence) chief. And whom would he find there but General Pasion, holding an Uzi machine pistol in one hand and a .45 caliber service pistol in the other? General Sotelo disarmed him easily.
It was 3:15 in the pre-dawn hours of that Friday morning when Honasan entered Camp Aguinaldo with some 800 heavily armed men, mostly from the Special Forces training camp, of which he was the commander, in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija. He had wanted to enter Camp Aguinaldo through Gate I but was not allowed by Col. Emiliano Templo, commander of the National Capital Region Defense Command (NCRDC) which was tasked with the defense of the camp.
The two had a long argument at Gate I, which infuriated Honasan. He told Colonel Templo that he did not want any further argument. To avoid a bloody showdown, Colonel Templo relented but would allow Honasan and his men, along with their equipment, to enter the camp only through Gate 5.
The idea was to let them into Camp Aguinaldo but to isolate them at a certain section while a defense perimeter was established to prevent them from overrunning the whole camp. Col. Honesto Isleta, AFP spokesman, also explained over the radio later in the morning that the plan was to confine the mutiny inside the camp to avert or at least minimize civilian casualties in case a shooting war broke out between Honasan’s men and the pro-government troops.
Initially, Honasan chose a spot under the trees in a section of the Camp Aguinaldo golf course as a kind of command post where he was joined by his deputy, Col. Melchor Acosta, commander of the 14th Infantry Battalion; a Colonel Erfe and Commander Jimmy Lucas of the Philippine Navy who later led the rebel troops in the occupation of the General Headquarters building; and Lt. Gabby Dizon, aide of Defense Secretary Rafael Ileto and a son of Brig. Gen. Benjamin Dizon, commander of the Constabulary Highway Patrol Group (CHPG), among many others.
At 4:45 a.m. that Friday morning, roused from her sleep three hours earlier by the sounds of gunfire during the firefight at Malacañang, President Aquino went on the air to announce that the attack on Malacañang by mutinous soldiers had been repulsed and that she was safe and well. She urged the people to stay indoors until the rebellion was quelled. She announced the suspension of classes in all schools in Metro Manila and for her own scheduled trip to Central Luzon that morning. Hers was a reassuring voice, unhurried and unemotional.
In Legazpi City, it was not until six o’clock that Friday morning that the rebel troops made their move. Led by Capt. Ludovico Dioneda, commanding officer of the PC company in Albay’s first district, Lt. Diosdado Balleros, CO of the PC company in the second, and Capt. Reynaldo Rafal, CO of the PC company in the third, the rebel soldiers, numbering about 80, sought official permission from Brig. Gen. Luis San Andres, chief of PC Recom 5 based at Camp Bagong Ibalon, to secure the Legazpi airport, only to hoist the inverted Philippine flag upon their arrival there. It turned out that the troops were promised a transport plane that would arrive from Villamor Air Base to ferry them to Metro Manila to augment Honasan’s forces. Four truckloads of soldiers from Camp Bagong Ibalon left that same hour bound for Manila. Nothing was heard of them afterwards.
Gen. San Andres sometime later in the day sent emissaries to the mutineers at the Legazpi airport to urge them to return to camp. As the day wore on and the promised Air Force cargo plane did not arrive, the weary mutineers returned to camp only to find nobody to welcome them back. Captain Dioneda spoke over the radio owning full responsibility for their mutinous act.
At Broadcast City, which was occupied briefly by Honasan’s boys, Honasan’s message explaining the coup attempt was read at midmorning. The message said:
“We the young officers and enlisted men of the Armed Forces of the Philippines wish to inform our countrymen that this is not a loyalist, leftist, or rightist move. This is a move of young officers led by Col. Gregorio Honasan, Col. Red Kapunan, Col. Tito Legaspi, Navy Capt. Felix Turingan, Maj. Noe Wong, and majority of idealist young officers of the AFP.
“We have taken it upon ourselves to initiate the fight for justice, equality, and freedom which our senior officers failed to do or refused to undertake.
“We wish to inform our countrymen that we are now in control of Camp Aguinaldo, Villamor Air Base, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, the entire Regions 1, 2, 3, 4, and that the entire Philippine Military Academy cadet corps has already withdrawn their allegiance to the government. They are now on their way to Manila under Colonel Kapunan.
“We are also in control of the Broadcast City and we are committed to die for our country and fellowmen. We are inviting other professional and freedom-loving officers and enlisted men to join us and let us have a new direction.”
President Aquino would later mock Honasan for his unabashed reference to his group of mutineers as “idealist young officers fighting for justice, equality and freedom.” In a brief speech at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Fort Bonifacio on Sunday, August 30, during the observance of National Heroes Day, she said:
“Let not idealism be used to cover the darkest crimes and ambitions of men whose actions only showed their hatred of democracy and their contempt for the lives of the people. One cannot be idealistic and a liar. They dishonor that name. They dishonor the word.”
The capture of PTV-4 was a priority objective of the mutineers. This task fell on Col. Eduardo Matellano, PC provincial commander of Nueva Ecija, who had a glamorous record in soldiering. PTV-4 had earlier been placed under heavy security, following intelligence reports of the impending coup, and Col. Warlito Sayam, who the month before captured renegade Col. Rolando Abadilla, directed its defense. About 85 young regular soldiers took positions inside the ABS-CBN compound at Bohol Avenue in Quezon City, where the government tv station is housed.
The attack came at 1:45 that Friday morning. This followed closely the attack on Malacañang which was repulsed and involved the same rebel troops at Malacañang who had retreated to Quezon City. They came on two trucks led by a police jeep. The exchange of heavy gunfire lasted throughout the morning. The station went off the air.
President Aquino, roused from sleep by the sound of gunfire at about 1:30 that Friday morning, was determined to crush the mutiny at the earliest possible time. From the start she was resolved that there would be no negotiations, no prisoners. At 4:30 that morning she had gone on the air, yet at seven o’clock there was still that eerie absence of contact with Gen. Ramos, her Armed Forces’ chief-of-staff. She wanted an attack launched against the rebel forces immediately. She had even taken the risk of having an inadequate secrity force in Malacañang by releasing the Marines, telling General Biazon, the Marines commandant, to “hit them, no matter how you do it, but hit them!”
The Malacañang hot lines to the office of the Secretary of Defense and to the office of the chief of staff at the AFP general headquarters, both in Camp Aguinaldo, had been cut.
“What was going on?” the President asked impatiently. “When is the attack?”
Presidential Special Counsel Teddy Boy Locsin volunteered to go to Camp Crame to personally deliver to General Ramos or to his deputies, Gen. Renato de Villa, PC chief, or Gen. Eduardo Ermita, AFP vice chief of staff, the President’s order to attack. It was eight o’clock and the weather had turned balmy, but Locsin found it stifling hot inside General Ramos’s command post in Camp Crame. General Ramos was there all right. But at ten o’clock the attack ordered by the Commander-in-Chief had still not been launched.
President Aquino called Governor Binay and through him got Gen. Alfredo S. Lim, superintendent of the Metropolitan Police Force’s Western Police District General Lim’s mission:
“Retake Channel 4!”
General Lim’s original order was actually to “reinforce” the beleaguered defenders of Channel 4. Brig. Gen. Rene Cruz, deputy director of the Integrated National Police (INP), told General Lim to take his men to Camp Crame for their high-powered weapons and ammunition. General Lim had gathered about 70 uniformed cops and plainclothes men for the task assigned to him. When they were ready to move out, their number had been swelled to 139.
A block away from Channel 4, General Lim and his men saw a pathetic sight: the young regular soldiers who were defending Channel 4 were staggering out of the ABS-CBN compound, their guns left behind in abject surrender to Colonel Matellano’s forces entrenched at nearby Camelot Hotel which they had used as their fortress in attacking Channel 4. The defenders told General Lim that they had run out of ammunition and even when they had they could not match the superior fire-power of the rebel troops. They had been on the line for 10 hours and they had not received any reinforcement or resupply of ammunition.
As it turned out, according to General Lim later, this was a tactical advantage. He said: “Had the pro-government troops remained inside Channel 4, we would have been on the defensive side, and the rebel troops mostly encamped at the Camelot Hotel, would have been on the offensive. And we scored psychologically against the rebel soldiers. We retook Channel 4. This demoralized the rebel soldiers who had briefly occupied Channels 9 and 13 at the Broadcast City into surrendering.”
Turning the Tide
The tide turned against the rebel troops of Honasan as the afternoon of that Friday began. With the retaking of Channel 4, at no bloody cost to the government side except for one policeman killed and two wounded, a psychological momentum toward an early victory began to swing the tide of battle for the government side. Government troops arrived at the scene to mount an attack against the rebel troops that had taken positions inside the Camelot Hotel. It was now clear to the curious onlookers at the Channel 4 area, many of whom had earlier in the day flashed the Marcos loyalist V sign as they provided cover to retreating and wounded rebel troops, and to those following the situation reports on the radio, that the government was on top of the situation.
The decisive phase of the battle that bleak Friday, August 28, came around two o’clock in the afternoon when Colonel Templo, who was in command of the defending forces in Camp Aguinaldo, together with Colonel Sayam, made a final effort to convince Honasan’s men at the Department of National Defense building to surrender. But Honasan’s boys there, Colonel Erfe and Navy Commander Lucas, stood pat. They had already made known their position, they said, and that was that. Their position was for President Aquino to step down and for General Ramos to resign.
General Ermita and Gen. Ramon Montaño maintained their position on the third floor of the GHQ building where the offices of the AFP general staff were located, but now, as the afternoon dragged on, they wanted to get out. The first and second floors of the building, however, were in the hands of the rebel troops. Colonel Templo received a Capcom radio message that Capcom reinforcements would enter Camp Aguinaldo through Gate 2.
The final battle was about to begin. Honasan’s side refused to negotiate so cockeyed sure of victory were the mutineers. President Aquino had declared there would be “no terms”.
At 4:15 p.m. that Friday afternoon, as she spoke on a nationwide radio-tv hook-up, two Tora-Tora dive bombers of World War II vintage from the Sangley Point Air Station attacked me rebel troops’ positions inside Camp Aguinaldo. Tanks crashed through the walls of the camp to enable the Marines led by Col. Braullio Balbas, Jr. to link up with the NCRDC forces under Colonel Templo. A helicopter gunship strafed rebel troops’ positions in die Camelot Hotel area.
The left wing of the GHQ building billowed with heavy smoke after retreating rebel troops set it afire by pouring gasoline all around and firing smoke grenades at it. The day after, against the bright morning sun, die gutted ruins of die building’s left wing presented a stark reminder to all who viewed it of what the madness of Honasan and his group had done.
As for Honasan, reports said he was flown out of Camp Aguinaldo as the Friday afternoon battle raged on. The latest report was that he had formed a provisional government under a junta composed of himself and his fellow renegade officers who had founded RAM.
The shoot-to-kill order issued on him has been lifted “to allow Honasan to surrender peacefully.”
Does this mean that President Aquino had softened on the mutineers? Would that not invite another coup attempt?
At the solemn rites held last August 30 at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, during the observance of the National Heroes Day, President Aquino dared rebellious troops still in the armed services to attempt another coup:
“They should expect once again to be crushed!”
The Friday, August 28 uprising of Honasan’s RAM boys, she said, “taught them the most bitter lesson and we will teach them again if they want it.”
IN COMMAND — AT LAST?
“ATTACK!” SHE ORDERED. “NOW!”
The “mere housewife” was fighting mad
“ATTACK!” President Aquino ordered the government forces under Chief-of-Staff Gen. Fidel Ramos.
The AFP renegades led by Enrile’s “boy” Gregorio Honasan had seized Camp Olivas (PC headquarters in Central Luzon) and attacked Malacañang, killing civilians and killing three of the bodyguards of the President’s only son and almost killing him and another bodyguard, then, when repulsed, heading for Camp Aguinaldo and taking it over and encircling TV and radio stations from where they could broadcast their appeal for support of their attack on the government…
“ATTACK!” President Aquino ordered the government armed forces under General Ramos that Friday morning.
The presidential order was not followed.
What is happening there in General Ramos’s command post in Camp Crame opposite the rebel-held Camp Aguinaldo? President Aquino wanted to know. Oh, her order to attack the rebels was being followed — acoustically.
Acoustically? What does that mean?
“There is a lot of noise,” Presidential Special Counsel Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. told the President over the phone. “A lot of noise but no casualties. They are firing upward, toward the sky.”
The government soldiers under General Ramos would not shoot straight at their comrades-in-arms. At Honasan & Co. Not straight at them.
A mock attack, in short.
“They are not firing upward,” Locsin, who was with General Ramos in Camp Crame representing the President, informed her. “They are firing downward. At the ground!”
The President laughed, then got mad.
That was the situation — the real relation of military forces, not imaginary ones. The government did not have enough troops then and there to wipe out the rebels holding Camp Aguinaldo. Attack and get nowhere? Its failure would destroy the government’s military credibility and — and invite mass defection from the government forces to the rebel camp.
So, Ramos waited.
“ATTACK!” ordered President Aquino.
With a threat to those who did not obey her order…? The “mere housewife” was fighting mad.
But why attack before reinforcement came — to make certain government victory?
Because it might be too late.
Get this straight.
Because to be certain of victory by waiting for reinforcement before attacking was to invite defeat
Because the government was not certain of the loyalty of the Marcos-Enrile AFP that President Aquino inherited from the deposed dictator. Four attempts at military coup to overthrow her government had been punished by — by what? Thirty push-ups for the coup plotters, release of the guilty in the last coup attempt before the latest one…
Why such softness to those who would violently overthrow the government?
Because the Aquino government did not have an army when it took over from the Marcos dictatorship. The AFP was Marcos’s and Enrile’s AFP. She was commander-in-chief of what? An AFP she could not trust. She could not afford to punish those who would take over the government and transform her into a merely decorative President. What if she asserted her presidential authority — and the AFP did not obey her? She had no armed forces of her own. That she remained President against all those attacks on her presidency is — incredible!
But she remained President. Somehow.
Now, the moment of truth. “ATTACK!” she ordered the Armed Forces under her Chief-of-Staff.
And only mock attack followed.
Then the real thing came.
Not too soon.
If the government forces under General Ramos had gone on waiting for reinforcement to come, it might well have come too late.
Because if the rebels had been able to hold on in Camp Aguinaldo, it would have invited mass defection by officers and soldiers of the government armed forces.
“The rebels are winning!” they would think.
If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em!
And goodbye the Aquino government and Philippine democracy with its rights and liberties, and those who love freedom dead or in concentration camps as under the Marcos dictatorship — and “Gringo” if not “Johnny” in absolute power.
To wait would have been fatal. Test the loyalty of the government forces now. Fire now — and draw the battle line. Get hurt by the enemy — thus making it impossible to join him.
With the firing by government armed forces and the killing of a government soldier by the rebels’ return fire, there was no more ambivalence.
Kill the enemy or get killed.
“ATTACK!” President Aquino had ordered.
And the soldiers under her Chief-of-Staff finally fired.
And the Republic with its democratic institutions and liberties won.