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Credit goes to Filipinos as the real heroes of Edsa ’86


(Last of two parts)

(Editor’s Note: The author was an Army major during the Edsa People Power Revolution. A bemedalled officer, he retired in 2005.)

Edsa looked like this—a vast multitude of civilians thronging the avenue to protect the rebels headquartered in Crame and Aguinaldo. The proximate causes of their gathering were the mobilization of Butz Aquino’s peer network and the appeal of Cardinal Sin on Radio Veritas to the national audience. But why did the people come?

Because the invisible roots of Edsa were a burgeoning despair over a disintegrating economy and rage at a national leadership perceived as incompetent, rapacious and the major reason for everything wrong. Anger makes people brave and reckless.

In their anger, millions in their hearts severed allegiance to the Marcos regime and hundreds of thousands actually demonstrated in the open.

Sterling Seagrave in “The Marcos Dynasty” narrates that the CIA manipulated events, using a backroom behind Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile’s office in Camp Aguinaldo; instigated the RAM and Enrile to connive against Ferdinand Marcos and to stage a coup; deliberately misled Ronald Reagan because the CIA did not trust him to act decisively against his friend Marcos; made available for Enrile their extensive taping of Gen. Fabian Ver and company’s communications; and delivered to Enrile and Gen. Fidel Ramos their extensive collection of military officers.

Regrettably, Seagrave’s statements are unverifiable. So are the miracle claims of Cardinal Sin. A parochial faith alone upholds either view.

When Ver, the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in full battle gear, asked for the nth time for permission to bomb the rebels, President Ferdinand Marcos simply had to say no.

Washington had spoken against the assault on Enrile and Ramos.

On the sly, Ver sent a helicopter team to assault Camp Crame. The team landed inside the perimeter of Camp Crame and defected inside. By then Washington knew that the breakaway group was winning the Edsa rebellion.

Marcos lost American support, which included the loss of a small legion of officers in the military. An alliance with a “foreign prince” is unstable enough, and more so when you steal from him, place his interests in grave danger, and appear to him that you are about to fall anyway.

Officer corps mind-set

In the Philippines, we had not seen the military mount a successful coup d’état. What Marcos did was to be elected leader and then use the Constitution and the military’s vow to defend the republic against his enemies.

The lesson here is that the military, once it has an anointed leader, can be moved against a reigning leadership if a messiah role can be created. This evolves when the integrity of the republic and the people seem in danger. The officer corps has a mind-set about legitimacy and a revulsion for treachery, treason and destroying the people it was sworn and trained to protect.

In the case of Edsa I, Marcos lost his legitimacy because the majority of the military was not his direct beneficiary as Ver and co. were, and the massive crowds in Edsa looked like the sovereign people themselves withdrawing their allegiance to Marcos.

Military not isolated

In another instance, if the officer corps can be made to feel that it is a separate class altogether, then it may rule by whim one day. The isolation of the military from the nation has in fact occurred many times in human history: the praetorian guards of Rome, the janissaries of Baghdad, the mercenary armies of Machiavelli’s time, the “noble family” officers of European kingdoms, the Sandhurst military academy officers of England’s colonies, the “good family” officers of Brazil and Argentina, to cite a few examples.

It would take more than a generation to breed this isolated type of military in the Philippines, far too long for anyone who wants to use the military for his own purposes.

Today, the broadly recruited officer corps which we have is linked to too many socioeconomic classes. They cannot think of themselves as separate from the people.

Edsa was a civilian-backed military revolt, sparked by the defection of two men, who were supported by a national religious leader and a foreign power with strong adherents within the military.

The military, as sheer power goes, could have dispersed the crowd, but to do so would have been to kill one of their very own, Ramos, who was their highest leader at that time.

In other nations of current memory this scruple was not policy. Burma became Myanmar after its military shut down and crushed its “people power.” An octogenarian autocracy still rules a billion people after its military fired at will relentlessly at its “people power” with lethal tanks. But assuredly no military leader of rank was obviously to be killed as well.

Perhaps later, but that is the work of time, subtle terror and the police.

Asserting a miracle

The Roman Catholics have built a shrine on the corner of Edsa and Ortigas Avenue. There, on top is a statue of Virgin Mary with rather homely Malayan-Chinese features. She represents the rosaries held up to the armored vehicles of the marines. The priests, nuns and laity who claim to have stopped the armored personnel carriers assert a miracle.

The basis of this assertion is that rosaries do not stop armored soldiers, and yet they apparently did. To achieve a prediction with an improbable means is, and has been for millennia, a definition of a ‘miracle’ sufficient for large multitudes as well as for quite a few who would consider themselves positivist logicians.

But there are those who would be interested in either predicting or creating another Edsa. For them a secular explanation would be more interesting if only because control would be reverted to their human hands.

Credit Cory, Enrile, Ramos

There are, to be sure, passionate adherents on either side. But the failure of the Aug. 28, 1987, putsch, with its rather visible squad of CIA colonels all too obviously on Gregorio Honasan’s side, certainly belies CIA capability to deliver large numbers of military officers on demand. No one turned up on Edsa to support Honasan. Thus, CIA capability to whip up national passions clearly was limited.

Edsa ’86 was the classic revolutionary situation described by Clarence Brinton in the “Anatomy of Revolution.” To be sure, the CIA saw it coming and might have nudged it along. But Edsa ’86 was too big to be anyone’s creation.

Give credit for sparking the revolution to Enrile and Ramos since it started with their defection. Give distinctive credit to Ramos, the professional soldier around whom the officer corps rallied. Give credit to Cory for winning a mandate which unraveled the legitimacy of Marcos and provided the people with a visible alternative leader. Give credit to the national voices (include June Keithley) who called on the people to stand up against all that armor with their amulets. Give credit to the CIA which had the common sense to act upon the knowledge that Marcos had become irrelevant.

People most of all

But after all is said and done, remember the people in the millions upon whom everybody rode to separate glories. Anything else is a pompous guess.

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Tags: anniversaries , Edsa 1 , Edsa ’86 , Martial law , people power revolt , Philippines , revolutions

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