Day 4: Dictator’s day of humiliation
MANILA, Philippines—There was something surreal about the last day of Ferdinand E. Marcos’ 20-year rule.
The economy in shambles, his government in total collapse, much of the Armed Forces in mutiny, his palace in disarray and abandoned by most of his Cabinet, Marcos cut a pathetic figure that Tuesday 28 years ago today.
One moment he was pleading to be allowed to stay on as a figurehead and in the next he was threatening to wipe out his enemies. In between, he was still promising to lead the Philippines “to the heaven of progress.”
Barely an hour after Cory Aquino—derided by the dictator as a plain housewife who knew nothing—took her oath as President of the Philippines at Club Filipino in Greenhills, Marcos had total strangers invited from the streets into Malacañang’s Ceremonial Hall to watch him sworn into office.
For the next nine hours, the Philippines would have two presidents.
Hundreds of Marcos followers gathered on J.P. Laurel Street, which ran parallel to the Palace’s iron fence, all the way to Nagtahan Bridge. They carried “Marcos pa rin” signs and frequently broke into chants, “Marcos! Marcos!”
A couple of hundred meters away, on Mendiola Street, anti-Marcos demonstrators shouted, “Ibagsak! Ibagsak!”
The Palace grounds teemed with Marcos loyalists.
That was the scene when I arrived to cover Marcos’ swearing-in ceremony. I wanted to survey the grounds to check out the damage caused by a couple of rockets fired into Malacañang by a low-flying helicopter the day before. But there was not much time, so I made my way to the Ceremonial Hall.
The place was nearly filled by a few hundred people dressed casually. Some were in rubber shoes and even flip-flops. They littered the floor with plastic cups and many of them were smoking in what was a no-smoking area.
Ordinarily, one had to be in formal attire to be admitted into the Ceremonial Hall.
It was 11:45 a.m. when Marcos, clad in an elegant white barong, strode in to chants of “Marcos! Marcos! Marcos pa rin!” He was accompanied by his wife, Imelda, and daughters Imee and Irene, all dressed in white flowing gowns with butterfly sleeves.
Son Bongbong wore military fatigues in an apparent attempt to show some fighting spirit. But in fact, all of the Marcoses looked grim.
Handful of loyalists
As did the handful of Cabinet members in attendance. I counted only seven of the more than 20 members of Marcos’ Cabinet. They were Tourism Minister Jose Aspiras, Agrarian Reform Minister Conrado Estrella, Agriculture Minister Salvador Escudero, Information Minister Gregorio Cendaña, Public Works Minister Jesus Hipolito, Education Secretary Jaime Laya and Executive Secretary Juan Tuvera.
The most conspicuous absences were those of Arturo Tolentino, who was to have been sworn in as Vice President at the same ceremony, and Prime Minister Cesar Virata. Highly noticeable, too, was the absence of anyone from the diplomatic corps.
Cut off the air
Nobody outside of the Palace heard Marcos’ inaugural speech. Barely had Marcos raised his right hand to take his oath from Supreme Court Chief Justice Ramon Aquino—no relation to Cory Aquino—when saboteurs knocked out the television relay from the Palace to a private television station owned by a Marcos crony.
It was the second time Marcos was cut off the air in two days. The forces of renegade Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos, who had defected to the side of Cory Aquino, wrested control of the government’s television station the previous day even as Marcos was threatening to wipe them out.
Most of those in the Ceremonial Hall didn’t hear Marcos’ words either. People were yelling at each other to sit down—“Baba, baba” or “Upo.” They were standing on the cushioned, velvet-covered benches to get a better view of Marcos.
All of Marcos’ three previous inaugurals—in fact, all Philippine presidential inaugurations—were held at Luneta Grandstand, with officials from all branches of the government, leaders of various religious denominations, prominent individuals and businessmen, and foreign dignitaries in attendance.
The Malacañang ritual lasted no more than 20 minutes.
With his family in tow, Marcos then went on to address thousands of supporters from a palace balcony. His grandson Borgy, whom I had not noticed at the Ceremonial Hall earlier, had a position of prominence on the balcony. He stood in front of his mother, Imee, and was flanked by Marcos to his right and Bongbong to the left. The 3-year-old Borgy looked no more menacing in his military fatigues than his uncle who stood with his arms folded.
A man, speaking through a bullhorn, interrupted Marcos. He said people were wondering if he was growing soft or had lost his touch, and he wanted to know what the strongman planned to do about the government’s television network, which was now in rebel hands.
Marcos answered, “Even though sometimes you don’t see me because I face many crises now, remember if you have problems that I am here to help you.”
Neither he nor Imelda, who addressed the crowd briefly, admitted that most of the armed forces that had propped him up during his dictatorship of the past 14 years had joined Cory Aquino’s people power revolution.
After a few more minutes, the Marcoses marched back into the Palace, not to be seen again anytime soon.
Late that night, after The Associated Press had gotten confirmation that the Marcoses had been flown out to Clark Air Base on their way to the United States, I hied off to Camp Aguinaldo where the mood was celebratory. There was a lot of congratulatory back-slapping.
I found myself in a long line of people waiting to see Enrile. Strangely, I saw no other journalist there at that time and assumed they were writing their dispatches.
It was probably around 2 a.m. when I was ushered into Enrile’s office. All signs of the previous days’ stress were gone. He was smiling broadly.
Enrile said Marcos called him twice that day, the first time just before Cory Aquino’s swearing-in and again late in the afternoon.
“He requested my opinion about how to solve this problem, what would be a graceful exit,” Enrile said. “I told him, no, Mr. President, I don’t know.”
Marcos then asked him to convince Cory Aquino to call off her oath-taking and agree to the setting up of a “transition government” in which he would be “honorary president” with her calling the shots.
“I told him it’s too late in the day for that,” Enrile said, “because we have already been committed to Mrs. Aquino.”
Marcos called again in the afternoon, according to Enrile. This time, he wanted Enrile to contact US Ambassador Stephen Bosworth and find out if US military authorities “could provide security for us to leave the Palace.”
All that time, according to Enrile, Marcos was calm. “I never noticed any bitterness. He never complained.”
It must have been close to dawn when I got back to the office and sat down to write my report on Marcos’ last days in power. After a number of tentative attempts, I began: “After 20 years of ruling without serious challenge, Ferdinand E. Marcos found his last days a nightmare of error, bombast and finally, humiliation before the Filipino nation.”
(Editor’s Note: Miguel C. Suarez was news editor of the Manila bureau of The Associated Press and president of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines during the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution. He is now chief of the Inquirer News Service.)
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