Cub-reporter-turned-lawmaker recalls Edsa’s ‘game of generals’
Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat was then an idealistic 20-year-old journalism student at the University of the Philippines Diliman when Edsa People Power revolution erupted in February 1986.
Armed with nothing but his camera and a recorder, the avid student of the journalism stalwart Luis Beltran at the UP College of Mass Communication went to Edsa when he heard on the radio that military vice chief of staff Fidel Ramos and then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile had defected.
He even had the blessing of his mother, who fetched him at Edsa between Camp Aguinaldo and Crame, Baguilat fondly remembered in an interview with Inquirer at his humble home on Friday.
“That was my excuse to my mother. This is history in the making. I had to be there,” Baguilat said.
With his shih tzu named Vader skidding on the floor, and the television blaring episodes of Star Trek in the background, this lawmaker who rose from councilor to governor shared his first-hand experience witnessing the fall of the dictatorship unfold.
During the brutal martial law regime, he had been attending rallies that erupted across the metropolis armed with his pen and press ID, covering the protest actions as part of his journalism subject assignment with Prof. Beltran.
He would even boycott classes called for by prominent student leader Lean Alejandro during his time, although he admitted doing so as a reason to skip classes.
Little did he know his journalism background would end up making him a participant in history.
When Ramos and Enrile defected, Baguilat said he went to Camp Aguinaldo in the middle of the night and with no one on watch, he climbed up the wall.
There was a press conference going on in the office of Ramos and he wanted to cover it, although his press ID was really that from a friend in the UP student publication Philippine Collegian, Baguilat said.
“I could have stayed outside, but my instinct [was to go in]. So I climbed up the wall, which, come to think of it, [was] stupid, because there could be snipers securing the area,” Baguilat said laughing.
It was there inside the camp where he would spend the next four days until the culmination of Edsa People Power revolt on Feb. 25, 1986, when the dictator Ferdinand Marcos would flee.
Baguilat said he would also join Ramos’ ambush interviews with veteran reporters.
He even witnessed the historic crossing over from Crame to Aguinaldo of Ramos, Enrile. and Enrile’s aide, the charismatic colonel Gringo Honasan.
HIs first impression of Ramos, Baguilat said, was that of a general in a game of chess, planning his next moves and striking alliances.
Inside the camp, he would see generals come out of Ramos’ office talking over the phone and convincing their “mistahs” to defect and join the cause.
“I saw the general capitulating… The first three days’ game was like a chess game, figuring out who are the allies. We hear General Ramos talking over the phone asking, ‘Did we get them? It’s important that they are on our side,'” Baguilat recounted.
Waking up from the carpeted floor of the office where the reporters spent the night, he would see Edsa already teeming with people who came to protect the soldiers, Baguilat said, recounting that he survived on Jollibee and pansit passed around by the people outside.
Far from a battle zone, the congregation in Edsa felt like a fiesta, Baguilat said.
“It’s like a fiesta, parang hindi rebolusyon (not so much like a revolution). Of course there were tense moments,” he said, recalling the time a tank rolled on to Edsa blocked by the crowd, although he was not part of that.
Baguilat said he was employed by a CNN reporter as a tag-along and translator in the CNN interview with the people who congregated along Edsa in front of the camp.
People just cheered and waved to the cameras, Baguilat said, compelling the CNN reporter to ask the young Teddy to tell the people to act more naturally as one would in a revolution.
“Inside the camp, it was a tense feeling. Outside, it was a fiesta. The people were happy, smiling,” Baguilat said.
When news broke out that Marcos’ forces were planning to launch an assault in the perimeter of Camp Aguinaldo, Baguilat said he got tense. And then he remembered his uncle, Brigadier General Felix Brawner, who headed the 1st Scout Ranger Regiment, turned out was the one tasked to launch the attack.
“I called my mom, and said, ‘Ma, call uncle now and tell him his nephew is here!'” Baguilat said laughing. The attack would not commence, and his uncle would later defect to Ramos’ side.
The culmination of exhilaration happened from the day there was a false alarm that Marcos had fled, to that fateful day on February 25, when the ultimate sign of victory had been sealed with the dictator’s downfall.
“For me, the culmination was not when Marcos had fled, but it was when [it was first thought] he.. When it was announced that Marcos already fled, Enrile and Ramos went out, and yes, there was the feeling of the culmination of the struggle,” Baguilat said.
His four-day experience in the frontline of history was so unforgettable, he had to brag it to his closest peers and friends–Ed Lingao (veteran war reporter, now of TV 5), Ernie Lim and Jerry Dela Rosa, who each had their own dose of the Edsa experience.
His friend Lingao would be seen in the iconic Edsa photo of nuns holding on to rosaries in front of soldiers with rifles.
All Baguilat had to document his role in the uprising was the picture of Ramos making his iconic jump on Edsa in front of the crowd and a wall of reporters. Baguilat’s hand was seen holding up his tape recorder.
“My barkada, we were all there. We had our stories,” Baguilat said.
Then volunteering for Cory Aquino during the snap elections only to have the icon to democracy get cheated, Baguilat said his frustrations led him to the streets unaware that the congregation would culminate to a peaceful people power.
“We didn’t think rallies would be enough to topple the dictatorship,” he said.
Looking back, the Ifugao lawmaker is at awe at how his mere impulse to jump over that wall in Camp Aguinaldo ended with him witnessing the game of generals against a dictator.
“From just a student journalist documenting history, it was like I was a participant too, of the history in the making,” Baguilat said.
“It was exciting. You’re not just witnessing history, you’re experiencing history.” CDG
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