Five facts about EDSA we didn’t know at the time

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MOST likely it is another case of the adage that history is written by the victors. But there are facts — now indisputable — that we didn’t know, or were hidden from public knowledge, during the February 1986 People Power Revolt and even three decades later.

Perhaps because of the disillusionment with the presidency of the son of the so-called heroine of EDSA 1, the facts have been ferreted out, or have simply become clearer. The following five facts are from documents and eyewitness accounts, and not from some “anonymous” sources, which the space constraints of a newspaper column do not allow me to list.

Fact 1: Cory Aquino had little to do with EDSA 1.
Ironically, it was Marcos’ legal and military pillar, his longtime defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile who — in a last stand to defend himself and his “RAM boys” from certain doom — was mainly responsible for EDSA 1.

The events that led to it were triggered by the botched coup attempt by the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) cabal of colonels under Enrile’s aegis. It was to have been a classic coup by colonels as happened in many Latin American countries and other Third World nations. The leaders were Gregorio Honasan, Tirso Gador, Rex Robles, Tito Legaspi, Red Kapunan and Felix Turingan.

As revealed in Juan Ponce Enrile’s biography published in 2012 and in articles written by the colonels themselves since 1986, the conspirators after months of planning, decided to attack — boldly or foolishly — Malacañan Palace at 2 a.m. of Feb. 23, 1986, and capture Marcos and his family, and for its coup d’etat to take over government.

Talking incessantly to foreign and local media for months about their opposition to Marcos, it is astonishing that the RAM was so confident, or naïve, that its plot wouldn’t be uncovered.

Enrile only realized their plot had been uncovered when a hysterical Trade Minister Roberto Ongpin on the morning of February 22 called him to complain that his military security detail had been arrested by the Marines that night. Ongpin wasn’t aware that his security detail were RAM members. They were, rather amateurishly, reconnoitering the residence of Marine commander Gen. Artemio Tadiar to prepare for their planned attack on him the next day, when they were spotted by Military Police and arrested.

After lunch that day, Enrile, realizing that his and his RAM boys’ plot had been uncovered, decided that rather than being ignominiously arrested and executed, decided to take a “last stand” at his headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.

Several of the RAM boys had been in close contact for months with foreign correspondents — a favorite source of assets for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). A 2015 newspaper article by three RAM colonels revealed that an emissary from the Pentagon promised the RAM the US government’s protection from arrest if it “refrained from employing violent methods in pursuing its reformist goals.”

Did Enrile and his RAM boys expect that the Pentagon would keep its word and intervene in some way to save them from Marcos’ wrath?

Enrile though was clever to immediately call foreign correspondents to Camp Crame to cover what he thought was his last stand, after then Vice Chief of Staff and longtime PC Commander Fidel Ramos agreed to join him in his mutiny.

Another brilliant move of Enrile was to call Cardinal Sin to ask his faithful to surround Camp Crame to form their human shield. People Power, or People Fodder?

Fact 2: Only a small faction of the military supported the mutineers.
Enrile’s RAM boys consisted mostly of the colonels he had taken under his wing as defense minister. Air Force Commander Vicente Piccio, Army Commander Josephus Ramas and Marine Commandant Tadiar were all loyal to the chain of command. The Philippine Constabulary surprisingly though, as it was headed for more than a decade by Ramos who was succeeded by his protégé Renato de Villa, was divided in its loyalties.

The Marcos military succumbed to the EDSA forces because they realized that they were helpless facing the huge crowds. Marcos had given them the categorical order which was impossible to implement — “Disperse the crowds but do not shoot them.”

Isn’t it Marcos therefore that made it possible for EDSA to be a “peaceful revolution”?

Contrast that to the political will of the Chinese Communist Party, which ordered a column of tanks and battalions of People’s Liberation Army soldiers to disperse the thousands of protesters trying to mimic EDSA 1 in 1989 in Tiananmen Square.

Fact 3: The US betrayed Marcos, shanghaiing him to Hawaii.
US authorities told Marcos that it would accede to his request to evacuate him and his family by helicopter from Malacañang to Laoag City, the capital of his home province Ilocos Norte. They instead brought him to Hawaii.

We’ll never know what Marcos — who even his archenemies concede was a brilliant strategist — intended to do in the North: Rally his army to defend him and re-take Malacañang, or to negotiate a peaceful retirement?

The Yellow propaganda, of course, deviously made a joke out of it, that Marcos thought he was going to Paoay, but was instead brought to Hawaii. That joke made most Filipinos conclude that Marcos fled to the US in fear of his and his family’s life. Paoay, however, is a fourth-class municipality that didn’t have any emotional links to Marcos, who was born in Sarrat.

The truth is that testimonies in hearings in the US Congress (which investigated what funds were used for the Marcos operation) incontrovertibly show that the US military initially had orders to take Marcos and his party to Laoag.

The helicopters, however, decided to land at Clark Air Base, telling him it had become dangerous to fly to Laoag City since they had arrived right after dawn. That was a lie: US choppers and their pilots – trained through the Vietnam and other wars – could land in any flat terrain and even in the darkest nighttime.

The truth is that the US military received a request from Cory Aquino for Marcos to be evacuated to Hawaii, which it immediately did, after clearance from the White House itself.

Fact 4: Under both the 1935 and 1973 Constitution, Corazon Aquino was not qualified to run for president in the 1986 “snap elections.”
Both the 1935 and 1973 constitutions specified that a president must be a “resident of the Philippines for at least 10 years immediately preceding the election.” Cory had left the Philippines together with her husband — voluntarily — to live in Boston in 1980.

So, why didn’t Marcos, a lawyer, and his stable of the country’s brightest legal minds raise this objection to Cory’s candidacy?

Perhaps he was confident that there was no way for Cory to win the snap elections. Or perhaps the Americans demanded that he prove his legitimacy in an electoral contest with Aquino’s widow. The country’s fate at that time was in the hands of the US-controlled International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and a group of foreign banks, mostly American, that agreed to the orderly rescheduling of the country’s foreign debts. Without US support of the program, the country would have been plunged into an economic meltdown.

The Comelec count had Marcos winning by a margin of 1.5 million votes. The partial unofficial tally of Namfrel — which was then headed by Jose Concepcion who became Aquino’s first trade secretary — had Cory winning by half a million votes. A brilliant move by RAM was to have their wives and relatives – who “volunteered” with the Comelec’s quick count as encoders – walk out of the televised tally, creating the propaganda that these “ordinary citizens” were protesting Marcos’ cheating.

All these data became irrelevant of course when Cory imposed just a month after Marcos fell, on March 25, 1986, a revolutionary government, which made her a dictator monopolizing executive, legislative and judicial powers until the 1987 Constitution was ratified.

Fact 5: Cory’s 1986 electoral campaign was handled by a US PR firm.
Sawyer Miller, an American public relations and political strategist firm that would be in the 1980s and 1990s, the most expensive and most sought-after outfit in the world after EDSA 1, handled almost in its entirety Cory Aquino’s public performance in the 1986 snap elections. This is confirmed by US documents that Sawyer Miller submitted in compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Its operations during the electoral campaign to transform Aquino’s bland widow to a fiery candidate has been revealed in detail in the James Harding’s book Alpha Dogs: The Americans Who Turned Political Spin into a Global Business (2008: Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

The blurb in the book’s jacket described the firm: “A political powerhouse, directing democratic revolutions from the Philippines to Chile, steering a dozen presidents and prime ministers into office.”

Sawyer Miller’s man on the ground who coached Cory and wrote nearly all of her speeches was one British citizen Malloch Brown, disguised as a correspondent of the British newsmagazine The Economist. Brown, the book reported, even had to sit on the floor of Cory’s campaign bus to hide him from public view.

After Sawyer Miller, Brown would two decades later become United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, and then a UK government minister. Brown was knighted in 2007, after which he has been addressed as Lord Malloch Brown.

According to the book, it was Brown who got Cory to stick to a single message “with bumper-sticker simplicity: Marcos is corrupt. Marcos is a dictator.”

Brown’s messaging formed the core of the Yellow narrative of EDSA, brainwashed in the minds of a generation of Filipinos. They even inanely think they can use the same messaging in the case of Duterte.

This piece is one of five articles in the chapter “The EDSA Revolt” that debunks the myths over this episode in our nation’s history, in my book Debunked: Uncovering Hard Truths about EDSA, Martial Law, Marcos, Aquino, with a Special Section on the Duterte Presidency, available in most bookstores and through online ordering,


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