I DON’T think an ordinary Filipino, or even a college student, would know who Colin Powell was: he was eulogized as an American hero when he died last October 18, probably the most well-known American casualty of Covid-19.
Yet he had a huge role in determining the course of our history — well, as the US probably always did in key points of our nation’s past.
Powell, a military man until he became Secretary of State in 2001, directed US forces in the Persian Gulf War in 1991. He became notorious for his speech at the United Nations in 2003 — building the case for the US invasion of Iraq — in which he told the world the US’ big lie that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” and must be invaded, the strongman hunted and sent to the gallows, like a common criminal. That Iraq had WMDs was pure fiction, yet neither Powell nor the US ever apologized for that lie.
In other words, whether he was merely following like a good soldier the directives of his imperialist Deep State masters, Powell has on his hands the blood of hundreds of thousands of Muslims killed in the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, with the instability it created triggering civil wars in Libya, Syria and Yemen. If Europe has its intractable problem of Muslim migrants banging on their doors, it can partly thank Powell.
What not many here know is that Powell — called the “embodiment of the American dream” as he was a Black American who grew up in Harlem — saved Corazon Aquino and her administration in 1989. It would take the country nearly three decades — that is, until President Duterte’s assumption to power in 2016 — to get rid of the Yellow plague on the nation.
The US will certainly try again to intervene in our history in the elections next year, to stop the son of the strongman they toppled in 1986 from assuming power.
What follows is an account of how Powell saved Cory’s neck in the November 1989 coup, as told by Gen. Colin Powell himself, who was then chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff during the President George H.W. Bush administration, in his 2003 book, My American Journey.
“In late November 1989, we had to respond to a coup against President Corazon Aquino of the Philippines.
“Cheney and I had just returned from a conference in Brussels. Cheney, exhausted and ill with the flu, went home and stayed there. I went to work the next day, returned home, and gratefully hit the sack soon after dinner. An hour later, the phone rang, and I was informed by Tom Kelly that a coup was under way in the Philippines headed by a Gen. Edgardo Abenina. I went immediately to the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon, arriving just after 11:00 p.m.
“I entered a room designed specifically for dealing with such situations. It was small, low-ceilinged; my steps were muffled by gray carpeting. The room was cold, kept that way to aid the performance of the supersensitive electronic gear. We were using a new teleconferencing system that allowed people from various agencies to confer without leaving their buildings.
“This was the first time the system would be used in an actual crisis. I sat at a table facing five television monitors. On one I could see the White House Situation Room, with Vice President Quayle at the center of the table… The face of [deputy secretary of state] Larry Eagleburger filled a second screen. On a third was Bill Webster, the CIA director, and on a fourth, Harry Rowen, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, who was upstairs in the Pentagon.
“I could see myself on the fifth screen…. Also, by pure chance, the Commander in Chief for all our forces in the Pacific, Admiral Huntington ‘Hunt’ Hardisty, was there too, having come from Honolulu to the Pentagon for budget talks.
“President Corazon Aquino, I was informed, had reported that the presidential palace in Manila was being bombed and strafed by rebel planes. She had requested US military intervention to stop the attacks.
“Eagleburger argued hard in favor of answering Aquino’s appeal. ‘We sponsored this democratic government,’ he said, ‘and we have to respond.’ Sporadic reports kept arriving; there was gunfire here and there, and a possible need to rescue Aquino from the palace. [My itals] But we were hearing more confusion than hard information. Our ambassador in Manila, Nicholas Platt, reconfirmed an official request that we bomb an airfield under rebel control. Mostly old T-28s, World War 2 prop-driven trainers, based at this field, were the planes attacking the capital. Again, State was eager to respond.
“The Vice President said he needed to contact President Bush soon with a recommendation. I had taken a media beating for holding back on the Giroldi coup in Panama in October. If I wanted to overcome any impression of indecisiveness, I should have plunged ahead now. But I was not about to be stampeded.
“I started asking questions. We could bomb the airfield, but did we know who we would be bombing? Who would we hit, rebels or loyalists? The State Department probably pictured a neat, surgical strike. Instead, I envisioned anxious young pilots flying their first combat missions, not precision-tooled automatons. My concern was that if we started shooting up planes on the airfield, we were inevitably going to kill people, and I warned the other teleconferees, ‘I can guarantee you that the Filipinos are going to blast us at their funerals, no matter which side we hurt.’ We were still, in some quarters, viewed and resented as former colonial masters.
“Before we did anything rash, we needed more on-site information. I wanted to talk to Fidel Ramos, the Philippine defense minister, to get an eyeball account. It just happened that the American military attaché ordinarily posted to our embassy in Manila was also in the Pentagon this night, upstairs with Harry Rowen, (and he was asked to get in touch with Ramos.)
Powell’s Phantom idea
“In the meantime, I described to Quayle and the others a plan that Hardisty and I had devised: have our F-4 Phantom jets stationed at Clark Air Force Base buzz any T-28S daring to come onto the runway at the rebel-held airbase. In short, scare the hell out of them.
“If any of these planes started to take off, fire in front of them. And if any took off, shoot them down. I concocted a phrase to include in the order to convey the desired sense of menace. Our aircraft were to demonstrate ‘extreme hostile intent.’ I called Cheney, who agreed. He contacted Air Force One and called me back within 10 minutes to tell me we had the President’s approval.
“In short, we had a clear line of authority for graduated military action, Commander in Chief to Secretary of Defense through me to the appropriate military units. ‘Go,’ Cheney said.
“I turned to Admiral Hardisty and gave him the go order… The F-4S were launched. They buzzed the airfield repeatedly, and no Filipino pilot took off to see what would happen next. …Within hours, the coup collapsed without our getting further involved and without the F-4S shooting up anybody or anything…
“A few days later, the coup leader, said, ‘We were about to take over the government. Then the US warplanes appeared. We simply cannot hope to win against the stronger power of the United States Air Force.’ The night the coup ended, I left the Pentagon feeling good.”
(Author’s note: Phantom jets arriving obviously from Clark, flying over the US embassy along Manila Bay and then zooming toward Malacañang actually was a vivid image for me as we watched the scene from our building’s roof top. What was totally not reported, and which I saw with my own eyes, were several US military choppers landing Marines in full battle gear within the embassy compound, with a platoon massing at its fences. That was part of Powell’s plan, for Marines to rush to Malacañang to evacuate Cory, in case the Phantom jet buzzing didn’t work.)
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