THE late strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos’ forces would have made the country’s Ilocos northern provinces his formidable base, to challenge the EDSA 1 forces, and possibly even defeat them after what would be tantamount to a civil war.
Marcos’ plan collapsed though after his old friend, US President Ronald Reagan, betrayed him at the last minute, and acceded to Corazon Aquino’s request on Feb. 25, 1986 not to take him to Ilocos Norte but to Hawaii. Marcos was helpless in resisting the Americans, who had disarmed his personal security staff as soon as they landed in Clark Airbase.
This is according to then Philippine Constabulary Brig. Gen Tomas Dumpit, probably after General Ver, the military commander closest and most loyal to Marcos. His account of the months leading up to EDSA and right after is contained in his recently released memoirs entitled The Heart of a General (Untold Stories of EDSA), the relevant section titled “Oplan North Contingency Plan.” Dumpit wrote:
“Oplan North was mapped out early on with the build-up of anti-Marcos protests. In anticipation of violent demonstrations backed by critics of the government both here and in the US, as well as by Marcos’ former allies who betrayed him, General Ver directed us to prepare details of the plan, which aimed to protect the President and defend the North should the situation in Manila become untenable.
“In order to trigger such a plan, the President had to be flown to the Malacañang of the North in Paoay, Ilocos Norte. Then to seal off the North, we would establish blocking positions at the bridges of Sison and San Fabian in Pangasinan, the only access points to the North, as soon as the President had entered La Union province. Simultaneously, a series of blocking positions would be established in every province manned by militia forces and diehard Marcos followers, supported by loyal military and police forces.
The assumption was that only elements of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement and very few defectors would have the guts to enter the North.
Oplan North would also have been easily implemented since during the height of the EDSA Revolution, I concurrently held the positions of Regional Unified Command [which covered North and Central Luzon], Philippine Constabulary/Integrated National Police regional commander, and Amianan commander Northern Luzon, Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“My jurisdiction covered the seven provinces of Region I, the two western towns of the province of Kalinga-Apayao, and six western municipalities of Cagayan province. Under my command were the Philippine Army Combat Infantry Battalion, seven PC provincial commands, the Integrated National Police and Task Force Amianan composed of 10,000 militia forces. I also had Civilian Defense Forces of about 5,000 on standby in the different provinces of Region 1, supported by the fanatic Solid North Ilocano population loyal to President Marcos.
Our manpower was supported by eight helicopters (two Sikorskys with guns and six Hueys), and one Islander as spotter aircraft. The Regional Unified Command had support from the various branches of the AFP: the Philippine Air Force, the Philippine Navy, and the Philippine Army. Four combat infantry battalions were to work together solely to secure the North.
The RUC force would be complemented by 5,000 men of the Presidential Security Command under Brig. Gen. Santiago Barangan and supported by Brig. Gen Antonio Palafox of the 5th Division in Tarlac. We had a stockpile of ammunition and other supplies, mostly in Ilocos Norte, good for up to six months.
With these capabilities, including all tactical machinery and equipment, rebel forces would have found it difficult to subdue the North, even with the support of all the people behind the EDSA revolution. High-ranking military officers who had turned their backs on President Marcos knew full well how hard it would have been to penetrate the North at the time, and they would have been reluctant to try.
The plan to protect President Marcos and his administration was never implemented because he was taken to Hawaii instead of Paoay. A completely different story would have resulted had he been flown to the Malacañang of the North. Since a majority of the members of the Armed Forces*, mostly Ilocanos, stayed loyal to the President and only a few had defected to the opposition, if he had remained in the country, his presence would have prevented civil unrest and he would have stayed in command, stabilizing the situation.
Most people assumed that flying to Hawaii was President Marcos’ own escape plan. But if he had been in a position to decide at that moment, he would have opted to head for Ilocos Norte. It was never his decision to be flown to Hawaii or leave the country. It was the Americans who brought him to Clark Airbase, and flew him to the US, a case of the country deciding the fate of its former colony after the latter had gained independence.**
For myself, this episode is the greatest “what if” in the history of the Philippines.*** Not a day has gone by without me pondering what would have happened had our plan materialized. I believe we would be reading a different story today.
In hindsight, I have had an epiphany: a country is never truly free from foreign domination as long as its own people look up to their former colonizer as a “big brother” whose interference is welcomed in resolving their domestic problems.
*Contrary to the Yellow narrative, commanders of the Armed Forces’ Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines had remained loyal to Marcos during the EDSA uprising. The rebel forces consisted mainly of the Enrile-backed Reform the Armed Forces of the Philippines and a faction of the Philippine Constabulary led by Fidel Ramos, who officially was out of the PC chain of command as he was vice chief of staff of the AFP.
**I have provided more than ample historical evidence for this in least two columns “Cory stopped US from taking Marcos to Ilocos (July 25, 2022),” and “Reagan confirmed Cory asked US to take Marcos out of the country, (Aug. 12, 2022)”.
***Indeed, this “what if” should inspire our historical fiction writers. If Marcos made the North his base, would the Yellows and the Communist Party with its New People’s Army set up an alliance to defeat the strongman? But in this case, the US likely would instead support Marcos. Or would the Left have eventually elbowed out the Yellows to crush Marcos and take over the country, as the communists did in Vietnam?
Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Book orders: www.rigobertotiglao.com/shop