Hidden facts about EDSA 1 exposed

February 24, 2019

IN most progressive countries, uprisings, whether peaceful or bloody, are not commemorated for the simple reason that they are polarizing.

Old wounds need time to heal. That is not to say that there should be no justice or accountability. But isn’t it that whoever wins also gets to define such concepts, including the kind of “narratives” they think the public should know while suppressing the truth or factual events, in a bid to deodorize and legitimize their political victory?

At best, victors would deliberately hide the truths to keep the myths surrounding a successful revolution alive. At worst, these same truths will continue to haunt a country, a divided nation that can never truly march forward to progress.

On Monday, 33 years since the February 1986 People Power Revolt, the Philippines marks again the bloodless uprising that marked the end of the Marcos administration, sans genuine transformation and perhaps with even greater disillusionment after two Aquino presidencies.

In his collection of essays entitled “Debunked,” veteran journalist and diplomat Rigoberto Tiglao offers snippets of truths -- facts -- on the EDSA uprising that have remained in the dark until now. You can say what you want about Tiglao, but he is, foremost, a journalist, and journalists, regardless of political color or biases, hold facts sacred above all else.

Tiglao presents five “facts” whose absence – intentionally hidden from the public or otherwise – have shaped the way Filipinos have come to perceive or appreciate EDSA 1.

First, that former President Corazon Aquino had little to do with the uprising. It was Marcos’ defense minister, Juan Ponce Enrile, who was “mainly responsible” for the uprising, according to Tiglao. Enrile and his loyal military officials, collectively known as the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), were preparing for a coup attempt that involved capturing the late President Ferdinand Marcos and his family.

Citing Enrile’s own biography as well as articles written by RAM colonels since 1986, Tiglao traced how the coup plotters learned that their plan had already been uncovered when then Trade Minister Roberto Ongpin complained about the arrest of his military security detail – all RAM members – on February 22.

This prompted Enrile to make a “last stand” at his headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo together with then Philippine Constabulary chief Fidel Ramos, calling on foreign correspondents to cover his bold move and asking the late Cardinal Sin to encourage supporters to form a human shield around Camp Crame.

Tiglao offers a thought-provoking question: was it truly a case of People Power then, or simply People Fodder?

Second, given that only a small faction of the Armed Forces supported the coup, to whom then should we credit the peaceful revolution? For Tiglao, it was clear: it was Marcos who gave the categorical order that made it impossible for the military to hurt the protesters in EDSA. “Disperse the crowds, but do not shoot them,” Marcos said.

Third, Marcos asked Washington to bring him and his family to Laoag City – a detail that has, in fact, been turned into a joke (the equivalent of a meme had this happened today, that is): that the late strongman wanted to go to Paoay but was instead shipped out to Hawaii.

Fourth, Tiglao pointed out in his book that under both the 1935 and 1973 Constitution, Aquino was not qualified to run for president in the snap elections. Both previous constitutions specified that a president must be a “resident of the Philippines for at least 10 years immediately preceding the election.” Aquino, however, left the Philippines in 1980 to live in Boston with her husband, the late Senator Benigno Aquino Jr.

Marcos, for all his brilliant mind, did not raise this legal objection to Aquino’s presidential bid. Perhaps, Tiglao said, it was because he was confident that Benigno’s widow could not possibly win the snap polls. The Commission on Elections called the vote in Marcos’ favor with a margin of at least 1.5 million votes. The partial unofficial tally of the National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections or Namfrel, on the other hand, had Aquino winning by half a million votes.

Lastly, Tiglao notes that Aquino’s electoral campaign in 1986 was part of a well-funded public relations job handled by the American political strategist firm Sawyer Miller. This, the veteran journalist said, was confirmed by US documents that Sawyer Miller submitted in compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Citing the 2008 book “Alpha Dogs: The Americans Who Turned Political Spin into a Global Business” of James Harding, Tiglao noted that Sawyer Miller’s point person in the Philippines, Malloch Brown, steered the PR campaign of Aquino with the single message -- that Marcos is corrupt and a dictator.

Three decades later, the same strategic message still defines the campaign against the Marcoses. The same strategic message continues to divide the country.