Setting the record straight on Edsa 1

In Cebu last Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, President BS Aquino III told a new version of the Edsa People Power of 1986.  

Addressing his Cebuano palanggas extemporaneously, he seemed to imply that People Power began in Cebu when his mother, then defeated presidential candidate Corazon C. Aquino, staged a civil disobedience rally in the afternoon of Feb. 22, 1986.  I was in that rally 28 years ago.  At the moment Cory was speaking, word broke out among the foreign correspondents that Juan Ponce Enrile had staged a breakaway from Ferdinand Marcos.  So I hurried to the airport and took an evening flight to Manila to join Enrile and Fidel Ramos at Camp Aguinaldo.

BS Aquino also seemed to imply that he—PNoy—is the fulfillment of the promise of Edsa.  Like the plan to connect the South Expressway and the North Expressway.  This was promised by previous presidents, he recalled, including Marcos.   Now, he is going to complete the SLEx-NLEx Connector Road, although at the time Marcos planned the project, he (Noynoy) was still in grade school.  Actually, it is the San Miguel group that will do the Connector, on its own initiative.  The government will not spend a centavo.

On the first day of Edsa I, Feb. 22, 1986, I was lucky to be both in Cebu, for Cory’s civil disobedience afternoon rally, and Manila, for the first night of Enrile’s breakaway coup.    Enrile had no troops, just about two dozen RAM soldiers.  His shock troops were us, foreign correspondents, numbering about 40.

Here is my story:

Not many people know it but EDSA I was triggered by greed and was won by a lie.   The crowds that massed at EDSA on February 24, Monday, and February 25, Tuesday, were there not to stage a revolt but to a hold a picnic. June Keithley had announced on radio at 7 am of February 24 that the Marcoses had left.  It was a lie. In their glee and feeling that finally it was all over, people trooped to EDSA to celebrate.

The greed arose from a Chinese forex trader who violated the peso-dollar trading band imposed by the then unofficial central bank, the Binondo Central Bank managed and headed by then Trade and Industry Secretary Roberto V. Ongpin. 

Ongpin had the erring trader arrested and loaded into a van.  Unfortunately, the forex trader died. Unfortunately again, the trader happened to be a man of then-Armed Forces chief Fabian C. Ver. Angered, the dreaded military chief had 22 of Ongpin’s security men arrested.  They were marching in full battle gear and dressed in SWAT uniform at about 4 am inside Fort Bonifacio when arrested on Feb. 22, 1986, a Saturday.

At 11 am, at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ongpin went looking for his security men.  He called up then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile who was with the Club 365 at the Atrium in Makati.  Enrile thought the arrest of the 22 Ongpin security men, who turned out to be RAM Boys of Col. Gringo Honasan, was part of the crackdown against the plot to oust Marcos.

The putsch was being planned by Enrile and his RAM Boys.  The defense chief had grown disenchanted with Marcos, who was very ill following a botched kidney transplant three years earlier.  JPE had become wary of the palace cabal led by Ver and the First Lady, Mrs. Imelda Romualdez Marcos.

Enrile summoned his boys to his house on Morada Street, Dasmariñas Village.   There they plotted their next moves.  They decided to make a last stand at the armed forces headquarters, Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.  At 2 pm, Enrile called then Vice Chief of Staff Lieut. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos.  “Are you with us?” JPE asked Eddie. “I am with you all the way,” the latter assured.

It was not until late in the evening that Saturday (Feb. 22) that Ramos actually joined the rebellion at Camp Aguinaldo. He had contacted his loyal PC-INP commanders, like Rene de Villa in Bicol, and Rodrigo Gutang in Cagayan de Oro and found to his dismay no troops could be readily airlifted to Manila to reinforce Enrile’s men, who were undermanned and under-armed.

Corazon Cojuangco Aquino learned about the brewing rebellion at 4 pm the same Saturday in Cebu. She led a destabilization and boycott rally there. I was there. I was covering the protest rally. After hearing about rumors of the Enrile defection, I went to the Mactan airport to book a flight to Manila. I landed in Manila shortly after 9 pm. With Boy del Mundo of then UPI, I took a taxi to Camp Aguinaldo.

I was surprised to find the camp commander welcoming us with open arms.  Enrile and Gringo had no troops at that time. Enrile had made a deal with Marcos—No shooting on the first night. Also, foreign correspondents were to be allowed inside Camp Aguinaldo.

Inside the Defense Ministry headquarters, Enrile and Ramos were giving an extended press conference. I asked if  Cory Aquino called them up. Enrile said yes.  “What can I do for you?” she asked.  “Nothing, just pray,” Enrile replied.

It was me who asked Enrile by how many votes he cheated in Cagayan on behalf of Marcos—300,000 votes. Enrile also claimed Cory Aquino was the duly elected president.  Wrong.

A recount of the votes, by Namfrel, after Cory took over, showed Marcos was the real winner of the February 1986 snap election, not by two million votes, as canvassed by the Batasan, but by 800,000 votes as recounted by Namfrel.

Corazon Cojuangco Aquino didn’t win the snap election of February 1986. It was won by strongman Ferdinand Marcos by a margin of 800,000 votes.  In the Comelec-sanctioned official count, the legal and official winner was Marcos, by a margin of 1.7 million votes. 

It was thought Marcos had cheated because his Solid North votes were transmitted very late to the tabulation center at the PICC. Two Namfrel volunteers were hanged in Ilocos.  The Ilocano votes were enough to overwhelm Cory’s lead in Metro Manila and other places.  The canvassers claimed Marcos was cheating and so led by the wife of a RAM major, walked out, as if on cue.  The day before the celebrated incident, we, foreign correspondents, had been alerted about the planned walkout and to be there to cover it.

Initially, Cory Aquino didn’t have any participation in the four-day People Power revolt of Feb. 22-25, 1986 or EDSA I.  She hid in a Cebu convent the first night.  Enrile wanted to take over as President.  But the RAM wanted a more acceptable political figure, Cory.

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