butz aquino, my EDSA hero (1939-2015)
i knew butz as the BFF of my brother-in-law nick since ateneo days (along with reli german), and i also knew him as a showbiz figure, an actor on stage and in film, and ran into him once in a while when i was writing scripts for june keithley’s sosyal tv talkshow back in 1981. it was martial law, and he was special, too, for being the bunso brother of the amazing ninoy who spent seven years and seven months in jail, refusing to kowtow ever to the dictator marcos.
those early eighties must have been good times, sort of, for butz and the aquino family — ninoy was finally safe and free in boston, recovering from the heart attacks that forced marcos to let him go into exile in may 1980. the lull before the storm.
we all know what happened in 1983 when ninoy came home to lead the opposition only to be slayed on the tarmac. and we all saw how butz rose to the occasion by organizing and leading the august twenty-one movement (ATOM) whose sustained anti-marcos rallies over the next two and a half years enthralled (the yellow-pages confetti in makati always gave me goosebumps!) and emboldened the millions of filipinos who had wept for nation when ninoy died, and who became enamoured of the widow cory. we all know how that led to the people power ouster of marcos in 1986.
it is good that butz is being remembered now, finally, for the historically critical role he played in EDSA. in all early accounts of the four days, in the raves across the world, it was cardinal sin who was credited for making the first call over radio veritas that brought the people marching to EDSA in droves to shield the rebels from marcos’s wrath. in fact, the cardinal only echoed, in two parts (10:40 pm and 12 midnight), butz aquino’s earlier call (10:20 pm), also over veritas.
cory was in cebu. ATOM’s executive committee decided to await her instructions before making any kind of move.
But Butz was feeling contrary and audacious. Perhaps he was better informed than most, better acquainted with the personalities involved, just because he was Ninoy’s brother. And like the irrepressible Ninoy would have done, Butz seized the day.
Butz disagreed with the majority decision to wait and see rather than go all out in support of Ramos and Enrile. “This is our chance to split the military,” he said. He thought it was “out of character” for Ramos to be “included in a zarzuela to fool the people.” As for Enrile, Butz was willing to take a chance on him: “I don’t know him well but I am convinced that he had nothing to do with the assassination of Ninoy. When it comes to human rights violations, we can’t pinpoint anything on him directly. We also know he’s been powerless for the last several years. It’s General Ver who’s been calling the shots.”
On his own Butz decided to take the daring course of action. He called MP Palma and asked her, “Do you believe in these two guys?” And she said, “I think so. What are your plans?” Butz told her, “I’m going to Camp Aguinaldo and offer our support, whatever support we can give them.”
It was also around 10:00 when Butz got to Camp Aguinaldo and around 10:20 when he made the famous call for people to come to EDSA and shield the rebels from Marcos’s military might.
Butz sought out Enrile. He could feel the tension in the air. The soldiers on the stairway were sweating. Enrile was “tense, perspiring, perhaps from the heat of his bulletproof vest.” At Butz’s offer of support, Enrile answered, “We need all the support we can get.”
Spying Jun Taña of Radio Veritas on the phone, Butz plugged in and made his call to the people: “I am here in Camp Aguinaldo. I have just spoken to Minister Enrile. He and his men are bracing themselves against an attack. We are here to try and prevent bloodshed. We are going to work for a peaceful solution. … I am calling on all concerned citizens, specially my friends in ATOM, BANDILA, and FSDM to meet me at Isetann in Cubao. There we will decide on the best course of action.”
Butz was on inspired mode that night when he dared advocate a peaceful solution to imminent war between Marcos’s split military. It seemed absurd and foolish, quixotic even, yet it was consistent with the non-violent spirit of Cory’s civil disobedience campaign.
Father Francisco Araneta groaned when he heard Butz Aquino sounding off his call for volunteers to join him in Cubao and from there to march off to support the soldiers at Crame and Aguinaldo. “There goes that fool,” he thought to himself.
ten minutes after butz’s call, marcos went on tv, live, and accused enrile, ramos, and the reformists of a coup aborted. at 11:30 when that presscon ended, butz made a second call over veritas.
“We are here at Isetann and we will march to Crame and Aguinaldo. Minister Enrile and his men are ready to fight if they are attacked. If they are attacked, we will support them … we will surround the camps and protect them with our bodies. We will do this because Enrile and Ramos wish to follow the will of the people. Anyone who respects the will of the people deserves our help … I call on all our countrymen to join us and increase our number so that we can prevent a bloody confrontation … Only the brave should come!”
as it turned out, it was fortuitous that cory was away. she had no sympathy for ninoy’s jailer enrile and might have preferred to call coryistas to luneta, there to pray and watch as enrile-led rebels and ver-led loyalists wiped each other out.
and then, again, who knows. butz might have changed cory’s mind, the promise of non-violence (that ninoy, too, had advocated) may have appealed beyond the desire for revenge. whatever, butz would have prevailed. it was destiny.