flashback 24 feb 1986

24 February 2008

sunday night through the dark hours of monday, day three, was the scariest night for the throngs of people camped out around crame all the way to the corner of santolan and libis along camp aguinaldo. and monday was the longest, most eventful day.

june keithley was back on the air, this time on radyo bandido (pahabol: veritas’s signal from an emergency transmitter had died out 6 pm sunday, thanks to an early morning pc assault on the transmitter farm in bulacan).

news of defections trickled in through the night, cory spoke briefly, and whenever keithley ran out of things to say, or whenever the tension needed easing, she spinned an old scratchy version of “mambo magsaysay” and played “bayan ko” intermittently.

she also had a phonepatch to crame through which came all sorts of reports of impending attacks. the call for more people to come and shield the rebels was practically non-stop. in fact it was already 3 a.m. by the time tadiar, again, was ordered to inject marines by way of the libis backdoor into camp aguinaldo from where an assault on camp crame would be launched. crowd dispersal units would be used to sweep away human barricades.

sey ni ninotchka rosca sa endgame: the fall of marcos (1987):

The crowd had lost its middle-class character and was now diluted with legions of workers, squatter area residents, and urban poor-the great unwashed. Although there was some resentment at their presence, they could not be driven away. They provided the mass necessary to keep the rebellion’s leadership viable. Cause-oriented groups had also broken out their banners and occupied strategic spots in EDSA, in Santolan Road, in the Cubao district, and in Bohol Avenue, as well as in the intersection of streets leading to the Palace. Like night flowers, the banners flapped in the wind: KASAPI, BANDILA, ATOM, BAYAN, NATIONALIST ALLIANCE, GABRIELA.”

4:14 a.m. the marine regiment led by col. braulio balbas jumped off from fort bonifacio accompanied by crowd dispersal and control units under the direction of brig. gen. victor natividad.

keithley reported on the deteriorating defense situation; appealed to the loyalist soldiers, “magkakapatid tayo!” 5:00 a.m. ramos went on the air and appealed for more people. “an overwhelming military force has been assembled and directed to move against us!”

u.s. ambassador stephen bosworth relayed a message from the reagan white house to marcos: your time is up. marcos angrily rejected bosworth and, going on television, claimed to be in control, and that enrile and ramos were guilty of rebellion and inciting to rebellion.

the u.s. announced it would cut off all military aid if marcos used force against the rebels. too late. at 5:15 a.m., shortly after the message was released, several tear gas bombs exploded in the santolan, libis area. riot troopers dispersed the crowds and col. balbas’s column broke through the east wall of camp aguinaldo to take up positions facing the rebel camp crame.

also at 5:15 a.m. in villamor air base, col. antonio sotelo, commander of the 15th strike wing of the air force was ordered to fly two gunships to fort bonifacio.

at 5:55 a.m. major charles hotchkiss, commander of the 20th air commando squadron of the 15th strike wing led five sikorsky gunships up into the sky.

on edsa at 6:00 a.m. col. mariano santiago called for volunteers to open a “new front” to ease the pressure on the two camps. channel 4 the government tv station was the target. around a thousand people, 200 of them members of ATOM-Bayan, joined santiago. as they marched off, gunships were sighted winging towards camp crame.

the roar of their approach filled the air. on the ground the outnumbered outarmed rebel soldiers on the ground took cover, cocked their guns, waiting for the worst, the first shot; they had orders not to shoot until then. the gunships, bristling with rockets and cannon circled the camp once, then proceeded to land on the parade ground with lights blazing. it was 6:20 a.m.

out came airmen waving white flags and flashing the Laban sign. stunned silence, then a burst of clapping and cheering, a gigantic sigh of relief. sotelo said he was defecting with the entire elite 15th strike wing of the philippine air force. he was cheered wildly by the crowd of soldiers and civilians who were expecting an air bombardment.

it was a major turning point for the rebel military. biglang meron na silang air force. why not a symbolic attack on malacanang, just to let them know the rebels could launch an assault by air.

but just a few minutes later, at 6:27 a.m. keithley announced on radyo bandido that marcos and bongbong had just taken off from the manila international airport, that ver’s wife and imelda left earlier, at 3 p.m., and that imee and irene had left the night before, leaving ver alone in the malacanang.

wrote louie beltran for the inquirer:

the rejoicing at marcos’s departure (whether supposed or real) was almost manic. people cried in joy, ran out in the streets, embraced and hugged each other as if someone had announced that the bubonic plague was over.”

around 7:30 a.m. enrile and ramos, surrounded by rebel troops, went out and addressed the wildly cheering crowds inside and outside the camp. enrile declared it the “day of our liberation.” ramos was so happy he did a frog jump into the air, which drew squeals of delight from the crowd.

unfortunately nakoryente lang pala si keithley, said to be the handiwork of loyalists who hoped the news would disperse the crowds.

the moment marcos was told, he ordered information minister gregorio cendana to put him on television with imelda, kids, and apos. he was still very much around, as were balbas and his marines in camp aguinaldo with their cannons aimed on camp crame.

at 9 a.m. as preparations for the presscon proceeded, army commander gen. josephus ramas ordered balbas to fire at crame immediately. balbas had awesome firepower targeted on the rebel headquarters 200 meters away: 3 howitzers, 28 mortars, 6 rocket launchers, 6 machine guns, and 1000 rifles. balbas said they were still getting into position. again at 9:10 and at 9:20 ramas barked out the order to fire through radio. again and again balbas said his men were still getting into position.

at 9:30 marcos went on television over the government station channel 4 surrounded by imelda, imee, irene, greggy araneta, tommy manotoc, grandchildren, and bongbong in fatigues, and the vers, father and sons. grandson borgy was running all over the place. marcos announced that his inauguration would go on as scheduled the next day at noon. he appealed to civilians making up human barricades to get out of the line of fire in case of hostilities.

instead, people were streaming back to edsa, back to the barricades.

inside the crame war room, the rebels thudded down to earth. enrile and ramos sent a team to take control of channel 4 and a gunship to fly over malacanang and cripple its radio transmitter. the gunship returned within minutes. the pilots could not find the transmitter. they were sent back, this time to hit malacanang with a few rockets, but only to rattle, not hurt, its occupants.

on channel 4, while a battle for the station was raging between rebel and loyalist soldiers outside, marcos was still on the air, having his famous exchange with ver who approached, pleading with the president to give the order to attack, and marcos said no, his order was not to attack. kuno. ver had just confirmed with tadiar that the order for balbas to fire at camp crame was cleared by marcos.

9:56 a.m. people who were watching tv were stunned when, as marcos was about to answer a reporter’s question as to how he was in control, the screen blacked out. a transmitter had been hit in an exchange of gunfire with a sniper from the tower.

around 10:15 a.m. six rockets were fired on the palace, hitting the room of imelda and the garden. damage was negligible but it sent the message that the rebel force could strike any target at will. all the marcoses, from the president to the smallest grandchild, descended to the ground floor, near the elevator, huddled in a room, and came out of the attack unscathed.

in a rage following the rocket attack, ver radioed wing commander of the f-5 fighters then flying over malacanang and ordered him to bomb camp crame immediately. the squadron commander’s reply: yes sir, proceeding to bomb malacanang palace now! marcos had lost his jet fighters.

this while irwin ver was calling balbas and ordering a full attack on the rebels, saying that the palace was hit and suffered ten casualties. but balbas couldn’t bring himself to fire; there would be an unacceptable number of civilian casualties as people had been allowed inside crame grounds, perhaps among them his wife and kids.

11:30 a.m. channel 4 finally fell into rebel hands.

11:45 a.m. radio veritas began broadcasting with channel 4 facilities.

12 noon. sotelo dispatched three gunships that strafed villamor air base and destroyed five choppers on the ground. all were completely crippled. one exploded.

12:30 p.m. on orders of tadiar, balbas pulled the marines pulled out of camp aguinaldo.

from then on it was downhill all the way for marcos.

1:25 p.m. channel 4 was born again, live. in came the superstars, the not-so stars. the station became a cory-enrile-ramos propaganda machine nonstop.

2:00 p.m. batasan members of parliament met in doy laurel’s residence. they recommended that the new government not be provisional in nature but constitutional, de jure, and permanent.

at three o’clock in the afternoon, as the moon waxed full, edsa was packed with people. no doubt the false alarm of marcos’s departure was partly to blame. it gave the people a taste of victory, short-lived but oh-so-sweet and worth dying for.

also at 3 p.m. marcos received an offer of asylum from singapore prime minister lee kuan yew. the president was grateful but said he had no intention of leaving the country.

4:30 p.m. ver and ramas decided to launch a final “suicide assault” on the rebels. tadiar was alerted to prepare a marine battalion to operate with brawner’s rangers in an assault on crame. both the marines and the rangers refused to take part.

also at 4:30 the political opposition finally got its act together. in a closed-door meeting, opposition and some kbl batasan members signed a proclamation naming corazon aquino and salvador laurel as the duly elected candidates in the february 7 elections. a provisional government was set up immediately after.

around 5 p.m. cory finally made it to edsa. in the company of family members and close supporters, mrs. aquino emerged from the main entrance of the poea building and spoke from a makeshift stage on the front steps: “…we have recovered our freedoms, our rights, and our dignity with much courage and, we thank god, with little blood.”

6 p.m. enrile and ramos faced the press for the first time since the take-over of channel 4. they announced an “almost complete” take-over and control of the new armed forces of the people. defections had rendered loyalists practically without air and naval strength.

7:30 p.m. the united states endorsed the provisional government of mrs. corazon aquino, abandoning a 20-year ally in mr. marcos for the sake of a “peaceful transition” in the Philippines.

8:10 p.m. marcos appeared live on channels 2, 9, and 13 tv with imelda, bongbong, imee, and grandchildren. the president called on loyal followers to report to the mendiola barricade to enlist and be issued firearms, or call him by phone, or come to his inauguration at the palace the next day. he reiterated that the country was under a state of emergency under which the government could take over broadcast media. and, “i hereby declare curfew all over the country from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. effective tonight.”

meanwhile, the cory camp and the enrile-ramos camp were arguing over where to hold her inauguration the next day. three groups of aquino advisers said it should take place at club filipino. enrile wanted it at the multi-purpose hall of camp crame, the rebel headquarters, citing security problems if they left the camp. the politicians, however, could not accept the idea of a new president sworn in inside a military camp.

and in the palace, the chief justice of the supreme court ramon aquino and his son had dinner with the marcos girls and their husbands. imee talked about the metro pop. irene made plans to go out with her music crowd. bongbong was dressed in fatigues and relished it. “feel na feel ko ang get-up ko ngayon,” he told the aquinos. only the sons-in-law seemed worried about the situation. the palace was one big fortress, with military men sleeping all over the place, including the corridors. they sat up till 11:00 p.m. talking.

as for the curfew, it was blithely defied. the crowds roaming all over downtown manila as well as the tourist belt were as large as the crowds manning edsa, santolan, and ortigas, and the militant sectors of san rafael, mendiola, legarda, and sta. mesa. more people were out and about than on any other night of the revolution.

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  • © Angela Stuart-Santiago