Category: people power

Stalking EDSA — Finally, a chronology


By October, I was still fine-tuning the sequence of events and had long given up on the 10th anniversary that was just four months away. But in November, serendipity struck. Tia Nita, then based in Denmark, was in Manila for a visit; she phoned with the news that her friend Eggie was looking for material on EDSA 1986, gave me Eggie’s address, and urged me to send at once a copy of my work. I agonized over the title; “Chronology of a Revolution” hadn’t worked for FVR. After consulting my brother Louie, I sent the manuscript off with the title “Compendium of a Revolution,” which of course didn’t work either. National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin, who later wrote a rave Foreword, told Eggie to change the title to Chronology of a Revolution.  Why not, indeed.

Eggie also sent me some news clippings and books, among these The Marcos Dynasty by Sterling Seagrave [1988] where I found on page 419 the tidbit that Enrile angrily denied in his 2012 memoir, about him being in Malacañang Park Tuesday night to say goodbye to Marcos. No wonder, maybe, that when Lorna Kalaw-Tirol requested an interview, Enrile wanted editing privileges.  No dice, we all agreed.

Lorna was editing both Chronology of a Revolution 1986 and Looking Back, Looking Forward 1996, an anthology of essays on the 10 years since – a coffeetable Duet for EDSA package to be published by the Foundation for Worldwide People Power. Lorna tried to get word to Imee Marcos, too, for an interview; no reply.  But Cory, bless her, said yes, and to my surprise I was mesmerized by her presence. I found myself hanging on to her every word as she recounted her EDSA story, the familiar cadence bringing back memories not of her presidency but of the exciting days of the snap election, when both sides of my family joined rallies and campaigned for her like mad, and the heady days of the crony boycott when change was palpably in the air. I did manage to ask her about an interesting piece of information, this one from Eggie’s EDSA anniversary clippings: that she had met with Enrile and Ramos back on the long night of EDSA Sunday. I had long assumed that Cory and Enrile must have had to sit down and agree on a modus vivendi at some point. Cory confirmed the meetings, and added that it was she who sent word to Crame that she wanted to speak with them, but they couldn’t be both away from Crame at the same time, so they came separately.  Cory would not reveal any more details about the separate conversations /negotiations, but just the same it was a huge AHA! moment. Cory was in command from the first, and feeling-president – she summoned Enrile and Ramos and they came.  Even if Enrile regretted it the next day, by EDSA Tuesday he capitulated, and Cory appointed him Defense Minister.

The Chronology was generally well-received. Cory was quite happy with it because it documented her brief visit to EDSA on Monday afternoon, giving the lie to Enrile’s allegation that she wasn’t even there.  Buddy Gomez, once Cory’s press secretary, congratulated me: “A yeoman’s job!” I wasn’t sure if it was a compliment, but he seemed impressed.  Sylvia Mayuga phoned: “What a tour de force!”  Other writer friends though sniffed at it: “Just a compilation.” LOL.  So when I read somewhere, sometime in ’97, that Chronology won the Manila Critics Circle’s National Book Award for Documentation, I was pleased. Even if I did not understand (I still do not) why the editor, who barely touched the text, got as much credit for Chronology as I, the author, or why the anthology of essays Looking Back… won for Documentation, too.  Nothing personal against Lorna, rather, the literati that dictate the rules who sideline as editors maybe? Even more droll, there was an awarding event and I wasn’t invited. Lorna apologized profusely when we ran into each other in a mall; she had no idea that I hadn’t been informed or asked to come. Media, like literary, circles can be quite exclusive, rather than inclusive, of freelancers. Or maybe it’s just me, haha.

Next: Himagsikan for Revolution

Stalking EDSA — The FVR turn


My next aha! moments were in 1991 during and after close encounters with then Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos. He was running for president in 1992 and his people were looking for a writer to put together a biography, was I interested? I said yes, if I could also ask him about EDSA; I sent them forthwith a copy of my work titled “Chronology of a Revolution” that had grown to slim-book proportions after I had taken in data from six more books, including Worth Dying For (1987) by Lewis M. Simon.  According to Simon, Enrile badly needed Ramos to defect along with him that Saturday afternoon. I wanted to know if Ramos knew this, and if he knew about the aborted coup, and why it took him some three, four, hours to join Enrile in Camp Aguinaldo; was it true that he hesitated because Ferdinand was family?

To my relief, FVR went for the EDSA project, never mind the biography.  And to my gratification, FVR had the chronology with him in our interview sessions, often referring to it before answering a question, though never at any point to correct it, rather, I supposed, to remind himself of details and of things he was on record to have said back in February 1986.  Very careful, very measured in his statements, he avoided elaborating on his alliance with Enrile and the political wheeling-and-dealing that went on between the Enrile and Cory camps over the four days: he concerned himself only with military affairs, he said, and left the politics to Minister Enrile. And yet here he was, and not Enrile, playing politics to the hilt, revving up for a presidential campaign to succeed Cory, no less. Good job.

In August 1991 I turned in the manuscript, FVR’s first-ever account buttressed by a fully documented chronology.  I was told to expect a launch of the book, titled “Victory at EDSA,” on the 6th anniversary 1992 and I heard about meetings with Nonoy Marcelo for the cover and illustrations. And then … nothing.  The meetings stopped, the book never happened.  I was aghast, of course. They didn’t like my work? I was willing to edit, rewrite, whatever. I even found the nerve to phone General Joe Almonte – my one-on-one with him in Camp Aguinaldo, set up by Ramos’s staff, finished on a friendly note: he gave me his card, and a copy of Sandra Burton’s Impossible Dream: The Marcoses, the Aquinos, and the Unfinished Revolution [1989] which quoted him a lot, and of which he had a pile. He took my call, bully for him, and I asked him what happened. He said something to the effect that it wasn’t up to him, and that, really, it was people like me, in media, who should be putting out the story of EDSA.  Ganoon. I was paid in full, so I couldn’t really complain, but I wondered what, or is it who, changed their minds.  I imagined the Enrile-Honasan camp (still licking wounds from the foiled 1989 attempt to unseat Cory) expressing grave displeasure, and the Ramos camp graciously yielding, shelving the project permanently for some greater good involving Enrile and the military, forget EDSA.

The bright side was, I now had the stories of FVR, his wife, kids, friends, neighbors, and, even, of Joe Almonte and close aide Sonny Razon, both Reformists in the time of EDSA. And more books were coming my away. In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines (1989) by Stanley Karnow devoted some 10 of 494 pages to EDSA, for the most part telling how the U.S. State Department managed, long distance, the removal of Marcos from Malacañang.  And from Ferdinand E. Marcos: Malacañang to Makiki [1991] by Arturo C. Aruiza, a longtime military aide of the President, at last some stories about Marcos’s final days in the Palace, how sick he really was, no one was in command, Ver was in over his head.

Twice during the FVR presidency, in mid-1992 and late ’94, a PR friend of his who had been privy to the project offered to publish the book. Both times, I was told, the Palace proved unreceptive, as in, don’t call us, we’ll call you. In ’95 I went back to the manuscript and started trimming it down, back to a lean and mean chronology, including the Ramos material, of course – for some reason, I was sure the Ramos camp would not mind if I helped myself. I was still hoping to find a publisher for the 10th anniversary and thinking Eggie Apostol, mother of the mosquito press herself, who happened to be a good friend of my mom’s sister, Nita Umali Berthelsen. But sometime that summer I was distracted by an invitation to come up with a proposal for a coffee table book on the historical Malacañang Palace and to meet with the advertising executive who was behind the project. I didn’t get the gig but I was paid for my time and I was tipped off that Rosemarie Arenas was one of the first people in EDSA in February 1986. Arenas the socialite and rumored mistress of FVR in some past life was so high-profile then, and said to be so influential with the Palace, I couldn’t resist the urge to get her story. I started asking around, and a writer friend said it was true, she fed the rebel generals gourmet food. I was writing a weekly column then for Jarius Bondoc’s all-opinion tabloid Isyu where friend Iskho was again my editor, and he knew exactly whom to call: PR consultant Mila Alora who set up the interview sometime in September.

Next: Finally, a chronology

Stalking EDSA — History writing itself


By October 1986, I had sifted through four snap books: People Power by Patricio Mamot, The Quartet of the Tiger Moon by Quijano de Manila, People Power: An Eyewitness History edited by Monina Allarey-Mercado, and  Breakaway: The Inside Story of the Four Day Revolution by Cecilio T. Arillo. The last gave me pause.  A journalist known to be an Enrile man, Arillo had new stories of goings-on inside the rebel camps and in Fort Bonifacio and the Palace, and even, of how, before the defection, the Reformists had planned to take action and prevent a Marcos inauguration, practically contradicting, in a convoluted way, Enrile’s denial of the aborted coup plot that Marcos had accused him of from the first night of EDSA. Surely the publication had Enrile’s stamp of approval or Arillo wouldn’t have dared?

Next thing I knew, sometime in mid-October, the Catholic newsweekly Veritas hit the streets screaming “COUP! The Real Story Behind the February Revolt” (Part I), and a week or so later “The Shadow War: The Inside Story That Was Never Reported By Media” (Part II), written by Alfred W. McCoy, Marian Wilkinson, and Gwen Robinson based on interviews with key participants in the military, both rebel and loyalist, that actually confirmed Arillo’s stories. As it turned out, Marcos had been telling the truth, and Enrile had lied all through the four days (and after) about the aborted coup plot. It was my first eureka! moment. The armed rebel force did not fall onto Cory’s lap like a gift from heaven just when she needed it most (as I romantically thought when I heard of the defection that Saturday afternoon); rather, a whole week before, the very night that the Batasan proclaimed Marcos winner, and while the Cory camp was preparing for the giant protest rally in Luneta the next day, the Enrile-Honasan camp was plotting a coup d’etat, and a few days later (Thursday the 20th it is said), as Cory’s crony boycott campaign was picking up, the Reformists set the action for Sunday February 23, 2 AM: clearly a bid to beat Cory in a race to Malacañang and, possibly, to negotiate an end to the boycott, which must have been freaking out the cronies, Enrile among them.

Suddenly the EDSA story was not just about the four days but also about the six days preceding, starting with the Luneta rally that galvanized the people into non-violent revolutionary mode.  Suddenly EDSA was not just about Cory vs. Marcos, it was also about Cory vs. Enrile.

Just a month later, in November 1986, Cory sacked Enrile as Defense Minister for plotting a coup to unseat her. I thought maybe it was time to pitch in with my research on EDSA, remind that back in February, this EDSA hero defected not to support but to preempt Cory, and failed.

My chronology-in-progress was writing itself, literally. From the start, as I moved from handwritten notes to typewritten pages, I would arrange the data (quoted info on events / developments) in chronological order; quite tentatively, to be sure, as most accounts tended to be vague about the exact time things happened. With every new draft, as new data came in, I would re-arrange my sequence of events, segment after segment of cited info, putting off for later the writing of a narrative. But later it didn’t make sense to put anything in my own words that was already said perfectly, and knowingly, by people who were there, wherever, and I wasn’t.  Also the sequence-guide format seemed to work, making for easy reading – I was also coming from the discipline of writing scripts for documentary films (mostly cause-oriented) where the idea is to let the material itself (visuals, testimonies) tell the story with minimal narration. Besides, if I were to write a long narrative essay instead, it would no longer be just a chronology, and a chronology was all I was prepared to stake my name on at the time. So what I did was to write a short essay to intro the chronology early in ’87 and send it all to friend Leah Makabenta, then editor of the weekly Business Day Magazine, hoping she could use it in the run-up to the 1st anniversary. To my great joy the essay “Revolutionary Cheek,” along with Day One of the chronology, as is, saw print on the 20th of February. I can’t remember now (nor does Leah) if Days Two to Four saw print in subsequent issues, but I do remember not getting feedback of any kind.

Those were confused and chaotic times. One coup attempt after another: three in ’86 (counting the first that led instead to EDSA) and four in ’87. I remember rumors forever floating of a coup coming, lightning trips to Cherry grocery, hoarding toilet paper and canned goods. Even if the Freedom Constitution got a resounding YES in the February referendum, and 22 of her senatorial candidates won in the May elections (Enrile and Joseph Estrada were the two other winners), Cory had lost points over the Mendiola Massacre in January.  She also lost hearts and minds when she decided to honor all Marcos debts and to keep her options open on the U.S. military bases. I must have been quite disillusioned by the time August 28 rolled around because I remember writing a piece about Gringo Honasan making my day that got published in the Chronicle lifestyle section, thanks to editor Iskho Lopez (friend from U.P. basement days when he wrote for The Collegian, now with Malacañang’s press office) – Gringo was the hunk of the moment, says he – which scandalized loyal Coryistas no end. A moment of weakness for swashbuckling ways when all else seemed to fail. LOL. It wasn’t as if the Reformists had declared themselves anti-US Bases or anti-IMF-WorldBank; and it wasn’t as if I approved of Enrile replacing Cory.

Next: The FVR turn

Stalking EDSA

In 2014 Caroline Hau and J. Paul Manzanilla asked Katrina and me to write an essay each for the anthology Remembering / Rethinking EDSA (Anvil Publishing, 2016).  We have since published the two essays as a zine for #BLTX and, on this 31st anniversary, I am posting mine here (in 7 parts), and Katrina hers at


It started out as a sequence guide for a TV docu that Ishmael Bernal and Marilou Diaz-Abaya would direct and Jorge Arago would write in the vein of “the forces of Good versus the forces of Evil” a la Star Wars.  This was in March 1986 when it seemed a simple and straightforward story to tell: Marcos cheated in the snap elections, Cory launched a non-violent protest, Enrile and Ramos defected with a small military force, Marcos accused them of a coup aborted, Cardinal Sin called on the people to shield the rebel camps, Marcos’s soldiers disobeyed orders to ram tanks through a sea of praying people, and  two days later the dictator fled. A miracle? A military coup? A CIA operation?  As it turned out, none of the above.

The TV docu project was shelved, I’m not sure why, probably because TV was already awash with quickie EDSA features, although these were mostly still on euphoric mode and couldn’t be bothered with  what time of what day things happened, so I kept on with my timeline. I already had Freddie Aguilar’s story on tape, and I had a pile of old dailies and weekly magazines published from mid-February onward, mostly retrieved from the bodegas of family and friends, and when there was nothing better to do between writing gigs, I just kept going back to it, combing through every page of every news report, first-person account, and feature article related to the four days, sifting the historical from the hysterical, the hard data (who what where when how why) from the soft (ravings, divinings), and adding to my notes.  A quest for answers:  Was it really that easy, how could it have been so easy, to oust Marcos in a matter of four days?   Did Enrile and Ramos defect to support Cory because they woke up on Saturday, February 22, suddenly believing in her cause?  And did Marcos flee because he heard the voice of God in the people’s prayerful demand that he resign? I could accept the notion of a miracle, water turning into wine, or a villain turning over a new leaf, but I wanted to know how it happened, what did it take, when exactly was the moment of transformation?

It was also a joy to do, I must confess, researching something so new, so recent, so awesome a phenomenon about which little yet had been written. I was in Virgo heaven, sifting for nuggets, picking out from texts every bit of possibly valid information re the multiple convergent synchronous events of the four days, copying, quoting, word for word, careful to note every source and the date of publication.  Selective and subjective, yes, but objective, too, in the sense that I was a free agent, no one was paying me to do it, I was under no obligation to promote, protect, or put down anyone. I was interested in what went on with all of them during the four days: Cory and Butz, Enrile and Ramos, Honasan and RAM, Marcos and Imelda, Ver and the Marines, Tommy and Greggy, Reagan and Bosworth and Shultz, the Cardinal and the nuns, the people in EDSA, the people in Channel 4, the people in Mendiola, the people in the Palace. I had no agenda other than to fashion from the data a fully-documented chronology of the four-day revolt, a starting point for study and further research and rigorous thought by historians and other academics.

My own interest in EDSA was purely personal-political. The four days had been utterly amazing, people doing the unexpected, breaking away, breaking out, essaying new ways of thinking and behaving, and events swiftly progressing on multiple fronts as though life were on fast-forward mode. The astrologer in me sensed it as a wondrous birthing moment, a rise in individual and collective consciousness; the writer, as a story so awesome, it could only be the beginning of something great for nation, like a new politics. I was coming from two years of reading and writing for pioneer environmentalist Maximo “Junie” Kalaw’s journal Alternative Futures (1984-1986), getting updated on the widespread poverty, the failure of trickle-down economics, the environmental degradation, the dis-ease in our health and education systems, and tuning in to New Age holistic thought as the new paradigm (the whole is more than the sum of its parts, everything is interconnected) and sustainable development as the new advocacy.

I had such high hopes, but of course no one was prepared to make any kind of leap into uncharted territory, easier to slide back to pre-martial law ways and, even, dub EDSA a freak event, worse, a failure for not ushering in deep-seated change. This last always raised my eyebrows. It was post-EDSA that was the failure. EDSA itself was a spectacular success – we wanted Marcos ousted, and he was ousted, and non-violently to boot. How did it happen na nga? And what did we do right, what did we do wrong, can we make it happen again? Certainly a chronology of events was the essential task.

Next: Stalking EDSA — History writing itself