The following is an excerpt from an unfinished book, the English version of Himagsikan sa EDSA—Walang Himala! a quick run down Marcos times and martial law, that reign of greed and terror which saw the principal players crossing paths, taking their places, setting the stage for EDSA.
Until the definitive account of the Marcos regime is written, it’s tricky business writing about martial law, which was a time not of transparency but of propaganda. It is not clear, for instance, when exactly Marcos first planned to impose military rule and perpetuate himself in power. In The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, one-time presidential confidante and press secretary Primitivo Mijares remembered Marcos volunteering the information that “a martial law regime was a lifetime ambition for him,” harking back to his senior law student days in the University of the Philippines when he wrote a legal thesis on the wisdom and necessity of a regime of “constitutional authoritarianism” to husband the economic and political development of the Philippines. Unfortunately there’s no telling if Marcos made up that story or not, considering that he was in and out of jail that year as the accused in the Ilocos Norte murder of his father’s political opponent Julio Nalundasan, for which he was eventually convicted and sentenced to seventeen years in prison, but which sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court of Chief Justice Jose P. Laurel after a brilliant appeal by the convict who, while in prison, had crammed for and topped the bar exams.
Mijares was positive, though, that Marcos began to lay down the infrastructure for martial law in 1965 when, as newly-elected President, he named himself Secretary of National Defense and proceeded to beef up and pack the armed forces with his fellow Ilocanos. The Davide Fact-Finding Commission’s The Final Report (on the failed December 1989 coup d’etat) confirms this and goes farther, noting that officers’ training went beyond military matters to include business management and civilian leadership roles. Moreover, Marcos made the AFP an integral component of his economic development program, mobilizing military resources to build the roads and schools that would win him re-election four years later.
But others say that Marcos made up his mind to impose martial law only in 1968 when Benigno S. Aquino Jr. – also known as Ninoy, rich landowner, former mayor of Concepcion, former governor of Tarlac, newly-elected senator (despite attempts by Marcos to have him disqualified for lack of age and communist-coddling) – proved a definite threat to his ambitions. In Ninoy’s maiden speech to the Senate, he mounted a political assault on Marcos, charging the President of plotting to make a “garrison state” of the Philippines. Marcos, sensing the senator’s moist eye on Malacañang Palace, resolved then to frustrate the immensely popular Ninoy and punish his old-rich high-society feudal-lord backers (who persisted in snubbing Marcos’s wife Imelda, a poor Romualdez) by perpetuating himself, the new rich, in power.
Still others say that it was even later, in 1969, when Marcos made up his mind. Though having just won a second presidential term (amidst allegations of vote-buying, military terrorism, graft and corruption), he was faced with armed insurgents on two fronts — in Mindanao, with Nur Misuari’s Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which sought to free Muslim Mindanao from Christian dominance; and in Luzon, with Jose Ma. Sison’s Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) which sought to free the country from the evils of colonialism, feudalism, and capitalism. Worse, the CPP’s military arm, the New People’s Army (NPA), was built on HUK remnants led by Bernabe Buscayno a.k.a. Ka Dante, known to be a friend of Ninoy Aquino. Rumor (subsequently confirmed) had it that the senator was instrumental in bringing Joma Sison and Ka Dante together.
And still others say that it was the popular unrest, the daily student demonstrations violently dispersed by military troopers a.k.a. the First Quarter Storm that broke out in the first month of Marcos’s second term — when he let float (and it was perceived) that he was scheming for an unconstitutional third term through a constitutional shift from a presidential to parliamentary form of government — that set Marcos off on the inexorable path to military rule. From then on events accelerated to anarchic proportions, bombings left and right, the largest of which was the Plaza Miranda bombing in 1971 which maimed several opposition stalwarts – the handiwork of Marcos, charged the Liberals; the handiwork of the communists in connivance with Ninoy Aquino, charged Marcos, who then suspended the writ of habeas corpus and swamped the nation with disinformation exaggerating the communist threat upon which he built his case for martial rule.
Whatever the true story, it is clear that the imposition of martial law was premeditated. Marcos anticipated and prepared for all contingencies, including the drafting of a new constitution in 1971, during his second term, that allowed him to run for a third term and rule for life under a parliamentary system.
Little more than a year after the Plaza Miranda bombing, on September 13, 1972 Senator Aquino in a privilege speech exposed and denounced “Oplan Sagittarius,” allegedly the president’s game plan to place the national capital region under military control. On September 16, Marcos responded by accusing Aquino of meeting with Communist Party leader Jose Ma. Sison and plotting to overthrow the government. On September 21, Marcos signed Proclamation 1081, declaring a state of emergency and giving himself the authority to proclaim martial rule over the entire archipelago and prevent the communists from taking over the government and the nation. But Manila was quiet, communists and other activists were still recovering from the last military crackdown, the “state of emergency” was all in Marcos’ mind. He had to create an illusion of anarchy and danger to the Republic, which was staged the following night when the car of his Defense Minister, Juan Ponce Enrile, was ambushed and riddled with bullets. Fortunately, reported the government TV Channel 4, Enrile was riding in another vehicle. The moment the news was out, Enrile received Marcos’ go-signal and at once the military swept into action: closed down all privately owned newspapers, radio, and television stations and arrested the more virulent of Marcos critics in politics and media. Number one on the list was Ninoy Aquino.
The senator had just been quoted by Daily Express, a Marcos newspaper, as saying that he should be arrested at once if the president were to declare martial law, or they would never get him. What was not clear was where he intended to run — to the mountains or to America. Ninoy was at the Manila Hilton that night, attending a legislative committee meeting. The phone kept ringing, mostly Ninoy’s friends from in and out of the Marcos camp calling, urging him to run and hide while there was time. But he stayed, and when the military came to pick him up past midnight, he went quietly. He was brought to Camp Crame, headquarters of the Philippine Constabulary, and presented to the chief, General Fidel Ramos, who was personally in charge of the detention of the first 400 in a list of more than 5,000 alleged subversives.
Ninoy thought the people would rise up in anger and resist curfew, the closing of Congress, the muzzling of media. He thought they would take to the streets in protest and demand the return of democracy and the freedom of all political detainees. He did not realize that all the brave ones of the protest movement were, like him, in jail. The few who managed to escape the military had either joined the communists or flown to America (land of the brave). The many more who were left behind had retreated into shells of silence, not just from fear of the dictator and his abusive military, but also thanks to clever propaganda that had the masses believing in the promise of a New Society, particularly the promise of land reform.
People thought Marcos was sincere in his pledge of democratic reforms, a revolution from the center. They thought he would use his extraordinary powers to get the national economy started off on a new track (sans graft and corruption and the American hand) that would lead to the eradication of poverty and a better life for the growing population. He could have done it, too. He could have done anything he wanted — it was he who was writing the laws that were being enforced; his family, cronies, and dummies held the highest posts in the judiciary and the military; his propagandists and spokespersons were credible intellectuals and admired artists; his political machinery, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL), reached all the way down to the grassroots; even Washington D.C. was supportive of martial law, anything to ensure the continued stay of the US military bases in Pampanga and Olongapo. Marcos was so powerful, he could have changed the neocolonial course of Philippine history, ushered in a new economic order a la Malaysia’s Mahathir, and proven himself a hero. Unfortunately for the nation, Marcos was no revolutionary. The brilliant politician proved to be America’s boy, preferring to continue the “special” (read “unequal” or “colonial”) relationship with America that was clearly lopsided and benefited only an elite minority. He continued to neglect agriculture, preferring to count on the promise of economic technocrats in his Cabinet that the benefits of import-dependent export-oriented industrialization would trickle down to the masses and eradicate poverty. Worse, he was unable to resist the offer of loans by foreign banks awash with Arab oil money—unlimited funds for IMF-recommended development projects that would allegedly energize the economy and build up the people’s confidence in the New Society. Not surprisingly, what built up were secret Swiss bank accounts in the millions, some say billions, of dollars from commissions and kickbacks paid to Marcos and well-placed cronies in the country’s top agencies and establishments, public and private, that had anything to do with banking and commerce, trade and industry, gambling and finance, taxes and licenses. What built up was Imelda’s mania for grand edifices and showy jewelry and the arts — for her the true, the good, and the beautiful. Meanwhile, land reform was limited to rice and corn lands, exempting extensive landholdings planted to coconut and sugar.
In January 1973 KBL-organized “citizens assemblies” ratified the Marcos Constitution with a show of hands: so was it legitimized. A few months of martial law later, anti-Marcos groups, moderate and radical, quietly gathered under the umbrella of the communist National Democratic Front. Ninoy Aquino suddenly disappeared from his prison cell in Fort Bonifacio; his wife Cory nee Corazon Cojuangco had no idea where he was and whether he was still alive. The foreign press picked up the story and focused anew on the Marcos regime’s continued violation of the human rights of Ninoy and other political detainees. Not long after, Ninoy was returned to Fort Bonifacio, direct from Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija, after a month of solitary confinement naked in a small room that was lit day and night, it was a wonder he did not lose his mind nor his heart. In August, a military tribunal charged him of subversion, collusion with communist Ka Dante Buscayno in a 1957 murder, and illegal possession of firearms. Ninoy refused to participate in the trial which he denounced as an “unconscionable mockery of justice,” Marcos had long judged him guilty, no military court would dare find him innocent. Besides, to take part in the trial and defend himself would mean to recognize the authority of the court and, in effect, of the dictator. “I would rather die on my feet with honor,” he said to the tribunal, “than live on bended knees in shame.” Witnesses burst into applause. The trial was suspended for a year and a half. Gradually the tight security around Ninoy was relaxed; his jailer, Enrile, allowed Cory conjugal visits and other family and friends to visit more often. Only to find out eventually that visits were tape-recorded, which allegedly is how Enrile found out that Ninoy had his own intelligence network in the military that continued to report to him while in jail. Ninoy was up to date on recent events and developments; he knew when a convent was raided by the military, he heard aboutthe arm shipment received by the MNLF from an Arab country, he knew that Ver and Imelda were spying on Enrile.
In February 1975, Marcos confidante and news censor Mijares defected to America. In his testimony to the US Congress in July, Mijares blamed the conjugal dictatorship and crony capitalists for the sorry state of the nation’s economy. As usual, the Americans played deaf and dumb, as they did in ’72, even if they knew that Marcos’s claims of communist strength were exaggerated; the NPA had a mere 1,500 soldiers at the time.
March 31, 1975 the military trial of Ninoy resumed. Ninoy went on a hunger strike in protest, to no avail. The trial proceeded although it meant taking Ninoy to court forcibly. After a month, having lost forty pounds, Ninoy was rushed to the Veterans Memorial Hospital. He seemed resigned to die, or become a vegetable, Marcos was too much. But his wife, mother, and father confessor pleaded so hard, he made a deal with his Creator—if he survived 40 days of fasting, he would take it as a sign that he was meant to live, that he had unfinished business to take care of.
In 1976 the communist movement suffered a major setback with the arrest of NPA commander Ka Dante Buscayno, and again in 1977 with the arrest of CCP chairman Joma Sison. Nonetheless, the insurgency continued to prosper as poverty spread in the rural areas where rich landlords continued to hold sway and even priests and nuns were harassed by the military. Marcos, it is said, knew that the military had gotten out of hand but when he tried to get rid of undesirable elements, among them some of Enrile’s boys, not a few generals objected and threatened to resign. This may have started the rift between Enrile and Marcos as well as the rise to power of Fabian Ver, cousin and townmate of Marcos and Chief of Presidential Security. Ver was a PC captain when he was assigned to Senate President Marcos’s security force in 1963. Under Ver the presidential security force grew from a unit to a battalion to a command. He was also director of the National Intelligence and Security Authority (NISA) to whom all intelligence and security units reported. There were no limits to NISA’s power to detain, torture, and kill anyone suspected by the military of subversion, for national security’s sake.
Meanwhile, Imelda was having the time of her life building mansions and palaces, hosting international events at home and gracing international events abroad, jetsetting with the rich and famous and shopping shopping shopping in the toniest districts of Europe and America. Even more gratifying were the trips she took as Marcos’s ambassador to communist countries like China and Cuba (allegedly to freak out the Americans) when she got to flirt with the likes of Mao Tse Tung and Fidel Castro. In June 1975 Marcos signed Presidential Decree No. 731: in case of his death or grave illness, he was to be succeeded by a commission headed by Imelda. This was followed soon after by a decree creating Metropolitan Manila and making Imelda governor.
October 1976 Marcos staged a referendum to show the world that he still had the support of the people; 90 percent of the electorate supposedly said yes to his proposed amendments (P.D. 1033) to the new Constitution with regard to an interim legislature. According to Amendments 2 and 5, despite the law-making powers of the interim Batasang Pambansa, Marcos would retain his legislative powers as long as military rule was in force. According to Amendment 6, even if he were to end martial rule, Marcos would retain all authority he already held, including the power to overrule the Batasan. In short, he could end martial law and remain the dictator.
November 1976 human rights advocate Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States. For the first time, the White House requested Malacañang Palace to release Ninoy and allow him to retire in America. Afraid that Carter would make a hero of Ninoy, Marcos and Imelda snubbed the request. Imelda scored again in December when she persuaded Muammar al Qaddafi to mediate in the war between the Marcos government and the MNLF in Mindanao (50,000 civilian Muslims had already been killed) and to preside over the signing in Libya of the Tripoli Agreement that promised autonomy to 13 Muslim provinces in Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan. Meanwhile, military harassment of the religious continued. November and December in Davao, more than 70 church workers were arrested and 2 Catholic radio stations closed down; in Manila 2 religious publications were padlocked and 2 American priests doing social work in a squatter area were deported. Marcos turned a deaf ear to all denials of communist collaboration by Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
In 1977 the military proceeded with Ninoy’s trial even if the Supreme Court still had to decide on Ninoy’s petition that he be tried by a civilian court. June 21, in response to Ninoy’s request that he be allowed to plead his case personally with Marcos, a helicopter fetched Ninoy from jail and brought him to Malacañang. According to witnesses, the Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity brods chatted like old friends and Ninoy practically admitted that he would have done the same in Marcos’ place. Again, Ninoy pleaded that he be tried in a civilian court. If convicted, asked Marcos, would he ask for forgiveness? No, said Ninoy, I have done no wrong. The trial continued. November 25, the former senator, along with Ka Dante, was sentenced to die by firing squad for rebellion, murder, and illegal possession of firearms. The world roared in disapproval. Marcos backed down and allowed Ninoy to elevate his case to the Supreme Court. In Mindanao, war erupted anew when Marcos backed down, too, on the Tripoli Agreement: only 2 provinces were to be granted autonomy.
The People first made their presence known, loud and clear, on the 6th of April 1978, five years into martial rule. It was the eve of elections for Members of Parliament who would sit in the Interim Batasang Pambansa or National Assembly. Under pressure from the U.S. government, Marcos had allowed Ninoy Aquino from his prison cell to head a new party, Lakas ng Bayan (Laban), and run for a seat in opposition to KBL’s frontrunner Imelda. A month before elections, Defense Minister Enrile went on TV and charged Ninoy of being both a communist and a CIA agent.
Ninoy demanded equal time and got it. It was his first time on public television in almost six years and the nation was enthralled (the streets were empty, everyone was indoors watching TV) and shocked at how much weight the once chubby senator had lost. For people who voted him into the Senate in ’71 there was a poignant sense, long overdue, of how terribly he must have suffered, and continued to suffer, under Marcos rule. And yet the man had lost neither his ardor nor his bite and the people took little convincing that Enrile lied, Ninoy was neither a communist nor a CIA agent.
Except for that one television appearance, Ninoy’s campaign was left to his wife Cory and seven-year old Kris, whose rallying cry was, “Help my Daddy come home!” On April 6, the eve of elections, Ninoy’s secret admirers from left, right, and center responded under cover of darkness with the historic noise barrage. At seven p.m. on the dot, they took to Manila’s streets yelling, “Laban!” and making the L sign with thumb and index finger, accompanied by carhorns screaming, pots and pans banging, whistles blowing, sirens wailing, church bells ringing, alarm bells shrieking, never mind if the dreaded military picked them all up. Organized by communist party leader Filemon Lagman a.k.a. Popoy, the noise barrage did not win Ninoy the election, but it told him in no uncertain terms that there were Filipinos out there like him, anonymous but increasing in numbers, who were yearning for freedom. These people were not to surface for another five years.
Like Imelda in Metro Manila, Enrile ran for MP and won in Cagayan, his home province, which raised Ver’s suspicion that, having now a political base, the Defense Minister would run against the President in elections the following year. Not long after, Enrile fell into disfavor with the President; the defense minister’s decisions were questioned, his powers greatly reduced, and his movements monitored. In contrast, Imelda’s star continued to rise. The Governor of Metro Manila and newly elected Member of Parliament (MP) was appointed Minister of Human Settlements and in ’79 Chairperson of the Cabinet Committee that would be responsible for the economic and social development of the Philippines through the Bagong Lipunan Site and Services Program (BLISS) which promised to address the 11 basic needs of the people: water, electricity, clothing, livelihood, health, education, culture, technology, ecological balance, sports and recreation, shelter and mobility. Only problem was, foreign loans were harder to come by. Foreign debt had risen from $2.6 billion in 1975 to $10.5 billion. Luckily, the new Bases Agreement was signed that year. For the first time the US would be paying rent, $500 million for the next five years. In May 1979 the Marcos couple celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. No less than the Archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin, who called himself a “critical collaborator,” officiated at the renewal of marriage vows where Imelda was reported to have eschewed a bouquet in favor of a diamond rosary two feet long.
Marcos was already ill at the time. He started undergoing hemodialysis treatment versus renal dysfunction and hypertension in September 1979. In 1980 the first polls for mayors and governors were held; certain that the KBL would cheat, the Liberal Party and LABAN boycotted the elections. In May Ninoy Aquino suffered a heart attack, requiring heart surgery. Marcos had no choice but to allow him to go to America for surgery and into exile. It was a dark time for many people, who felt abandoned, even betrayed. Until news from abroad, smuggled in and xeroxed for distribution, revived their spirits. All was not lost. By August, 3 months into exile, Ninoy was on his feet and back on track, making speeches, denouncing Marcos, Imelda, and Ver, and, against everyone’s advice, talking of going home. Addressing the Asia Society in New York, he warned that if Marcos did not lift martial law, the situation in the Philippines would deteriorate, marked by “an escalation of rural insurgency” and “massive urban guerrilla warfare” which he intended to join. In the same speech Ninoy asked: Is the Filipino worth dying for? Even then his answer was a resounding yes but he was not to prove it until three years later. Ronald Reagan, friend to the Marcoses, was elected President in November; Ninoy and the rest of the Marcos opposition in America fell silent. Here at home, Fabian Ver’s eldest son Irwin was promoted to colonel, bypassing many junior officers who were next in line.
The following year 1981 saw the military in upheaval. Not because Marcos pretended to lift martial law early in the year, if only for Pope John Paul II’s visit, but because upon his re-election in June, he retired General Romeo Espino as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and appointed not Fidel Ramos who was next in line but Fabian Ver. Many ranking officers, graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), were insulted that Ramos, trained in West Point Academy in America, was bypassed in favor of Ver, allegedly a mere ROTC-trained officer. Soon after, Enrile received intelligence reports that Ver was planning to eliminate him. This must have been when the secret Enrile-Ramos alliance was forged, facilitated by their security and intelligence forces. It is not clear which came first, the duo’s alliance or the founding of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), but the same lieutenant colonels were behind both: Enrile’s “boys” Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan and Eduardo “Red” Kapunan and Ramos’s “boy” Victor Batac Jr. Knowing how fierce and formidable was the enemy — Ver had the backing of the US Pentagon and the CIA, which had just upgraded NISA’s telecommunications system — Honasan and his comrades began to stockpile arms and recruit new members. In July, Imelda scored anew. Marcos appointed her Secretary-General of the Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran (KKK), an economic program no different from the recently launched BLISS. In the mountains, according to reports, NPA guerrillas had swelled to 10,000.
For the Americans 1981 seemed to be a good year for the Philippines. Though Marcos continued to rule by decree and there was no end to military oppression, media censorship, and rigged elections, Reagan believed that martial law was over and so rejoiced at Marcos’ reelection that he even sent US Vice President George Bush to attend the July inauguration. (It was then that Bush praised Marcos for his adherence to democratic principles, which disgusted and infuriated the people.) And because Marcos had long been angling for an invitation, Reagan invited him to Washington D.C. for a state visit, all expenses paid.
The timing was perfect. Marcos and Imelda had money problems. The foreign debt had grown to $16 billion by then and (according to a World Bank report that was leaked to the press in July 1982) banks were wary of lending any more to the Marcos government as the money would most likely be used to save bankrupt crony banks and businesses. The state visit would give Marcos the chance to woo new foreign investors. Before leaving, he ordered the arrest of three labor leaders and some “government agitators” whom he accused of being communists and subversives out to overthrow him. In August, he had the Batasan approve a law providing for a 15-member Executive Committee, including Imelda, that would succeed him if he were to die or fall ill.
In September ’81, the Marcoses scandalized America with their gang of 700 including a hundred pro-Marcos journalists, a hundred security officers, gaggles of doctors, hairdressers, friends, businessmen and industrialists, and numerous government officials. The couple was warmly received by the White House, naturally, as Reagan was counting on another five-year extension of the Bases Agreement ’84 to ’89. But the American press was less than charmed by the dictator. To his annoyance, they badgered him about press censorship and stories just released by Amnesty International of terrorism, torture, and other human-rights abuses by his regime. Marcos denied it all, yet the press harped on it, as though to make sure that they had not heard wrong, that in effect Marcos was saying that everyone was lying except him. In New York he was in top form. Backed up by his economic advisers led by Prime Minister Cesar Virata, Marcos was convincing: the Philippine economy was stable, the government was capable of paying its debts, foreign investors were sure to turn profits that they could take home, no problem. Also he secretly consulted the specialists of Walter Reed Hospital on his kidney problem—lupus erythematosus; there was no immediate threat to his life but it was debilitating and required regular dialysis treatment, a matter he kept hidden from the public to forestall the question of who would succeed him in the event of his death or incapacity. Obviously he planned for his family to continue reigning supreme—Imelda would take over, and then Ferdinand Jr.—with Ver’s support. Indeed it was a matter of great concern for both Enrile and Ninoy. Enrile didn’t put it past Ver to preempt Imelda at the first opportunity while Ninoy didn’t put it past the communists to preempt the legitimate opposition. Against all advice Ninoy made plans to come home. The Marcoses reportedly freaked out; they had more than enough problems to deal with—they were running out of cash, opposition to the regime was mounting, media was finding its voice, even the presidential kidney was asking for a change—Ninoy they could do without.
In May 1983 Imelda met Ninoy in New York. Reporting a threat on his life she advised that he put off his homecoming. But Ninoy had a feeling that Marcos was seriously ill and if he didn’t move soon, he would miss the bus altogether. His mind was made up and his life was in God’s hands. If spared, he swore that he would, like Ghandi, continue the struggle to liberate the country through non-violent civil disobedience. By June he bid the US Congress goodbye.
In July, Marcos summoned Enrile and Ramos to the Palace and questioned them about reports that their security forces were jointly undergoing battle training in Quezon. The duo denied it but offered their resignations, which Marcos rejected. Before they left, according to Enrile, he warned the President that he was a veritable captive of the Vers. Early in August, Marcos transferred to Ver the operational control of the Integrated National Police, effectively removing Enrile and Ramos from the chain of command.
Ninoy was scheduled to come home on the 7th of August but a few days before, he received a telegram from Enrile confirming the threat on his life and advising him to put off his travel plans even just for a month. On the 5th, newspapers reported that Marcos was taking a three-week sabbatical to finish a book he was writing. On the 7th, security was tight, with 16 battalions fielded in Manila while Marcos underwent a kidney transplant, courtesy of Ferdinand Jr.. Unfortunately the transplant was rejected and had to be removed two days later.
Before leaving Boston Ninoy prepared a speech he meant to give upon arrival at the Manila International Airport (MIA). “According to Ghandi,” it said, “of all the responses of God and man to oppression, nothing is more effective than the sacrifice of the innocent.” It had been three years since Ninoy first declared that the Filipino is worth dying for, and he proved it on the 21st of August 1983 when he came home, was escorted off the plane by Marcos’s military, and assassinated in broad daylight allegedly by an ex-convict.
Ninoy never saw the yellow ribbons adorning trees and street posts or heard the people, anonymous no longer, sing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” in welcome. Ninoy is dead, long live Ninoy! Yellow was the color of the people and Radio Veritas the voice of the opposition. Veritas, owned and operated by the Catholic Church, was the only radio station that dared broadcast the assassination and relay the nation’s shock and dismay. No one doubted that Marcos was to blame, never mind who pulled the trigger. Even the elite minority was offended—if he could do it to Ninoy he could do it to them.
The message of Ninoy’s sacrifice was not lost on the people. Ninoy’s courage touched them, roused them from their apathy, rekindled their sense of collective worth. The Filipino is worth dying for. Then and there, thousands of his admirers who joined the ’78 noise barrage under cover of darkness dared step forward in the light of day and be counted among the grieving. They came in droves to Ninoy’s and Cory’s home in Times Street, Quezon City and quietly, bravely, lined up for a glimpse of his bloody remains and to bid their fallen hero goodbye; thousands more followed his remains to Sto. Domingo Church. On the day of the funeral, millions left their homes and workplaces to march and line the streets where Ninoy’s casket would pass, and they raised their fists, sang “Bayan Ko,” cried, “Ninoy, hindi ka nag-iisa!”
Around the world, the assassination as well as the mile-long funeral procession was frontpage news. In the Philippines, the Marcos- and crony-owned newspapers sat on the story, prompting oppositionist Eugenia “Eggie” Apostol, publisher of a popular lifestyle magazine, Mr. & Ms., to come out with a special edition on the funeral. A news-starved public gobbled up hundreds of thousands of copies overnight. Heartened, Eggie made it a weekly series for the Catholic anti-Marcos middle class. Soon after, other anti-Marcos publications popped up, to the chagrin of the dictator who could do nothing while the world watched except to order a fact-finding board to investigate the assassination and identify the criminal/s.
The economy deteriorated. Creditor foreign banks pressed government for loan payments, which allegedly depleted the Central Bank’s dollar reserves by more than a billion dollars, yet it was not enough to service the foreign debt that, according to Virata, had risen from $18.1 Billion in September to $19.1B two weeks later to $24.6B by October 17. Meanwhile, some $500 million flew out of the country to American, Hong Kong, and Swiss banks—a sure sign that the rich minority had lost faith in the regime. Marcos was forced to devalue the peso from P11 to P14 to a dollar, to the further indignation of the public. Street protests made a comeback, not just in grubby Mendiola but even in posh Makati, business center of Metro Manila, where Agapito “Butz” Aquino, Ninoy’s younger brother, led the August Twenty-One Movement (ATOM) in daily marches demanding that Marcos resign. Taking its cue from Ninoy’s avowed intention to pursue change through peaceful means, ATOM’s non-violent strategy won the support of other anti-Marcos groups, even of the Left. As the peso continued to fall, Reagan cancelled his November trip to the Philippines. In December, Ramos’s Special Action Force and Enrile’s Security Operations Group trained for battle with British mercenaries.
Early in 1984 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) managed to pressure Marcos into allowing the opposition to field candidates in Batasang Pambansa elections come May. Cory Aquino supported candidates of the United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO) and the Pilipino Democratic Party—Lakas ng Bayan (PDP—Laban). The Catholic Church funded the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) to serve as watchdog. There was cheating, yet 56 of of the 183 seats were won by Cory’s candidates.
July 1984. Military harassment of priests and nuns, social workers and militant activists continued, moving Cardinal Sin to write Marcos a pastoral letter, read at Sunday Mass from every pulpit in the archipelago, exhorting Marcos to grant amnesty to political prisoners and give up all authoritarian decrees, especially the Arrest, Search and Seizure Orders (ASSO) of the military. In October, the Aquino fact-finding board trashed Marcos’ theory that the assassination was the handiwork of the communists and recommended that Ver, 24 soldiers, and a civilian be charged of the crime. The Palace responded with an announcement that Ver would be taking a leave of absence and Ramos would be Acting Chief of Staff. But when Ramos ordered the deployment of 16 battalions from Manila to the countryside to fight spreading insurgency (the latest reports put the number of NPA guerrillas at 15,000) Ver’s and Imelda’s objections won the day; the troops stayed in Manila. November 1984 Marcos underwent another kidney transplant. Rumors flew that the President was dying and had been replaced by Ver. The opposition started to dicuss the possibility of snap elections being called. In December, the Palace released photographs and vide footages of Marcos raising his t-shirt to reveal a torso sans any scars from major operations; he continued to deny that he was ill. When Ramos brought up the NPA problem, Marcos allowed the deployment of 10 battalions to the provinces, leaving 6 battalions under the operational control of the Presidential Security Command (PSC).
In January 1985 the trial of Ver et al began. In February RAM began to make its presence known, distributing mimeographed copies of the “Preliminary Statement of Aspirations” of the movement which counted some 400 members, mostly mid-level and junior offiers of the AFP. In March, at the PMA homecoming parade, alumni from Class ’71 to ’84 unfurled a flag shouting “We Belong” while graduating Class ’84 wore t-shirts under their military jackets calling for “Unity Through Reforms.” But not a squeak from RAM at the graduation ceremonies the next day which Marcos attended, and only a tiny one from Ramos. In his speech to the graduating class, Ramos raised the issue of reforms and stressed the need in the AFP for “professionalism instead of personalism, self-discipline to the point of excellence, and cost-effectiveness instead of extravagance” but did not acknowledge the reformist movement. Not long after, Colonel Jose Almonte, former director of a Marcos think-tank, joined RAM and convinced Honasan et al that Marcos’s removal could not be achieved through psy-war or psychological warfare but through violence or force. Meanwile, former Senator Lorenzo Tañada was elected chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), the largest coalition of nationalist and radical anti-Marcos groups. Former Senator Jose Diokno was elected chair of Bandila, the largest coalition of anti-Marcos “moderates.” The NPA count was up to 20,000.
August 1985 at the Batasan, opposition MPs sponsored a resolution calling for the impeachment of Marcos for enriching himself while in office, in violation of his Constitution. The same month, RAM decided that it was time to set the date, December 26, for a coup d’etat; if they waited longer and Marcos died, Ver would win by default. In September Ramos earned the ire of human rights advocates when PC and Civilian Home Defense Forces fired on 27 farmers in a rally in Escalante, Negros Occidental; 19 were reported killed. Enrile ordered an investigation of the incident. Also in September, a US defense attache confirmed that Malacañang had secretly issued arrest warrants for RAM leaders. In October US State Department officials, concerned about the US bases and its growing unpopularity with communists and other activists, brainstormed on how to get Marcos out and transfer control of the AFP to RAM. US Senator Paul Laxalt paid Marcos a visit to relay Reagan’s concern about the communist threat and recommend the holding of snap elections, if only to silence his critics in America; something that Marcos had been seriously considering. A snap election seemed a good idea, his current term having only another year to go; if he won in a snap, it would mean another six years in Malacañang.
The opposition had long been arguing over who to field against Marcos. Clearly the opposition, from Left to Right, had to get behind one candidate or they did not have a hope. Many felt that only an Aquino, if not Butz then Cory, could possibly beat Marcos. But Butz was not popular among militant activists (too elitist daw) while Cory was unwilling to steal the thunder from former Senator Salvador “Doy” Laurel, a childhood friend of Ninoy who had long dreamt of running for president and was prepared to declare his candidacy in the event of a snap election. Unfortunately Laurel, having cooperated with the regime on several counts, was widely perceived as a Marcos friend; Ninoy’s fans were cold to him. It was Cory they wanted and they did not stop pleading until finally she agreed to run for president on two conditions: (1) Marcos would call snap elections and (2) a million Filipinos would sign a petition asking her to run against him. She wanted to be sure, she said, that there were at least a million Filipinos who would fight for clean elections.
Whatever Cory asked, Cory got. At once Joaquin “Chino” Roces, publisher of The Manila Times, launched the “Cory Aquino for President Movement” (CAPM). A week later, on the 3rd of November, Marcos announced on American TV that he would hold snap elections as soon as possible. At once Doy Laurel announced that he would run for president. On the 13th, after praying hard, Cory admitted to Doy that she was just waiting to receive the CAPM’s petition. On the 19th, the the Batasan set the date for the snap elections: February 7, 1986. On the 30th, Cory received the CAPM petition signed by 1.2 million voters. Two days later, on the 2nd of December the Sandigan Bayan acquitted Ver et al of culpability in Ninoy’s assassination. That very night Cardinal Sin brought Cory and Doy together and, the very next day, Cory announced her candidacy for president and Doy Laurel’s for vice president under the ticket of UNIDO. RAM had no choice but to postpone its coup plans. Meanwhile, the junior officers won points by serving as Cory’s security force during the campaign. And because they did not believe that Ninoy’s widow could win the election, the reformists let her in on their coup plans and invited her to seat in a ruling junta. Cory was not interested.
December 16, Cory said in an interview with The New York Times that if she were elected, she would probably bring Marcos to court for killing Ninoy, end the stay of the US bases when the time came, and dialogue with the communists in some neutral zone; justice was all that the people asked. The Americans panicked, and the communists, too. December 23, the executive committee of the CPP decided to boycott the snap elections on the ground that historically the electoral exercise had never brought real change. December 28, Ramos’ sister, Leticia Shahani, resigned from the Department of Foreign Affairs to campaign for Cory; many thought that the general could not be far behind, but he was. December 31 the KBL started losing members to UNIDO.
Cory and her supporters had no access to broadcast media but what they lacked in funds they made up for in zeal and ingenuity. Long yearning for a chance to take a stand and prove their love of country like Ninoy did, the people found the courage to step out of their closets, so to speak, and, clad in yellow, revealed themselves to family and friends, organized themselves from barangay to barangay, and came up with cheap, mostly home-made, campaign materials and gimmicks to promote Cory’s cause. As far as these people, Christians and Muslims alike, were concerned, no one had a greater right than Cory to replace Marcos, if only to make up, even just a little, for the cruelty that Ninoy and she had to endure under martial rule. It helped, of course, that no other opposition candidate could inflame passions against Marcos by her mere presence. It helped, too, that she allowed herself to be coached on the US bases (to the relief of the Americans and their Filipino lackeys) and on communism (to the relief of Cardinal Sin). What helped most was her prayerfulness and faith in the “wisdom” of the Cardinal who, though a critical collaborator (he continued to accept invitations to say Mass in the Palace), did not stop priests and nuns and the rest of the faithful from campaigning for Cory. As elections neared, bishops forgave in advance voters who might accept bribes to vote for Marcos but vote for Cory anyway.
In the KBL camp, the choice of former Senator Arturo Tolentino as Marcos’s running mate was not popular with loyalist politicians who did not think he would boost the ticket’s chances of winning. It was increasingly clear that the dictator was ill; he practically had to be carried up the stage during rallies and forever had to take a pee. Worse, he had nothing new to say beyond calling Cory a communist sympathizer and reviling women as fit only for the bedroom. Worst, he let his children, who were political neophytes, run his campaign. They were said to be in charge of strategy, financial management (of some 700 million, dollars or pesos, it is not known), and distribution of campaign materials. Imee was reportedly so tightfisted, only the siblings’ favored KBL leaders received any money for buying votes.
In January 1986 the anti-Marcos business community joined forces with RAM. Jaime Ongpin and other oppositionists funded “Kamalayan 86,” a series of prayer rallies and seminars in military camps to impress upon soldiers the value of clean and honest elections. Also in January, Honasan courted and recruited into RAM some junior officers in Ver’s Presidential Security Command. On the 23rd Cory unveiled an 8-point program to dismantle the Marcos dictatorship. On the 30th Marcos promised that he would reorganize government and reassess his Constitution, economic policies, and decree-making powers if elected.
On the 4th of February, 21 delegates from the US — senators, representatives, and private citizens — arrived in Manila to monitor the elections. An estimated one million people attended Cory Aquino’s miting de avance in Luneta. Cardinal Sin intimated that if there would be cheating in the elections, the people would respond with civil disobedience. The next day it rained on Marcos’ miting de avance; he didn’t bother making a speech. Five banks owned by Marcos cronies experienced bank runs; big depositors suddenly wanted their money back.
On the 7th of February, election day, NAMFREL fielded 400,000 volunteers to polling places to watch out for and immediately protest any wrongdoing. As always, Radio Veritas was the only station that relayed reports of anomalies and pointed volunteers to places where no one was watching the ballot boxes. On the 8th, the counting started. Cory was ahead, according to NAMFREL; Marcos, according to the Commission on Elections (COMELEC). According to foreign observers, there were countless cases of vote-buying, terrorism, snatching of ballot boxes, inaccuracies in counting and tabulating; also, thousands of voters in Metro Manila were unable to vote. Cory swore that if cheated, she would mount a giant protest and call for street demonstrations. The next day, Linda Kapunan (wife of Col. Kapunan, Honasan’s RAM cohort) and her gang of 30 computer technicians walked out of the COMELEC’s quickcount when they noticed that the numbers being issued to media did not tally with their figures.
February 10, Enrile warned that only the communists would benefit if there were trouble. Ver, confident that there would not be any, said that the recent election was the most orderly and peaceful in the history of the nation.
February 11, former Governor Evelio Javier of Antique, a Coryista and LABAN leader, was assassinated in broad daylight. The Batasan took over from COMELEC the official tally of votes. Marcos invited Cory to sit in a Council of State. Reagan got into the act, claiming that there was no clearevidence of cheating in the Philippine elections; he would send Philip Habib to mediate between the KBL and the opposition. Infuriated Cory lashed out at foreigners who continued to support the failing dictator.
February 12, the peso fell by another 75 cents to P20 per dollar, an all-time low.
February 13, Marcos was leading in the Batasan count, but 96 out of 124 canvass certificates had been questioned by opposition MPs for various defects.
February 14, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) warned that a government that retains power by force has no “moral basis.” Marcos’s lead in the Batasan count grew to 1.5 million with only 1.1 million votes to tally. Marcos called his generals —Fabian Ver, Fidel Ramos, the Army’s Josephus Ramas, the Air Force’s Vicente Piccio, the Navy’s Brilliante Ochoco, the Metropolitan Command (Metrocom)’s Prospero Olivas — to a meeting and discussed the declaration of a state of emergency, the arrest and liquidation of Enrile, the arrest of RAM leaders and the disciplining of reformists, and the arrest of opposition leaders including Neptali Gonzales, Ramon Mitra, Homobono Adaza, Luis Villafuerte, Aquilino Pimentel, Rene Saguisag, Joe Concepcion, Dante Santos, Ting Paterno, Jaime Ongpin, and Vicente Jayme.
On February 15 the Batasan formally proclaimed Marcos winner of the snap election. The official count: 10.8 million for Marcos, 9.3 million for Cory. Fifty opposition MPs walked out in protest. That evening, while the Marcos camp celebrated in Malacañang, the reformists talked coup plans in Enrile’s house in Dasmariñas Village, Makati.
On February 16, in a “victory rally” in Luneta that was attended by a million people, Cory insisted that she had won the elections and announced that she was launching a civil disobedience campaign to force Marcos to step down. Calling on the people to join her in defying the dictator, she asked them to desist from paying their electric bills and to boycott crony media, crony banks, and other crony-owned companies such as Rustan’s Department Store and San Miguel Corporation. The people lapped it up and could hardly wait to get in the act. Marcos announced that Ramos had replaced Ver as AFP Chief of Staff. Reagan announced that Philip Habib would arrive soon to negotiate with Cory.
By the 17th, the crony economy was reeling from the boycott. Not only the seven banks in Cory’s list but other banks known to be owned by cronies were swamped with large cash withdrawals. Nestle removed its print ads from crony-owned bestseller broadsheet Bulletin Today and its commercials from government TV Channel 4. Many restaurants stopped serving San Miguel Beer, Coca Cola, Sprite, and Tru Orange. Big business, including multinationals associated with the regime, was losing multimillions by the day. If the people, consumers all, supported Cory, she could force the business community to, in turn, force Marcos to resign. It looked like Cory was right. It looked like the people could indeed bring about change without bloodshed. Also on the 17th, Marcos extended Ver’s term as Chief of Staff until the end of the month. Cory firmly declared to Habib that Marcos must resign; if he did not, she would travel the entire archipelago and urge the nation to join her in civil disobedience.
On the 18th, third day of the boycott, NAMFREL chairperson Jose Concepcion Jr. reported that some 3.27 voters in opposition strongholds were unable to vote. The peso fell to P22.04 a dollar.
On the 19th, fourth day of the boycott, the Presidential Security Command was put on red alert. The Vers had learned from a Honasan spy-turned-double agent that RAM would move soon.
On the 20th, fifth day of the boycott, the US Congress approved a resolution suspending all economic aid to the Philippines while Marcos remained in office. Fifteen diplomats from Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Japan, Britain, Ireland, Netherlands, France, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, at West Germany called on and paid their respects to Cory Aquino. Cory assured them that she was bent on taking office as soon as possible. Jeepney drivers, consumer groups, students and teachers joined the boycott bandwagon. RAM decided to mount its coup on Sunday the 23rd at 2:30 a.m. Almonte personally relayed the information to Ramos.
On Friday the 21st, sixth day of the boycott, Marcos admitted worrying that foreign diplomats might snub his inaugural rites on Tuesday the 25th. Upon receiving reports that Ver was preparing to make some arrests, Enrile got paranoid and wrote a letter of resignation that he intended to bring personally to Malacañang on Monday the 24th. Laurel intimated that if Marcos refused to step down, the opposition was prepared to establish a provisional government that would certainly be supported by some officers and soldiers of the AFP.
Less than a week since Cory’s boycott call, depositors had withdrawn some P1.78 billion from the Philippine National Bank and crony banks, the biggest of them Security Bank and Trust Company, Republic Planters Bank, and Traders Royal Bank. The Catholic Church was the first to withdraw its deposits; in Union Bank it constituted 12% of the deposit base. People brought their money to the Bank of the Philippine Islands, Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company, and Citibank. The same people stopped reading Bulletin Today (never mind the obits and ads) and settled for Philippine Daily Inquirer, Malaya, and/or The Manila Times instead.
These very people, who rallied behind Cory and convinced her to take on Marcos in a snap election, who protected the ballot boxes with their bodies and, when cheated in the canvassing of votes, gleefully supported Cory’s call for civil disobedience, were a people who were ripe for revolution, ripe for EDSA, when that fateful weekend began to unfold.