People Power Knocked Them Out

Inquirer 5 March 1997

Contrary to military lore, it was the people—not Fidel Ramos, not Juan Ponce Enrile, not Gregorio Honasan—who were the true heroes of Edsa.

The military defection was only a catalyst for the display of People Power. Remove the defectors, and some other catalyst would have come along eventually—perhaps a dramatic climax to Cory’s boycott campaign that was preempted by Edsa, maybe a coup d’etat of sorts in the business community (with the military reformists falling in)—and it would have worked just as stunningly.

But remove the people, and the defectors would have been wiped out. Remove the people, and there would have been no reconciliation between Cory and the reformist military. In essence, Edsa was a political exercise in conflict resolution brokered by the people.

The crucial conflict was, not between Cory and Marcos or between Ramos/Enrile/ RAM and Marcos, but between Cory and Ramos/Enrile/RAM. The two camps had a common objective, to oust Marcos and take over, but no attempts were made by either camp to join forces with the other.

With the people squarely behind her, Cory was supremely confident that she didn’t need RAM. She was convinced that on her own, through nonviolent destabilizing tactics, she could pressure Marcos to step down.

On the other hand, with Enrile’s and Ramos’s backing, RAM was supremely confident that it could remove Marcos by force and replace him with a military junta headed by Enrile. RAM was certain that the military establishment would fall in line and, eventually, the people.

That fateful Edsa weekend derailed both Cory and Ramos/Enrile/RAM, giving the people the break they needed to resolve matters once and for all. In Edsa, the people gave them no choice but to reconcile their differences and submit to the people’s will.

Cory had no choice but to reconcile with the same military that had caused her and Ninoy so much pain and suffering. Ramos/Enrile/RAM had no choice but to submit to Cory, a civilian housewife without experience in state and military affairs.

Edsa was too dramatic and decisive to ignore. Cory and Ramos/Enrile/RAM could not but bow to the people’s will, which demanded that they rise above their differences and begin anew, begin as friends.

It is said that the 50,000 to 100,000 people who left their homes and marched to Edsa that Saturday evening did so because of Jaime Cardinal Sin’s appeal over Radio Veritas that the people bring food and support to the rebels.

In fact, the cardinal had to be coaxed into calling Veritas and going on the air that first night. And it was only on his secondcall, and only on the insistence of Corystas, that the cardinal gathered the nerve to tell the people that it was all right to go to Edsa.

The cardinal’s sanction was important, but there were others—in particular, June Keithley, Cecilia Muñoz Palma, and Butz Aquino—whose endorsements were just as crucial.

An unabashed Corysta and popular TV host, Keithley gave the greatest performance of her life as the sosyal broadcaster turned rebel. Fiercely enamored of the reformists, Keithley had listeners hanging on to her every word and was the rebel military’s all-important link to the people.

Member of Parliament Cecilia Muñoz-Palma, a respected jurist and Cory supporter, was the first government official to call Radio Veritas and express support for the rebels. Her endorsement carried a lot of weight.

Ninoy’s kid brother Butz, the original street parliamentarian, was in top form. Defying his group’s decision to await orders from Cory, Butz went ahead to Camp Aguinaldo to offer his support to the rebels. It was Butz, calling direct from Camp Aguinaldo at 10:20 p.m., who first assured the people that the rebel military was prepared to follow the people’s will. It was he who first suggested a course consistent with Cory’s non-violent strategy.

Synchronous events: the people stopping tanks and Enrile crossing Edsa to join Ramos. The coincidence of the people’s peak experience with Enrile’s move indicates that there was more to the crossing than a simple consolidation of forces. Ramos had had earlier urged them to move but Enrile and RAM were reluctant to give up Aguinaldo and, perhaps more so, to give in to Ramos, who was by then perceived to be for Cory.

In a sense the dramatic crossing signified Enrile’s surrender to forces other than RAM, and it was as critical and momentous as the people’s encounter with tanks.

Just when things were looking good for the people, and just when Keithley was peaking, her stock rising with every scoop, she announced, mistakenly, that the Marcoses had left Malacañang. Unwittingly, Keithley played into what may have been a plot to discredit her and confuse the people. Though she rallied somewhat with the liberation of Channel 4, she never recovered the strength of her words.

Entertainers were quick to recover their show biz senses. Everyone wanted to do a June Keithley (in her happier credible moments). Once Channel 4 was liberated, self-serving ones took to the spotlight and hogged it.

It’s not clear who was in command, only that a group of entertainers, mostly TV stars and recording artists, was allowed to dominate the broadcast and wax euphoric hour after hour, which was terribly boring, and disappointing. But there was a warning up against leftists. And so political scientists, sociologists, historians, activists, academe, everyone intelligent, was suspect, except for the show biz clowns.

There were leftists in Edsa but they did not come as communist party members with an official agenda. They came as ordinary people and helped in the best way they knew how—improvising and manning barricades—giving nonviolence and peace a chance, and linking arms, even, with capitalists.

It is said that Edsa was not a completely Filipino revolution since the US played a major part in the abduction and exile of the Marcoses. They may as well cite, too, the help that the reformist forces received from the CIA in terms of information on Marcos’s and Ver’s moves and a direct line to the US ambassador.

Just the same, the Americans were only on the sidelines, as stunned as everyone else (Marcos and Ver, Enrile and Ramos, included) at every unexpected turn of events. The Enrile-Ramos defection caught the Americans napping. People Power knocked them out.

Just like with Enrile and Ramos, Edsa gave the anti-Cory Americans no choice but to heed the people’s will and clear the way for Cory.