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