untrue story, unsung heroes, of EDSA

25 years later and mainstream media still have to get straight the (hi)story of marcos in the time of EDSA.   it’s almost like the bad old days are back and envelopes are going around in aid of reinventing the marcos image.   or maybe it’s just pure ignorance, no time to read, no time for critical thinking?

i was half-listening to anc yesterday afternoon, pia hontiveros and coco alcuaz were annotating from studio the video from the edsa 25 show, i was multi-tasking, checking out fb and twitter, when i heard pia say something like, buti na lang marcos did not give the order to shoot, otherwise it would not have been a bloodless revolution (correct me if i heard wrong) and my ears ears perked up.   of course they started talking of that tv footage when marcos denied ver permission to bomb the rebel camp, kesyo siyempre how could marcos have given permission with the world watching.  buti na lang na at some point coco wondered if that marcos-ver exchange was “to some extent staged” — good for him — except that pia had nothing to say to that, and it ended there.

just a half hour or so later, i had moved to teleradyo‘s dos por dos, and omg gerry baja and anthony taberna were rattling off the same story, na according to taberna ay kinonfirm pa raw ni senator honasan?   really?   when?   say it isn’t so, senator.

kalokah.   do these people read at all?   if not my edsa books, then the daily broadsheets man lang?  the inquirer had a story on it yesterday mismo: How revolt was won: Turning points by Alexander Aguirre, chief of operations of the Philippine Constabulary/Integrated National Police during the EDSA revolt.

on day 3, the same early morning that col. antonio sotelo defected to the rebel side, his squad landing some 7 sikorksy gunships in crame, over at the libis end of camp aguinaldo the crowds were tear-gassed by anti-riot and dispersal police.  which was mentioned in pia’s vox populi tuesday night, but they only went as far as the story of the wind suddenly shifting and blowing the tear gas fumes back into the faces of the anti-riot troopers (laughter), as in miracle daw talaga.   what nobody told was that the troopers were wearing gas masks and that they were able to clear the way for the marines led by col. braulio balbas who broke through the east wall of Camp Aguinaldo and took up positions facing the rebel Camp Crame.

aguirre’s version:

… Marcos forces were able to move into Camp Aguinaldo by employing the First Provincial Tactical Marine Regiment under Balbas. The still sleepy people manning the barricades at Santolan Road were caught by surprise as the column was preceded and assisted by a CDC battalion that dispersed the crowd.

By 8:30 a.m., the unit of Balbas, armed with cannons and mortars, had established their positions at the vicinity of the KKK building in Camp Aguinaldo just opposite the rebel headquarters.

Looking down from the high ground of Aguinaldo’s golf course, Balbas had awesome firepower “boresighted” on the rebel headquarters only 200 meters away: 3 howitzers, 28 mortars, 6 rocket launchers, 6 machine guns, and 1000 rifles. [Alfred McCoy et al, Veritas Extra October 1986]

Order to open fire

At about 9:10 a.m., (Marine commander) Tadiar received an order from the Army Operations Center to direct Balbas to open fire on Crame. The center said the order came from Malacañang. This was a grave order. Tadiar tried to call up Malacañang for confirmation, but he could not get through by phone or radio. So, he went to Malacañang to personally verify it and Gen. Fabian Ver confirmed the order.

He relayed the confirmation to Balbas, but the latter said that if he fired his cannons and mortars many people could get killed. Tadiar then told him to use his discretion. Accordingly, as the Marines would not like the innocent civilians killed, they never fired their weapons.

in fact, marcos did not cancel the kill-order until 3:30 a.m. of day 4, according to cecilio arillo in Breakaway (1986, page 108).

FORT BONIFACIO, 3:30 AM ► The Marines were jubilant over the news that Marcos had just cancelled his order for them to attack Camp Crame using mortars.

as for that marcos-ver exchange on live tv that same morning of day 3, and marcos’s alleged heroism, which i first read about in America’s Boy by James Hamilton Paterson, here’s an excerpt from my book review published in the inquirer in 1999:

In defense of his view that Ferdinand Marcos was a heroic, if tragic, figure in the time of EDSA, Paterson cites the “extraordinary” moment on live television when Marcos denied Fabian Ver permission to bomb the rebel camp that was then surrounded by human barricades. “To many of those who knew and worked with him,” Paterson writes, “this is still regarded as Marcos’s finest hour. It was the moment when, no matter what orders he might have given in the past in the name of expediency, he refused to give the instinctive datu’s command that would have translated into wholesale slaughter.”

How romantic of Paterson, and how naïve, to fall for Marcos’s palabas. In fact, that extraordinary exchange was pure sarsuela, a (failed) ploy to scare the people away from EDSA, and, incidentally, a response to Pope John Paul II’s plea for a non-violent resolution of the conflict, and to the US Congress’s threat to cut off all economic and military aid to the Philippines should violence break out.

In fact, Marcos and Ver had long gone ballistic and given the kill-order but the Marines, led by General Artemio Tadiar (at EDSA/Ortigas on Day 2) and Colonel Braulio Balbas (in Camp Aguinaldo on Day 3), kept defying these orders. When Marcos had that exchange with Ver on nationwide TV, he was just being his wily old self, making the best of a bad situation by pretending to be the good guy (look, ma, no bloodshed), hoping to fool Washington D.C. and the Vatican, if not the Filipino people, a little while longer.

i have no doubt that if balbas had followed orders and bombed camp crame, marcos would have blamed it on him and tadiar, using that televised exchange with ver as proof that he had given no orders to shoot.

fvr himself, in a 2006 blogpost by ellen tordesillas, can’t seem to decide whether or not marcos gave orders to fire.  first he says

Even Mr. Marcos, I think, had some pangs of conscience because he did not give order to fire or to attack in spite of the insistence of Gen. Ver.”

in the next breath he tells of  balbas being given orders to fire at crame from aguinaldo.

In the case of Balbas, he got so many orders to fire, fire, fire. He kept delaying. He said, ‘Sir, there are so many many civilians. Sir, we do not have enough ammunition. He did not give the order to fire the artillery.”

balbas and tadiar were the unsung heroes of EDSA.   every year i wonder why the media have never sought them out to tell their story.  maybe because they were nevertheless regarded as loyalists, because they never defected to the rebel side and continued to protect, but not follow the orders of, the president? [Breakaway 89]

but wasn’t that infinitely more heroic than defecting and then hiding behind the skirts of nuns and other civilians?


  1. “but wasn’t that infinitely more heroic than defecting and then hiding behind the skirts of nuns and other civilians?”

    I agree.

    I also believe that Marcos’ denying Ver’s request to fire at the rebels was a sincere move by Marcos, having personally seen his facial expressions and demeanor live on TV at that time. We should remember that he was deathly sick at that moment and it would be easy to assume that people in that condition has no more time nor inclination to do theatricals.

  2. manuelbuencamino

    Glad you pointed out that historical fact. Hopefully it will lay to rest the misconception created by that televised exchange between Marcos and Ver.

    On the matter of ignorant journalists, specially those with their own shows…the ignorance is pervasive from AM radio specially. Then again AM radio, with hardly any exception, is populated by crooked journalists. But that thing about Pia Hontiveros. I used to think her show was intelligent and well researched. Now I’ve noticed that it has become lazy, if you know what I mean. I don’t know but ANC seem to have degenerated into a station that picks host/presenters based on I don’t know what. But they start the day-off with the clueless Karen Davila doing interviews with newsmakers. Last week she did Merceditas Gutierrez and the woman just ran over her. Karen obviously could not tell when Gutierrez was lying and spinning facts so she just allowed those things to stand unchallenged. Sad state of affairs.

    It’s good there are people like you who devote time to setting the record straight, who labor to dig out the truth.

  3. Steve Salonga

    “maybe it’s just pure ignorance, no time to read, no time for critical thinking?”

    Much confusion is caused by the fact that DEPED has consistently resisted any revision of our children’s history books to reflect the truth about Marcos, Martial Law, The Military, The Left and EDSA. In fact, mainstream historical writing has managed to avoid those topics as if they never happened. What happened?

  4. steve ;) i think the resistance started with enrile when he refused to tell the real story from day 1 and instead kept feeding the press his varnished version of events? but yes the deped’s complicity is undeniable.

  5. UP nn grad

    don’t forget the history — Philippine military, under orders by Cory at Mendiola bridge, quite capable of pulling the trigger against Filipino civilian demonstrators.

  6. UP nn grad

    also that subsequent politicians know the value of large-number civilians at demonstrations… even Mubarak has learned from Pilipinas. Mubarak tried the hakot-tactic (Qadaffi doing it too, in Tripoli) but Mubarak especially so discredited in the eyes of his citizens (and his military — colonels and generals) that Mubarak could not mount his own people power surge against his opponents.