Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In those four glorious days at Edsa 28 years ago, many Filipinos were ready to die for their country and freedom. What happened afterwards was a question the world asked and continues to ask. Amid popular grievances about a weak state---some have even consigned PH as a failed state----the inevitable query: will 'Camelot' happen again, or is it 'The Impossible Dream?'

Cory take her oath at Club Filipino

(Continued from Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014)

Arriving from Cebu that Sunday evening, Feb. 23, 1986, I went straight to EDSA and disappeared into the millions there. It was a spontaneous and incredible assembly of people from all walks of life, and it was obvious that the possibility of danger hadn’t sunk into them.

EDSA looked like a gigantic family outing with many folks in three generations present;  there was a lot of bonhomie and festive air, with people picnicking on portable chairs. Friends recognized one another and exchanged gossip and pleasantries, or made instant friends. Someone even recruited all the hobbits from Mabini and as they paraded and danced they were loudly cheered.

At some point very late that Sunday evening General Ramos left the Crame gate to briefly mix with the crowds at Edsa---perhaps presaging his political run six years later.

Festive atmosphere at EDSA

My Cebu-generated tensions quickly dissipated in the festive atmosphere, as I learned later that my children were also out there, one with the Ateneo students camped out at the far end of Santolan and another in the mainstream in EDSA; my youngest, not even 13 years old, stayed at home.

In those days cell phones were non-existent and my kids and their journalist-mom could only reach one another through relatives we ran into. I had no communication with my husband at all, except on Day One when he managed to tell me in Cebu he was with the mutiny group in Aguinaldo. 

Food was delivered to the mutineers in Crame over the bakod by so many groups, that it was a wonder they did not perish from flatulence.

Mercifully few of the folks at EDSA were aware of all the tension inside that camp as Defense Minister Enrile and acting AFP Chief of Staff Ramos desperately reached out via the military communication system to various commanders in the field. One by one they were able to persuade some to rally to democracy’s side, or at least stay neutral and not move. But there were still those forces that doggedly remained loyal to Marcos and rumors swirled about an impending attack on Crame by the Marines.

On the other hand, communications flew fast and thick between US and Philippine officials about where the “revolution” was headed. And as the hours ticked away and the real sentiment of the Filipino people---not just at EDSA but all over the country and the world---became very discernible, slowly the grip of the Reagan administration on the Marcos regime loosened and it seemed ready to dump its longtime ally.

Crisis-filled Day 3

Feb. 24, Day 3 was the most crisis-filled. Early that morning, one or two huge tanks began to roll up from Santolan toward EDSA, and later still another big one or two from the direction of Makati. Human barricades, led by fearless nuns and seminarians (I also saw Butz Aquino in that crowd), met them with plastic bags of pan de sal, rosaries and flowers in hand, tearfully pleading with the soldiers not to proceed to Crame. The soldiers aboard looked awfully perplexed and the tanks stopped.

Later that morning Enrile and Ramos left Crame under heavy security and showed up at EDSA, doubtless to lock in the people’s loyalty. With their troops carrying the statue of Our Lady of Fatima the two leaders mounted an improvised truck as platform. JPE’s soldiers were eager to test the waters, for suddenly, instead of the usual cries of Cory! Cory! Cory, we heard “Johnny! Johnny! Johnny!  from some uniformed men at the base.

I was then with Assemblyman Alberto Romulo of QC, my brother Ed Olivares (the late husband of the indomitable NinezCacho-Olivares) and a few other friends, and instantly we realized what was happening. The officers and soldiers of JPE were obviously of the mind that he should grab the leadership, since, after all, the rebellion started with his camp. But the people were clearly for Cory and began to chant back, “Cory! Cory! Cory!” and soon the “Johnny” chanting petered out.

Through the day Ramos called on more people power to surround Crame.  On the other hand, Cory, upon arrival from Cebu, went straight to the Wack-Wack home of her sister Josephine Reyes and around 4 pm. of Day 3, she showed up at the corner of EDSA and Ortigas Ave., near the POEA.  I hd gotten wind of her plan and saw her there.

Turning point in those 4 fateful February days

On the morning of Day 3 came what I consider the turning point of those four days in February 1986. A fleet of seven Sikorsky fighter helicopters were heard whirring in the sky. I was inside Crame at that time with dozens of local and foreign journalists and one could cut the tension with a knife. I was already rehearsing in my mind where I’d hide in case the choppers attacked, when lo and behold, they landed in the open field in Crame. Led by Col. Antonio Sotelo, the men from the Air Force 15th Strike Wing waved to the crowds. Hysterical cheers shot up from us all.

A few years ago, in preparation for the EDSA Anniversary, Cecile Alvarez and I interviewed the by then retired Gen. Sotelo in his Paranaque home and he recalled how tightly kept that daring defection operation had to be---with him and his cohorts playing dodging games with comrades they were unsure of. Parang natutunugan kami,Sotelo recalled, and at some point he couldn’t go on, choked with emotion.

Palpable aura of desperation in Crame

But despite the Sotelo Wing’s defection, there was a palpable aura of desperation inside Crame---doubtless from the realization that Marcos still had superior forces and could pulverize the camp any time.  I finally saw my husband and his deputy at the DND unit, Col. Alberto Sudiacal, and my neighbor in Camp Aguinaldo, West Pointer Col. Louie San Andres. 

My husband ordered me to get out of the camp fast as there were reports that the loyalists would strike Crame that afternoon. Men were scurrying about with records to burn, while in another place I could see weapons being readied. I got the feeling that everyone inside was prepared to die.

Again, my journalistic instincts getting the better of me, I chose to defy my husband and I remained inside Crame but far from where he could see me.

The afternoon stretched and no attacks came. It was only very much later that the mutineers learned of loyalists defecting or refusing to move against Crame. 

Still later, amid all the flurry there were reports that Enrile asked to see an emissary from Cory’s camp. Tito Guingona (later to be appointed Cory’s COA Chair) arrived and because he had been my friend from way back (we worked vs. the Bataan nuclear plant together during my Mr. and Ms. days) I was able to tag along with him to where Enrile held court.

JPE: Cory should take oath now

I was within earshot when Enrile told Guingona that Cory should take her oath as President as soon as possible---like tomorrow morning, he said. But there was a historic wrinkle: JPE, doubtless under advisement from his young officers in the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), wanted Cory’s oath-taking to be held in Crame under the military’s patronizing eyes, but her camp rightly insisted on a civilian venue.  Power should flow entirely from the civilian government.

Cory won that point and at mid-morning of the fourth day, Feb. 25, in the crowded main hall of Club Filipino, she took her oath before Senior SC Justice Claudio Teehankee (in the same hour she appointed him Chief Justice) with her family around her. I was there to witness that historic event and I thought my heart would burst with joy.

An hour or so later, across the metropolis, Marcos took his oath as “reelected President” before Chief Justice Ramon Aquino at the balcony of Malacanang Palace, but the heavy hand of history came crashing on him. Under US pressure he was exiled within hours, not to Paoay as he tried to bargain with the new administration, but to Hawaii via Clark aboard a US plane.

Today, 28 years after the EDSA Revolution, the Philippines is once more caught in the grip of uncertainty, as many institutions have been destroyed over the various administrations. Evidences of a weak state are all around under the administration of Cory’s son---some have even consigned it to the dustbin of history as a failed state.

The nagging question at this point is, as economist Joe Romero put it, Will Camelot ever happen again?  Sadly, to many people this seems to be more like the impossible dream.

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