‘I was an eyewitness to this dramatic spectacle’ (Part One)

Published February 21, 2018, 12:05 AM

by Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola

By Rex Robles

We are now practically a generation away from that uniquely Filipino event known as the EDSA Revolution, and yet invariably, memories come flooding back as naturally as the ocean tide on a warm summer evening.

The 32nd anniversary comes after a rare blue moon, an even rarer red moon and a total lunar eclipse, engulfing the nation with incredible recollections of an event that showcased to the world the Filipino at his human best. Courage, pride, determination, creativity, love of country. The rest of the world watched in awe and admiration.

Rex Robles
Rex Robles

The image even now brings tears to one’s eyes. To some, a quiet weeping; pride and joy intermingled:.We Filipinos did it! Something no other nation has ever done. A revolution powered by flowers, by smiles and by our love for one another.

My mind’s eye sees the tanks, as real as yesterday, rumbling down EDSA, followed by cars and pick-up trucks and motorcycles, honking fiercely. The tanks, intimidating weaponry, making a sharp turn into an open field next to the camp and stopping, as though preparing for a final assault.

I was an eyewitness to this dramatic spectacle of men and women and nuns, some in tears, mumbling prayers, pushing back at the metal behemoths, holding them back by sheer force of will and startling determination, crying out to the confused soldiers inside the vehicles: “Stop. We are brothers, we are not enemies.  We love you; we must not hurt each other.”

The day before, there was bedlam among RAM members at DND as we realized something had gone wrong. Arrests have been made, by Gen.Ver’s men, of a special RAM (Reform the Armed Forces Movement) unit ostensibly guarding a government office and, most alarming of all, of several senior officers belonging to the Palace guards (who were actually key members of the RAM  rebel group). The previous evening reports from our forward observers monitoring Malacanang disclosed the augmentation of palace security by a  full battalion of marines.

Col. Tirso Gador, head of the rebel group, was restoring order calmly issuing instructions, pacifying the hot heads who wanted to go after those who they found out had  betrayed   the planned move by RAM  to infiltrate into palace that evening. (Greg Honasan and Red Kapunan had gone off to see JPE (Juan Ponce Enrile) and warn him of the dangerous developments).

Col.Gador took me aside and told me to get out of camp Aguinaldo as soon as possible. I was not to join them on whatever moves they would eventually decide upon.  I was to contact all media groups, international and local, to relay our side of the situation, anticipating the propaganda war that will ensue. He will be advising me of the decisions the RAM will make which at that time he himself could not yet predict. But time was running short.

Earlier, after learning of the dawn arrests, I called up my wife Marilyn, and told her to implement our prepared plan to leave our quarters at camp Aguinaldo and bring our one year old daughter, Penelope, to a safe place in one of the downtown hotels. The idea was to hide in plain sight, except that she should minimize exposing herself and Penny together when passing through the lobby. A mother traveling with a child is more easily remembered than a woman traveling alone.

When I arrived at our quarters shortly before noon, the phone was ringing. It was Gen. Galileo Kintanar, chief of military intelligence who advised me that he would be leaving for an ’emergency´ mission  in a short while”, and repeated this phrase several times:”in a short while.”

The entire call puzzled me. Why would the chief of AFP intelligence inform me of a trip he was about to make?  That was none of my concern. Could it be a warning of some sort?  Kintanar was a next door neighbor and a good friend. In spite of my often bold (provocative?) pronouncements as RAM spokesman, he had always treated me fairly, relaying quietly the Chief of Staff’s displeasure over some of my “reformist” pronouncements.

If he was trying to tell me something, to warn me of some danger, I was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. I resolved to gather my stuff as quickly as possible. It is strange what you decide to bring with you when you leave your home aware that you might never come back. No time to bring my books, including hard-to-find volumes picked up at the huge and unique Strand Bookstore in Manhattan two years ago. My target pistols, the target ammo and accessories, my favorite kamagong chess set with matching wooden chessboard. My electronic chess player, and electronic bridge player. My rabbits, parrot, parakeets, and mynah bird.

My personal letters, notebook, journal. My favorite leather boots and Moroccan leather jacket. Time only for one set of civilian clothes, underwear, toiletry, Somerset Maugham’s ‘The Summing Up” and some treasured photographs. Two pistols and three rifles into a duffel bag, loaded into another car driven by my official driver. I won’t be delayed or detained in case the gate guards decide to inspect our vehicles. I planned to leave the firearms and ammo behind. I was wearing my fatigues and a soft cap. One last look at my front yard flower garden, the twin coconut trees with the flattened boulders where I used to sit in the evenings, and I was off.

I learned later that Gen.Ver’s arresting teams arrived at my quarters about 30 minutes later.

I drive straight to the Korean Embassy where my friend, the Military Attache Col Cho was waiting where I unloaded my firearms for safekeeping. (Embassies will not be subject to any raid by Ver’s men.) Thence to Col. Cho’s residence to change to civilian clothes. Meanwhile the group at Camp Aguinaldo decided to take a stand at the DND building. Time to call Time (Sandra Burton), Newsweek (Melinda Liu),, Reuters’s and Far Eastern Economic Review (Rodney Tasker )and start my work. National Public Radio and Philadelphia Inquirer (Catherine Manegold and Lolita Torregrosas) not to mention, Sol Vanzi an enterprising Filipina journalist and stalwart, married to a European journalist  working for CNN. I was quickly formulating a clear story line for the international press. The local media outlets will follow later. It was urgent to reach the international audience first.

I intended to meet the press for personal interviews but first I have to find Marilyn and Penny. They had to change hotels often, but I figure a maximum of two days maximum would be safe enough.

I remember how upset Marilyn was when I told her of our plans to rebel against the President. She listened in stolid silence as I outlined to her the worst case scenarios. If I survive but we fail in our attempt, I will go underground and she should not look for me until I surface in at least six months. She was to stay in three different places, moving every 6 weeks or so in places I have prepared for her.

One of those convenient hiding places was with a  Christian sect based in California but operating throughout the country with  private, well –secured places in metro-manila. Unknown to her, I have already introduced Penny to a few of these places and they know her quite well in these hideaways where I hoped she would be at home. Many of the sect members were women.There were also safe places in my hometown, but in the mountains where the family stayed during the Japanese occupation.

My wife reacted quite emphatically to these revelations. She called me a selfish sob just thinking of myself and my so called loyalty to my country without considering my own family. She did not believe Filipinos deserved the sacrifices we in the RAM were prepared to offer.

She was right, of course.

One time, during one of those clandestine meetings with my RAM buddies, one of the few civilians in our group suggested, when the possibility of a frontal assault on the palace would be forced upon us, for us simply to acquire enough quantities of hashish to bolster our nerves.  Such was the romantic notions floating through our heads betraying our naivety. Self sacrifice was an attractive notion to babes in the woods, which was what we were at the time.

Marilyn thought it was foolish for us to consider the ultimate sacrifice to “save” our country. Which wife, in her place, would not think the same?  As of this writing, the Philippines continue to operate a system that is essentially a racket for the benefit of the rich at the expense of the poor. Democracy essentially thrives in the principle of one man one vote. The vote of one person must matter. Otherwise, democracy does not exist.( For the longest time, Smartmatic and the PCOS machines in shameful collusion with the COMELEC, have robbed us of  genuine democracy).

I explained to my wife the results of our meetings with different sectors to include labor, peasant, professionals, business and other groups to include the press and the academe. I remember some of the Makati business club types would offer help, but we simply asked to be understood in our aspirations. Teachers had a poignant appeal for us to get rid of the corrupt and the abusive in government. But there was unanimity: Marcos had to go.

In early 1985, the RAM, then loosely formed, started to issue manifestos calling for reform in the military. The list of overstaying generals was getting longer.  Some very senior ones were being recalled to active duty. Those getting promotions and choice assignments were close to the palace.

In the field, conditions worsened by the day.  The CPP-NPA was expanding steadily and was already active in the Visayas and parts of Mindanao. Our troops were getting scant support with equipment either non-existent or old and obsolescent. Soldiers were not fighting very well. Literally truckloads of soldiers were getting ambushed. We were not fighting very well.

It was a common sight to see soldiers dressed in ragtag uniforms with bottles of water strapped to their waists. Canteens were in short supply.  It was no wonder our troops behaved badly. Abuses of civilians proliferated.

The Reform Movement condemned these conditions and called for a return to professionalism and better care of our soldiers in the field and even at headquarters.   The AFP high command was not pleased. They called the RAM “cowards hiding under the cloak of anonymity.” By March of that year, during the PMA graduation exercises,  RAM sprang a surprise. Youthful alumni unfurled banners impudently proclaiming “We Belong” while exposing their identities for the rest of the nation to see. (We too, belong to the AFP, was the message, and we are not hiding behind anything. Here we are!)

(The author is a retired Navy Commodore.  He is a member of PMA Class 65. He currently works as a consultant for Taganito Mining Corporation and also helps Senator Honasan map out a development plan for the Defense Department. Robles has a regular Wednesday breakfast meeting with other RAM stalwarts where he exchanges jokes and indulges in the usual gossip.  He will be 75 in May. In this series, Robles shares memories of the EDSA Revolution from where he was then – in the middle of the Peoples Power Revolution.)