The Other Side of EDSA

Corazon Aquino sworn in as the 11th president of the Republic of the Philippines at Club Filipino (Source:

Corazon Aquino sworn in as the 11th president of the Republic of the Philippines at Club Filipino (Source:

Shortly after the People Power Revolution, a.k.a. EDSA One, in February 1986, I was asked to co-author a book that would document the Marcos years. My assigned chapter was the period that began with the Snap Elections andended with the triumph at EDSA. The book, "Dictatorship and Revolution: Roots of People's Power," was a historical researcher's delight, an exceptionally comprehensive one that included a lot of supporting documents.

For my chapter, I interviewed a lot of the personalities and groups that participated in the events that led to the downfall of Marcos. They were a varied lot: in addition to the major players, I chased after military officers, government officials of both the Marcos and the Aquino administrations, activists, religious, US Embassy officials, media personalities and politicians. My intention was to piece together as complete a story as possible from various angles of that momentous time in our country's contemporary history.

There was a glaring omission in my piece, however. I wasn't able to get the real story of what actually happened in Malacañang at that time since that side's major players had already left the country. All I could do was glean from press reports and Monday morning quarterbacking. No "I was there" account, just maybes and wild guesses.

At the time I was writing it, I didn't think the gap in my story was crucial. Just like everyone else who was caught up in the euphoria of the moment, I considered the Marcos camp the enemy that was finally accorded its "just desserts." Just like everyone else who was personally victimized by martial law, I demonized Marcos and everyone associated with him. No amount of journalistic or historical objectivity made me change my mind.

But time, distance, a less confrontational world view and the disappointments about the real character and motives of some of the EDSA "heroes" have a way of tempering one's blinders and self-righteousness. When I met some of the fellow exiles of the Marcoses, I asked them, out of curiosity, to tell me their stories. What emerged as I put together in my mind the tapestry that was EDSA, was a very human drama of cues and miscues, of heroics and betrayals, of brilliance and blunders.

Here are some interesting "behind the scenes" stories that I didn't get the first time around:

The Presidential Security Group (PSG) uncovered the coup plot of the RAM (Reform the Armed Forces Movement) as early as December 1985 when they sent two of their own to "infiltrate" the ranks of the plotters. No attempt was made to stop the plot because no one had broken the law yet. The strategy was to clandestinely monitor the RAM's activities, consolidate the defense of Malacañang (thus the numerous battalions that surrounded the Palace when EDSA happened), then as zero hour drew near, arrest the key operatives. Which was exactly what happened.

The arrest of Captain Ricardo Morales, a highly regarded aide to the First Lady, was drama in itself. He was on leave from his duties due to schooling and was not physically reporting to PSG. When he appeared there the morning of February 21, 1986, those who saw him were surprised and alerted. They monitored his movements and took note when Morales asked that a gun be issued to him. As he was about to leave the place, Col. Arturo Aruiza called him into his office "to chat." There he was confronted by Col. Irwin Ver, then commander of the Presidential Guards, who told him that they knew of the plot and that he, Morales, was part of it. Morales responded by asking for a lawyer. Aruiza got so angry at what he considered Morales' admission of guilt that he left the room to get his gun. Had Ver not caught Aruiza's intent, and ordered "walang mamamatay dito (no one is going to die here)," the result would have been tragic. Morales' arrest was only confirmed by the RAMboys when he was presented on TV during the Marcos press conference on the night Enrile and Ramos declared their break from the president. It sent shivers down the spine of those who knew the crucial role Morales would have played during the planned assault on the Palace: to lead Honasan and his men to the private quarters of the Marcoses.

In the months preceding EDSA, Marcos was so seriously ailing that he only had a 2-3 hour window for official functions before he would be taken away to rest. When he was informed of the coup plot, he tasked Irwin Ver to research military history and strategies, and would spend an hour each day discussing them with him. As D-day drew near, Marcos asked for details of the defensive positions, the cover and concealment strategies and even the names of the soldiers in the forefront. "His mind was still very sharp," Ver recalls.

On the second day of EDSA, Malacañang was informed that the Enrile/Ramos forces would initiate military action (which turned out to be false) so the Marines with their tanks and armored vehicles were sent to surround Camp Aguinaldo as a preventive measure. That was when the famous Kodak moments of the "miracle of EDSA" happened, when nuns kneeled in front of the tanks and people offered flowers to the soldiers before the troops withdrew. While there would be no denying the effect of such a lovefest on the soldiers' will to fight, the withdrawal was actually ordered by Marcos when he woke up that day. The president thought any military action was unnecessary because he was confident he could talk "Johnny and Eddie" out of their madness. He also downplayed the significance of the mass action at EDSA and was confident that his administration would prevail with the unwavering support of the US.

Adamantly refusing the frantic advice of his military council to order aggressive military action against the rebel forces, Marcos decided to move his government to Ilocos. It was a hasty retreat. Within two hours, the First Family vacated the Palace when two US Air Force helicopters airlifted them to Clark Air Base. Upon reaching Pampanga, Marcos wanted to proceed immediately to Paoay but Gen. Allen, the American base commander, opposed the night flight, citing safety concerns.

Before resting that night at Clark, General Fabian Ver ordered the movement of AFP divisions north of the Agno river, and a blocking force composed of the First Army Division was set up in Tarlac. (Note on hindsight: though there were many Marcos loyalists in the Armed Forces, there was also a big number who supported the other side when the administration collapsed. Thus it is not known how potent Ver’s orders would have been.)

At around 3 am, Gen. Allen urgently insisted on waking up Marcos and rushing him and his party out of Clark. It was unclear whether Marcos understood that he was being flown out of the country, or if he was tricked into flying, thinking he was going to his home province. Considerably weakened by the day's events, Marcos was strapped to a plane bed during the flight. By morning he woke up to a rainy day in Guam, while the Filipinos reveled in a majestic Manila sunrise and a new president.

[Full disclosure: I wrote this piece in February 2004 for Filipinas magazine, long before Irwin Ver became my husband.]


Gemma Nemenzo

Editor, Positively Filipino