This report is a little more than a year old and was written some 18 flight hours from the US continent. I guess this can be safely filed away for historical reference.
The Bay of this Mindoro Island which was around 2 hours ferry ride from the southern tip of the Philippines’ largest northern island (Luzon), had actually 5 other interesting beaches, but it was only White Beach which was the focus of most tourist destinations.
It was actually one of the earliest developed resorts, much earlier than the famed Boracay, but people flocked to it during the summer because getting to it had been made more convenient. Convenience, here meant, that unlike a couple of years ago, one could drive for about two hours away from Manila to the southern Batangas ferry port, leave your car in the securely guarded port parking where the rates go for about US$2 a day, hie off for the weekend in Puerto Galera and come back tanned in time for the Monday office routine. The ferry wasn’t actually that long a wait since both large cruise ferries as well the large-sized 40 passenger bancas made their way back and forth from early morn to about 5p.m. I wouldn’t recommend these bancas for kids, though, unless you don’t mind getting the vomit all over your duffle bags.
Anyway, safely here, and away from all the politics in Manila, the story behind the Feb. 24,2006 coup or coup attempt can finally be told.
Let’s start with an interesting figure, Ariel Querubin, full Colonel, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).. As Captain during the time of Cory Aquino’s post-People Power Revolutionary Government in 1987, he had already gained a bit of notoriety as rebel soldier by trading shots with a helicopter gunship hovering above the rebel-attacked AFP General Headquarters in the heart of Manila. Apart from dashing his delusion of being able to gain the upper hand in his machine gun battle with a helicopter gunship, it earned for him near-lethal thoracic and abdominal wounds and a critical stint at the Intensive Care Unit.
Of five rebel comrades in that same intensive care, he became one of only two survivors.
It was the first serious threat to this fledgling Southeast Asian democratic government. Twenty years of Marcosian dictatorial rule had imbued a sense of dependency on the military in getting things done whether in the realm of government or private business.
This militarism pervaded even among the graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) during that period, the nation’s equivalent to West Point. One of the figures hatched in this setting was then LtCol Gringo Honasan , a charismatic PMA class Baron who found himself assigned with the Secretary of the Department of Defense, under then (and now Senator) Juan Ponce Enrile.
Wealth amassed by Juan Ponce Enrile was estimated to be second only to Marcos during the Martial Law years, with crony businessman Danding Cojuangco jockeying from the third spot.
It is already of historical record that Marcos’s prior knowledge of then Defense Minister Enrile’s plans to stage a coup using Honasan and their orders for arrest had prompted both Enrile and Honasan to hole up with Marcos’s estranged cousin , then , head of the Integrated National Police, Fidel Ramos at Camp Crame. With the late Cardinal Sin’s call to devoted Catholics to surround the Camp where the People power figures sat it out, the relatively peaceful People Power Revolution ensued with escape artists Honasan and Enrile de facto hailed as heroes.
Coup planning never stopped even with the removal of Marcos from power. It further intensified in the hands of Honasan who argued for the supremacy of the military and emboldened by the irony of a politician’s wife being made the President with the help of the rebel military forces. Cory Aquino, in the eyes of the rebel military, was a pushover.
A rebel unit assigned to infiltrate the Presidential Security Guard tried but failed to assassinate the Aquino family. Now Congressman Noynoy Aquino, the President’s son, was spared a hail of bullets which was taken by his bodyguard who survived a craniotomy and removal of his right eye. The military rebels managed then to takeover the main television stations and even beam their RAM (Reform the Armed Forces Movement) team for posterity, before they were overrun by government and civilian forces.
The first coup attempt failed, mainly due to lack of civilian support, but it never frustrated Honasan and his men to attempt eight other coup de’ tats in the subsequent years, always exhorting that “their dreams will never die”.
It took the deathbed statement of one of the coup plotters, BGEN Galido (Phil.Army) to unravel the conspiracy and belie the “noble” intentions of the coup plotters then. Gen Galido, who upon learning he was afflicted with end-stage Liver Cancer, insisted that he hold a press conference in the auditorium of a military hospital, revealed that the final military plans for the first Coup de’etat were hatched inside a moving van driven by Danding Cojuangco’s son, Charlie Cojuangco (now Congressman in a Visayan region). Charlie would just drive around the streets of Manila while Honasan, Gen. Galido and a former Congressman, Homobono Adaza, would discuss the various pre and post coup scenarios they could speculate on.
The subsequent administration of then President Ramos who initiated an amnesty program for the rightist rebels rightly or wrongly caused many to come out of hiding and engage themselves in “livelihood” activities. Honasan, for one bought himself a fleet of taxis which he could monitor via radio. Querubin, due to the Amnesty, was able to continue his military career, got himself assigned to Jolo, the troublespot in Southern Philippines and managed to be with the Marine unit who helped corner notorious terrorist, Abu Sabaya. Another, COL Willy Bibit decided to enrich himself with the car parts smuggling trade proliferating in Subic.
Aside from the fact that there were several coup attempts which all failed to take over the Manila government,( seven or nine, depending on who’s doing the counting), the most recent one, which was timed on the Anniversary of the First People Power was the first time Filipinos witnessed Rightists and Leftists in collusion. Two forces historically at loggerheads against each other, with blood debts on each side of the fence were now sharing the same bed. The frustration in the ranks of the rightists of having each coup attempt fail , it seems , carried the same depressive weight in the ranks of the leftists when it came to having the upper hand with every social change in Philippine history.
Although with the recent admissions from their ranks that the Plaza Miranda Bombing which served to galvanize the political opposition against the dictator Marcos was actually credited to the Communist Party of the Philippines Chairman Jose Maria Sison, the ensuing events leading to the First People Power Revolution actually showed “clerico-fascists”(Cardinal Sin) and “rightists”( Ramos, Enrile, Honasan) spearheading the movement. The knee-jerk reaction from the Leftists to distance its support from its traditional enemies was just overwhelming. And, of course, with every turn of events for social change in this archipelago, the Leftists consistently turned the other way and made their own path in isolation.
So, the setting was just right with two factions disgruntled at their fall from power to look at the sitting short-stature President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo(GMA), look at each other and say “Why not?” It took a bold Presidential initiative – that of instituting a no-nonsense lifestyle check and campaign against corruption in the higher level of government, the military included., to set the plotters’ plans into play. The anti-corruption campaign actually came due to calls by a younger group of officers calling themselves the “Magdalo “ faction who had taken over a four-star hotel, the Oakwood, in the financial district of Makati months before and who held a press conference before finally giving themselves up.
First to be bagged in the anti-corruption campaign was the AFP Comptroller of many years, Maj.Gen Carlos Garcia. Within months of his arrest, an interesting audiotape of the President making a telephone call to a Commission on Elections official who administered the voting in the country’s southern island with an innuendo (as is audibly perceived) on cheating lands in the lap of ex-Senator and former Marcos Public Information Minister, Kit Tatad. Surprise of surprises, the (remote?) telephone wiretapping of the President was carried out by none other than the Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP). It’s as if the CIA/FBI disclosed wiretaps on private conversations between President Bush ,Secretary Rumsfeld and VP Dick Cheney as they try to dissect what went wrong in Iraq.
Within weeks after the public disclosure, mostly leftist rallies and demonstrations became the daily fare on Philippine television. Most from the Presidential Cabinet , specially those appointed from the leftist sector followed with resignations so that by November,2005, the ghost of a military coup had already crept up the grapevine.
The Philippine Marines ,through a couple of its retiring officers boldly issued several anti-Presidential public statements, peaking the anti-GMA hype, so that one wondered why the fireworks did not come at that time. Why didn’t it come ?
The answer had to do with the cultural uniqueness that exists among Filipinos as well as the needed participation of most Filipinos in a People Power-supported coup by the coup plotters. The ordinary Filipino will not do away with a festivity as important as the Christmas Holidays, moreso exchange it for a serious inconvenience such as toppling an existing government. The First People Power Revolution and the 2nd People Power Movement, which sparked in February, after the Holidays, remains proof of this observation.
Cost of funding behind the last Feb,2006 coup attempt was estimated at 8 million Philippine pesos (roughly about US$160,000.-) Pretty cheap ? .Usually these sums come in round numbers, making one guess what happened to the 2 million pesos (?) For one thing 3 million pesos of this 8 million pesos were graciously donated by fallen ex-President Estrada to ( who else?) – the Philippine Marines Cooperative whose Treasury just happened to be handled by COL Querubin’s wife.
So, to the end, up till the wee hours of the evening of day 1, the rebels from the Phil. Marine unit in Fort Bonifacio located in Metro Manila, decided to make a last stand ala People Power I, calling on the civilian populace. Although several figures, notably former President Corazon Aquino, leftists, some movie actors and a bishop came to grace the occasion, very few followed to bolster the coup plotters’ dream of a People Power resurrection. By late evening, the resignation of the Phil. Marine Commandant as well as his deputy, COL Querubin had been announced on public television.