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Whatever happened to some key EDSA I players?

February 26, 2010 04:38:00
Minerva Generalao Eliza Victoria Lawrence de Guzman
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The EDSA I People Power Revolution from Feb. 22 to 25, 1986, started as a coup attempt by the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) that turned into an uprising involving all sectors and thousands of Filipinos.

Here’s a brief update on some of the less publicized but key military, religious and civilian players of that upheaval that helped restore the freedom of the Filipinos.


It was Col. Jose Almonte who told Cory Aquino, her brother Jose Cojuangco and Jaime Cardinal Sin that something was going to happen in the third week of February 1986.

In a book he commissioned, Cojuangco said that Almonte told him that he and the RAM officers were about to move and suggested that Aquino should not leave Manila. He offered to provide Aquino with security.

Aquino had called for civil disobedience in a massive rally at Rizal Park after President Ferdinand Marcos was proclaimed the winner of the fraud-marred Feb. 7 snap election by the rubberstamp Batasang Pambansa.

By then, she was scheduled to travel to Cebu and Davao as part of preparations for a nationwide strike to coincide with Marcos’ swearing-in on Feb. 26.

Almonte was a founder of RAM and was considered its “grandfather.”

He was appointed by Marcos to head the Philippine Center for Advanced Studies of the University of the Philippines. The think-tank he ran was later described as the catalyst of and the incubator for the ideas that led to the formation of RAM by younger Armed Forces officers.

Similar grievances

Almonte was much older than the members of RAM’s core group, who graduated from the Philippine Military Academy 15 years after he did. In a story for the Inquirer in 2006, he said that in his seemingly endless discussions with the young officers, he became a “repository of their anxieties.”

Almonte said they told him of “the PMA classmates they lost, of the deaths of soldiers under their care, and of the peasant youths they had to kill in what they saw as a fratricidal war, even while the politicians in Manila continued to play their factional games and businessmen in Makati and Binondo amassed fortunes.”

He said he found their grievances similar to what had moved his platoon to mutiny several years back.

Plot aborted

In the planned coup d’etat of RAM, two groups would attack Malacañang and capture Marcos.

Almonte’s task, along with Lt. Col. Victor Batac, was to man the RAM command post at Nichols Field, where a battalion from Trece Martires in Cavite would join them.

The coup was aborted when Marcos discovered the plot a day before it was to be launched.

‘I’m like the Red Cross’

After EDSA I, Almonte became the first officer to be promoted to general by Aquino. After he retired from military service, Aquino appointed him head of the Economic Intelligence and Investigation Bureau.

From 1992 to 1998, Almonte was also the chief security adviser of President Fidel Ramos. For his work during the Ramos administration, he was conferred the country’s highest award, the Ancient Order of Sikatuna, for outstanding government service.

Today, Almonte is in consultancy work and very active in speaking engagements here and abroad. He also writes position papers that focus on leadership, nation-building and peace in Southeast Asia, among others.

“I’m like the Red Cross, always ready to help,” he said in an interview.


An original member of RAM, Air Force Lt. Col. Eduardo “Red” Kapunan was one of the few AFP officers who came out in the open long before it was fashionable to go against the Marcos dictatorship.

According to the RAM plot, Kapunan and Lt. Col. Rodolfo Aguinaldo would lead a group who would attack the Malacañang Presidential Guards on the south bank of the Pasig River.

Kapunan’s group would complement the smaller assault team led by Col. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, whose mission was to capture Marcos at dawn of Feb. 23.

Last stand

When the plot was uncovered, Kapunan and other RAM members took a last stand on Feb. 22 in Camp Aguinaldo with then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile. Later that day, then Lt. Gen. Ramos, the AFP vice chief of staff, joined them.

After EDSA I, a faction of the RAM returned to the barracks. But another group was involved in several failed coup attempts against Aquino. Kapunan was among the soldiers who again turned rebels after EDSA I.

According to the Davide Fact-Finding Commission, Kapunan was involved or investigated for his alleged involvement in three coup attempts against Aquino—in November 1986, August 1987 and December 1989.

He was also accused of being involved in the November 1986 killing of labor leader Rolando Olalia and his driver, Leonor Alay-ay.

In May 1998, the justice department filed two cases of murder against Kapunan and 12 former soldiers and RAM members for the deaths of Olalia and Alay-ay.

In March last year, the Supreme Court dismissed the petitions filed by Kapunan and Oscar Legaspi, another accused RAM member, who had sought immunity from prosecution based on the general amnesty granted by Ramos. The cases are pending in the Antipolo Regional Trial Court.

Kapunan assumed the post of deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines in July 2008 by virtue of a board resolution.

In last year’s wreath-laying ceremony marking the 23rd anniversary of EDSA I, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said she was happy to have Kapunan and other RAM leaders in government service to help pursue “reform and good government.”


Although he played a major role in the revolt, Col. Antonio Sotelo was not a member of RAM and, initially, was not on the side of the rebels.

On Feb. 23, Day 2 of the uprising, Sotelo, then the commander of the Air Force 15th Strike Wing based at Sangley Point, was ordered by Marcos to disable the helicopters in the rebel-held Camp Crame.

With no one volunteering to carry out the attack, Sotelo discussed with his men his plan to fight alongside the Enrile-Ramos troops.

On the morning of Feb. 24, he defected by leading a squadron of helicopter gunships to Crame.

Tide turns

Sotelo’s defection came at a most decisive moment, occurring just after a Marcos loyalist Marine detachment infiltrated Camp Aguinaldo and set up artillery and mortars across the highway from where the rebel forces were holed up.

Sotelo’s action turned the tide in favor of the rebels.

Sotelo was one of the first officers promoted to general by Aquino. He became Air Force chief in February 1987 and was AFP vice chief of staff with the rank of lieutenant general when he retired in August 1989.


The three Roman Catholic nuns did not hear the original broadcast of Agapito “Butz” Aquino on Radio Veritas appealing for help. They only heard its replay but still they were among the first to heed the call.

On the night of Feb. 22, Enrile, along with Ramos, held a press conference to announce they had broken away from Marcos and made their last stand in Camp Aguinaldo.

The press conference was aired at 6:45 p.m. that Saturday. Sisters Maribel Carceller, Digna Dacanay and Edy Talastas of the Religious of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ) caught the 8:30 p.m. replay and lost no time preparing baskets of food for the rebel soldiers.
They were among the first to arrive at the scene. Passing by the Isetann department store on the way to the camp, they saw Butz and his companions waiting for the volunteers.

Sin’s appeal

In an interview, Sister Maribel recalled one of the soldiers asking them upon their arrival at the defense ministry: “Darating po ba ang mga tao? Susuportahan ba nila kami (Are the people coming? Are they going to support us?)”

The sisters tried to get that thought off their minds by telling the soldiers stories.

The soldiers need not have worried. That same night, Cardinal Sin went on the air and called on the people to Mass on EDSA to defend Enrile and Ramos from an attack by Marcos loyalists in the military.

The crowd would grow to hundreds of thousands in the days to come, spelling the end of the dictatorship.

Still active

Sister Maribel served as principal of St. Anthony Academy in Northern Samar from 2002 to 2005. She is active with the Diocesan Social Action Network and is a council member of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.

Sister Digna is a member of the Sacred Heart Institute for Transformative Education (SHIFT) Foundation based in Northern Samar. Both Sisters Maribel and Digna belong to the Diocese of Catarman.

Sister Edy belongs to the Diocese of Cubao.


Despite the media censorship, Filipinos had a blow-by-blow account of the revolution through Radio Veritas.

After announcing their breakaway from Marcos on Feb. 22, Enrile and Ramos asked Fr. James Reuter to go on the air and give guidance to the people.

At that time, June Keithley was working at Xavier House in Sta. Ana, Manila, which served as the center of the Philippine Federation of Catholic Broadcasters (now the Catholic Media Network).

From Xavier House, Reuter sent Keithley to the Church-run Radio Veritas, which broadcast Cardinal Sin’s historic appeal for the people to go to EDSA.

Teenage rebels

Government forces soon shut down Radio Veritas, prompting Keithley and her team to move to the dzRJ facilities.

Pablo Mercado and Gabe Mercado, then 13 and 15, respectively, helped Keithley in the transfer to dzRJ. Sister Sarah Manapol provided Keithley with information for broadcast.

To keep their location secret, the underground group used the Veritas’ frequency of 840 and took the name “Radyo Bandido.”

Radio Veritas is now on its 40th year of operations.

Highest award

Fr. Reuter, 93, recently received the Serviam Award, the Philippine Catholic Church’s highest service award, for his work with the youth.

Gabe is now an actor-comedian. He is among the founding members of the band Dapulis, and the artistic director of a comedy troupe, the Silly Peoples’ Improv Theater.

Sister Sarah, a longtime associate of Fr. Reuter, now heads the Communications Center of St. Paul University in Quezon City.

Keithley recently produced a documentary on Emma de Guzman, a Filipino visionary, for “The June Keithley Reports,” a series on divine encounters. With Research by Kate Pedroso and Almi Ilagan, Inquirer Research

Sources: Inquirer Archives, Sunday Inquirer Magazine, Claretian Publications, RSCJ Website, PAF website, “The Boys from the Barracks: The Philippine Military After EDSA,” by Criselda Yabes, Feb. 23, 2010 interview with Almonte

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