DEFENSE MINISTER ENRILE TELLS HIS STORY: “Marcos asked me, ‘If I go abroad, do you think I can come back here and feel safe?’”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an interview with Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile who together with Chief of Staff General Fidel V. Ramos led the four-day military revolt that hastened the end of the 20-year-old Marcos regime. He was interviewed last Feb. 28 in his office at the Ministry of National Defense in Camp Aguinaldo. In his own words, this is his story of the four days in February when the whole world seemed to stand still as it took note of the stirring courage of the Filipino people in their nearly bloodless struggle to be free at last.
(Last of Two Parts)
ANYWAY, as I was sitting here that cool Sunday, I went to sleep for a little while until about three o’clock I think it was. I was assessing the situation, I could not believe we were in this kind of a condition. It had a feeling of unreality. It gave me a feeling of unreality, as if it was a dream, a bad dream. But anyway, I guess one would go into this kind of situation when you are faced with danger; I had this same feeling, it was like a “deja vu” to me, because that same feeling was felt by me in my youth when I was a member of a resistance movement and was captured by the Japanese military police. But nonetheless, I was serene in my thoughts. I was imprisoned by them for almost 100 days.
And then I went to sleep and after that I was awakened by my military aide and he said, (we never took off our shoes, we just slept wherever we could) “we must prepare to move out.” I thought there was an impending attack, but then he said “It is better for us to move across, to Camp Crame to consolidate our forces will those of Gen. Ramos.” And then we moved out in a very disciplined formation. And when we reached, this first gate, Gate One, Santolan Road; after moving out of the door, there were many people and as we moved out, we were accompanied by nuns saying the rosary and carrying images of the Virgin Mary. When we reached the gate on the main road between Camp Crame and this camp, we saw a sea of people, shouting, shouting, so loudly and we felt that at that point, there is no way by which we could fail because we have the support of the people. And because it was just a matter of time when friendly forces would come to our side and join us. So this was the trend of thoughts running in my mind, as I was crossing that road. I could hardly squeeze through because of the thickness of the crowd. My men had to surround me, for security reasons, with a crowd like that, somebody can stick a knife in your belly or back, that’s it. But we were able to negotiate the distance and went into Camp Crame. And then when we were already inside Crame, they spirited me inside the building, then Gen. Pamos asked me to go to the terrace on the fourth floor that had a panoramic view of Camp Aguinaldo and Santolan Road all the way to the Soliven Building, and the entire road from Cubao and downwards. And, oh my God! I was so amazed at the number of people in the area. And they were all chanting, shouting, clapping, laughing, cheering for us.
So we waited for the forces of the government to come and challenge us, but none came. In the meantime in the afternoon, a column – a tank column — composed of seven tanks, plus a contingent of two Marine battalions, were moving towards our direction, from Fort Bonifacio. And they were stopped by the people at the intersection of Ortiqas and EDSA. We also learned that there was another contingent of tanks prepositioned on the Cubao side, whose guns were craned at Camp Crame. The assault fizzled out because of the people. They stopped them.
This is what happened. When I heard that this column was already coming, I made two calls. My first call was to the U.S. Ambassador and told him that there is a column composed of seven tanks and a contingent of two Marine battalions moving towards our direction from the south. And so I said that there is information that there is a tank column coming from the north-side. And I said, there are many people in this building, there are many people who would die, among them are hundreds of media men from foreign lands, among them are a number of Americans. My purpose in doing that, without asking it, was to possibly inform the Palace of the condition of the target that they intend to attack. And at the same time, I was hoping that he would inform his government so that the White House would at least caution the Palace to take a more prudent course. And then the next call that I made was to Gen. Ver. I called up Gen. Ver, and I told him, “Gen., I know your columns are coming towards us. I want you to know that this building is full of civilians, not only former officers who served you and who served the President, but more than that, there are many foreign correspondents with us. And if you are going to kill us, you will not only go down in history, you and the President will both go down in history as butchers of your own officers and men, of Filipino people and foreign mediamen.”
I said, “Kindly tell your tank commanders not to proceed, because you might end up killing a lot of civilians.” I think it must have been because of these calls that they stopped the operation, Ver said, “Well, Sir, I will tell them not to push the civilians.” And so he did. Apart from that there was also an emissary sent by Brig. Gen. Tadiar to me to the effect that he wanted to talk to me before making any move against us. So to stall for time I sent back the emissary to tell Tadiar that I was in conference with the media and I would get in touch with him. In the meantime, I would like to talk to Gen. Ver and it was because of that perhaps that the unit headed by Tadiar was asked not to fire, apart from the fact that they were surrounded by civilians at this pont.
So with this situation, the President contacted a common friend (MP Alfonso Reyno of Cagayan) to reach me with his request that I call him at the Palace. The President wanted me to call back. I was reluctant to call him, but by the insistence of MP Reyno, I called the President. And after that, I talked to him and he said, “Well, I have no intention, really, to punish your men but they must be tried in order to show to the public that we enforce the law and I assure you that they will be pardoned.” But I told the President that cannot make any commitment to him about what the men want, that I will convoke them and discuss the matter with them. And so that was the end of the conversation. And later on, I told MP Reyno-because I knew at that point the attitude of the men involved in this effort — and instructed MP Reyno to convey to the President the fact that the irreducible demand of the group was for him to step down in order to prevent a further conflict because in their honest belief he was not the holder of the full mandate of the people. So, I understand that evening, presumably after MP Reyno conveyed the message to him, the President went on television and I think you’ve heard what he said.
During that same night, I was visited by a certain group of Opposition leaders, principally Homobono Adaza, Louie Villafuerte, and others and I suggested to them that perhaps at that point it was already necessary for them to form a civilian government to be headed by Ms. Aquino and of Mr. Laurel. Even before the President went on television I already did this. I asked these people to form a civilian government in order to show to the people that we must earnestly try to restore a democratic government in the land, and also to relieve us of doing some political work while attending to the military component of the effort. We wanted a political group to harness the political effort so that we will be free in dealing with the military. And so, after that, we learned that we were going to be attacked that night in the morning of Monday and we were surrounded actually. There was a tank unit at Cubao, a column along toe EDSA Ortigas junction. Again I heard there were two Marine battalions at Camp Aguinaldo ready to attack us, there was a mortar enplacement in this camp ready to shoot us. There was a column of commando teams along Horseshoe Boulevard and then there was a mortar enplacement at Annapolis in Greenhills. This was the condition we were in, the morning of Monday. There we were, waiting for these attacks.
We were getting these intelligence reports. Later, further later we received word from the 15th Strike Wing that were also supporting our effort. Then, Comdr. Jardiniano of the navy who was in-charge of the naval combatant ships sent word that they were supporting our effort. Suddenly the balance of forces were turning to our side. Then that same morning between 7:30 to eight there was a radio broadcast to the effect that the President had left the Palace. And so we became very jubilant. We were embracing each other, some were crying on the shoulders of each other, then we went out and delivered speeches.
We went to address the people. And then two fighter planes were hovering above and then all of a sudden we learned that there was a broadcast on Channel 4 saying that the President was still in the Palace. So, we checked the information and we confirmed that he was still in the Palace. So what happened was I instructed Gen. Ramos to send a team to take over Channel 4 and that was done. And in the meantime, we sent a helicopter attack group to pass over Malacanang and hit the area with rockets. There were 12 helicopters to hit the area with rockets but the instruction was not to hit the Palace itself because we did not want to harm the President. And they did. And then later on, in the early evening of Monday we received word that the 1st Scout Ranger Regiment under Brig Gen. Felix Brawner supported by battalions of scout rangers from the Division under Gen. Pattugalan was supposed to undertake an assault against us, storm our perimeter. Then before 12 o’clock midnight we received the 12 young officers from the unit at Gen. Brawner, the team leaders of the attacking force who defected to our side, because according to them they did not want to fight on the side, of the Ver group anymore, and that they believed in our cause so they joined us. And this was the situation, the build-up, the whole forces. Then, after a while we received word that Gen. Brawner was placed under arrest by his own executive officer who controlled the unit. But that, I understand this was merely a cover in order to protect Gen. Brawner who already at that point felt that our cause was correct and that he could not allow his troops to attack us.
And then, when Tuesday morning came, we received a report that there was a column of 15 tanks coming from the North towards Manila. So, we sent our helicopter attack group to find out the truth of this and with instruction to hit the first one of them so we could capture the others. But it turned out that this was a false alarm. And then, while we were discussing all of these the telephone rang and the President was on the line. This was before we went to the inauguration of Mrs. Aquino. I think this was about nine or ten (a.m.). It was supposed to be scheduled at eight. Delayed by two hours. Yeah. And then it was at that time that the President asked me how we can settle this problem. And I said to the President, “I really do not know.” And he said, “why don’t we organize a provisional government government. I just want a graceful exit.” “I will cancel the election, I will organize a provisional government and I shall remain as an honorary president until 1987, because I would like to leave politics in a clean and orderly manner.” So I said, “Mr. President, I do not know about that, but we are not really interested in power. Our mission was not to establish a military junta or military government.” He asked me to talk to Mrs. Aquino. “And besides,” I said, “It’s too late, because we have already committed ourselves to Mrs. Aquino to support her. Our only mission here is to see to it that the will of the people is respected, whoever the winner is whether it’s you or Mrs. Aquino. But the men perceive that the one who claimed the mandate was Mrs. Aquino.” Then he said, “We’ll discuss it with them anyway.” And I said, “Yes, surely I will.” So I went to the oath-taking of Mrs. Aquino. And then after that I had no occasion to talk to Mrs. Aquino because she was so busy. I had no time because we were arranging where she must take her oath. We were suggesting for security reasons, that it should be at Camp Crame. But then she talked to me and said she will consult the others.” And then she came back to me and she said the preparations had already been made at Club Pilipino and there was no way to change it.
And I said “Fine we will go there.” We went to Club Filipino and I did not have a chance to talk to her about the conversation with the President. Then when I went back to Camp Crame I was so tired I went to sleep. When I woke up, my men said we have to move from Camp Crame to Camp Aguinaldo. And we did. At 4 o’clock we transferred. And when I reached this place I had a press conference, many media men were here and after they left the President called up again. I think the call came between five and six. In the meantime, I heard that the presidential pilots had deserted him. So, when the telephone rang and my aide said it was the President I talked to him and he said, “Will you kindly tell your security to come to the vicinity of the Palace to stop these people who are firing at the Palace towards our direction?” And I said, “Mr. President, we have no people there, we have no men there, but anyway I will ask Gen. Ramos to send a contingent to look at the situation and enlist the help of the police.” Which they did. Then he said, “will you please contact Ambassador Bossworth and ask him if he could make Gen. Teddy Allen and his group available to be my security escort. Teddy Allen, because I want to leave the Palace.” And I said, “Surely Mr. President.” And after that I called Ambassador Bossworth and relayed the message. After a while Ambassador Bosworth called me back and he said, “Please ask Gen. Ramos to get in touch with me so that we can explain to him the details of the evacuation of the President from the Palace.” That is the story.
It was my faith that kept me going. It was my faith in God. My faith in the nobility and righteousness of our cause. Our lowest moment was right here in this building. Saturday night up to Monday morning, I thought I was really looking back and it was as if what was happening was unreal, that it was just a dream, a bad dream. That everytime I moved it was as I knew, a reality. Well, at that moment, you know, fear was no longer very much in our minds. I think once you have committed to go and you realize that the odds were against you and there is a strong possibility that you will go, you develop a certain fatalism, a certain resignation that carries with it a feeling of serenity.
If I wanted to hit the President, you know, some of the men under me asked permission to hit the Palace. And I said no, do not hit the Palace. Even after the helicopter attack.
Actually we knew that we had won when we had complete control of the situation. They consolidated all the forces that have meant anything in the exercise. Incidentally in that conversation that I had with him in the morning about the organizing of a provisional government, I forgot to mention to you that he was asking me whether it would be safe for him to leave the Philippines. And I said, “why not? This is your homeland, there’s no reason for anyone of us, at least on our side, to harm you. If you want,” I said, “we would be willing to protect you.” And then I said, “you and your family.” Then, he said, “If I go abroad, do you think I can come back here and feel safe about it?’ I said, “of course, this is your homeland, why not?” Then he asked about Gen. Ver. “How about Gen. Ver?” I said, “Mr. President that is something I cannot answer.”
Psy-war was Gen. Ramos’s department. He told me about the team of airborne military elements who are coming to assist us. Then incidentally in the morning of Monday, I think it was, we were jubilant when we heard that a batallion of combat-seasoned soldiers from Central Mindanao hijacked a Philippine Airlines plane to come to Manila to help us and when they landed at the Manila International Airport they were surrounded by tanks and they were captured and disarmed and brought to Fort Bonifacio and confined there. They were imprisoned. They were under Col. Bibit. And then what Col. Bibit did afterwards is to recover their firearms after they were released. He got two tanks and went to the home of Luther Custodio and trained the guns at his house and told him, give me back my guns. Well, actually our first night here, we were talking of several battalions. We were projecting to them that we had friendly forces also outside of the perimeter. And I think eventhough they wanted to invade, they probably thought that we had several battalions inside this camp and other units friendly to our forces outside the camp.
We had only less than 400 men in this perimeter. What a way to conduct a revolution! No, there was no American involved. No American military involvement. Inside our command post, there were no foreigners. We were all Filipinos.
I never had any contact with Mrs. Aquino except that night when I arrived here. By the way, she called me up, from Cebu Saturday and asked me what she could do, how we are, and I said we were alright and then she asked me what she can do for us. And I said Madam, there’s nothing much you can do for us right now except to pray.
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