Ferdinand Marcos: People Power
AS ANXIETY GREW about Ferdinand’s ability to control the outcome, American officials and unofficials came to Manila thick and fast. Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, head of the Committee on Foreign Relations, sent a member of his staff, Frederick Brown, to Manila during the first two weeks of August 1985 to evaluate the deteriorating situation. Brown had separate audiences with Ferdinand and Imelda, Lieutenant General Fidel Ramos, Cardinal Sin, and Eduardo Cojuangco. He reported that Imelda and Ferdinand seemed to be
living in a fantasy world where the president has full possession of his physical powers and enjoys the overwhelming support of his people … There appeared to be a conviction that nothing more than the tactical, manipulative style of the past two decades is needed to meet the challenges of the present … There was an aura of permanence of power, which seemed bizarre … Marcos believes that he enjoys the support of the highest levels of the Executive branch of the U.S. government. Congress may huff and puff, Assistant Secretaries may harass him … But in the end, he believes the U.S. will not pull its support.
Brown concluded that one of the few promising developments in Manila was the emergence of RAM, the Reform the Army Movement.
Over the years, Ferdinand had larded the officer corps with thousands of his own henchmen, and had corrupted the rank-and-file by using them to rig elections, to beat up or intimidate honest opponents, and to arrest, torture, and execute dissidents of all persuasions. Stubborn defenders of the army insisted that only the Muslims and the Communist-led NPA committed atrocities; the army itself could do no wrong. Critics of the army pointed out numerous examples of atrocities, not only during field operations but during elections, and not only among particular units like Cojuangco’s paramilitary Monkees or the Constabulary’s 5th CSU that specialized in torture. Although the size of the NPA was greatly inflated, and the immediate danger of a Communist takeover was grossly exaggerated, a civil war was going on with revolutionary extremes, and both sides committed atrocities. The basic problem was that the very large and comparatively well-equipped Filipino Army had become so inept militarily that it could not make an impact without resorting to Lansdale-style terrorist tactics. Sadistic extremes and psychopathic behavior had been a part of the Filipino landscape for generations, but they were encouraged by the Marcos government as a means to frighten opposition. Until the time came when a protracted nationwide campaign or violent upheaval established a new ethic, these abuses would continue.
Despite the universal acceptance of brutality as normal, there were still many officers and men in the armed forces who had a conscience, commanders who endured the Marcos years grudgingly. After the declaration of martial law, a few of these men had met secretly. Most of them were professional soldiers, graduates of the Philippine Military Academy, with further training in America or Europe. They called themselves the Reform the Army Movement, RAM. It was this group that the Pentagon and CIA had fixed upon, and was covertly encouraging.
A secret strategy conference was held in Washington in October 1985 to decide what to do next. Among those who attended was retired General Edward G. Lansdale. When I asked Lansdale about the meeting, he passed it off as simply a discussion of RAM, but others who attended were more forthcoming. Discussion ranged over the whole picture of American security interests in the Far East and the Pacific, and it all boiled down to two elementary questions: Should the United States keep its military bases in the Philippines and risk becoming involved in “another Vietnam,” or create alternative bases in Guam and the Yap Islands? If the U.S. bases were going to remain in the Philippines, how could control of the Filipino armed forces be shifted from General Ver and his loyalists to the Reform the Army Movement?
In any succession scenario, the Philippine military could play a decisive role. Whoever controlled the army would determine the outcome. Ver would have to be eased out, and his faction neutralized. This would be RAM’s job, manipulated by the CIA through assets in and around RAM ranks.
The key military figure in the RAM scenario was Lieutenant General Fidel Ramos, head of the Constabulary and the Integrated National Police, and also vice chief-of-staff of the armed forces, who was considered a good officer, reliably pro-American.
The chief political figure in RAM was Juan Ponce Enrile, an intimate ally of President Marcos, but a vain man with political ambitions who many at the conference contended could be compromised and manipulated.
As a result of the Washington conference, the United States set into motion initiatives intended to bring new pressure on Ferdinand to dump Ver in favor of Ramos, and to quietly build RAM’s numbers and prestige. Other strategies were developed to increase the visibility of Ramos, to build his reputation as an honest commander and most promising chief-of-staff, to cultivate Enrile and encourage him to take a stand.
If events could be engineered so that Enrile acted in harness with Ramos, the general could provide the spine while Enrile provided the flash.
RAM was outraged by the handling of Aquino’s return, and the disgrace his murder brought to the military. Enrile’s American friends began telling him that it was a pity he could not take over. With his brains, his charm, and his popularity with the armed forces, he could restore the government of the Philippines to a state of grace, win renewed confidence and backing from the United States, and regain the trust of the IMF and World Bank. Sweet talk.
If Enrile had presidential ambitions before 1984, he hid them. But in that year he began to admit in public that he would like to be president some time in the future, after Ferdinand Marcos was no longer interested in the job. The seed of an idea had been planted, and Enrile’s “boys” in RAM were not going to let him forget.
From 1984 on, the search for the remainder of Yamashita’s Gold was overseen by a Manila company called Nippon Star, virtually the same group of men who had run the Leber Group ten years earlier. Nippon Star was set up originally by ordinary gold seekers who failed to find anything significant. Their company was taken over by the CIA, in keeping with the Agency’s practice of turning existing companies into fronts and inserting their own people.
After that, the Manila end of Nippon Star was run by Cesar Lehran of the old Leber Group, a Filipino whose allegiance was owed to Fabian Ver. The company was listed as wholly owned by Phoenix Exploration Services, Ltd., 90 Chancery Lane, London. That company, in turn, was wholly owned by Helmut Trading (apparently a play on words), registered in Liberia under a bearer stock, so its true ownership could never be traced. Associated with Nippon Star, though, was a group calling itself the Phoenix Overseas Project, understood to be one of the fronts of General Singlaub, whose American base was in Phoenix, Arizona. Whatever the case, Singlaub made use of the Nippon Star offices whenever he was in Manila. Another affiliate of Nippon Star was the Delta International Group, headed by Vernon R. Twyman of Tulsa, Oklahoma, a leader of the Praise The Lord Church and its PTL religious broadcasting network. Twyman once told Nippon Star stockholders that they had a “joint venture” arrangement with Sultan Omar Dinalan’s Sod Research & Recovery of the Philippines, a friend of President Marcos and one of those involved in excavating for Yamashita’s Gold since 1975 or earlier. Thus both Singlaub and Twyman were involved as private citizens with Ferdinand’s gold recovery effort at least as early as 1984.
The fact that big guns of the PTL were busy in the same areas as General Singlaub and his military-intelligence associates is hardly surprising. Many American conservative activists were quite naturally also members of PTL and other fundamentalist crusades such as Moral Majority, the Reverend Moon’s CAUSA, and so forth. So it is hardly surprising that activists in some of these religious groups were drawn into the search for Yamashita’s Gold.
Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, and Pat Robertson were becoming well known to Filipinos, along with the Campus Crusade for Christ, the Church of the Four Square Gospel, and others that evangelized aggressively with the direct encouragement of President Marcos. These individuals turned a blind eye to the brutality of the regime. During the Reagan administration, right-wing religious leaders were sometimes approached directly by Colonel North to participate in CIA covert operations, including funding the Contras. It was perhaps fitting that conservative religious groups were involved in the great Christian crusade for Yamashita’s Gold.
While career officers in Washington were maneuvering to oust Ver, and to brace Enrile and Ramos to remove Ferdinand, a counterplot was being pursued energetically by the White House. It was the fruit of a romance Ferdinand had been conducting with American conservatives since President Carter attempted to force him to end human rights abuses and to permit the political opposition to function. On a personal level, President Reagan had a deep and abiding commitment to President Marcos that was not entirely rational.
Speaking about prospects for elections, on February 11, 1985, Reagan told The New York Times: “The Philippines and the U.S. certainly have a close relationship and alliance over the years, and we’ve had a good relationship with President Marcos. Now, we realize there is an opposition party that we believe is also pledged to democracy … What we’re hopeful of is that the democratic processes will take place, and even if there is a change of party there, it would be that opposition faction which is still democratic in its principles.”
It was a curious statement. There had never been anything remotely democratic about the Marcos regime, and the relationship between Ferdinand and the U.S. government had not been “good” since President Johnson bribed him in 1966. That is, it had been neither wholesome nor constructive, neither friendly nor amiable. But in terms of covert operations such as fake end-user certificates and secret disbursements of gold, it had been useful. As for Marcos’s political opposition, Reagan seemed to regard them with the same visceral loathing that General MacArthur had evinced.
On August 13, 1985, those same democratic opposition leaders of whom Reagan spoke formally tried to impeach President Marcos. As the basis for impeachment, they cited reports that he had made huge, secret investments overseas. These charges were not dreamed up in Manila, but stemmed from discoveries then being made by congressional investigators in America, under the auspices of New York Congressman Stephen Solarz and others. But the impeachment effort was premature and failed. The CIA had been reporting to the White House for seventeen years — at least since 1968 — that Ferdinand was looting his country of billions, much of it from various forms of U.S. aid. President Carter had been informed of this, but Reagan seemed wholly ignorant. In his own defense, Reagan once remarked that when he went to Manila the first time, as governor of California, to attend the opening of Imelda’s Cultural Center, he had been told that Marcos made his millions before he became president.
While the 1985 impeachment campaign failed, the CIA effort to inspire Juan Ponce Enrile at last showed signs of succeeding. Enrile and RAM were actively plotting to seize power. Ferdinand was deteriorating so rapidly that there were long periods when he posed no serious impediment to a coup. So long as he remained an invalid, Ver had to seek his approval for all major decisions. The target date for the RAM coup was set for 2:00 A.M. Christmas morning, 1985, or alternatively a week later at 2:00 A.M. New Year’s Day, 1986. The scenario called for four hundred RAM commandos to slip up the Pasig River to storm Malacanang from the rear, overcoming the Presidential Security Command. Other RAM units would take the main radio and TV stations. It was expected that General Fidel Ramos would join them, bringing with him other units of the armed forces for a showdown with Ver.
Enrile had been building the nucleus of his own private army in his home territory of Cagayan Valley. New recruits were trained on an island off Cagayan that Enrile used as a private retreat. They could be rushed to Manila by helicopter to join any operation RAM started.
According to this scenario, a RAM junta would form a new government, with Enrile as its political leader and Ramos heading the armed forces. Elections would be held two to five years later. Enrile then would be the junta’s candidate for president.
The RAM plot was actively encouraged by U.S. intelligence officers, but it was almost stymied by President Reagan’s stubborn conviction that Ferdinand Marcos must remain in power. Assistant secretaries of defense including Richard Armitage and Richard Perle warned Congress that the New People’s Army was going through a period of explosive growth, putting it in a position to seize power, jeopardizing U.S. bases and other interests in the islands. This was simply not true, but it served to alarm conservative leaders about the urgent need to make changes of some kind in Manila. If Ferdinand Marcos was no longer competent, and his chosen successors were either sinister or eccentric, something had to be done. President Reagan seemed to agree in principle, but by all accounts was adamant that Ferdinand himself must remain.
On October 10, 1985, Senator Paul Laxalt was sent to Manila as Reagan’s personal emissary to talk with Marcos. His visit was the culmination of a series of discreet White House warnings. Laxalt cautioned Ferdinand directly against fully reinstating Ver and warned him about what the Reagan White House liked to refer to ominously as “the growing Communist insurgency” — meaning, essentially, the growing middle-class opposition to Ferdinand. Laxalt eventually published an account of this trip, using the murky language politicians resort to when they are amending history:
My mission … was to communicate President Reagan’s concerns about the future of the Philippines. The President was concerned about the general political instability … and whether President Marcos still enjoyed the support of the people … These concerns had already been expressed to President Marcos through repeated contacts by our State Department people and others. But President Marcos apparently believed that they were just the musings of the bureaucracy, and not really the views of President Reagan. So the President decided to send me as a personal emissary. I delivered President Marcos a handwritten letter from President Reagan.
It may be true, as Laxalt claimed, that Reagan was asking Ferdinand to compromise on the replacement of Ver as army chief-of-staff, but Reagan was certainly not demanding Ver’s complete removal from power, nor did he do so even at the crunch six months later. Reagan’s views, as we shall see, remained to the bitter end firmly in favor of a deal with Ferdinand. Laxalt’s version therefore smacks of historical revision. Nancy and Ronald Reagan were both personal friends of Imelda and Ferdinand, and spoke often on the telephone, a friendship that the Marcoses cultivated assiduously.
The next day, Laxalt and Ambassador Bosworth met Marcos again, this time with General Ramos in attendance. Laxalt later stated that it was at this meeting that he first broached the idea of Ferdinand calling a snap presidential election, earlier than the one scheduled routinely for 1987, to demonstrate that he still had the popular support he claimed. However, CIA director William Casey was the first to suggest this to Ferdinand, not Laxalt. One interpretation since given to the snap election proposal is that it was a cunning trick to lure Ferdinand into a confrontation, in which his domestic and foreign enemies could embarrass him and jerk the rug from under his feet. This may have been the hope of some elements in the State Department and CIA, but there is no real evidence that Reagan, Laxalt, or Casey had that in mind. Rather, what the Reagan inner circle was proposing was that Ferdinand disarm his liberal critics in America by staging another sham election. (After all, weren’t sham elections how the democratic process worked in the Philippines?) In the event, both Marcos and Reagan were dumbfounded by the consequences.
On November 3, 1985, after brooding about the proposal, Ferdinand agreed and announced the snap election, fully confident that he would win — as was the White House. The election date was set for three months hence, February 7, 1986. This would settle the preposterous claim that his government was inept, corrupt, and unpopular.
His announcement took everyone by surprise. Enrile and RAM decided to put their coup plot on the back burner until they saw the outcome.
Nine days later, the Moral Majority’s Reverend Jerry Falwell arrived in Manila. It was portrayed as an informal visit, but Falwell was accorded unusually heavy coverage by the U.S. press. This was not the first time President Reagan made use of unofficial emissaries to pat Ferdinand on the back. With Falwell was a delegation of twelve conservative American business and political leaders, including Thomas Boatwright, a former U.S. ambassador; former Congressman John Mackie; retired U.S. Air Force General Tom Meredith; and international lawyer Hans Nathan who, curiously enough, was one of the defense attorneys in the ongoing multi-million-dollar tax suit that the Internal Revenue Service brought against Harry Stonehill. (Depositions had been taken over the years from scores of Marcos intimates in the Philippines and Taiwan, and the case was still in litigation in America twenty-five years after Stonehill was deported from the islands and subsequently disappeared.)
Falwell’s stay was spent in the close company of Ferdinand and Imelda. He was escorted everywhere by Ver’s security men. Falwell told Manila reporters that it was time for American policymakers (Congress and the State Department) to stop “bellyaching.” He criticized the U.S. press for its “unfair” treatment of Ferdinand, and for giving the impression that Manila was some kind of “war zone.” He added, “Sure, there are troublemakers here. We have them in the United States too. It’s unreal that tourism has almost dried up here because of that kind of fear, when in fact this is a paradise.” Parroting what he had been told by Imelda and Ferdinand, Falwell said that if the Philippines fell to the Communists, “forget it — there will never be another election and neither the United States nor anybody else will ever, ever, liberate the country.” He added that he “felt a lot safer in Manila than New York or Washington.”
Falwell might have regretted his words if he had known that a few days earlier Dr. Potenciano Baccay, one of President Marcos’s kidney doctors, had been brutally murdered, evidently by the same people who were showing Falwell’s group such a good time — Ver’s men. Ferdinand’s first transplant operation in August 1983, the time of the Aquino murder, had been a failure, and by Christmas of that year, surviving on one diseased kidney, he was desperate enough to consult a faith healer. In mid-November 1984, Ferdinand once again disappeared from sight. Rumors spread that he had been hospitalized secretly to replace the failed transplanted kidney. Information Minister Cendana labeled the stories “simply preposterous.” It was also rumored that, to reduce the danger of the transplant being rejected, Ferdinand insisted that the organ donor be his sister, Elizabeth, who was dying of Alzheimer’s disease. According to medical scuttlebutt in Manila, Elizabeth was in no position to disagree.
When Ferdinand later learned from Ver that someone in his own circle had leaked absolute confirmation of the second transplant to the CIA, he ordered Ver to find the leak and silence it. There were only a few people who could have provided such confirmation. Ver already knew that there had been no leak to the CIA, only to an American reporter. But he was waging a single-minded campaign to inflame Ferdinand toward the Agency.
He knew that one month before Falwell’s visit, in October 1985, Dr. Baccay and Dr. Enrique Ona, director of transplantation at Manila’s National Kidney Center, had been indiscreet during a conversation with a reporter from The Pittsburgh Press. They told the reporter that President Marcos had undergone two kidney transplants at the Kidney Center in Manila, the first in August 1983, the second in November 1984. “Mike” Baccay, a nephrologist at the Kidney Center, added that the surgeon who did the first transplant was Dr. G. Baird Helfrich, director of Renal Transplants at Georgetown Medical Center. When that transplant had been rejected, a second transplant had been performed by Dr. Barry Kahan, director of transplantation for Herrmann Hospital in Houston, with the help of a new drug to suppress the body’s resistance to an alien organ.
In the first week of November 1985, Ver’s men struck. Mike Baccay was abducted from his home in full view of his family, by men lying in wait for his return. The doctor was found a short time later in his blood-soaked van, with nearly a hundred stab wounds. The “Death of a Thousand Cuts” — an East Asian specialty — is administered first to the extremities, working up to the torso and the vital organs, to maximize pain and extract information. Brigadier General Alfredo Yson, district police chief of Muntinglupa, the suburb where Dr. Baccay lived, and one of Ver’s inner circle, announced that the physician was a victim of “a gang robbery,” as evidenced by some valuables and household items left in the van. Other police sources disputed this, asking, if it was a robbery, why were the stolen articles abandoned, and why had the thieves waited for Baccay, abducted, and tortured him?
On December 2, 1985, the Aquino trial formally ended in the acquittal of General Ver and all twenty-five other defendants; the court found that Caiman, working alone, slipped through a cordon of more than one thousand soldiers to shoot Aquino as he came down the ramp. Evidence that Galman had been killed some time earlier was ignored. Ferdinand immediately reinstated Ver as army chief-of-staff. Protest demonstrations began throughout Manila. The verdict was condemned by Cardinal Sin and other prominent Filipinos. In a carefully minced statement reflecting its two minds, the Reagan administration said it was very difficult to reconcile the verdict with the finding of a separate citizens’ panel, which had blamed Ver and others. Members of the U.S. Congress condemned the trial as a mockery of justice.
The following day, Aquino’s widow, Corazon, announced her candidacy for president. Opposition parties united under her banner. As the campaign warmed up, Doy Laurel put aside his own presidential ambitions to be her running mate, uniting the opposition. Ferdinand announced that his running mate would be Senator Arturo Tolentino. A one-time reformer, in recent years Tolentino had lost his spark and was given the cruel and doubtless unfair nickname “Jukebox” — “Put a few coins in,” the joke went, “and he’ll play any tune you want.”
Liberals in Washington struck a blow in December when a congressional committee began hearings into allegations that Imelda and Ferdinand had accumulated major real estate holdings in America.
Except for brief appearances in which his features were puffy and jaundiced, and he had to be carried onto the stage seated in his throne chair, Ferdinand left the campaigning to Tolentino. Since his second kidney transplant, he had lost control of his bladder and had to suffer the humiliation of wearing diapers. (His favorite brand: Pampers.) Even with the diapers, there were accidents. During televised news conferences from his offices at Malacanang, in the closing weeks before the snap election, he was carefully rigged behind an ornate desk, with only the upper part of his body showing on camera. These news conferences, were attended by diplomatic observers from various embassies. A military attaché told me he found the spectacle excruciating: “There the poor bastard was, lying into the camera, all the time trying desperately not to pee into his own shoes.”
When Ver was reinstated as chief-of-staff and security boss, he began working on Ferdinand with renewed vigor, doctoring intelligence reports to convince his boss that the CIA had penetrated even his cabinet. Ver retouched a wire service story, which quoted Senator John Stennis saying that some U.S. congressmen thought the CIA should have Marcos assassinated. Before sending it to Ferdinand, Ver rephrased it to say that Stennis, a Reagan supporter, was urging that Marcos be assassinated.
As February 1986 approached, and the fifty-seven-day campaign neared its end, Cory Aquino held a rally of 1 million people in Manila. Senior Marcos supporters acknowledged for the first time that he might be defeated. The same realization occurred to Ferdinand. He reversed his earlier public assurances that the armed forces would remain in their barracks during the voting, and now said the army would guard polling places and municipal and provincial points where tallies would be transmitted. In retaliation, NAMFREL announced plans to post monitors at all polling places to check tampering. Senator Richard Lugar and foreign observers representing many countries arrived in Manila to act as watchdogs. Cardinal Sin let it be known that he thought Mrs. Aquino would make a good president.
On February 7, there was a heavy turnout of the nation’s 26 million voters. Poll watchers reported extraordinary harassment and intimidation, the theft of voter lists and ballot boxes, and the flying of voters from district to district to cast multiple ballots. Most foreign observers saw and heard about widespread fraud, vote tampering, and violence by Ferdinand’s followers. One of my colleagues spent a night in an army “safe house” in one of the outlying provinces, and found it stacked from wall to wall with fake ballot boxes loaded with bogus ballots, waiting for army distribution on election day.
General Ramos later acknowledged publicly that Ver supplied guns to thugs directed by Roberto Benedicto, Eduardo Cojuangco, and Kokoy Romualdez. Enrile, playing his usual game of mixed doubles, provided 350,000 bogus ballots for President Marcos from his stronghold of Cagayan Valley.
Returns were monitored by the official government Committee on Elections, COMELEC, but women who were punching the results into computers said the tallies were being modified electronically by Marcos programmers. To counter this, nuns guarded the ballot boxes at each poll, clutching them in their arms, defying soldiers in full battle dress, and initial counts at each poll were phoned to Manila and broadcast on Church Radio, before they could be altered. Something of a landslide was taking place, but not for Ferdinand Marcos. The opposition was jubilant.
“The people and I have won!” declared Cory Aquino the following day. Both sides claimed to be leading in the formal tally, which would take a week to complete. But Mrs. Aquino demanded that President Marcos concede. In the gloom of Malacanang, he hinted sourly that he might issue a decree invalidating the entire vote.
Many foreign journalists were having their first glimpse of Ferdinand and Imelda in the flesh. P. J. O’Rourke joined the mob at a press conference in Malacanang, covering for Rolling Stone. After marveling at the bad taste evident everywhere in Imelda’s garish interior decorating, he found a chair and watched Ferdinand perform. His face was “puffy and opaque. There was something of Nixon to his look, but not quite as nervous, and something of Mao but not quite as dead … I dozed in my fake-bamboo chair and was startled awake when Marcos said, ‘When you see a nun touch a ballot box, that’s an illegal act.’”
Ferdinand had spent $430 million to buy votes. This forced the Central Bank to raise interest rates by 50 percent. Nearly half a billion dollars failed to buy him the election, even when backed by 200,000 soldiers, 1 million bogus ballots, and subverted computers.
Four days later, President Reagan reassured the world during a televised news conference that there had been “fraud on both sides” of the Philippine election. Reagan seemed to be endorsing Marcos as the victor, causing consternation among many of his own White House aides. Only hours earlier, Senator Lugar, the official head of Reagan’s observer team, had told the president that a fair vote count would show Aquino the winner. At the news conference, Reagan hemmed and hawed: “Whether there is enough evidence that you can really keep on pointing the finger or not, I don’t know. I’m sure even elections in our own country — there are some evidences of fraud in places and areas. And I don’t know the extent of this over there — but also do we have any evidence that it’s all been one-sided, or has this been sort of the election tactics that have been followed there?”
As if to put matters to rest, Reagan announced that he was dispatching diplomatic troubleshooter Philip Habib to look into the allegations of fraud. Habib had served as assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific from 1974 to 1976, and knew the Philippines. He arrived in Manila on February 14, two hours before the puppet national assembly proclaimed Ferdinand Marcos the winner by 1.5 million votes.
Cory Aquino called for a nonviolent campaign of strikes and boycotts. Cardinal Sin urged Catholics to join. Ferdinand responded by blaming priests and nuns for all the election violence, fraud, and intimidation.
A reporter who went to the palace expecting to see a riot saw “just Bong-Bong and a BMW full of junior cronies’ driving none too steadily out of the palace gate after a private victory party.”
Habib went straight from the airport to Malacanang. Trade and Industry Minister Roberto Ongpin was chosen to lead negotiations for the regime. According to Ongpin, Habib put Marcos under severe pressure, not to give up office but to revise his cabinet as a gesture to placate his enemies in America. Most important was the immediate replacement of Ver by Ramos. These, Ongpin said, were Reagan’s conditions for continued White House support. Reagan and Habib were not demanding that President Marcos step down. To the contrary, if Ferdinand made these changes, Reagan would back him to remain in Malacanang as president of the Philippines at least until he served out his current term in 1987.
Ferdinand flatly refused. He knew when his adversaries were uncertain, and Reagan obviously was not on firm ground. Ongpin said the sticking point always was Ver, who kept telling Ferdinand that he was putting his head in a noose. Ferdinand finally agreed to replace Ver with Ramos as chief-of-staff, but only if Ver remained as secret police boss, which was just switching nameplates. To this Ongpin said Habib agreed, but only on the conditions that Roberto Ongpin would go to Washington to replace Kokoy Romualdez as ambassador, and other cabinet changes would be made, presumably the purging of Tourism Minister Aspiras and Information Minister Cendana, who were popularly linked to the Aquino slaying because they had been at the scene.
Realizing that he had won, Ferdinand concurred. It was a major victory for him. Nothing would really change. It was up to Habib to persuade Cory Aquino to agree.
After their meeting, Ferdinand made a public announcement that he was retiring Ver as army chief-of-staff, but hedged by not announcing the effective date. He said Ver would remain in place at least until March 1, after which he would still be chief of the secret police and a top military adviser.
Because President Reagan’s earlier statement on the election had laid an egg, the next day (February 15) the White House grudgingly acknowledged that the election had been, well, a bad show. Reagan admitted that “It has become evident, sadly, that the elections were marred by widespread fraud and violence perpetrated largely by the ruling party. It was so extreme that the election’s credibility has been called into question both within the Philippines and in the U.S.”
What Reagan did not say was that he was abandoning Ferdinand Marcos. Instead, he became unctuous and suggested, in what was not the high point of his political career, that the opposition stop making such a clamor and cut a deal with his old friend at Malacanang: “At this difficult juncture it is imperative that all responsible Filipinos seek peaceful ways and to avoid violence, which would benefit only those who wish to see an end to democracy.” Declared Congressman Lee Hamilton a bit more candidly, “The election was rigged.”
February 16 was a big day in Manila. One million angry citizens turned out for an Aquino rally in which she declared her own victory in the election and vowed to expel Marcos through civil disobedience. Cardinal Sin and the Philippine bishops issued a pastoral letter denouncing Marcos, saying that he had lost the moral foundation to rule, and should step down.
The next day, February 17, Habib met again with Ferdinand for two hours, working out details of the Reagan compromise, then he saw Cory Aquino for fifty-five minutes to spell out the deal to her. Aquino bluntly refused, and told him she would accept nothing less than the removal of Ferdinand from office. Habib also visited Cardinal Sin, who said seraphically, “We talked about angels.” And Habib met privately with Ramos and Enrile.
On the 19th the U.S. Senate, by a vote of 85 to 9, passed a resolution condemning the election. Said Senator Edward Kennedy, “Corazon Aquino won that election lock, stock and barrel.” The foreign affairs subcommittee of the House of Representatives voted unanimously to put military aid in escrow while Ferdinand remained in power and to channel future aid through private and church organizations until legitimate government was established.
Denouncing these actions as foreign intervention, Ferdinand warned that Filipinos would not submit to dictates from abroad. He said he might press charges of sedition and rebellion against his opponents if they resorted to civil disobedience.
That Friday, February 21, Habib made a last, vain attempt to talk Cory Aquino into a compromise with Ferdinand. Again she refused. She was preparing to leave Manila for Cebu, where she planned another huge rally. On Saturday, something happened backstage that forced Habib to leave the Philippines abruptly three days ahead of schedule, his official agenda a failure. Nobody was quite sure how he had concluded matters, except that President Marcos was still in Malacanang where President Reagan wanted him. In the face of Aquino’s refusal to compromise, Reagan actually had begun to waver. He was under intense pressure from the State Department, Congress, and the intelligence community to stand aside and let the natural forces at play in Manila have their chance to work. Among these “natural forces” were some that were distinctly unnatural.
There was a hidden agenda. It had been debated by the country team at the U.S. Embassy and in Washington for many months — whether or not to give the green light to RAM’s coup plot. The indications are that a very preliminary American signal was given to Enrile and RAM on Thursday, February 20, two days before Habib left, because on that day RAM committed itself tentatively to going ahead with its long-awaited assault on Malacanang from the Pasig River, the time set for 2:00 A.M. Sunday morning. The signal would not have been given unless some CIA officers in Manila had reached the conclusion that the Reagan compromise was doomed, and that more direct measures had to be taken. Their decision appears to have been reached independently, without seeking approval from CIA director Casey. Theoretically, but only theoretically, a final signal would have to await a decision, or “finding,” by President Reagan, in consultation with the National Security Council on Habib’s return to Washington. A widespread feeling had grown among intelligence officers over the years that President Reagan did not comprehend or care about the subtleties and nuances at play on the fields of the Lord. So, if a coup could be encouraged to happen a few hours before Reagan was obliged to make such a decision, all the better. When Habib reached Washington on Sunday, he could present Reagan with a situation in Manila that had developed its own momentum.
It is important to keep in mind that the green light was “preliminary.” This achieved two mischievous purposes: By being provisional, it avoided the need for confirmation from Washington. And it stopped short of obliging Enrile to make a firm commitment to proceed, which he was characteristically determined to avoid. RAM was put on alert, but its officers did not bring in the troops needed to carry out the coup. Forty-eight hours before the assault was to begin, its leaders were still holding coffee klatches, and Enrile’s private army was still sitting around in the barracks in Cagayan smoking cigarettes.
But it did start the ball rolling, obliging Enrile to make some very preliminary moves. And, most important, it put his American friends in a position to increase psychological pressure enormously, hoping to reach a point where Enrile and RAM would stampede and initiate the coup on their own, sucking Washington in and taking the decision out of President Reagan’s hands.
Accordingly, on Friday, while Habib was paying his final call on Cory Aquino, Juan Ponce Enrile was busy writing a letter of resignation, which he let people know he was planning to deliver to Malacanang on Monday. Ferdinand planned to stage his own inauguration on Tuesday. The Enrile letter of resignation was a decoy. If the defense minister was intending to go through the ritual of a formal resignation on Monday, it would seem that nothing was planned before then. By Friday night, journalists had been tipped about the pending resignation, and Enrile spoke to them openly about it on the phone, arranging to meet the reporters for coffee the following morning at the Atrium Mall in Makati to explain his decision.
Fabian Ver also had a hidden agenda. He had now selected his targets as traitors in the Marcos cabinet: Trade and Industry Minister Roberto Ongpin, Prime Minister Cesar Virata, and Defense Minister Enrile, backed by General Fidel Ramos. Virata was an economist, an apolitical technocrat who had been boosted into his position by pressure on President Marcos from the IMF and World Bank, which thought highly of Virata’s administrative ability. Ver was suspicious of Virata because he was admired by the foreign community. To neutralize him, Ver assigned a team of his own security agents to be Virata’s bodyguards around the clock. According to close friends, Virata said he was “scared shitless.”
Next, Ver offered a similar team of thugs as bodyguards for Roberto Ongpin. His blood turning cold, Ongpin thanked him but politely declined. He then went straight to Enrile and asked for and received a full bodyguard of RAM officers to protect him from Ver.
As leading members of the Philippine Chinese banking community, Roberto and Jaime Ongpin had become a nuisance to Ver — a nuisance that he was unable to overcome by intimidation. For years, Ver had been trying to take over the gray money market in Manila’s Chinatown and the Ermita tourist district, and had failed. Repeated clashes had occurred between Ver’s thugs and the Chinese syndicates that moved money in and out of the Philippines and owed their allegiance to the Ongpins. At least one elderly Chinese broker had died of a “heart attack” in Ver’s hands, and others had been beaten by Ver’s men on the streets, in broad daylight.
By Friday, February 21, Ver thought he had everything figured out. He told Ferdinand that at Habib’s instigation, Ongpin, Enrile, and Ramos had all joined in a CIA plot to have RAM officers assassinate Marcos. There were reports of several American navy ships taking up positions offshore. Ver had drafted fresh intelligence reports on secret RAM meetings and conspiracies under way during Habib’s stay, including Habib’s meetings with Enrile and Ramos. Ver said that Roberto Ongpin was using his position as lead negotiator to conspire against Marcos. As evidence, Ver explained that he had offered Ongpin a team of bodyguards, but Ongpin had got them from Enrile instead, which proved that they were all part of the same conspiracy. These bodyguards, Ver said, were actually trained RAM assassins, working for Enrile and Ramos, who would gain access to Malacanang by coming in with Ongpin, and then murder President Marcos.
Ferdinand ordered Ver to arrest Ongpin’s bodyguards at once. Ver waited till late that Friday night, then had them arrested and taken to Malacanang for interrogation. They were to be displayed during a televised news conference when their assassination plot would be revealed to the world. During their interrogation, however, Ver learned of the real RAM plot, prepared six months earlier, in which commandos would storm Malacanang from the Pasig River — set for 2:00 A.M. Sunday morning.
The initiative was now in Ver’s hands, and the pace quickened.
Over the years, the CIA and the National Security Agency had established in the Philippines America’s largest telecommunications and technical intelligence base in the Far East, capable of monitoring radio and microwave phone transmissions all over Asia, linked to surveillance satellites that could discern something as small as the numbers on an automobile license plate. Although these were generally directed outward, to cover the Pacific and the Asian mainland, they were also capable of keeping close watch within the Philippines. They could easily monitor all of Fabian Ver’s secret communications throughout the archipelago. The Pentagon and the CIA had helped Ver acquire the telecommunications net used by NISA and the Presidential Security Command. In the early 1980s, more than $10 million had been spent to upgrade Ver’s telecom system with new computerized electronics from Stromberg-Carlson. Not only could the CIA and NSA monitor the entire system, but they could patch into it at will to interrupt messages, or to substitute false messages. When Ver’s transmissions were scrambled, they could be instantly unscrambled.
A twenty-four-hour vigil was being maintained by U.S. technicians on all of Ver’s communications, particularly his scrambled transmissions to field units around Metro-Manila. On Tuesday, February 18, while Habib was still trying to work out the Reagan compromise between Marcos and Aquino, Enrile’s American friends tipped him that Ver was about to stage a countermove against RAM, possibly with simultaneous strikes against Ramos, Enrile, and Roberto Ongpin.
On Wednesday, Enrile’s friends contacted him again to warn that Ver had placed the Presidential Security Command on red alert. They would keep him advised of any new developments.
On Thursday, Enrile’s friends listened in as Ver’s forces repositioned themselves around Metro-Manila. If Ver was allowed to proceed, many of the embassy’s top assets in the regime soon would be neutralized. Philip Habib was still negotiating, but someone at the CIA station (nobody is sure who) gave RAM the nod. Plans for the Sunday morning coup went into high gear. The embassy was then falsely informed that RAM had taken the initiative on its own, and its plan was now irreversible.
On Friday, Enrile’s friends informed him that Ver had ordered his men to prepare for a series of arrests.
Saturday morning, Enrile was driven to the Atrium Mall in Makati for coffee at the 365 Club with the journalists who wanted to hear about his forthcoming letter of resignation. While they were chatting, Enrile received a phone call telling him that during the night Ver had arrested the RAM team guarding Roberto Ongpin. A few minutes later, a call came from Ongpin himself, confirming the arrests, and warning Enrile to be careful.
The defense minister cut short his press conference and went straight home “for lunch.” There, with his wife Cristina, he found RAM leaders Colonel Gregorio Honasan and Colonel Eduardo Kapunan, with other members of RAM and Enrile’s closest aides from the ministry. They had reliable information that Ver had designated teams to round up everyone in RAM. Honasan told Enrile, “If they issue arrest orders against me and the others, it may eventually implicate you; they might arrest you also.”
Another urgent message came from Enrile’s American friends: they had just intercepted a transmission from Ver ordering his men to proceed with the arrest of Enrile, Ramos, Ongpin, and the others. The coup plot for Sunday had been blown. If Enrile was going to do anything, he would have to act now. Philip Habib was cutting short his stay by three days and leaving immediately. It would not do for President Reagan’s negotiator to be in Manila if all hell was going to break loose. It might seem as if he was involved, or responsible.
In his study, Enrile told his “boys” that they had two choices — either disperse or fight. The RAM officers wanted to disperse immediately throughout the islands, to hide, then regroup and fight. They asked Enrile what he preferred. He hesitated for a moment, partly because his knees were knocking so hard that he was not certain he could stand up. It might be possible for RAM to vanish into the undergrowth, but Enrile had no such option. He pushed himself up from his chair, walked jerkily up a short flight of steps to a cabinet holding his prized fishing rods and guns, reached inside, and started handing out Uzis. He took out a flak jacket and put it on. His legs were still shaking uncontrollably. Back at his desk, he picked up the phone and called Fidel Ramos at Camp Crame. He briefed Ramos on what was happening. Ramos already knew. He also had friends in low places. They agreed to meet at Camp Aguinaldo, across the street from Camp Crame.
By 3:00 P.M. Saturday afternoon, Enrile, Honasan, and Kapunan were at the Defense Ministry in Camp Aguinaldo. Enrile had his Uzi slung around his flak jacket. His aides were rounding up RAM loyalists while he made phone calls. He reached Cardinal Sin and told him what was happening. Sin pledged to help. Then Enrile called Ambassador Bosworth and the Japanese ambassador. Later, Enrile explained, “I did this so the world would know in case we would be annihilated.”
At 6:30 P.M. Enrile called a press conference. Inside the Defense Ministry, an undistinguished glass-and-concrete structure facing a broad, green parade ground, Enrile now had two hundred armed supporters and another two hundred on the way. This was the force that had been intended to assault Malacanang, and it was assembling with something less than blinding speed. Under the circumstances, it is surprising that everything happened so slowly. If Ver had chosen to strike, there was little RAM could have done. Enrile signaled his units in Cagayan Valley, and they were preparing to move, coming down by airlift through Clark where the Americans were expecting them. As yet, there were not enough men to stage a serious defense. Ranged against them were ten thousand men in Ver’s Presidential Security Command, plus thousands of soldiers commanded by Ilocanos that Ver could call in from METROCOM, AVSECOM, and the army. Enrile’s only chance was General Ramos.
Fidel Ramos was also calling in his most trusted troops. As chief of the Constabulary and combined police forces, and vice chief-of-staff of the armed forces, Ramos could count on thousands of soldiers and Constabulary, but they were scattered throughout the islands. Ramos and Enrile both were telephoning field commanders, asking for their support. A few were responding; others were too far away to offer anything but their blessing.
In the meantime, Ver inexplicably failed to strike. Had he grown so accustomed to Gestapo methods that he never learned the basic rudiments of military command? He had forfeited the advantage of surprise; he had let hours pass while Enrile and the RAM commanders came to a decision, and allowed them to make their way unchallenged across sprawling Metro-Manila to Camp Aguinaldo, a trip that can take over an hour. Even there, Ver failed to pounce while evening came and the revolt became public knowledge. Could the CIA agents have been exaggerating the imminent danger of arrest in order to frighten Enrile and provoke him into action? Ver’s troops were nowhere to be seen.
In fact, Ver was completely unaware of what was transpiring. Although the previous days had been filled with tension and conspiracy, Ver had personal commitments that Saturday which kept him occupied through the afternoon and early evening. He and Imelda Marcos were the official sponsors at the wedding of Major General Vicente Piccio’s son at Villamor Air Base chapel. Ver’s men were so terrified of him that they did not dare break into the ceremonies. It was a long wedding. When the service finally ended and the guests prepared to dash through the chicken soup heat to the wedding reception, Ver’s men at last interrupted to tell him the bad news. Ver and Imelda immediately excused themselves from the reception and rushed anxiously back to Malacanang. A wedding had cost them the throne.
Fidel Ramos joined Enrile for the six-thirty press conference at the Defense Ministry. Together, they announced that they were resigning their posts, effective immediately, and throwing their support to Cory Aquino. They accused Ferdinand Marcos of stealing the election, and of abusing his powers for years. Both men were in good positions to know. They demanded that he resign. “We will have to make a stand here,” Enrile said, “and if we have to go down, we will go down.” Then, for two hours, while Enrile chain-smoked, the two men described to reporters exactly how Marcos had stolen the election, and to some extent how he had robbed the public treasury. Enrile admitted that he had personally added 350,000 bogus pro-Marcos ballots to the box. But he had now seen the light. Ramos charged that Ferdinand had perverted the armed forces in the conduct of the election and had allowed “acts of political terrorism and fraud” to be carried out by Roberto Benedicto, Eduardo Cojuangco, and Kokoy Romualdez.
While Enrile and Ramos made a clean breast of things, Cardinal Sin spoke over Radio Veritas, asking everyone, including priests and nuns, to descend into the streets to protect the rebels.
In Cebu, Cory Aquino was informed of these developments. She was uncertain of Enrile’s motives, but she phoned the Defense Ministry to offer him her prayers. The American Embassy contacted her next, and asked if she would allow a helicopter to pick her up and take her to safety on a U.S. Navy vessel steaming conveniently nearby, which would transport her to any place she chose. She refused, and went into hiding with her own people, in case Ver had plans for her as well.
Responding to Cardinal Sin’s appeal, thousands of civilians surrounded the Defense Ministry and tens of thousands more formed a sea of bodies around the main entrances to Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame, which face each other across an eight-lane boulevard. The sheer mass of people provided a human shield.
In Washington, the White House issued a statement shifting its position toward the Aquino camp, endorsing the statements by Enrile and Ramos that the Marcos regime no longer had the mandate of the people.
After their long news conference, Enrile and Ramos split up. Ramos returned to Camp Crame.
Just before 10:00 P.M., Enrile received two messages that President Marcos wanted to talk with him. He refused. He was asked to contact Ver. When Ver came on the line, he asked Enrile to promise that RAM’s forces would not attack Malacanang.
At 10:30 P.M., Ferdinand told a palace press conference that he would annihilate the rebels with heavy artillery and tanks. Just how he proposed to do so, with nearly a hundred thousand civilians blocking the way, was not clear. During the night, Enrile was joined by Brigadier General Ramon Farolan, the commissioner of customs, who had defected to the rebels. Radio Veritas broadcast reports that many military units in the Metro-Manila area had joined the rebels, and units on other islands had pledged their support. These reports were false, calculated to demoralize Ver’s forces, put positive pressure on the undecided, and add to the confidence of the people in the streets — who did not go home to sleep. The broadcasts were concocted by CIA agents who had set up shop in a back office of the Defense Ministry, where they could stay in close contact with Enrile. They kept Ramos and Enrile informed of everything Ver did, and passed on all communications coming out of Malacanang. Enrile stayed in frequent contact with Ambassador Bosworth through the CIA link in the back room.
In Washington that Sunday, Reagan met for eighty-five minutes with national security advisers to hear Philip Habib’s report and to discuss the options. The conclusion was simple: Ferdinand was finished, medically and politically. Following the meeting, Reagan sent a private message to Malacanang, asking Ferdinand “what his thoughts were about transitioning to a new government.” Bowing to the overwhelming popular support for the rebellion and for Aquino’s obvious victory, Reagan took his first positive step in a fortnight and declared himself tentatively on the side of the angels. A White House statement was issued saying America would cut off all aid to the Marcos government if violence ensued. “Any attempt to resolve this situation by force will surely result in bloodshed and casualties, further polarize Philippine society and cause untold damage to the relationship between our governments … We cannot continue our existing military assistance if the government uses that aid against other elements of the Philippine military which enjoy substantial popular backing. The president urges in the strongest possible terms that violence be avoided …”
By noon Sunday, February 23, nearly 125,000 people were packed around the gates of the two camps. These were not the only entrances to Camp Aguinaldo or to Camp Crame, but they were the focus of all attention. Word came that Ver was at last preparing an attack. Enrile decided to move in with Ramos at Camp Crame, to concentrate their small force.
At 3:00 P.M., under orders from Ver, a contingent of marines rumbled toward Camp Crame in Armored Personnel Carriers. They were stopped more than a mile from the entrance by a mass of humans who linked arms and refused to budge. Most people thought the APCs were tanks, but the result was the same. Nuns knelt before them to say their rosaries. Girls gave the marines bouquets and asked them to climb down and join the crowd. Ver’s APCs went no further. Out of this confrontation, ordinary street Filipinos, Tondo people and faceless, joined with the middle class, and both discovered a kind of spontaneous collective will that they had never exerted before, and a common bond they had never nurtured. It electrified them. Tears streamed down faces. Some began to sing. “People Power” was born.
Unsure what kind of attack was planned, or perhaps already under way, Enrile called Ambassador Bosworth Sunday evening. He then phoned Ver and told him that many of those who had once been faithful to Ferdinand would die in whatever showdown took place. Through the night, Ramos and Enrile continued to launch publicity assaults on Radio Veritas. Finally, Enrile agreed to speak on the phone with Ferdinand. The president was warm and friendly. All was forgiven, he said. Let’s call the whole thing off. Enrile said it was too late for that.
No attack came Saturday night because Ferdinand was busy hedging his bets. He ordered a barge towed up the Pasig River in the dark to the palace quay, where it was loaded with three hundred packed crates, most of them extraordinarily heavy. The downtown vaults under the bank and under the warehouse were emptied separately. Yamashita’s Gold was taking a trip. The barge was towed down the Pasig in the dark late Sunday night, out to Manila Bay and over to the Philippine naval headquarters. There its cargo was transferred to another vessel, the presidential yacht Ang Pangulo (The President). The yacht sailed immediately and eventually reached Hong Kong. Nobody was quite certain what happened to the cargo — everyone connected with the yacht denied knowledge. During this same period, the vaults beneath the Bataan beach palace also were emptied of whatever was in them.
All day Monday, Enrile and Ramos waited for an attack. Ver had moved in some artillery, placing it in Camp Aguinaldo facing Camp Crame. Tension built, and Ramos and some aides went jogging to work it off.
At 11:00 A.M. that same Monday morning, Ferdinand called a press conference to declare a state of emergency. The whole Marcos family assembled in the anteroom, rather than the main hall, because only a few journalists and cameramen showed up. What was happening in the streets was more newsworthy. Ferdinand, his face swollen like a melon, his eyes rheumy, seemed to be in a drugged state, talking in his sleep. He was a very sick man. More than once, among themselves, the journalists had asked each other why, with all the billions he had salted away, Ferdinand simply did not step down gracefully, retire to his palace in Bataan or to one of his palaces in the Ilocos, where he would be safe among his own people, and spend his twilight as an elder statesman.
He seemed to be disoriented. For twenty years, he had been running the whole show, making all the decisions, so long that nobody dared interrupt him even now if his utterance did not make sense. It became obvious why Ver had not seriously attacked the rebels. Ferdinand was locked in some vague internal struggle with history. If he let Ver loose and Ver caused a bloodbath, how would Ferdinand be remembered? Perhaps Habib or Bosworth or somebody else had raised the idea of history to him during the past week, perhaps Ronald Reagan during one of their personal phone calls.
Fabian Ver, in full dress uniform, was extremely tense, like a Doberman lunging on the end of his leash. Struggling to maintain his composure, he bent over the ornate desk to ask Ferdinand — perhaps for the thousandth time — for permission to bomb Camp Crame. Ferdinand said no. Ver pleaded with him. “My order is ‘no.’” The television cameras recorded the exchange mutely. Ver was desperate. “Our negotiations and our prior dialogue have not succeeded, Mr. President … we cannot withdraw all the time …” Ver finally realized that nothing he said penetrated. He saluted, stepped backward, and left with the other officers. Ferdinand ignored them and told the television cameras that he was going ahead with his inauguration on Tuesday. In the midst of the news conference, Ramos and Enrile seized Channel 4 and cut their old friend off in mid-sentence.
Ver tried to get around the prohibition against bombing Camp Crame by sending in a helicopter assault team. The team landed inside the perimeter of Camp Crame and defected. A detachment of jet fighter pilots also defected, followed by navy units.
As the crisis came to a head, President Reagan was awakened at 5:00 A.M. Monday morning in Washington to approve a blunt statement that, in effect, at last urged Ferdinand to resign. It was then 6:00 P.M. Monday, Manila time. The White House statement, transmitted to Malacanang by Ambassador Bosworth, said the Reagan administration believed attempts to prolong “the life of the present regime by violence are futile.”
Ferdinand still planned to go ahead with his inauguration. He had brought to the palace Supreme Court Chief Justice Ramon Aquino (no relation to Cory Aquino), to have dinner and spend the night, so the justice could swear him in the next morning. The chief justice was entertained at dinner by Bong-Bong, Imee, Irene, and their husbands. All the food at the palace was being catered during the crisis by the Via Mare restaurant, where Imelda had lunched while Ninoy Aquino died. Meals were served by uniformed waiters from the restaurant. The Marcos children stayed up all night with their father, who wanted to talk with them.
During the long night, Ferdinand placed a call to Senator Paul Laxalt at his Capitol Hill office. It was nearly 1:00 A.M. in Manila, nearly 2:00 P.M. Washington time. They talked for twenty minutes. Ferdinand had an idea — perhaps inspired by Bong-Bong or Imee — that U.S. helicopters could rescue them from Malacanang and take them to Clark, where they could change to aircraft that would fly them north to the Ilocos. There they could rally loyal troops and retake the country.
Senator Laxalt agreed to discuss it personally with President Reagan and phone back. He was driven up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, where he explained Ferdinand’s plan. Reagan said the matter was now settled, it was all over, but that Ferdinand would be guaranteed his peace, his safety, and his dignity. Laxalt returned to the Hill and called back at 5:30 A.M. Manila time, Tuesday, repeating what Reagan had said. Ferdinand asked, “What do you think I should do?” Laxalt answered, “You should cut and cut cleanly. I think the time has come.”
There was a long silence, then Ferdinand said, “I am so very, very disappointed.” He could not believe that Reagan had let him down.
Imelda phoned Nancy Reagan, asking her to intercede with her husband. A short while later, Mrs. Reagan called back, and told Imelda that they would be welcome in the United States.
Still unable to accept the finality of it, Ferdinand called his labor minister, Blas Ople, an old ally, who was in Washington. Ople confirmed the overwhelmingly negative attitude there. As gently as he could, Ople asked why they did not simply leave. Ferdinand said it was Imelda’s idea — she was reluctant to go. “She is here beside me. She does not want to leave.” There it was.
He went back on television, this time on Channel 9, a network controlled by his daughter Imee. “We have no intention of going abroad. We will defend the republic until the last breath of our life and to the last drop of blood.”
Just before 9:30 A.M., Ferdinand phoned Enrile again, offering to set up a provisional government in which Enrile and Cory would rule with him as a triumvirate. Enrile did not want to have any part of it. He was angry because the phone call made him late for the inauguration of Cory Aquino, set for 10:00 A.M. at Wack Wack.
Two hours later, Ferdinand had himself inaugurated at Malacanang. Midway through the ceremonies, Imee’s Channel 9 was taken off the air by the rebels.
Long ago, Imelda had ordered seven elaborate outfits and gowns for the inaugural festivities. Instead, she wore a simple white, puff-sleeved terno, the Filipino national dress. She wept throughout while Imee, Irene, and Bong-Bong (dressed in custom-tailored fatigues) looked on. About five thousand loyalists came to the palace to watch. The Marcoses provided box lunches. Imelda and Ferdinand stood together on the platform and sang “Because of You.” It was a peculiar scene, like watching a rerun of Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald. Some people in the throng found it very touching, and wept. The other Mrs. Marcos, Carmen Ortega, was not among the invited guests. She was on the other side of town, with all the other Marcos children.
Late Tuesday afternoon, somebody fired random shots at Malacanang Palace. Ferdinand phoned Enrile, asking him to send RAM security men to the palace to stop whoever was doing the shooting. He told Enrile that he planned to leave Malacanang soon, and he was asking Ambassador Bosworth to provide U.S. helicopters.
Four choppers arrived at 8:30 P.M. Before boarding, Ferdinand was taken by launch across the Pasig to the palace park, where some of the U.S. helicopters were boarding members of the presidential party on the larger landing pad. He had come for a last talk with Enrile, who was waiting in the shadows, covered by his own RAM guard. The two men had worked together closely for nearly thirty years, enriching each other beyond most men’s fantasies. They knew things about each other that nobody else knew. According to witnesses, the meeting ended with words of conciliation and a long embrace between the two men.
At 9:00 P.M., Ferdinand and his family and closest friends got aboard the last chopper on the palace pad and left for Clark Air Base. A few of the regime’s top officials left with them. A U.S. Navy boat took another group down the Pasig to Subic Bay Naval Base. Some strays had to rush to board the final helicopters on the far side of the Pasig; aide Jolly Benitez missed the last boat to cross and had to suffer the indignity of renting a dugout to ferry him over. On the palace side, Ver climbed aboard Ferdinand’s helicopter with an Uzi slung around his neck. An American crewman asked him to unload the Uzi for safety reasons. Ver snarled, “Don’t fuck with me.”
Bong-Bong was the last to board. The pilot of the helicopter was about to lift off when someone in very expensive combat fatigues ran up and signaled wildly to open the door. The flight engineer stuck his head out and said they already had a full load. Bong-Bong stuck a gun in his face and pushed his way in, snapping, “I’m his goddam son!” As the choppers left, Ver’s security forces hastily abandoned the palace and began thinking about their own survival. Within hours, the unlocked palace administration building had been looted. Portraits of Imelda and Ferdinand were torn down, slashed, and stomped. A few youths gained entrance to the locked palace, where they rummaged through the private chambers. Little serious damage was done. In Imelda’s suite they found photographs strewn all over the floor, and condoms in her bathroom. There were twelve hundred pairs of shoes, five hundred brassieres, most of them black, and a large stock of girdles size 42. In the basement was her bulletproof brassiere. In his separate suite filled with medical equipment and kidney dialysis machines, the last meal of President Marcos lay half-eaten on his table.
The presidential party stayed at Clark Air Base until 5:00 A.M. Wednesday. During the night, there was a bitter exchange between Ferdinand and American officials. He demanded to be flown to his home in the Ilocos. They had orders from President Reagan and the joint chiefs-of-staff to fly him to America. At 4:00 A.M., Ferdinand stopped arguing and the sleepy and sullen group began boarding jet transports for Guam and Hawaii.
In Washington, Secretary of State George Shultz released a statement: “We praise the decision of President Marcos. Reason and compassion have prevailed in ways that best serve the Filipino nation and people. In his long term as president, Ferdinand Marcos showed himself to be a staunch friend of the United States. We are gratified that his departure from office has come peacefully, characterized by the dignity and strength that have marked his many years of leadership.”
The dynasty had fallen, before it could really get started.
When the aircraft carrying the Marcoses and their entourage landed in Honolulu, nobody was in the mood for speeches. Along with their personal effects and papers, the planes carried jewels and gold valued at $10 million. Petty cash. Elsewhere in the world, in those deep, dark vaults where flight capital grows like truffles, the Marcoses had so many billions in gold bullion and hard currency that the numbers are meaningless.
But there was never enough. As they stumbled wearily off the plane and made their way across the tarmac, Ferdinand and Imelda were trailed by the remainder of their dynasty — Imee, Irene, Bong-Bong, and pretty little Aimee, her tiny arms sweetly hugging that ubiquitous symbol of infancy, a box of diapers. Pampers, actually. They were not for her, of course. She had been toilet-trained for a long time. They were for her dad, the president. Underneath the top Pampers was something Aimee was carrying through customs for her mom: a very large stash of pearls — 48 square feet of pearls, to be exact, when they were spread out.
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