The Syrian Civil War: Marcos in Restrospect

Given the turmoil obtaining in Syria at this hour, Marcos could be the kindest president the Philippines has ever had. What the Philippines was during those four days, February 22 to 25, in 1986 was what had Syria become first quarter of 2011. Decades-old regimes had begun falling across the Middle East either as a result of sheer civil unrest, as in Egypt where mass protests on the streets forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign, or where demos and rallies proved insufficient to force the perceived dictators to step down, a certain degree of armed action became necessary as in Libya where it needed a civil war to topple Muammar Gaddafi and get him killed. Certainly the gravest of all these downfalls was that of Sadam Hussein which required the costly Iraqi war, both in terms of destruction to infrastructure and human casualties, to bring about.

If, then, Assad were at the helm of the Philippine nation in those four days of February 1986, the country could have been reduced to shambles as many parts of Syria have since the civil unrest early 2011 escalated into a civil war. With Assad’s intransigence in clinging to power, there is no visible end to the bloodshed and devastation that are getting worse in Syria everyday.

edsa_1986Looking back now, I ask if it was not to the country’s fortune that Marcos did not have that much intransigence. The nation saw on television how then AFP Chief of Staff Fabian Ver was urging President Marcos to have tanks moving in and disperse the thousands that had already massed on EDSA — certainly implying firepower. But President Marcos cut him short, ordering instead to use water hoses or any somesuch method, but never guns.

And thus did the EDSA uprising of 1986 went down in history as a peaceful people power revolt. It would be the height of political naivette to believe so.

The EDSA rising turned peaceful because Marcos refused to use guns.

If Assad were in his place, he would insist that those in EDSA – granting they did count a couple of millions – constituted a very slim minority of the Filipino people who at the time were counting 83 million. Assad would have insisted that the majority of the people were in the middle, “to be precise, not against him.”

It was just that the event was perfectly hyped in the media so that what was actually a happening in a very small section of Metro Manila was projected as a nationwide phenomenon. And Marcos, instead of defying Reagan’s order (how do you put this in diplomatic terms?) to “Cut. And cut clean,” did not resist when flown to Hawaii by United States operatives.

In Assad’s case, when asked for reaction to a demand by US President Obama for him to step down because he had lost legitimacy to rule, he said he will not listen to anybody — never mind if that anybody is President of the greatest nation on earth — outside of Syria. Assad, by his assertion, would listen only to the Syrian people, and again he would insist that the majority of Syrians are in the middle, “not against me.”

During the EDSA crisis, Marcos definitely had the numbers and add to this the “majority” who, by Assad’s reckoning, must be in the middle and were not anti-Marcos, he enjoyed enough public support to stay in power. Unlike Assad, however, Marcos, though not really acceding to the Reagan direction, did not choose to defy the US wish for him to step down. Instead he allowed himself to be “kidnapped” for bringing to exile.

Had Marcos did an Assad, he would surely have thrown the nation into a conflagration such as what’s happened to Syria, decimating the population by tens of thousands and bringing the country to utter ruins. But by not doing an Assad, had not Marcos exemplified the height of magnanimity and compassion, care and concern, and love a leader should reach for the people he leads?

The EDSA rising propelled the plain housewife Cory to the pinnacle of political power. She got the whole world enthralled. In speeches before the United Nations and the US Congress, she gloated in the glory of the “bloodless revolution”.

And Cory called that bloodlessness her feat!

What hypocrisy!

Almost just as soon as Cory took over the presidency, she declared: “Now I know why people would kill for this position.”

The bloodiest event that ever took place on Mendiola was the Mendiola Massacre on January 22, 1987 – very early on in the Cory administration. And the bloodiest episode that ever took place in Concepcion, Tarlac was the Hacienda Luisita Massacre on November 16, 2004 – when Cory could have prevented it but did not.

If the EDSA revolt turned out bloodless, it was because Marcos just refused to make it bloody.

Years ago, I came across a passage from a speech by Senator Bongbong Marcos about how to treat his father. He said, “Look beyond the man.”

It takes the grim reality of Syria to view the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos in the correct perspective.

[Photo courtesy PeoplePower.e-workers.de.]

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About Mauro Gia Samonte

Essayist, novelist, film writer and director

36 Comments on “The Syrian Civil War: Marcos in Restrospect”

  1. why would anyone compare any leader to assad? thats such a low bar hehehehe shooting fish in a barrel here now. compare him to lincoln so we can see

    1. Because…it’s one way of looking at Marcos’ EDSA revolution in perspective. Yes, Assad today is an asshole in this angle, because he’s killing people to cling to power. Benign0 pointed out how actually caring Marcos was to his people back in 1986, despite his and his cronies’ corruption. Allegedly, of course.

      *Sigh*

  2. How ill-informed to believe that the TV dialogue between Marcos and Ver was the unsullen reality. Marcos is a beguiling person. What he does in private is far apart from what he does in public. He is a believer that the media can shape public opinion and therefore he started by controlling them immediately after martial was declared. Earlier in his life, he consistently denied having murdered Julio Nalundasan, the murder of NINOYlater,and other countless opponents dumped on the roadside by his military hitmen. He even denied having an affair with Dovie Beams.

    http://jcc34.wordpress.com/?s=closer+than+brothers

  3. Marcos has ordered the dispersal of the crowds on EDSA by rolling armored personnel carriers and tanks at EDSA. The order to fire was given, only that his commander on the field refused to obey the order because of the consequences. If blood was avoided during the February revolution in 1986, it was because Maros had lost grip on his power over the military… His men simply believed that he was no longer the man-of-the-hour!

    1. Agreed.

      Marcos had already alienated a lot of the oligarchy and the Catholic Church. Even the business community. A failed economy, a bankrupt government and billions in debt, coupled with displays of hedonism and ostentatious extravagance were the more powerful factors that turned people away from him rather than the belief that Cory Aquino was the right alternative to reform the country.

  4. I watched the Marcos-Ver exchange in a televised press conference. Ver exhorts the president to “immediately strike them.” Marcos replies “My order is not to attack. No, no, no! Hold on. My order is not to attack.” Afterwards, Marcos goes on to say “…My order is to disperse without shooting them.”

    It strikes me as odd that the President and his Chief-of-Staff would discuss strategy in front of the camera. It wasn’t as if they were spontaneous utterances from people who were overwhelmed with emotion. Looking back over the coverage and placing it in context with the events of the time, the whole event seems contrived — a scripted melodrama, and a bad one at that.

    Considering that marines under General Tadiar moved their formations right up to the protesters at Aguinaldo but did not fire even when people were tossing flowers at them, I’m more inclined to believe that the military disobeyed orders to attack and retreated. The press conference that followed (with the Marcos-Ver exchange) appears more like a staged farce designed to save face in the wake of a growing mutiny by officers in the field.

    In the end, it wasn’t about Marcos being “kidnapped” into exile. Or his concern for the thousands on EDSA. He simply lost control of the situation.

  5. I’d like to report a conversation with the late Arturo Enrile.

    We were at a dinner party given by the Times of London’s Manila correspondent, in 1995.

    An ADB staffer who was amongst the guests asked General Enrile, who was Chief of Staff or the Armed Forces at that time, what I thought was a very tactless question: “You were leading the armoured column on EDSA. Why did you stop?”

    General Enrile replied, without hesitation “We were ordered to stop. We are the Army; we obey orders!”

    Clear enough, I think.

    1. where did he get the order to stop? I think in 1986, the Chief of Staff was still Gen. Ver. And the one leading the column was Gen. Tadiar.

    2. Where did the order come from? And what incident was he referring to? As far as I recall, the armored column sent out to push through the barricades on EDSA came from Fort Bonifacio under the command of General Tadiar not General Enrile.

      B/General Arturo Enrile, then PMA Superintendent, was prominent in the December 1989 coup attempt against Cory Aquino. He was the one negotiating with Scout Rangers (special forces) who had joined the rebellion and this resulted in their return to barracks.

    3. I’ve remembered the name of the hostess – Abby Tan, who was the London Times Philippines correspondent. In fairness to the late General Enrile, he didn’t respond to the statement that he was “leading the column” by either affirming or denying it, indeed the flow of conversation did not allow him to comment on that – he just dealt with the main point when he said, “We were ordered to stop. We are the Army…”

      He and his wife went on to recount how they married in January 1968 and chose to spend their honeymoon in Saigon, where he was serving, in order to enjoy the Lunar New Year celebrations… bonus helping of fireworks, that year…

  6. The order to stop the march was a misnomer. Brigade Commander Gen. Braulio Balbas was already in a position to fire, being holed up near White Plains at the back of Camp Aguinaldo.

    He refused to carry out the order to fire because he did not want to butcher the civilians and he was not sure if bloodbath occurs, Marcos would assume responsibility.

    “At first light a full brigade of Marcos’s Marines, with riot troops and tear gas clearing a path through the “still sleepy people,” broke into the rear of Camp Aguinaldo riding in a column of six armored vehicles and twenty-eight trucks. By 8:30 A.M., the Marines had positioned their howitzers and mortars to shell and slaughter. The rebel forces, just across, the highway inside Camp Crame, prepared to die. They said prayers and sang their alma mater’s song. “PMA, Oh, Hail to Thee,” while, as one RAM leader recalled, “our eyes flowed with tears, our voices broke, and our lips quivered. At 9:00 A.M., General Josephus Ramas gave the “kill order” to the commander of the Fourth Marine brigade, Colonel Braulio Balbas (PMA ’60). The colonel hesitated. Looking down from the high ground of Camp Aguinaldo across EDSA’s eight lanes, the Marines had massive firepower “bore sighted” on the rebels inside Camp Crame only two hundred meters away – three 105-mm howitzers, six 90-mm recoilless rifles, eight 81-mm mortars, twenty 60-mm mortars, six heavy rocket launchers, sixty .50 caliber machine guns, and nearly a thousand M-16 rifles. Colonel Balbas, a veteran combat officer, was known among brother officers as “the cool-headed type.” If he gave the order, he knew that his Marines, battle hardened by years of jungle warfare, would fire without hesitation. The howitzers would level the camps’ buildings and the mortars would cover its grounds with a hail of shrapnel. In such a barrage, thousands of demonstrators, packed shoulder to shoulder on the pavement between the camps, would be slaughtered. Uncertain that Marcos would ultimately back him for the killing of these innocent civilians, Balbas hesitated, telling General Josephus Ramas, “We are still positioning the cannons.” The general barked, “The president is on the other line waiting for compliance!”

    After Balbas put down the field phone, Colonel Jerry Albano (PMA ’71) approached the Marine position at the head of an armed headquarters company, saluting and calling out, “How are you, sir?” Suspicious, the Marine said, “Prankahan tayo” (Let’s be frank). You lay your cards, I lay my cards. What side are you on?” Colonel Albano replied, “Sir, you know pretty well that I belong to Class ’71 and Class 71 belongs to the reformist movement. So, I am on the side of Crame.” Knowing that these combat Marines could slaughter his lightly armed guard unit, Albano suggested, “Okay, coexistence na lang tayo”. (Okay, let’s just coexist.” The Marine Commandant nodded in agreement and Albano withdrew.

    Thirty minutes later, the Marine Commandant, General Tadiar, entered the palace and met General Ver, who confirmed the order to fire. Tadiar picked up a phone and told Colonel Balbas, “I think the order of Ramas is cleared. So you may fire.” The colonel replied, “Sir, if I may, the people have been let inside Crame already, and we will be hurting a lot of civilians.” Tadiar paused, “Then hold your fire and use your discretion.” Ten minutes later, General Ramas called and, for the fourth time, gave Balbas a direct order to fire. The colonel against stalled saying, “We were looking for maps and positioning canons and mortars.” (Closer Than Brothers, Alfred W. McCoy, p. 250-51)”

    Please check Alfred McCoy’s credentials on google.

      1. The reason why is that because you didn’t cite any link (as usual). You as an abogado de patola would always assume the readers to take your say so as the fact.

        Where is the link?

    1. @Trosp: dude, you’re quibbling again. JCC already cited the author. What is the point in asking for a link? Why would he make up words then attribute them to a third party? With every word you add here you merely subtract rather than add to the value of the collective intellect.

      Refer to our Section 2.2.6 of our Terms of Service:

      2.2.6. Questions on and challenges to terminology (tolerated to encouraged) – These are seen to be of value to a discussion if the commentor can demonstrate a strong context surrounding the line of questioning and/or challenges being put forth. There is a big gray area between pertinent questions on terminology and quibbling over it. Generally, quibbling is intuitively recognisable and will be dealt with on a case-to-case basis.

      The level of commentary you introduce here is at the bottom rung in terms of the level of tolerance we apply to content quality.

      I usually start with the assumption that people don’t really want to piss me off.

      But I’m often wrong.

  7. The EDSA was an American making; made by Secrettary of State Schultz, during that time. The Americans badly needed the bases. Marcos was against the bases agreement to be extended. Enrile, Ramos and Honasan were just front men of the Americans….

    1. This conspiracy theory again? There’s been some version of it going back to 1985.

      WHERE IS YOUR PROOF?

      Apart from Filipino politicians’ penchant to ask US permission before they go to the bathroom, there is no concrete evidence that America was involved in regime change in the Philippines in 1986. Suggestions that the Americans prompted Enrile and Ramos or Corazon Aquino, actually go against prevailing American foreign policy at the time.

      The US did not think Corazon Aquino could be credible alternative to Ferdinand Marcos. Abe Rosenthal, former executive editor of the NY Times, says that US Ambassador Stephen Bosworth told him, after his interview with Aquino prior to the 1986 snap election, that she was “not a fully developed political personality.” Whereupon another US diplomat said “She doesn’t have a clue.” Rosenthal and his colleagues commented that Aquino had an astounding lack of information and answered questions in a rambling manner. Translation — Cory Aquino was clueless and inept to boot. Not someone they would readily support.

      If we were to look at the impact that the 1986 EDSA Revolution had on US-Philippine relations, we would see that it signified a reversal of hypocritical US foreign policy. For decades America PREACHED democracy, and portrayed itself as the embodiment of freedom, but the US could almost always be counted on to give its support to military dictatorships or right-wing civilian tyrannies. In 1986-87, the US stopped extending that automatic support to countries who promised to become allies against the perceived Communist threat. Furthermore, in the event of internal crisis, the US was seen to exert its influence on behalf of the opposition, not the tyrants.

      In the Philippines, the Americans came around to the realization that democratic institutions had to be restored in the face of growing dissatisfaction with the Marcos regime. The alternative would have been a succession of coups d’etat brought on by internecine fighting and clan warfare. In South Korea, the US expressed to the generals, who had ruled for 25 years, that they would not tolerate armed suppression of the opposition. The end result is the South Korea we see today. In Haiti, Baby Doc Duvalier was hounded out. America had a direct hand in the ouster of General Manuel Noriega of Panama (Operation Just Cause) and his prosecution in the US for drug trafficking, after a long-standing relationship with the CIA.

      What happened? President Reagan would have preferred a Marcos victory. He was a known quantity. But somehow the Americans got smart enough to realize that Marcos would have behaved exactly like Assad if he had their support. And that would have led to the chaos we see in Syria now. Worse, the Communists might have swooped in to claim the victory. Those would have threatened the security of Clark and Subic, and US interests in the reguin, more than any threats by the national government to close them. So the US changed its foreign policy. It would otherwise have been censured by the entire world for its hypocrisy.

      If anything, Corazon Aquino was really just along for the ride. She happened to become a symbol for the anger, frustration and desires of a nation that despised what Marcos had done, hated what he had become.

      1. I think that is a very lucid and well informed summary of what I understand to have taken place.

        Just to add to your list – the transition in Taiwan from dictatorship to democracy was another example from the same period.

        Thank you.

  8. I understand English is not your native tongue and grammatical errors do happen, but when you get your tenses mixed-up consistently, editing becomes imperative. I’m quite sure you, as an “essayist, novelist and film writer”, understand that it is in your interest to relay your message in a smooth and clear manner.

    I’ll try “looking beyond the man”….I’ll try looking beyond the words of the writer and figure out what I am left with.

  9. Are we luckier than Syria because we have more “compassionate” soldiers, or are we luckier because they were lily-livered? And that issue of the Marcos-Ver dialogue being a “moro-moro” will continue to be debated upon.

    1. ChinoF,

      I don’t think so…if you can still find footage of the press conference, I think you will agree that the dialogue was just that — “dialogue” scripted to make Marcos look like he was in control in the face of Balbas disobeying what he must have thought to be an illegal order.

      1. it was a typical marcos move… had balbas carried the order, marcos would be seen in tv denying having ordered the bloodbath…. and would blame his field commanders for acting on their own.

        1. That’s for damn sure. It’s a testament to the strength of Marcos’ cult of personality that there are people who still believe the baloney that he is an honorable statesman who sacrificed his position for the sake of “saving” the lives of the people on the barricades.

        2. typical attitude of maninira. we all know not a single person died in edsa. where is your proof the marcos ordered to attack and that the commanders did not just obey?

        3. tehot,

          Are you saying the accounts of the soldiers in Malacañang, at Camps Aguinaldo, Crame and Bonifacio are all false? Have you read through the this thread?

  10. It was a coup attempt that failed, and the government could not resort to violence because there were too many civilians around the camps and the international press was watching. That’s also why it was the U.S. government that eventually encouraged the dictator to leave.

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