It is tempting to blame the vagaries of memory for his most recent statement on the 1986 People Power revolt. Juan Ponce Enrile is after all at least 80.
Having bolted the opposition a month or so ago, and now an administration voice in the Senate, the former Marcos Defense Minister recently said over national television that former President Corazon Aquino should abandon her belief that she can help oust Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from the Presidency by once more taking to the streets after the impeachment complaints against Arroyo were dismissed in the House of Representatives.
The myth of the military as kingmaker is the myth Enrile and such like-minded bureaucrats as former general Angelo Reyes have been trying to foster for years. But while it serves their purposes and inflates their self-regard, it is exactly that–a myth.
Both Enrile’s premise and his conclusion are wrong, and Enrile knows it. He was after all with then Constabulary Chief Fidel Ramos when some two million Filipinos braved Marcos’ guns at EDSA to save his and Ramos’ unworthy hides during the February 22-25 People Power revolt.
The facts of the matter are simple enough even for simpletons to remember. Enrile and Ramos were plotting a coup against Marcos in 1986. Because of their and their bully boys’ ineptness and sheer inability to keep a secret, the conspiracy was discovered by Marcos’ cousin and Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Fabian Ver. Afraid of being arrested after 14 years of ordering the arrest of a hundred thousand opponents and critics of the brutal regime they had served so well, Ramos and Enrile, with a retinue of Uzi-toting bodyguards headed by one Gregorio Honasan, retreated to Camps Aguinaldo and Crame.
It would have taken Marcos and then Armed Forces Chief of Staff Fabian Ver one rusty tank and a wobbly fighter plane to bomb Camps Crame and Aguinaldo as well as Ramos, Enrile and Honasan into oblivion. But what prevented Marcos from ordering such a strike were the Filipinos massing on EDSA.
Called out by Jaime Cardinal Sin, millions of Filipinos who had silently nursed their resentment of Marcos for years surrounded the camps into which the former Marcos henchmen had crawled like cornered rats, thus protecting them from the tender mercies of their former boss and patron.
The factions of the military loyal to Ramos and Enrile did not protect the citizens; it was the citizens who protected them, Enrile, and Ramos. In destroying Ramos and Enrile and their motley military company, Marcos would have also killed thousands of civilians in the process. Internationally that would have been a public relations disaster. Marcos, who never lost his fear of world opinion and especially of United States government disapproval, wavered long enough to make any assault on Camp Crame, where Enrile and Ramos had withdrawn, impossible.
In 1986 Enrile himself knew a good thing when he saw it. Given Corazon Aquino’s massive support among the population, he acknowledged her as the legally-elected president of the Philippines (and incidentally admitted that on the orders of Marcos he had faked the so-called ambush on him in 1972 which was the immediate pretext for the declaration of martial law). Neither Enrile nor Ramos nor their military gang “made” Aquino President–the people did.
Though he did not enrich them as much as Marcos did, Joseph Estrada too enjoyed the support of most of the generals of the military and the police–until these worthies saw the people massed at EDSA, and forthwith withdrew their support from Estrada. That was in fact exactly their condition for supporting EDSA II in 2001: that there be at least a million people demanding Estrada’s ouster.
Enrile and those who now imagine that something else other than the people’s rising against Marcos and Estrada in 1986 and 2001 put Aquino and Arroyo in Malacanang will have the hard facts to contend with. And the hard facts in 1986 as well as in 2001 are too clear for even those who want to muddy them to obscure, or for habitual liars to distort.
The people in their millions wanted two presidents out of Malacanang in 1986 and 2001. In 1986 they supported the military mutineers led by Enrile and Ramos and threw Marcos out in the process. In 2001 the military shifted its allegiance from Estrada the minute they saw the millions massed at EDSA.
In 1986 the Enrile-Ramos military clique embraced Aquino because she had massive citizen support. In 2001, Angelo Reyes and company changed allegiances once they realized that a new government was about to come to power through the direct action of the sovereign people.
The Philippine military–and one may throw the police in with it–has at least twice proven to be the most unreliable of allies. One can only truly rely on the principled. But as the entire country has seen in recent years, that is a trait from which the military leadership has been exempt since the forerunners of today’s Armed Forces were established by the United States at the turn of the 20th century to hunt down the remnants of the Katipunan.
Enrile’s current patron Gloria Macapagal Arroyo may have the declared support of the military and the police. But that support is even more hollow than Mrs. Arroyo’s claims to honesty and good government, because it is premised on her remaining firmly in control and capable of providing the generals and their cohorts the worldly goods, perks and power they enjoy and covet.
Arroyo’s military and police support will melt like a snowball in Hell once a million or more Filipinos mass at EDSA or elsewhere in the country, quite simply because, even more than among the putrid traditional politicians in Congress, and in the provincial capitols and municipal halls of this country Mrs. Arroyo counts among her allies, opportunism is the one trait these institutions share by tradition, training, habit, and ideology.
The leaders of these institutions have in fact raised lack of principle and looking out for themselves to the level of a fine art. One only has to recall the 1986 image of a sweating General Prospero Olivas, then chief of the brutal Metropolitan Command of the thankfully defunct Philippine Constabulary, referring to Corazon Aquino over national television as “my President” once he realized that the Marcos whose every bidding he had obeyed so slavishly for 14 years was losing his grip on power. Or, for that matter, that of then Armed Forces Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes in 2001 saluting Estrada one day and declaring his withdrawal of support from him the next.
And then there are of course Ramos and Enrile themselves, whose power and personal riches Marcos made possible, but who in 1986 parted ways with him in a dispute over the spoils of martial rule.
It is the instinct for survival and self-aggrandizement, as well as convenience and expediency, that unite the generals of the military and police with the alleged, current president of the Republic. That makes for a most unstable alliance in which one can easily abandon the other. If Enrile and company think that military support is indeed crucial to Arroyo’s survival, they need to study recent history–but they need to study it without those revisions they find so comforting, but which are so totally and patently false.