Untold Stories of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution

MANILA, Philippines - Twenty-seven years after the 1986 EDSA people-power revolution that toppled the 20-year Marcos regime, tidbits of untold stories of that historic event that electrified the world have been revealed for the first time by Sen. Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan, one of the key players of that bloodless revolt.

Honasan, a former Army colonel who was the chief security officer of then Defense Minister and now Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, made the disclosure during an exclusive interview with this writer at his Senate office in suburban Pasay City.

Tidbits as they may seem, yet these untold stories touched human emotion, particularly the rebel soldiers popularly known as the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) of which Honasan was one of the founding members, especially during the agonizing period when they secretly planned to mount a rebellion against the regime of then President Ferdinand E. Marcos as early as 1983.

The People Power revolt on Feb. 22-25, 1986 was the defining moment of the victorious military rebels that enabled the Philippines to be free again.

The bloodless uprising not only mesmerized the people across the globe but the key players themselves - Enrile, then Armed Forces Vice Chief of Staff and Constabulary Chief Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos who were surprised of the non-violent outcome of the revolt as they anticipated a bloody confrontation between the outnumbered and outgunned rebel soldiers and government forces loyal to Marcos backed by tanks armored personnel carriers and heavy artillery pieces from the Philippine Army and Philippine Marines.

Honasan said the military rebellion broke out into the open when their plan was uncovered by Marcos' intelligence agents headed by then Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Fabian Ver.

"The original plan was for us to attack Malacanang Palace but it was discovered before we could mount the attack with the arrest of some rebel commandos," Honasan said.

Honasan recalled that the plan to attack Malacanang was hatched as early as 1983.

"It took about three years to plan. We were out in the field, Army, PC and the INP (Integrated National Police) fighting the rebels then," he said.

"However, we experienced that the very people we have pledged to protect looked at us differently," he added.

"We were not trusted by the same people whom we sworn to defend and protect. We were sent to a place for a mission to go after the enemies of the Republic whether leftist, secessionists, and even criminal elements," Honasan said.

"And after we accomplished our mission, we told the mayor or barangay captain the enemy was neutralized," the senator said.

Honasan told the town mayor that they would leave the place "but don't worry that when we have left, the civil government would come in to pave the roads, build health centers and your water system."

However, Honasan said that the soldiers' dismay there was no improvement on the lives of the people.

"Nothing happened and we ended up making promises that government did not keep," he said.

Honasan said they asked the question among themselves a big "why?"

It was the horrendous neglect by the Marcos government at that time that Honasan said something had to be done.

So it was at the crossroad of the country's history that saw the birth of RAM.

Honasan said that RAM is an acronym - R-Restore, E-Ethics, F-Fairmindedness, O-Order, R-Righteousness, and M-Moral.

For the first time since it was formed RAM went public during a parade at the 1983 graduation of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in Baguio City which this writer covered as defense reporter for the Philippines News Agency.

RAM members carried a huge banner emblazoned with two words: "We Belong."

Marcos who was the special guest at the PMA graduation saw in his very own eyes the unfolding of a huge banner without any inkling that the group would lead a rebellion against his administration in 1986.

Honasan said: "We were not challenging the established order, we were just saying 'We Belong' to a reformed Armed Forces, let's do our job, let us reform ourselves, let us be professional, let us be patriotic, let us save our people, we are not a private security agency or Pretorian Guard."

Since that time RAM members started meeting regularly at Camp Crame, the PC/INP headquarters in suburban Quezon City.

The Crame meeting was under the umbrella of the staff of then Gen. Ramos.

Honasan said they started out their meeting by holding a drinking session.

At that time, no high ranking military officials were involved during the regular RAM meeting.

Then the secret meeting of the RAM came into the attention of Enrile after it was reported by Air Force Col. Red Kapunan, also a member of the security group of the defense minister, about the existence of a group of military officers.

Honasan said they feared that Enrile would get angry with them when Kapunan said: "Sir, we are monitoring a group meeting regularly in Camp Crame."

Enrile asked: "What group is this?

Honasan said they handed to Enrile a manifesto of the RAM which the defense chief, a lawyer by profession read intently.

"There is nothing wrong with this!"Honasan quoted Enrile as saying in a loud voice after reading the manifesto.

Honasan and other RAM members present had a sigh of relief.

Then Enrile said: "Why don't you join?"

The RAM members said: We are already members of the steering committee."

Honasan remembered that at that time Enrile was already boxed out from the group in Malacanang identified under the First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos and Gen. Ver.

"So it was timely because Enrile felt he was no longer trusted. So after the PMA demonstration, we went back to basics (of military training)," Honasan said.

"Everyday we were jogging from Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City to Fort Bonifacio in Taguig carrying 75 pounds of equipment," he said.

The RAM members started their jogging at two or three in the morning when most of the people were still sleeping.

"We were about 100. We exercised, rope rappelling from the building. We also went to the Philippine Coconut Authority building in Diliman, Quezon City to conduct our early morning exercise," Honasan said.

For three long years Honasan and his group toughened themselves in military training exercise that it came to the attention of Gen. Ver who was then the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) at that time.

According to Gringo as Honasan is fondly called, Gen Ver asked: "What is Enrile's security men doing?

Honasan said Enrile had a prepared reply: "We are preparing for counter terrorists' operations. "

Probably Ver was satisfied of Enrile's answer and apparently leave it at that.

By 1985, the country's problems were enormous added by the assassination of opposition Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr. in 1983.

"Actually, we decided that the problem was at the high up," Gringo said.

"So the plan was to attack Malacanang in December 1985 in time for the New Year's call," he said.

He said people power was not in their agenda.

"May naisip kami pero we did not call it people power dahil ang balak talaga was to attack Malacanang," Honasan said in mixed English and Tagalog.

By then Enrile was aware of the plot.

"Go ahead, prepare," Honasan quoted Enrile as saying.

The target date to attack Malacanang Palace was Dec. 31, 1985.

However, Honasan said something unexpected happened when Marcos declared to hold a snap election.

"So sabi namin baka may pagasa pa (maybe there's hope), so we postponed the plan. So there was a snap election," Honasan said.

The snap election was held on Feb. 7, 1986.

But something went wrong when the results and tabulation of the votes conducted at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) were tampered, Honasan said.

"Pinakialaman naman ng resulta yun tabulation sa PICC. The head of the computer people under the National Computer Center was the wife of Red, Linda Kapunan. Yun tinatamper na nagwalkout sila," Honasan said.

For the military rebels the time was up.

"We decided to move it to February 1986 dahil nagkakadayaan na,"Honasan said.

We were looking for a window (of opportunity) in February," he said.

He also said that "we got information that some of those we recruited from the Palace were arrested."

Those nabbed were presented by President Marcos on television.

Arrested were Lt. Col. Marcelino Jake Malajacan, Majors Paulito Aromin, Dick Brillantes and Vic Morales, security escort of Mrs. Marcos.

In December 1985, Honasan, Navy Capt. Boy Turingan, a RAM officer, and other RAM members visited Jaime Cardinal Sin, archbishop of Manila, to inform him about the secret plan of rebel soldiers to attack Malacanang on New Year's Eve.

"Cardinal Sin we have a plan to attack Malacanang not to kill Marcos but capture him alive and present them to our people for judgment," Honasan said.

He said it was a painful decision by RAM.

"Can you imagine he (Marcos) was the only commander-in-chief we knew it was painful for us and it was also painful for JPE but we had to do it because Marcos had no more credibility," he said.

Honasan said after the capture of Malacanang, they would present Marcos "to our people that was the plan." (PNA)

27 years ago, the die was cast by rebel troops -- Honasan (Last of two parts)

By Ben Cal


MANILA, Feb. 22 (PNA) -- The die was cast for rebel soldiers of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement to attack in 1986 Malacanang Palace, the President's official residence.

According to Sen. Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan, a top ranking RAM leader, the plan was "we mount the attack coming from the Philippine Refining Co. oil depot. We cross in two rubber boats, 30 men under my command against 2,000 troops guarding Malacanang while Red Kapunan and Col. Rudy Aguinaldo would attack from the other side coming from the Pasig River."

Kapunan and Aguinaldo had 200 men against about 4,000 troops of Marcos."

In an interview with the Philippines News Agency, a few days before the 27th anniversary of the Catholic Church-backed EDSa Revolution, Honasan said:

"Sabi naming di bale mamatay tayo basta the world will see and the Filipino people will see that within the Armed Forces, the Armed Forces of President Marcos, there were still professional and dedicated elements.

"But the attack did not push through when there was another incident involving the security men of Trade Minister Bobby Ongpin who were arrested while jogging in Fort Bonifacio early morning of Feb. 22.

"This was reported to JPE (the initials of Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile). The intelligence info was JPE, Gen. Fidel V. Ramos and other leaders of the opposition would be arrested. Siempre kasama na kami doon."

The arrest of Ongpin's security was immediately reported to Enrile, who in turn called up Ramos.

"Eddie (FVR's nickname), will you join us?" Enrile asked.

Honasan said it was about 2 pm of Feb. 22, 1986 when the conversation of Enrile and Ramos took place.

Ramos had just arrived at his residence in Ayala-Alabang, Metro Manila from Baguio following an engagement.

Ramos, President Marcos' second cousin on the latter's paternal side, joined Enrile and arrived at the Defense Ministry in Camp Aguinaldo at about 6 p.m. that same day.

Enrile and Ramos hastily called a news conference to announce their breakaway from Marcos, the military commander-in-chief.

Recalling that day, Honasan said: "You know, what it should be put into perspective during that time was not as if yung tropa ni FVR at kami na para ba kami na cornered rats in Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo asking for help from Cardinal Sin, hindi."

Honasan stressed the preparation for the armed uprising against the Marcos government was as early as 1983, the year returning opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr. was shot dead at the airport tarmac.

"At that time while JPE was going around talking to political leaders and senior military commanders, kami na man kausap naming ang mga junior officers. This was the period between 1983 to (sic) 1985," he said.

He added: "Our fear at that time was not that we would be killed because the original plan was to attack Malacanang."

With the botched planned attack on the presidential palace, the RAM rebel soldiers shifted to Plan B which was to barricade themselves in Camp Aguinaldo.

Honasan recalled: "What shall we do, we can wage a protracted guerrilla war but JPE decided we stay in Aguinaldo as our headquarters.

"But when FVR came he moved to Crame where he had access to his command and control of communications facilities.

"Our fear was not (that) we would be killed, not at all, but a civil war because the AFP was polarized."

He said "some would defend the status quo but we the reformist elements under JPE and FVR were all ready in Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo."

Honasan and his group had an initial force of 500 -- from the security force of the Ministry of National Defense and the Special Action Force of the Philippine Constabulary.

"But all over the country we could account for 15 percent of the officers corps of about 3,000 plus their men under them," he said.

The so-called Cagayan 100 under Col. Tirso Gador augmented the RAM soldiers at Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame.

"To avoid being intercepted along the way from Cagayan Valley, they came to Manila without their guns which were airlifted by helicopters earlier. At that time the defense ministry had its own airlift capability," Honasan said.

When President Marcos appeared on television to announce that the government had discovered a plot to attack Malacanang led by Honasan and Kapunan "Marcos was telling the truth but nobody believed him anymore because the credibility of Marcos was already ruined," Honasan said.

He said the RAM soldiers had staked their lives and careers and there was no turning back.

Asked if there was any fallback position in case the plot would fail, Honasan said: "No fallback position. We do this or we die. There was only one way. We succeed or we die."

But Honasan admitted the four-day people-power upheaval was" very providential."

At that crucial moment of the uprising, Honasan said "our fear of a civil war did not happen because people power came in which provided a buffer. That to me was an act of God...providential because it was not in our plan."

For Honasan being killed during the planned attack in Malacanang "was already decided."

"What were we willing to risk? What price were we to pay? It was our lives!" he said.

He said "it was a moral dilemma, we cried," citing "the intensity, the preparation, and the purification we had undergone."

To top it all "we did not even inform our families that we would attack Malacanang," he said.

"When President Marcos was on TV announcing and my name was mentioned, my wife called me up."

"Ano naman yan na ginagawa ninyo (What are you doing this time?)," Honasan quoted his wife as saying.

"I told her I'm doing this for you, our children and other Filipino families. Alam mo naman wife ko matibay din yun."

Honasan said his wife laid out two conditions.

"Ok, dalawa lang ang kondisyon namin (his wife said referring to their family).

"Number 1, do not surrender. Number 2, kung maipit kayo wag kayong magpahuli nang buhay, ha?" Mrs. Jane Honasan barked over the telephone.

"Imagine that kind of understanding and support. I supposed that happened with all our (RAM) families," Gringo said.

Mrs. Honasan again told her husband, "do not surrender, ha? Mapahiya kami, gawagawa kayo nang ano tapos su-surrender kayo. Kung maipit kayo wag kang magpahuli ng buhay!"

"All the RAM members knew what was at stake. I supposed even with the families of JPE," Gringo said.

"Walang sinabi ng wife ko, 'mag-ingat ka. Anong mangyari sa amin umalis ka dyan. Umuwi ka na. Wag mo kaming ipahiya.' Sabi niya 'wag kang mag-surender, mapahiya kami lalo dyan,"'

After her phone conversation with his wife, he met a religious sister who was among those who joined the people-power then rising in number each minute.

"Col. Honasan, what will you do if the forces of the administration will attack you, what will you do?"

Honasan retorted: "Then we will have to teach them a lesson!"

An estimated two million Filipinos from all walks of life trooped to EDSA where Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame are to act as human shields to protect the military rebels from a feared counter-attack by government forces loyal to Marcos.

He said the EDSA revolt was the defining moment of his life.

He had been trained as a special forces, ranger, airborne and had been trained by the Special Air Service (SAS) of Britain.

"Can you imagine...saan ka nakakita but I have never prepared and trained as hard in my life -- psychologically, mentally, physically and spiritually for that mission," Honasan said.

But Honasan said praying to God was given top priority by the rebel soldiers.

"All the RAM members prayed hard during the four-day people-power revolt in February 1986," he said.

Honasan said it was very stressful that during those four days "I lost 15 pounds. I had no time to eat, no sleep." Anxiety had set in.

For the first time, Honasan revealed the ordeal of their long preparation to attack Malacanang that started in 1983 when the Marcos government was on the decline as, opposition forces then said, it had lost credibility.

"During the countdown of the planned window of the attack we became celibate for a few months to purify ourselves," he said.

In retrospect, Honasan thought that "in one sense you are going to die but who would like to die? Can you imagine being given the privilege of choosing the time of your death?"

Sometimes we (in the group) engaged in some talk but suddenly found ourselves in tears. That's how intense it was even before the February revolt."

Honasan said: "Sabi namin 'mistah, this is do or die.' The intensity that was the moral dilemma of that drama that has never been captured in any film or picture when we decided to put our life at stake...what are we willing to risk?

"We chorused, 'only one thing, to risk our lives.' If our enemy would not risk their lives, we win, but even if we die we have achieved a high moral ground."

He said the RAM boys were spiritually prepared as "we prayed hard" especially during the final days of the preparation to attack Malacanang.

Also for the first time since the people-power ended 27 years ago, Honasan disclosed that as part of their regimen during the preparation period "we did not have sex with our wives for three months to purify ourselves physically, spiritually for a mission of a lifetime - good government, reform and change."

He added: "Looking back, I asked myself to define why we did it?

"We did it for our children. At that time I did not have the words then, but looking back and why I'm doing this as a senator, why I did (that) as a reformist, as a rebel, as a soldier? It is for the children in this country.

"From Feb. 22-25, 1986 the defection was so fast to the side of the military rebels it means we were organized.

"Our fear was not our lives (being lost)...Our fear was a bloody civil war."

As the rebellion was unfolding, government forces led by Gen. Artemio Tadiar and Gen. Braulio Balbas positioned themselves in Ortigas and Camp Aguinaldo but, Honasan said, "we had our own forces readied that would counter them."

Honasan said: "We had the Air Force. We even had the escort battalion that zeroed in on Gen. Balbas in Camp Aguinaldo.

If Gen. Balbas forces would start firing on us we would attack.

Gen. Tadiar could not maneuver because thousands of people had barricaded their way. That was when people power started."

At that point, after the downfall of Marcos, Honasan said that installing Corazon C. Aquino immediately as the new President was not the plan.

"The plan was to organize a National Unification Council with Cory, Cardinal Sin, Gen. Rafael Ileto, lawyer Rafael Salas, JPE and FVR to oversee the gradual transition."

But ultimately it was decided to install Cory as the duly elected President in the February 1986 snap election.

Honasan said the other issue which was also important was where the new President would take her oath.

He said Col. Tirso Gador, a RAM officer and leader of the Cagayan 100, suggested the new President take her oath at Camp Crame.

But Aquino's political advisers and supporters wanted her to take her oath at Club Filipino in San Juan.