Who owns Edsa?
Three founding members of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement, or RAM, the bloc of mostly young officers in the military and the police who sought to depose the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, have issued a detailed refutation of the expansive claims made by retired general Jose Almonte in his memoir “Endless Journey.” (The second part of the refutation runs on the front page of today’s issue.)
“For starters, Jose Almonte was never a founder nor the father of the RAM,” write Felix Turingan, Gringo Honasan and Rex Robles. They argue that the memoir, “which has received fulsome praise from many quarters, contains grave errors and even outright fabrications regarding important events in our history.” In particular, they score two accounts that they say Almonte, the oldest member of RAM, misremembered or invented.
They describe Almonte’s characterization of American involvement in Edsa 1986 as “thoroughly suspect,” inconsistent with reality, and favoring the version the US government prefers. “Also, as may be gleaned from the Stanley Karnow book ‘In Our Image,’ the US wanted to portray themselves as having a bigger role in Edsa 1986…. Karnow’s book tries to give the US a bigger share of the Edsa glory.”
They also denounce Almonte’s assertion that the “plan of Gringo was to kill Marcos and his family.” Honasan—the RAM leader who went on to lead at least two more coup attempts before finally embracing the political system he had helped reestablish, by running for and serving in the Senate—said the plan from the start was to capture Marcos (something he mentioned in the Inquirer’s Edsa 20 documentary). His criticism of Almonte’s claim was sharp: “You don’t have to lie or invent things to sell a book.” Almonte’s riposte was equal to the task, labeling Honasan’s latter-day response “politically expedient.”
In a sense, these dueling narratives are only to be expected. We are about as removed from the events of Edsa 1986 as the generals were from the Philippine Revolution when they wrote their memoirs in the 1920s: On many details, the accounts of Artemio Ricarte, Santiago Alvarez and (much later) Emilio Aguinaldo agree; on other points, they describe different realities. Even the apparently simple matter of when the revolution started elicits different recollections.
But this is not to say that we cannot construct an approximation of historical truth. Alvarez’s memoirs, for example, have a much superior factual base than those of Aguinaldo’s.
Judging from the three excerpts from Almonte’s book that ran in the Inquirer and the two-part rejoinder from the RAM originals, we think it is Almonte’s account that suffers from the most inconsistencies. More important, Almonte’s version of events subtly downgrades the participation of the people in the first, dramatic flourish of People Power.
He describes the co-optation of the military by the Marcos regime as though it happened slowly during the martial law era. “The distinction between national security and the personal interest of Marcos blurred. The military became Marcos’ political partner in maintaining power and accumulating ill-gotten wealth.” In fact, it was an essential part of Marcos’ plan to establish his brand of “constitutional authoritarianism” from the start.
He directly claims that his experience in Vietnam led to a no-casualty outcome in Edsa 1986. “The same principle eventually worked in People Power ’86, where we used it to ensure that there would be no casualties.” In fact, Edsa 1986 is best described as largely peaceful, because several died in the takeover of the government television station. And the animating spirit of active nonviolence behind People Power was definitely not learned from the Vietcong, but from the example of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Above all, he revises history to claim that he knew exactly that People Power would be needed. “It was thus ideal for [Jaime] Cardinal Sin to immediately tell the people to converge where we were to show support.” But in fact the reason the people needed to support the breakaway military faction was because Marcos had found out about the plan, and arrested key participants. The RAM repaired first to Camp Aguinaldo and then to the much more defensible Camp Crame because it was making a last stand.
The release of Almonte’s memoir is welcome, because it adds to the public record. It should be handled with appropriate skepticism, however, because sometimes historical revisionism is subtraction.
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