Edsa 1 revisited: Why blood didn’t flow
Retired Gen. Jose Almonte could not have found a more auspicious moment to launch his memoir than the 29th anniversary last week of the February 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.
His book, “Endless Journey: A Memoir,” is a soldier’s recollection of the relatively bloodless upheaval that marked the toppling of the 14-year dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos. It was launched on the tail of the waning public interest in the events surrounding the transfer of power to a civilian-led government headed by Corazon Aquino, who was installed as president by a cabal of military leaders who did not originally plan to restore democracy in the Philippines.
The installation of Aquino, a daughter of one of the wealthiest landed families in the country, is one of the contradictions undermining the claim that the overthrow of Marcos was a democratic restoration. The other claim that grew out of the transfer of power at Edsa is that it was a social revolution. In reality, however, it was merely a change of regimes that did not involve the restructuring of the old regime’s economic and political bases and its reformist successors who were inducted into office at Club Filipino, in a ceremony witnessed by representatives of the anti-Marcos political establishment.
One of the notable features of Almonte’s memoir is that it was based on his recollections as an insider in the Marcos regime. He was closely associated with Gen. Fidel Ramos who, together with the dictator’s defense minister, Juan Ponce Enrile, led the military revolt against Marcos in February 1986 that started the snowballing of military defections and civilian mass protests that led to Marcos’ ouster.
Almonte was one the officers of the dissident Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) that plotted the coup against the Marcos regime. In determining where Almonte is coming from in writing his memoir, one must not discount that his insider status gave him the authenticity to speak with authority and knowledgeability and to spin a valuable narrative of what was transpiring in the corridors of power of the Marcos regime before it was unraveled by the military revolt led by Enrile and Ramos. How Almonte rationalized his shift of allegiance from his former benefactor (Marcos) to his newfound fellow reformers in RAM and the Enrile-Ramos coup plot ringleaders is a fascinating case study of betrayal and perfidy in the coup-driven politics of transition.
Chapter 12 of the memoir, “Restoring Power to People,” Almonte details his transformation from a mere military man doing ordinary soldierly duties to a political operator with ambitions to be involved in strategic planning in anti-insurgency and foreign policy and in academe-based think tanks of the Marcos regime, against the background of the Cold War into which he was drawn with assignments in undercover work in Vietnam and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. In this sense, the memoir depicts
Almonte as a soldier wearing many hats, including that of backroom negotiator, and even as emissary of civil society activists supporting Corazon Aquino, and in the formation of a junta that would compose the transition government that would rule just in case the coup plot succeeded.
In the memoir excerpts that were run by the Inquirer, Almonte claimed that he listed the personalities who would make up the seven members of the junta, called the Movement of National Unity: Corazon Aquino, Jaime Cardinal Sin, Jaime “Jimmy” Ongpin, Rafael Salas, Alejandro Melchor, Enrile and Ramos. He depicted himself as an apostle of nonviolent change, endeavoring to avoid bloodshed in any seizure of power started by his cohorts in the RAM. He said he had emphasized this to his RAM cohorts who were at the cutting edge of the coup plot. How to avoid bloodletting in a coup put Almonte at loggerheads with hardliners such as Col. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan, an aide of Enrile.
Almonte wrote: “What I brought to the RAM was my own experience. I ensured that everybody understood that the revolution would be undertaken for no other reason except for the people, to restore power to them, because Marcos had taken it away from them.
“I was also one of those who ensured that no Filipinos were killed. That had always been my obsession. No matter our differences, politically or morally, we should not take the life of any of our countrymen. We must be willing to and ready to die for our cause any time, but to the best that we can, we must ensure that the lives of others are protected, preserved. In this manner, I helped provide the perspective navigating through the implications of our actions.”
Almonte didn’t say whether the other RAM coup plotters took him seriously or, knowing him well enough, they considered that he was making a fanciful flight of fantasy in his messianic complex—a quality generously shared among themselves by the RAM would-be liberators of the country from the Marcos dictatorship.
As things turned out at Edsa, not a single drop of blood was shed—no thanks to Almonte and his cohorts. It was the people at Edsa who saw to it that Edsa didn’t become a river of blood.
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