Posts Tagged ‘Ferdinand Marcos’


Political contenders in martial law Philippines

 

The corpse of Benigno Aquino Jr being loaded into a military wagon after his assassination at the Manila International Airport on 21 August 1983

 

As we did in the earlier parts of this blog series, we now specify the political contenders in martial law Philippines (1972-1986) and the political games they play.  We pay special attention to the political contests during the 1980s that ultimately led to the ouster of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986 through the unprecedented EDSA People Power Revolution.

Ferdinand Marcos and his cousin, AFP COS General Fabian Ver during the EDSA People Power Revolution

Similar to the Soviet political scene during the Mikhail Gorbachev leadership, there are three key players in martial law Philippines.  The regime is personified by the dictator, President Ferdinand Marcos, and is generally considered to be strongest political actor at the time.  Arrayed against the Marcos dictatorship were the radical armed insurgents led by the Communist Party of the Philippines (personified by CPP founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison) and the moderate opposition led by the widow Corazon C. Aquino (affectionately called Tita Cory).  Tita Cory was the widow of former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. (affectionately called Ninoy),  one of the leaders of the moderate opposition, who was murdered immediately after he deplaned from a flight at the Manila International Airport on 21 August 1983. 

 

Cory Aquino

Corazon Cojuangco Aquino

 

The outrage generated by the blatant assassination of Ninoy while under the custody of Marcos’s troops in fact was the impetus that revived the political strength of the moderate opposition.  Prior to Ninoy’s murder, the political situation got so polarized between the Marcos dictatorship and the armed communists.  It was generally believed that if the dictatorship fell, it will be through a military victory of the communist forces.  In fact, many observed that the dictatorship itself was the main recruiter, by way of its abuses, for communist guerillas.  Prior to August 1983, therefore, the moderate opposition was a minor political actor and had to be content with a junior partnership with the more muscular left through the latter’s legal mass organizations and alliances. 

 

npa fighters in isabela

NPA guerillas in Isabela, Northern Luzon

 

To be sure, there are other political players in the Philippines during that period like the Catholic Church, business groups, professional associations, trade union federations, and the like.  We should never forget to include the US government, represented by its Ambassador and his embassy staff, as a key player.  However, each of these forces will inevitably align themselves with each of the three key political contenders in the August 1983-February 1986 end-games. 

 

What were the political objectives of the major political contenders?  The obvious political objective of the Marcos dictatorship (and the dictator himself) was to stay in power and stave off the challenges from the two other players.  Ferdinand Marcos was believed to be ill since 1982 and had prepared for a successor regime in case of his demise or incapacitation.  The armed communists meanwhile hoped to seize state power through armed revolution aka protracted people’s war (PPW).  They in fact believed that they are making progress and had reached, by the early 1980s (prior to Ninoy’s assassination) a new stage in their armed struggle: that of an advanced sub-stage in the strategic defensive poised to a strategic stalemate with the dictatorship’s military forces.[1]  Prior to Ninoy’s murder, the moderate opposition simply wanted to survive given that much of their ranks were reduced through cooptation, murder, exile, imprisonment and cowardice.  However, given the tremendous political stimulus generated by Ninoy assassination, it began to entertain thoughts that it could replace the regime in power through non-armed means.

 

In the few months after Ninoy’s assassination, the moderate opposition was content to continue playing junior partner to the revolutionary Left in a now more energized anti-dictatorship movement.  They joined the communists and their allies in the broad alliance called Justice for Aquino, Justice for All (JAJA).  Nonetheless, they began organizing their own forces through such vehicles as the August Twenty One Movement (ATOM), spearheaded by Ninoy’s brother, Agapito ‘Butch’ Aquino.  Both political forces were able to mount regular protest actions against the dictatorship for the remainder of 1983.

 

The dictatorship found itself on the defensive after the Aquino assassination and sought to douse the opposition.  It first set up a fact-finding commission headed by the sitting Supreme Court Chief Justice Enrique Fernando.  However, the members of this commission resigned after legal challenges to its composition.  On October 14, 1983, President Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 1886, creating an independent board of inquiry, called the “Agrava Commission” or “Agrava Board”. The board was composed of former Court of Appeals Justice Corazon J. Agrava as chairwoman, with lawyer Luciano E. Salazar, businessman Dante G. Santos, labor leader Ernesto F. Herrera, and educator Amado C. Dizon as members.

 

The Agrava Fact-Finding Board convened on November 3, 1983.  Before it could start its work President Marcos accused the communists of the killing of Senator Aquino: The decision to eliminate the former Senator, Marcos claimed, was made by none other than the general-secretary of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Rodolfo Salas. He was referring to an earlier claim that Aquino had befriended and subsequently betrayed his communist comrades.

 

The Agrava Board conducted public hearings and requested testimony from several persons who might shed light on the crimes, including the First Lady, Imelda Marcos, and General Fabian Ver, AFP chief of staff.  After a year of investigation – with 20,000 pages of testimony given by 193 witnesses, the Agrava Board submitted two reports to President Marcos – the Majority and Minority Reports. The Minority Report, submitted by Chairman Agrava alone, was submitted on October 23, 1984. It confirmed that the Aquino assassination was a military conspiracy, but it cleared General Ver. Many believed that President Marcos intimidated and pressured the members of the Board to persuade them not to indict Ver, his first cousin and most trusted general. Excluding Chairman Agrava, the majority of the board submitted a separate report – the Majority Report – indicting several members of the AFP including Ver, General Luther Custodio, and General Prospero Olivas, head of Aviation Security Commands (AVSECOM).

 

Marcos lost so much credibility even prior to the assassination and the Agrava Commission’ reports did not help in any way.  In 1985, 25 military personnel, including several generals and colonels, and one civilian were charged for the murders of Benigno Aquino Jr. and Rolando Galman (the alleged assassin who was immediately killed by soldiers also on the international airport tarmac. President Marcos relieved Ver as AFP Chief and appointed his second cousin, General Fidel V. Ramos as acting AFP Chief. The accused were tried by the Sandiganbayan (a special court). After a brief trial, the Sandiganbayan acquitted all the accused on December 2, 1985.  Immediately after the decision, Marcos re-instated Ver. The Sandiganbayan ruling and the reinstatement of Ver were widely denounced as a mockery of justice.

The assassination of Ninoy helped caused the Philippine economy to deteriorate even further, and the government plunged further into debt. By the end of 1983, the Philippines was in an economic recession, with the economy contracting by 6.8 percent.  The downturn continued in 1984-85 precipitating the worst economic crisis for the Philippines since the Second World War.  His assassination shocked and outraged many Filipinos, most of whom had lost confidence in the Marcos administration. The event led to more suspicions about the government, triggering non-cooperation among Filipinos that eventually led to outright civil disobedience that eventually climaxed in the 1986 people power revolution,  It also shook the Marcos government, which was by then deteriorating due, in part, to Marcos’ worsening health.  

By the end of 1985, the Marcos dictatorship had to contend with a worsening twin political-economic crisis.  Marcos took an unprovoked gamble and announced a snap elections scheduled for 7 February 1986 during a televised interview with an American host.  The stage was set for an electoral battle between himself and Tita Cory.  With their decision to boycott the 1986 snap elections, the communists eliminated themselves from the Philippine political center-stage.  

 

The moderate opposition made further gains during the May 1984 elections to the Batasang Pambansa, the unicameral legislative body formed after the cosmetic lifting of martial law in 1981.  Through this electoral process, they were able to rebuild their national organizations in time for the great contest in the 1986 snap elections.

 

It was indeed wise for the moderate opposition to unite behind a single presidential candidate, Tita Cory, against President Marcos.  The veteran, Salvador Laurel, agreed to be Cory’s running mate as the moderate opposition’s candidate for vice president.  The communists boycotted the 1984 elections and decided to boycott the 1986 snap elections anew.  However, many CPP members especially those deployed in the Greater Manila area and other urban centers of the country felt that boycotting the snap elections was a mistake and that the communists will be seen as being aligned with Marcos.  A boycott they opined will only help Marcos stay in power.  This disagreement, among others, will trigger the splits within the CPP in the early 1990s.

 

By boycotting the 1986 snap elections, the communists and their allies eliminated themselves as a key political player.  The key political exercise was the 1986 snap presidential elections and the communist-led NPA had no potency whatsoever in affecting the outcome of said election.  For a quarter (December 1985-February 1986) therefore, the three-player contest morphed into a polarized two-player game.  It was an electoral game, a political process that the communists boycotted.  I will argue that even if the communists did not boycott the elections and supported Cory, it would not have been able to play a significant role in the Cory government formed after the ouster of Marcos.  The other political actors that aligned eventually behind Cory—the Catholic Church, big business, the US Embassy, and the military rebels–were staunchly anti-communist and will not countenance any CPP participation in her government.

 

A polarized two-person game produces clearer results in that a winner eventually emerges.  This is especially true if the game is an electoral game.  Nonetheless, the change wrought in February 1986 did not represent a regular transition from an outgoing government to an incoming government that newly obtained an electoral mandate.  Though fraud and massive vote buying, Marcos sought victory at all costs even in the full view of an army of international journalists and foreign government observers.  The subservient parliament proceeded to declare him the winner of the February 1986 snap elections.  The electoral fraud was so blatant that Tita Cory and her lieutenants in the moderate opposition was able to whip up a substantial civil disobedience campaign after she announced her own victory in the Luneta Park.  The dictatorial regime’s weakness will be further revealed by the military mutiny led by Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and his own cousin, General Fidel Ramos.[2]

 

When the few military mutineers were slowly being cocooned by hundreds of thousands of peaceful anti-Marcos civilians (jointly mobilized by the Catholic Church through the controversial Cardinal Sin, other Christian churches and religious groups, moderate opposition political parties, civic clubs , professional associations as well as by dissenting CPP cadres),  the character of the political contest changed overnight.  Over a few days, the balance of forces tilted against Marcos until finally he was persuaded by Republican Senator Richard Lugar, a key representative of President Ronald Reagan to give up.  Marcos finally left the Palace in the evening of February 25, 1986 aboard USAF helicopters to Clark Air Base in Central Luzon.  From thence, he and his entourage (and ill-gotten material assets) were flown to Hickam Air Base, Hawaii.  In this unprecedented manner, the Marcos dictatorship passed into the pages of history. [(For a fuller account, please read Mendoza (2009/2011),  This book chapter can be downloaded from http://www.academia.com].

 

 

 

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[1] Influenced by Mao Ze-dong’s military writings, the CPP argued that their protracted people’s war [prosecuted mainly through its New People’s Army (NPA)], had reached a new stage—the advanced sub-stage of the strategic defensive stage—because of its capacity to deploy regular mobile forces of up to battalion-size (300-500 fighters equipped with assault rifles) in so-called tactical offensives (TOs) together with guerilla fighters in many parts of the Philippines, especially in Mindanao.  The communists also noted a newly-developed capability to launch crippling people’s strikes (welgang bayan) as additional evidence for reaching that new stage.  In Mao’s military theory, a protracted people’s war has three major stages: strategic defensive, strategic stalemate, and strategic offensive.  The CPP believed that a few years in advanced sub-stage will enable them to achieve strategic parity with the dictatorship’s military forces.

[2] Ponce Enrile reportedly broke from Marcos since he was competing with the Imelda Marcos-Fabian Ver faction.  When he supposedly learned of the Marcosian decree designating Imelda as chair of the successor ruling committee, Ponce Enrile started forming a military faction of his own headed by his protégé, Colonel Gregorio ‘Gringo’ Honasan.  This faction was officially camouflaged under the name Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM).  The military mutiny was sparked by the discovery by Marcos of a RAM plot to attack the Presidential Palace.  Fearing arrest and even death, Ponce Enrile, Fidel Ramos, Honasan, and a few hundred RAM military rebels holed themselves in a a military camp and announced withdrawing their loyalty from Marcos and eventual support for President Cory. 

 

Reference

 

Mendoza, Amado Jr. (2009/2011). “’People Power’ in the Philippines, 1983-86”. In Civil resistance & power politics: The experience of non-violent action from Gandhi to the present, pp. 179-196. Eds. Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash. Oxford University Press.

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Strong firewall?.


President Benigno Aquino III delivering his SONA before the joint session of Congress

President Benigno Aquino III delivering his SONA before the joint session of Congress

 

Yesterday was another State of Nation Address (SONA) day in the Philippines.

The SONA is supposed to be a report of the country’s chief executive on his government’s accomplishments over the past year as well as his plans for the future. In the case of the incumbent, President Benigno S. Aquino III, his plans for the remaining two years of his term.

Sadly, the SONA had been transformed into something less than that.

 

Philippine Congress hears President Aquino's SONA

Philippine Congress hears President Aquino’s SONA

 

For one, the exercise has become a fashion spectacle, an obscene, ostentatious and insensitive display of wealth, pomp, and bad taste in the midst of hunger and poverty.  You have the people’s representatives and servants trying to outdo each other on the red carpet.

Second, it became a game of up-onemanship, a very swell pissing contest. A president will list his accomplishments and declare he did more than his predecessors.  Or all other previous administrations combined, for that matter. What should he do that?  Does he have to do that?  Under the 1987 Constitution, he is limited to a single term.  He is not eligible to run for re-election. Why behave like a candidate on the hustings?  Why can’t he locate himself in a continuing narrative of nation-building even if one president supposedly accomplished more than others?

Why can’t a president talk and report to the nation as the President of all Filipinos and not as leader of his party?

 

After all, the members of the opposition are fellow Filipinos, fellow citizens, and thus also his constituents.

 

Can a reform of our winner-take-all electoral possibly remedy this parochialism and short-sightedness?  How about electing the president and the vice president as a single package, similar to what they do in the United States, to enhance unity at the very top of the country’s political leadership?

In the post-Marcos period, all chief executives have been put on the defensive sometime during their presidency and it has limited their effectivity.  For some reason or the other, they sustain a significant dimunition of their political capital and suffer the consequences.

 

Even the saint-like Tita Cory saw a decrease of her political stock as her administration was unable to solve a power crisis (the same problem confronting his son at the moment).  Only her clear intent not to succeed herself after 1992 prevented a further decrease in her political capital.

 

President Fidel V. Ramos developed a reputation of being a doer fortified by complete staff work (CSW) by his able lieutenants.  He is the only post-Marcos president with a grand plan for the country (Philippines 2000) as well as the first one to plan to succeed himself. Thus the deliberate use of the year 2000 in the fighting slogan “Philippines 2000” even if his presidential term was supposed to end in June 1998.

 

Ramos’ image first took a hit with the execution of Flor Contemplacion, a Filipino domestic, in Singapore on murder charges.  Most Filipinos believed she was innocent of the crime, that she was wrongly accused and put to death, and that the Philippine government acquiesced to the Singapore government’s judgement and did not do much to help her escape death.

 

Ramos’s bid to succeed himself through PIRMA was foiled by the opposition of erstwhile allies led by Jaime Cardinal Sin and Tita Cory.  What finally did him was the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. 
While President Joseph “Erap” Estrada was elected in 1998 by the single largest number of voters in the country’s political history, his downfall was swift.  As early as 2000, he faced accusations of grand corruption and tried to parry his political opponents by launching a war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao. Eventually, he was impeached and removed by another people power insurrection in January 2001, after only two years and seven months in power.

As vice president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) assumed the office and served the remainder of President Estrada’s term.  The constitutional restrictions of a single term did not apply to her and she successfully stood for election as president in May 2004.  Following the 2005 revelation of her taped conversations with a top Commission on Elections (COMELEC) official suggesting that the count be tampered in her favor, GMA was put on the so-called “survival mode”.  She was hounded by corruption charges during the remainder of her term, largely because of the unsavory reputation of her husband, the First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.

This time around, President Noynoy Aquino has to deal with a Supreme Court decision that declared his Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) (or budget impounding schemes, as other would have it) unconstitutional. His popularity rating plummeted and he faces impechment complaints–an entirely new situation for him.  He chose to go on an offensive short of calling the Supreme Court as the chief obstruction to his progressive reforms. His defense: he did what he did for the good of the people.  He says he will follow processes and file a motion for reconsideration with the Court. Then he commits the gaffe of accusing the Court of committing the same proscribed cross-border transactions when in fact, the Court did not.

In yesterday’s SONA, the President wisely backed away from his tirades against the Supreme Court.  What he did was to ask his allies in the Lower House to act on a proposed P2.3 trillion 2015 budget which will give him the leeway to spend public money as he saw fit. 

 

He spent the initial part of the SONA listing his accomplishments in a rather haphazard manner and lacking a unifying or thematic framework that could have earned him a very low grade if he was making the presentation in my class.  It was too micro and a big picture is barely discernible. 

 

While the accomplishments are praiseworthy, I would have wanted them to be presented in the context of what needs to be done for the remainder of his term.  A generic “good governance” may suffice at the beginning of his term but is inadequate given the context of his remaining years.

 

I think he made a few assertions regarding the swiftness of government’s response to the super-typhoon Haiyan that can be effectively challenged by the victims themselves and fact checkers.

 

The single most important gap is the parochialism of the speech.  President Aquino focused on domestic matters and did not respond to urgent foreign policy concerns.  For instance, there was no mention of (continuing?) preparations for the impending 2015 full integration of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
He spends some choice minutes by attacking his critics and so-called “enemies of reform” first before individually naming and praising allies and well-meaning Filipinos who can continue his reform efforts even after he steps down from the Presidency.  He succumbed to the cheap joy of finding comfort among friends instead of embarking on the more difficult path of reaching out and establishing broad unity.

 

While I am pessimistic of the prospects, I do hope he will change his stance and will be the President of all Filipinos.  That is after all what is contained in his oath of office.

 

 


On the night of 25 February 1986, Ferdinand Marcos and Imelda Marcos and their children plus their closest associates (like Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco) were whisked off Malakanyang Palace by USAF helicopters.  They spent the night at Clark Air Base and were subsequently flown to Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii, headquarters of the US Pacific Command.

The Marcos Honolulu Papers (MHP) were documents seized by the US Customs Service from the Marcos party upon arrival at Hickam.  After being catalogued, the entire document set was turned over to the US State Department and Rep. Stephen Solarz, chairman of the House sub-committee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs.  Solarz then released copies of the MHP, except for at least a hundred pages which were supposed to be personal in nature, to the mass media and academics.  The Philippine government under President Cory Aquino then received its copy through the New York office of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), the agency established by President Aquino to recover ill-gotten Marcos wealth.  The PCGG was subsequently able to obtain copies of the Solarz-withheld pages.

Logo of PCGG

In connection with a book project with Japanese colleagues on the corrupt collaboration between Marcos and private Japanese companies , I annotated every page of the almost 2,000 page MHP set.  [Unfortunately, I lost the electronic file of these annotations due to defective hard drives and floppy disks.)  An initial examination of the documents suggests two possible hypotheses about their nature.  The first and more plausible one avers that the MHP is composed both of papers kept personally and carefully by Marcos over the years and documents which were randomly picked up and packed in the confusion of his last days in Malakanyang Palace.  If this is the case, future analysts of the MHP must attempt to segregate one set from the other.

The second, and apparently less tenable thesis, holds that all of the papers were indeed carefully-kept personal files of Marcos.  If this interpretation was true, then seemingly innocuous papers, like the curriculum vitae of an assistant provincial fiscal or an obscure community nurse, must be studied for possible connections with the man himself.  Or could they simply indicate the broad range of concerns that occupied Marcos during his twenty-year rule.

As it is, the document set is a formidable collection of papers of diverse nature, including financial reports, stock certificates, letters, handwritten notes, business cards, and then some.  Instead of trying vainly to devise a scheme to tie all the papers into a unified, comprehensible lot,  it is better to highlight which ones are most interesting or useful in understanding what Marcos did during those years.

For those who are interested in the business activities of Marcos, his immediate family, and his close friends and cronies–the papers relating to the Herdis Group, Inc (HGI), Prime Holdings, Universal Holdings, financial reports prepared by Carlos J. Valdez, bank transaction reports, Roberto Benedicto, Rolando Gapud, Jose Y. Campos, Rodolfo Cuenca, and the Bataan Shipyard & Engineering Co., Inc. (BASECO) could be examined.  Included in this group are papers pertaining to the Angenit Investment Corporation, headed by Marcos crony and former Batasang Pambansa (National Parliament) assemblyman Andres Genito Jr.  The Genito papers are useful to investigators of transactions entered into between Japanese companies and Filipino firms concerning Philippine projects financed by Japanese official development assistance (ODA) funds. (I know that most of the names and firms mentioned here are relatively unknown to a contemporary audience.  I will discuss them in greater detail in a future blog post.)

The overpriced and never used Bataan Nuclear Power Plant

With the Herdis papers is a detailed accounting of the $60 million commission received by Herdis on Marcos’ behalf received from Westinghouse, the supplier of the Bataan nuclear power plant.  The Philippine government under Tita Cory submitted this report as evidence in the case it filed in a US court against Westinghouse for fraud.

The papers about the dissolution of the marriage and divorce of Ms. Aurora Pijuan (former Ms. International) and Mr. Tomas Manotoc (who later married Imee Marcos), the letter of Marcos’ nephew Michael Keon providing for the “settlement of all outstanding matters” between Keon and “the family of H. E. Ferdinand E. Marcos,” and the file on the American actress Dovie Beams, believed to have carried on a scandalous affair with Marcos in late 1970–will certainly appeal to those interested in the personal lives of the Marcoses.

Most of the papers initially withheld by the US authorities were secret or confidential Philippine government intelligence reports on various corrupt activities, including bribery, malversation, nepotism, and rape, of a high official of the Department of Local Government and Community Development (DLGCD) and the Metro Manila Commission, where Imelda Marcos served as chairperson.

Jimmy Carter, 1980 presidential candidate of Democratic Party

Gen. Fabian Ver, chief of Marcos’ praetorian guard

The collection includes pieces of evidence of how Marcos employed governmental power and resources for various ends.  Among them are reports on various ‘intelligence’ funds, and the apparent distribution of large sums of money during the February 7, 1986 snap elections.  Of particular interest is a statement of expenses of the Mabuhay Corporation which made several political contributions to American politicians and political parties, including $50,000 apiece to 1980 presidential candidates Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.  These contributions were cleared through Gen. Fabian Ver, commander of the Presidential Security Command.

Ronald Reagan, 1980 presidential candidate, Republican party

Ferdinand Marcos sent Imelda to meet with Mao Zedong, China’s leader, to establish diplomatic relations and end China’s support of Philippine communists

Several papers allude to the growing power and political role of Imelda Marcos.  An outstanding example is a handwritten presidential decree (numbered 731 and dated 7 June 1975) that provided for the creation of an executive committee to be headed by Imelda that would assume the powers and responsibilities of the President in the event of Marcos’ death or permanent disability.

The wealth and diversity of the papers contained in the collection make the MHP one of the “must-see” sources for serious students of the Marcos period.


Some 39 years ago today, I was awakened by a sharp blow delivered to my chest with the butt of an M16 assault rifle. When I came to, I was blinded by flashlights and poked by gun barrels to get up. That marked the start of the most horrifying three weeks of my life. Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law became so real to me.

I was captured in Barrio Magsaysay, Tondo, Manila on September 16, 1973. I was 19 at the time. The term “captured” is, I believe, more appropriate than “arrested” since no warrant of arrest was presented. I was captured by a composite team of police and military officers. They dragged me out of the shanty where I was staying temporarily and manhandled me on the sidewalk. Apparently they received intelligence reports that I brought an arms cache to Magsaysay to fight government’s plans to demolish the huge community of shanties. They kept on asking me where the weapons were while boxing and kicking me. Notwithstanding the pain, it was an easy question since there were no arms. I will later learn that I, together with a dozen others, was betrayed by a comrade who inflated my standing in the underground movement against Marcos authoritarianism.

Among my betrayed comrades was a town mate, who like me was assigned to Barrio Magsaysay. His cover was that of a vinegar vendor. Mine was probably not too strong. I was supposed to be a relative of the old couple I was living with looking for work in the big city. A residence certificate supported my cover which was why I got captured under the name Roel Malaya y Benitez.  In retrospect, a cover story collapses when one gets betrayed.

Let’s call my betrayed town mate Mauro (since he also had a false residence certificate like me). Mauro is younger (I think he was 15 or 16 at the time) and shorter than me; I was a 6-footer while Mauro was about 5’5. Try imagining this. I was handcuffed to him through my left wrist with the cuffs passing under my testicles and connecting to Mauro’s left (or was it right?) wrist.

All the betrayed will be brought to Precinct 1 of the Manila Police Department in Balut, Tondo together with the squealer–Eddie Babon. Separate office rooms were used for interrogation and temporary detention. Babon was kept separate from us and I guess he was questioned carefully ahead of us–to provide the basis for our own questioning later.  However, he knew that Mauro and I were not from Barrio Magsaysay and thus the conclusion–we were there on a mission.

The head of the composite grab team is a Lt. Nacu of the Metropolitan Police and Investigation Service (MPIS), with its headquarters in Camp Crame. While questioning Babon, I overheard Nacu shout: “Balikan ninyo yung babae!” (Go back for the woman!).  I feared for my wife Rosalie, who was also assigned to Barrio Magsaysay. I will learn later than she evaded capture for two reasons: Babon hesitated in identifying her, and her hosts strongly supported her cover story. Mabuhay ka Ka Flor sampu ng iyong pamilya!  After the grab team left, Rosalie also sought refuge elsewhere.

The rest of the day was spent on humdrum activities: finger printing, taking of photos (front, left, and right) with the obligatory identifying sign, and additional paperwork.  We were then led into the regular detention cell of Precinct 1–a 4 x 5 meter cell that can comfortably accommodate 30 persons.  At the time, it was standing room only (SRO with about 80 detainees.  Most of the 80 were charged with criminal offenses and heavily tattooed according to their gang affiliations.  It was a cause for worry and the new gang–“The Betrayed”–decided to close ranks and maintain vigilance.  It turned out that our fears did not materialize.  They kept a safe distance from us (even under SRO conditions).  A few of them expressed admiration for our cojones–for fighting the biggest gang of all–the Marcos government.

In subsequent posts, I will explain the events and decisions I made that led to September 16, 1973.  Of course, I will also write on what happened after this day.


August 21 is a most significant day in Philippine political history.

Exactly forty one years ago, the proclamation rally (otherwise called miting de abanse) of the opposition Liberal Party in Plaza Miranda in the center of Manila was bombed with two grenades.  Fortunately, one of the grenades was a dud and nine people including a girl and Manila Times photographer Ben Roxas died and 95 were injured.  I remember a photo of the dying Roxas published the day after staring right into the camera–dazed but seemingly not in pain.  Almost all the Liberal Party’s candidates for senator and local posts in Manila were severely wounded.

Photo-montage of Plaza Miranda bombing

President Ferdinand Marcos responded to the bombing by suspending the writ of habeas corpus through Proclamation No. 889, later amended by Proclamation No. 889-A  supposedly to align the suspension with the bill of rights provision of the Constitution.  He promptly blamed the communists for the bombing and justified the writ suspension as necessary to restore peace and order.

While Marcos was the usual suspect for the Plaza Miranda bombing, several personalities including former Senator Jovito Salonga (who was seriously injured during the rally) began to believe that the communists were responsible.  Victor Corpus, the army lieutenant who carted arms from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and joined the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) in 1970, wrote in his book Silent War he was present when top communist leaders including Jose Ma. Sison, plotted the bombing.  Sison argued the bombing will be a win-win for the communists: Marcos will be put on the defensive, the ruling class will be split, and the revolutionary cause could thus advance.   Corpus will repeat this same allegation in an interview with veteran Filipino journalist Max Soliven. Sison and his followers have repeatedly denied these allegations.

Aquino in white being carried by soldiers on the airport tarmac; the other body is that of alleged gunman Rolando Galman (from Times Journal)

Ninoy Aquino in his prime

Exactly twenty nine years ago–Benigno Aquino Jr–the man believed by many to most likely have been the President of the Philippines if Marcos did not declare martial law in September 1972 was assassinated in the Manila International Airport minutes after his plane landed.  The alleged gunman, Rolando Galman, was killed by government troops supposedly after he killed Ninoy Aquino.  Marcos again blamed the communists for Aquino’s murder and alleged that Galman was acting under their orders.

In both occasions, Marcos’ accusations against the communists were not believed.  Most thought that he ordered both the bombing of the Liberal Party proclamation rally and the assassination of Ninoy Aquino.  The logic behind the belief?  The physical elimination of the Liberal Party leadership would redound to his ruling party’s benefit.  The writ’s suspension was seen as a cover-up for the Plaza Miranda bombing.  The death of Ninoy removes the strongest opposition figure that could threaten Marcos’ lifetime rule.

Marcos and Ninoy, fraternity brothers, in happier times (from MLQ3)

The ebullient Ninoy chatting with fellow passengers in that fateful China Airlines flight

Everybody from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the communists were being blamed for Ninoy’s death.  His death likewise spawned a fever of jokes.  One of the most popular run like this:

Ninoy: Hindi ka nag-iisa (Ninoy, you’re not alone!)

Marcos: Naka-isa ka! (Marcos, you put one over all of us!)

Galman:  Naisahan ka! (Galman, you’ve been had!)

Still another:  Use Galman briefs! It will bring out the killer in you.

Ninoy’s body loaded into a military van

Ninoy led by soldier out of plane (from Facebook account of Boom Enriquez)

Kidding aside, Ninoy’s assassination was the game-changer in the political struggle against the Marcos dictatorship.  Prior to August 21, 1983, the opposition to the regime was born  by armed rebels–communists and Muslim secessionists.  The legal opposition got scattered when Marcos closed the legislature, arrested and imprisoned many, and sent scores to exile.  Some of them dabbled in violence through the Light-a-Fire and April 6 Liberation movements.

However, Ninoy’s death emboldened hitherto inert social forces such as the middle class, businessmen, professionals, clergy and like  to express their strong opposition to the authoritarian regime.   On a sustained basis.  Until February 1986 when Marcos and his immediate coterie left for Hawaii.

The armed opposition did not figure well in this end game against Marcos.  They lost what business theorists and military strategists call the ‘first mover advantage’.  The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) absorbed the brunt of Marcos’ military offensives as it fought conventional warfare in the early going.  In 1977, it signed a peace agreement with Marcos only to be outwitted by the latter in the agreement’s (non)implementation.  The MNLF resumed its military struggle but was soon weakened by a split that produced the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).  The communists were sidelined when they decided to boycott the ‘snap elections’ that pitted Marcos against Ninoy’s widow, Cory Cojuangco Aquino.  EDSA 1986 was a sea of yellow–the color associated with Cory and the moderate political forces.  A lot of communists and radicals were also there; however, they could not unfurl their red banners.

Of course, the picture was not a black-and-white one.  The radicals joined the newly enervated political forces from the middle class in regular protests against Marcos.  The rallying cry was: Justice for (Ninoy) Aquino, Justice for All!  They parted ways in the 1984 parliamentary elections: Cory and her allies decided to participate and won a significant number of seats while the radicals predictably boycotted.

By 1985, the trajectory was quite clear.  The strength of the moderates had grown so much.  As a result, they spurned a coalition, BAYAN, with the radicals.  They formed their own group, BANDILA.

EDSA 1986 actually started with a failed military coup led by the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) led by Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and his protege, Colonel Gregorio Honasan.  It soon morphed into a peaceful uprising as Jaime Cardinal Sin called on the faithful to gather en masse to protect the rebel soldiers from the loyalists.  The failure of the military coup contemplated for early 1986 and the communist boycott of the snap elections allowed non-violent forces to claim victory against Marcos in February 1986. The key figure here was the martyred Aquino – likened to the national hero, José Rizal (1861-96), or even to Jesus Christ. Neither the dictatorship nor the insurgents and the military rebels had any equivalent.

Unmadeup Ninoy in his coffin

Ninoy’s bloodied and bruised remains in an open coffin were visited by hundreds of thousands at the Santo Domingo Church.  When he was finally laid to rest in Paranaque City, the funeral march took some 11 hours to reach its final destination.  The historic event was practically ignored by the regime-controlled mass media.  I remember that the Philippine Daily Express (derisively called the Daily Suppress) chose to report the death by lightning of a person who was watching the funeral procession.

Elsewhere in Luzon, the other victim–Rolando Galman–was mourned and buried without much ado by his relatives and friends.

C’est la vie?

C’est la guerre?

Secretary Jesse Robredo

Meanwhile, this morning today, the death of Interior Secretary and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Good Governance Jesse Robredo was announced after his body was recovered in the waters off Masbate island.  The reader is enjoined to a say a prayer for this quiet and good man and public servant.

The big question


The term ‘Solid North’ first came up during the quest of one Ferdinand Edralin Marcos for the highest political post of the land–the Presidency.  It was understood to mean that Ilocanos and Ilocano-speaking persons in Northern Luzon will vote as a bloc for Marcos.  Marcos’ election to the Senate and his election and re-election as president in 1965 and 1969, respectively, were cited as proof of the region’s solidity. He lifted martial law in 1981 and new presidential elections were held which he won handily.  Another score for the Solid North.

Map of Northern Luzon

After the ouster and demise of Marcos, talk about ethnic-based voting blocs diminished and the political strength of religious groups was increasingly recognized.  To this date, vote-seeking politicians try to insinuate themselves into the assemblies of these groups.

Eventually, the Solid North got reincarnated as a potent legislative bloc composed mostly of representatives of tobacco-growing districts in Northern Luzon.  This bloc was named the Northern Luzon Alliance (NLA).

Lucio Tan

The Northern Luzon Alliance is specially active every time government tries to reform taxes on sin products like cigarettes and cigars.  Lucio Tan’s cigarette-manufacturing companies are heavy buyers of raw tobacco from the NLA districts.  Tan’s competitors do not manufacture low- and middle-quality cigarettes and do not use local leaf tobacco.  It is thus not surprising that NLA representatives supported Tan’s tax preferences.  President Ramos tried reforming sin taxes twice–in 1993 and in 1996.  In both instances, strong opposition from the Northern Luzon Alliance adulterated the reform effort.  In 1996, Ramos cajoled his fellow Ilocano congressmen, scolding them at times for parochialism, to stop stonewalling against the sin tax reform measure so he could present it as a trophy to the APEC summit in Subic Bay, Zambales.  To get their support, he sponsored a measure providing for an annual P400 million tobacco fund for tobacco-growing provinces to be distributed in accordance to production volumes.  Needless to say, both measures got passed but Ramos did not get the sin tax measure he really wanted.

Since last year, the legislative mill is processing yet another version of a sin tax measure.  However, the context has changed.  Tan’s cigarette company has merged with its competitor forming the Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation (PMFTC) in 2010 to capture about 90% of the market.  A newer entrant, British American Tobacco (BAT) which produces such brands as Lucky Strike, Kent and Dunhill, will have to work hard to make a dent on the market.  For this reason, it is interested in the unitary tax on cigarettes as currently proposed by administration legislators.  Of course, Tan wants to preserve a multi-tiered tax structure that makes his brands more competitive.  Under the existing law, cigarette brands introduced after 1996 have to pay a higher excise tax.  Tan’s products were introduced before 1996.

Philip Morris cigarettes

Also, there seems to be cracks within the Northern Luzon Alliance.  In a press conference sponsored by the Department of Health, Ilocos Sur Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson said he was supporting government’s plan to increase cigarette taxes after decades of blocking higher taxes.  Chavit explained that the monopoly formed by the merger of Fortune Tobacco and Philip Morris depressed prices of tobacco leaf to the detriment of Ilocano tobacco farmers.  And he predicted prices will continue going down since there was only one buyer.  To the extent that this was true, Singson argued that only cigarette manufacturers prospered at the expense of tobacco farmers.

Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson

Singson’s stand is supported by the League of Provinces of the Philippines (LPP) president Oriental Mindoro Governor Alfonso Umali.  La Union (also part of Northern Luzon) Governor Manuel Ortega claimed Umali did not consult LPP members in making his statement in support of Singson.

Rep. Eric Singson

Also, there is division in the House Singson.  After Singson pere’s press conference, his son Ryan, a member of the House of Representatives, refuted his father and claimed that Ilocos Sur became a first class province primarily due to the additional income earned by farmers from the tobacco sold to cigarette manufacturers.  Another relation, Rep. Eric Singson Jr., also contradicted Chavit’s contentions.

Rep. Ryan Singson


Will Chavit’s arguments affect the ultimate fate of the current sin tax measure?  He reportedly  intends to meet with NLA colleagues about the dangers of allowing PMFTC to continue its monopoly and dictate the prices of raw tobacco.  Perhaps, he can score if he gets firm commitments from BAT that it will also buy locally-grown tobacco.

In addition, he needs to convince his relatives.