EDSA Revolution Anniversary
Speech of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile
For the past 23 years since 1986, I have taken part in attending and offering a Holy Mass every 22nd of February at the Libingan ng mga Bayani before the tomb of the late Col. Tirso Gador. It has always been a quiet and solemn tribute to the man and all the soldiers of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) who, together with him, played a key role in what is now known as the “EDSA REVOLUTION.”
The significance of that revolution has, year after year, been celebrated and observed officially every 25th of February. Indeed, that date deserves the nation’s remembrance. That day, after all, brought into a dramatic climax the collective and overwhelming clamor of the people for change and a return to genuine democracy.
Yet, seemingly lost in the festivities and often glossed over in the yearly celebration is the patriotism and sacrifices of our soldiers who were willing to lay not only their careers, but their very own lives, on the line to pave the way for such a change to happen.
For this reason, I have mostly foregone the opportunity to celebrate the EDSA Revolution publicly. I have long nursed a certain discomfiture at being paraded as an “EDSA hero” while those who bravely dared to fight the hard battle with us seemed to have been forgotten, their idealism ignored, and even their heroic contribution belittled.
Yet, I stand before you today humbled at the thought of being the President of this Philippine Senate. This august chamber which I now head probably would not even be in existence now, if not for the bravery and commitment of the men behind the RAM who gambled their lives to redeem the freedom of our countrymen.
To recall all that had transpired since February 22, 1986, to put the blame where blame lies, and to place credit where much credit has not been acknowledged, will simply make one a sour grape. Whatever pain I went through, whatever form of prejudice and injustice I may have been a victim of, is best left in my heart and for history to judge beyond my time.
On February 22, 1986, the RAM members and I launched the rebellion. It was indeed a rebellion of a committed and idealistic few and a product of years of careful introspection, discernment, and preparation. That rebellion of a few later evolved into a revolution of the people.
It was a day for difficult decisions to be made and for personal sacrifices to be offered for the greater good. That day called us to muster the boldness to take a stand for change. It was a day when our soldiers showed that they stood for the people and not for one man alone. We made the decision fully conscious of its risks to our own lives, and we never looked back.
This moment is too short to share the full story of the first EDSA Revolution. But let me tell you briefly about February 22, the day the first EDSA Revolution began.
I went to Atrium in Makati Avenue early morning of that day, together with my daughter Katrina, to dispel a newspaper headline that I left the country with my entire family.
While I was there, Finance Minister Bobby Ongpin called me and said frantically over the phone that his security men were arrested in Fort Bonifacio near the house of Brig. Gen. Artemio Tadiar of the Marines. He asked me to help in releasing his men. I provided those men to Bobby Ongpin. They were RAM members, but he was unaware of it.
Not long after, Capt. Noe Wong, my military aide for the day, arrived at Atrium. He whispered to me that the RAM effort to oust President Marcos was discovered and that RAM members Allen Querubin, Jake Malahacan, Lito Aromin, Dick Morales, and two others were arrested and detained in the Presidential Security Command. I instructed Capt. Noe Wong to tell Col. Greg Honasan to see me at home. I fully grasped the significance of the unfolding event. And so, I went home hurriedly with my daughter to take lunch with my family.
After lunch, Col. Greg Honasan, Col. Red Kapunan, and Capt. Noe Wong arrived. They informed me that all RAM and political opposition leaders would be arrested and detained at the Caraballo Island near the island of Corregidor. Col. Honasan briefed me about the rapidly evolving situation and presented to me two options.
Col. Honasan suggested that we could mount a guerilla warfare in the countryside against the Marcos Regime. I rejected this idea.
I told Col. Honasan, Col. Kapunan, and Capt. Wong that we could not sustain a guerilla war. In the end, we would all be killed.
Col. Honasan suggested the second option -- that we took a stand in the city. I accepted this suggestion. But, the question was where. Someone mentioned Fort Bonifacio and Villamor Air Base. I rejected both places for reasons that I need not disclose now.
I decided, instead, that we would take the stand at the defense building in Camp Aguinaldo. Before I left my house, I asked Cristina, my wife, to inform the late Jaime Cardinal Sin what I was about to do.
I arrived at my defense office at three o’clock in the afternoon with Col. Honasan, Col. Kapunan, and Capt. Wong.
I called U. S. Ambassador Stephen Bosworth and told him to inform his government that my men and I would publicly announce the withdrawal of our support for President Marcos. I did the same thing with Ambassador Sumiya of Japan. Then, I called Rafael Salas in New York and asked him to tell the delegates to the United Nations the same thing.
About half past three o’clock in the afternoon, Father Efren Datu of Radio Veritas called me and asked if it was true that I was withdrawing from the Marcos regime. I told him that it was true. He put me on the air and interviewed me lengthily over Radio Veritas. I announced publicly that the leadership of RAM and I were in Camp Aguinaldo and that we were no longer supporting the Marcos government.
I asked Brig. Gen. Pedro Balbanero to see me. He was the commander of the Military Police Brigade whose headquarters was just behind the defense building. I told him that my men and I had withdrawn our support from the Palace, and I asked him to control his men so that there would be no bloodshed inside Camp Aguinaldo.
Brig. Gen. Balbanero said that he would stay neutral. I asked him to deploy his men around the perimeter of Camp Aguinaldo to serve as a buffer between the RAM forces and the Palace forces. He agreed.
Meanwhile, Roilo Golez, Ramon Farolan, Gen. Romeo Espino, and Rolando Abadilla arrived, one after the other.
Rolly Abadilla asked what was happening. I told him the real score. He asked me why. I told him it was too late to explain, and he left.
A little after four o’clock in the afternoon, Jaime Cardinal Sin called. He asked me the same thing as the others did. I gave him the same story. He said, “I will pray for you.”
Almost an hour later, Madam Cory Aquino called from Cebu. She asked me if what she heard was true that I had withdrawn my support for President Marcos. I said, “Yes, Madam!”
She asked what she could do for me and my men. I said, “Nothing. Just pray for us, Madam.”
Meantime, a stream of visitors started to arrive. Among the first were my sister, Armida, and Butch Aquino.
At half past six o’clock in the evening, Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, AFP Vice Chief of Staff and Chief of the Philippine Constabulary and the Integrated National Police, arrived in my office in Camp Aguinaldo. Earlier, before I left my house for Camp Aguinaldo, I called him and asked if he could join us. He said he would.
Gen. Ramos and I held a press conference with the local and foreign media, and we formally announced the withdrawal of our support for President Marcos. After the press conference, Gen. Ramos left me in my office and went to his office at Camp Crame.
Rolly Abadilla also returned. He told me that President Marcos wanted to talk to me. I told Rolly that I would not talk to him. Rolly left again. Many others called me after that to convince me to talk to President Marcos. I declined them all.
The night was already late, and Rolly Abadilla came back to me once more. He informed me that General Fabian Ver wanted to talk to me. I told Rolly to dial Gen. Ver. When Gen. Ver was on the line, he asked me why I was withdrawing my support for the President. I told him that it was too late to discuss the matter. He asked me if we could talk. I said yes, we could, but not that night because it was already dark, and our men might have a mis-encounter. I told him that we could talk the following morning. Gen. Ver agreed to postpone our talk for the next day, but he requested me not let my men get near the Palace. I gave him my assurance. I was stalling to gain time for the remaining RAM members to reach the city.
After all these were done, I attended to the throng of visitors flooding my room in Camp Aguinaldo. Many of them were my relatives and friends, ordinary folks, active and retired soldiers, and religious persons such as priests, nuns, and Christian pastors. The priest and nuns gave me rosaries and religious pendants. Thereafter, I went to sleep.
Some would rather write history in another way and ascribe other motives for what we did in 1986. I will leave to the Almighty the judgment of our decisions, our actions, and our souls.
Finding out the truth, especially after so many accounts from those who all claim to know what really transpired during those crucial days, may take some time. That part in our history as a nation has been re-written in so many ways that the truth has become difficult to discern. I can only offer my own conscience and personal experience to the rendering of the entire truth in God’s time.
But this I need to say: Those soldiers who were really with us in EDSA never asked for any reward, recognition, much less power. All they asked from the new leaders then was real reform and good government.
I have valid reasons to condemn the mistakes of the past, and so have all Filipinos, for what others had done to them, or had not done for them. But the time we are in will not cushion the impact of what can happen in the days, weeks, months and even years to come if we invest in recrimination rather than in preparation.
I wish that I could say that everything is good and proper in our country. But, I cannot. There are many achievements we can be proud of as a nation, but there are also some problems in our land that smear our accomplishments with shame.
Our country’s current situation presents us, and especially the leaders of this nation, a challenge similar to what we faced in 1986: The challenge to make difficult decisions, to sacrifice ourselves, to unite, and to take a stand for reform and good government.
If we, the leaders, put self-interest above the national good, politics above national interest, and self-righteousness above humility, this country is bound to self-destruct, and it is the people who will ultimately suffer the consequences of our mistakes.
We have a global crisis that is multi-dimensional -- economic, financial, environmental, and political. Each dimension exacts a painful cost in terms of jobs, health, resources, security, and lives that may be lost.
We may have the capacity to control or manage the impact of this crisis to a certain extent and to prepare ourselves for the worst which is yet to come.
But if we fail to find the measure of cooperation and unity of purpose between our government and our people which is required to overcome this serious crisis, I am afraid that our future will be very bleak.
The order of the day is for our leaders to rally the people behind our shared aspiration to progress as a nation – to craft or suggest possible solutions to our political, economic, social, and moral malaise.
This is not the time for populism and demagoguery. Neither is it the time for cowardice. True leaders are not afraid to take risks, to bite the bullet, or to take the bitter pill when circumstances dictate, whatever the political cost may be.
I, therefore, urge the leaders of our people to rise above their differences, to work together, and build upon the commonalities of our dreams for this nation.
Most importantly, let us act with a sense of urgency in addressing the pressing needs of our countrymen. Time is not on our side, and we cannot afford to be distracted from the serious and urgent task of development.
We have many sources from where national pride and hope can spring. Let us celebrate and revive the true spirit of the EDSA Revolution – reform, good government, and unity. That is the least we can do to honor the nobility and courage of our soldiers and the Filipino people who joined hands in 1986 to redeem our pride as a democratic nation.