Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, Quezon City: Camp General Aguinaldo and the Military Coup d’Etat against the Aquino Administration

From 1975 to 1990, my family lived in the Murphy District of Cubao (now called Barangay Socorro, est. 1961), and we have witness and participated in many of the historical developments in the area, including those that have involved the military base of Camp Emilio Aguinaldo. The biggest of these historical events was the February 22-25 1986 People Power Revolution, where millions of people occupied the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA for short) and the nearby roads to protect the military rebels of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), led by then-AFP Vice Chief of Staff and PC Chief Lt. Gen Fidel Valdez Ramos (born 1928) and Minister of Defense Juan Furagganan Ponce Enrile, Sr. (born 1924) who have turned against President Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos Sr. (1917-1989), in a failed coup d’etat attempt. Now that they were discovered, they pledged allegiance to Marcos’ rival, María Corazón “Cory” Sumulong Cojuangco Aquino (1933-2009).

02 1989 Coup d'Etat
Soldiers take a break from the fighting during the 1989 Coup d’Etat

The People Power Revolutions was a miraculously bloodless uprising of the people against 21 years of corruption and human rights abuse by the Marcos family and their cronies, leading to their exile to Honolulu, Hawaii. At the mean time, Pres. Corazon Aquino went to work trying to undo what Marcos had done for two decades, and some with disastrous effects on Philippine society. These misinformed and sometimes callous decisions led to nine failed military coup d’etat attempts to overthrow her government. Most of these coups were led by members of the RAM, under then-Colonel Gregorio “Gringo” Ballesteros Honasan II (born 1948), who had still yearned for that control over the government they desperately sought with their previous February 22 failed mutiny. However, many of the enlisted men who joined were either just following orders of their direct commanders, or had justified grievances against the government; which was born of the cutting of the budget of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the release and  Communists rebels and Moro secessionists, who had renewed armed hostilities against the government.

03 1989 Coup d'Etat Memorial, Camp Aguinaldo
The author at the 1989 Coup d’Etat Memorial, in Camp Aguinaldo

The first coup attempt was the 8th of July 1986 “Manila Hotel Occupation,” where vice-presidential candidate Arturo “Ka Turing” Modesto Tolentino (1910-2004) led 490 armed soldiers and 15,000 civilians loyal to Pres. Marcos, to take over the Manila Hotel for 37 hours. This was followed by a thwarted attempt by the RAM scheduled for November 11, 1986, entitled “God Save the Queen,” which was leaked by the press before anything could happen. The next was the January 27-29 1987 rebellion led by Colonel Oscar Canlas, whose troops took over the GMA Television Network in Quezon City and the Sangley Point Air Force Base in Cavite Province. The fourth was the “Black Saturday” attempted raid of the Fort Bonifacio armory, in Taguig City. The fifth was an uncovered plot to take over the Manila International Airport, in Parañaque City. The sixth and the seventh coup attempts were the bloodiest coups, with Camp Aguinaldo in the center of the conflict, which were attempted on August 1987 and December 1989. The eighth was the March 4 1990 “Hotel Delfino Seige” in Tugegarao City, where suspended Cagayan Governor Rodolfo Aguinaldo led 200 armed men to seized Hotel Delfino, and hold Brigadier General Oscar Florendo and his staff hostage. The last was the October 4-6 1990 “Mindanao Crisis,” where forces led by Colonel Alexander Noble and Brigadier General Danilo Delapuz Lim (born 1955) seized two military garrisons in Cagayan de Oro and Butuan, and declared an independent Federal Republic of Mindanao.

The sixth coup attempt was the was staged by members of the RAM on August 28-29 1987, with the first salvo with an early morning raid at the presidential residence of Malacañang Palace, where Pres. Aquino’s son, Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III (born 1960), was shot five times, while five his bodyguards were killed.

05 1987 08 29 Phil. Daily Inquirer
1987 August 29, Philippine Daily Inquirer

The fugitive Col. Honasan planned coordinated the almost nationwide attack, while hiding in Fort Ramon Magsaysay Military Reservation, Palayan, Nueva Ecija. Then Honasan commanded a team that took over much of Camp Aguinaldo, while other units took over the Philippine Air Force’s Nichols Air Base (now the Villamor Air Base, after Colonel Jesús Antonio Villamor) in Parañaque City, the Philippine Constabulary’s Camp Captain Julian Olivas in San Fernando City Pampanga, the AFP Central Command’s Camp Lapu-Lapu in Cebu City, and the Lagazpi City Airport in Albay Province.

In Manila, after the attack on Malacañang Palace and takeover of Camp Aguinaldo, fighting shifted to the television stations of the government run People’s Television Channel 4, and private ABS-CBN Channel 2 and GMA Channel 7, all in Quezon City; for the rebels to control the media and information relayed to the public. By the 29th of August, the coup had been quelled by the pro-government forces with only 55 killed between both sides, and more than 200 injured.

07 1987 09 14 Manila Chronicle
The author’s parents during a prayer rally, after the 1987 August Coup d’Etat 1987 September 14, Manila Chronicle

During the fire fights along EDSA between the rebel soldiers in Camp Aguinaldo and the pro-government forces in Camp Crame, thousands of civilians took to the streets to watch and support the government troops. When the mutineers fired, the people would boo; and when the government soldiers shot back, the people would cheer. After the failed coup, the people once more went to the EDSA on the following Sunday, to hold a prayer vigil in support of the government.

08 1989 12 01 Phil. Daily Globe
1989 December 1, Philippine Daily Globe

After the devastating defeat of the RAM forces in 1987, a false lull had fallen on the military, with Pres. Aquino pardoning many of the soldiers who participated in the coup. However, on December 1 1989, rebel World War II era Tora-Toras (T-28D Trojans) strafed and bombed Malacañan Palace in Manila, Camp Aguinaldo’s General Headquarters and Camp Cramé in Quezon City, and Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.

09 1989 12 10 Philippine Daily Inquirer
1989 December 10, Philippine Daily Inquirer

By the end of the day, the rebels bombed PTV Chanel 4 and seized Villamor Air Base and burned down the 205th Helicopter Wing hangar to neutralize any air support. This was further achieved by taking over the Mactan Air Base, where many of the government Northrop F-5 fighters were stationed; while using the Sangley Point Air Base in Cavite as the center of their air operations against the government. However, Major Danilo Atienza led a 4 plane squadron from the Basa Air Base (named after Lieutenant César Fernándo Basa, 1915-1941) in Pampanga, attacked Sangley Point and destroyed the rebel planes. Major Atienza lost his life in the battle, and Sangley Point was later renamed after him.

At the end of the first day, the rebel forces were successful in capturing Camp Aguinaldo, Fort Bonifacio, the Manila International Airport (MIA), the Puerto Princesa City Airport, PTV 4, and ABS-CBN Channel 2; while rebel Scout Rangers sabotaged two TV/radio transmitters south of Metro Manila to disrupt media reports. However, by the 2nd day of the coup, the government forces were able to push the rebels back, with the help of the US Air Force McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom, from the American Clark Air Base (after Major Harold Melville Clark, 1890-1919) in Pampanga.

As more and more rebel soldiers surrendered to the government, the remaining putschists started retreating to the business district of Makati City. Led by the battle hardened Philippine Scout Rangers, under Gen. Danny Lim, the rebels took up as much as twenty two business and residential buildings in Makati. After seven days of fighting, the last of the mutineers surrender, with over a hundred killed during the duration of the coup.

Despite the continued victories of the military of Pres. Aquino, the nine coup d’etat attempts showed a fractured Philippine military, which was readily exploited by Moro separatists and Communist insurgents, with their urban Sparrow Unit hit squads killing police and military officials in Metro Manila; while her own vice-president, Salvador “Doy” Roman Hidalgo Laurel (1928-2004), sided with the rebels. This schism and weakening of the military continued to the next presidential terms, accumulating with more coups against Pres. Maria Gloria Macaraeg Macapagal-Arroyo (born 1947).

I witness this schism first hand, as my brother and I raced to the home of his girlfriend (now my sister-in-law), which was located a few meters from the gate of Camp Aguinaldo, along Santolan Road (now Colonel Bonny Serrano Road). We ran to her home as bullets and tank fire whizzed about, while her family were trapped in their apartment. Using a hammer, we slowly broke down a wall to escape to the nearby Liberty Avenue, while the barracks near the gate was engulfed in flames and rebel APCs (Armored Personnel Carriers) were firing at the government forces defending the military base. As on APC rammed the gate, Private First Class Robert Salvador charged the APC, and fired at it with his 90mm recoilless rifle, killing the soldiers inside. With the APC stalled, it was soon over run by the flames from the nearby barracks. On the next day, after the fighting has subsided, and the fires were put out; Pvt. Salvador discovers that one of the men he killed inside the APC was his own brother, Rogelio.

14 1989 12 10 Manila Chronicle Focus
1989 December 10, Manila Chronicle Focus

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