The day Cory called the shots at Edsa
MANILA, Philippines—It was a wheel within a wheel, a crucial pivot within the larger hinge of Philippine history that was Edsa 1.
The decision of Corazon Aquino to address the crowds on Edsa and expose herself to possible assassins, instead of waiting it out in safety until victory was complete, is a barely acknowledged ”turning point” in the People Power Revolution of 1986.
This was according to a member of her inner circle and eyewitness to Aquino’s course of action—much of it happening away from press coverage—during the tense four-day standoff between military defectors and loyalist troops of strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
Then human rights lawyer, Aquino election campaign leader, and now Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay was referring to Aquino’s brief remarks delivered at the lobby of the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) building on Edsa corner Ortigas Avenue.
Aquino then showed up on a makeshift stage at the POEA at around 4:30 p.m. of Feb. 24, Day 3 of the revolt. The talk was over in minutes, but for Binay and the others privy to the events leading to that brief exposure, it was enough to send a powerful message.
Asserting her leadership
“That was a turn in history. That was Cory asserting her leadership,” Binay said in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Saturday.
To explain why there was a need for her to make that “assertion,” Binay had to retrace the earlier events of the day.
Since the standoff began, he and fellow human rights lawyer Joker Arroyo were already leading Aquino forces in their Edsa vigil, but that particular morning of Feb. 24 they were inside one of the buildings in Camp Crame for a “meeting” with the rebel forces.
(Binay vividly remembered that it was the same morning an Air Force helicopter wing led by Col. Antonio Sotelo defected from Marcos and landed at Camp Crame to join the rebels.)
Out of the loop
“Joker was in the [meeting] room and I was waiting outside talking to [folk singer and anti-Marcos activist] Freddie Aguilar,” he recalled. “When Joker finally came out, he told me: ‘Mukhang malayo na tayo rito. Mukhang malayo na rin si Cory (We seem to be out of the loop already. So is Cory).”’
“Ang nagmamando na sina Ramos, kasi wala si Cory dito physically (It’s Fidel Ramos and company calling the shots because Cory is not here physically). They were calling the [foreign] embassies, the press; they were calling the shots,” Binay recalled Joker telling him.
Leaving the camp, the two lawyers walked all the way to a colleague’s house on Horseshoe Drive in Quezon City and from there, contacted Aquino by phone. The day before (Feb. 23), Aquino had quietly returned from Cebu and was staying at a sister’s house in Wack Wack subdivision in Mandaluyong.
By 10 a.m. that morning, Arroyo, Binay, other key Aquino supporters were gathered for a meeting at Greenhills, San Juan. Aquino was personally briefed by Joker about his earlier meeting in Camp Crame and about his sense of alarm over who’s “calling the shots,” Binay said.
“The long and short of it is that Cory told us: “Lalabas tayo (We’re coming out),” Binay told the Inquirer.
But someone butted in: “Cory, panalo na tayo. Baka madisgrasya ka pa (We’ve already won. You might only put yourself in danger).”
Aquino then replied, as Binay put it: “Akala ko ba ang usapan natin dito ay kung kailangan magbuwis ng buhay, magbuwis ng buhay? Bakit naman nag-iiba na tayo (I thought it was agreed that we would sacrifice our lives if we need to? Why the change)?”
The duly elected President of the February 1986 snap elections had given her stand, and “nobody dared to disagree with her (wala nang kumontra),” Binay said.
Aquino then asked his younger brother Jose “Peping” Cojuangco—who in that meeting affectionately addressed her as “Ate (elder sister)”—to look for a spot on Edsa where she could address the crowd.
Coverage against snipers
Why was the POEA building chosen? For one, its lobby allowed a wide view of the spectators but still provided ample overhead coverage against “snipers,” Binay explained.
Asked how Edsa I would have turned out had Aquino not “come out” that day, Binay said the initial sense of his group was that a “troika” or a “collective leadership”—rather than the Aquino presidency as Filipinos now know it—could have risen to power.
The following day, Feb. 25, at 10:45 a.m., Corazon Aquino took her oath as President at Club Filipino.
But Binay recalled that even that climactic moment of Edsa I encountered a last-minute glitch—though not because of factors traceable to the renegade military machinery holding fort at Camp Crame.
It was because of a breakdown of another piece of machinery: the vehicle that was supposed to take Aquino from Wack Wack to Club Filipino that morning simply wouldn’t start and had to be fixed first, delaying the oath-taking ceremony by about half-an-hour, Binay said, smiling.