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What Was The Coup D'Etat That Almost Toppled Philippine President Cory Aquino?

Updated on May 5, 2017
grand old lady profile image

Mona writes a column for Enrich Magazine which is distributed in five countries. She is interested in learning as she writes.

A very young me with the late President Corazon Aquino
A very young me with the late President Corazon Aquino | Source

Military Uprisings

The 1989 coup d’ etat against then President Corazon Aquino was one of six coups d' etat under her administration. But this time, the rebel army, led by Lt. Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan almost won. At the end of the day, it failed like the others. But fate was kind to Honasan. Although he was court martialed, today, he is a senator.

Honasan came so close to winning that a portion of Malacanang (the Philippine White House) was bombed and afire. Corazon Aquino's son, (today's president, PNoy Aquino) survived an attack although all his bodyguards and friends with him died. (PNoy still has shrapnel in his head from that incident). Meanwhile, then vice president Salvador “Doy” Laurel Jr. spent the day playing golf while waiting for the coup to end.

President Cory refused to flee from the Palace. Instead, although embarrassed, it is rumored that she called up then US President George Bush for help. American air power cleared the skies over Malacanang, but the rebels still held parts of the metropolis, including Makati City, the country's financial district. Although Makati was a war zone, it was clear that the coup would be crushed.

Makati, the War Zone

I happened to live in Makati at that time. My husband and I, then a young couple, stayed in his family home in San Lorenzo Village, Makati. A block away from the Village gates there was heavy shooting. Elsewhere, rebels took over the Hotel Intercontinental, situated in Makati's shopping center, and made that their base. Within our village some bullets managed to pass through and one house was accidentally pummeled with hundreds of bullet holes. Several of the residents walked to the gates to see what was happening.

From our point of view, we knew there was danger all around, but we were also sure that we would remain relatively safe. The soldiers were fighting each other, not the citizens. In fact, citizens were standing by to watch the shooting, and some stayed very close so they could collect spent bullet shells for souvenirs. It was irresponsible, but true. The media was milling about, making live reports. In so doing, they forewarned the government army of the rebels' whereabouts. Finally Honasan's rebel army banned media from covering them.

One by one people left the village for safer places. My husband's family, which was then comprised of Mommy Nena (my late mother in law), Ed, my brother-in-law Quinito, myself, the maids and a driver, were among the last to go. But we heard so many stories that revealed a more humorous side to the coup d’etat. (Yes, sometimes even coups d’ etat are more fun in the Philippines).

Have you ever experienced being in a war zone?

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Politics didn't matter

For example, a beauty queen who lived in our village sided with the rebel forces. She loaded her van with sandwiches and drinks for them. At the village gate people gathered and talked together as friends – regardless of their political inclination. In fact, my husband was for the rebels and I was for Aquino. Politics didn’t matter. What did was assessing the situation and determining when it might be safest to leave the village.

At a high perch on the village gate sat two rebels with a machine gun. They were bored more than anything else, so they spent their time watching us, especially the beauty queen and a famous local rock star. They were so swept by the beauty queen that they made her a belt made of spent bullet shells and gave it to her as a gift.

I also remember the story of one of the prettiest actresses at that time whose boyfriend was a famous actor cum martial artist. They were walking along the park in the village when a rain of gunfire was heard. The boyfriend ran away to seek shelter, leaving his beautiful girlfriend to fend for herself.

Today, that beautiful actress is happily married with children and though her husband may not look as handsome, I am sure he is more manly and protective. As for the actor cum martial artist, he opened up a training school in – martial arts. I hope he includes a course on how to protect your loved one while dodging bullets.

Differences made no difference

They say that when you are out of your comfort zone, your real self shows. During the 1989 coup attempt villagers came together, regardless of their differences in political orientation. I could share so many personal stories about the coup attempts against the presidency of Corazon Aquino (whose son, Benigno (P-Noy) Aquino III is now president). Maybe one day I will.

During the 1989 failed coup d’ etat, I realized from my personal experience that people under common duress can come together and talk in a friendly way regardless of political orientation or differences of opinion.

The soldiers may shoot each other out, and the typhoon will wreak its damage, but people will only be anticipating the resumption of normal life. But not every country is as lucky as the Philippines was. In Syria, Egypt and other countries things are far worse. Truly, Coups d' etat are more fun in the Philippines.

Peter Jennings Report on the Coup in Makati (The Hotel Intercontinental was walking distance from my husband's ancestral home).

Speech of President Cory during failed coup. Note sound of helicopters droning as she speaks.

Today, Cory Aquino's son, Benigno S. Aquino Jr., is president of the Philippines. He won by a vast majority vote as it was right after the death of his mother. His administration is primarily characterized by a fight against corruption. He is not perfect, but he is trying to do what past presidents failed to do.

Here is some video of the failed coup. It's in Tagalog but hopefully foreigners can appreciate the visuals.


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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 9 months ago


    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 9 months ago from Philippines

      I think it was government neglect, primarily.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 9 months ago

      Do you think government influence is the reason for the different treatments of Marcos and Cory?

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 9 months ago from Philippines

      Your comment about the anecdotal nature of this piece is most insightful:). As a mother, I was surprised to see my daughter's fourth grade history book. It mentioned all presidents and spoke well of Marcos and badly of Cory. I was surprised to learn that martial law was not being taught in classes. All books used in school are DECS accredited. So if you were to ask me, our generation dropped the ball when it came to ensuring that millennials knew accurately about martial law in school. There were many books written that were sold in bookstores, but we overlooked the schoolbooks. That is why today we are where we are.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 9 months ago

      Could it be a case of student failing to learn rather than not being taught? I know often times young people have no interest in history, even recent history.

      I think what makes this Hub important is you addressed how the people felt and acted. Often times history focuses on the leaders and doesn't pay attention to what average people were doing and thinking.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 9 months ago from Philippines

      Hi Robert, thank you for your comment. I can see from your HP page that you like history very much. It is a great compliment that you would consider this part of the coups to be interesting enough to be remembered. In all those years, what we Filipinos failed to do was to teach students about martial law, and that may explain why with our current president, Duterte, there seems to be no concerns from millennials that he has declared martial law in Marawi city (where there are terrorist Muslims). Now there are efforts by human rights groups to make up for this absence of knowledge about history at that time.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 9 months ago

      You bring a different view of the failed coup. It is amazing how the people behaved during the coup. It is good that you wrote about it so these events won't get lost to history.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 24 months ago from Philippines

      Thank you dumolid, didn't understand the Malaysian parts, but I appreciate what you said.

    • dumolid profile image

      dumolid 24 months ago

      great.. powerfull. sangat mantab sekali. indah. bersahaja, menarik mom. like thiz, salam kenal :)

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      You are so right, Perspycacious. We were lucky that our history was not as traumatic as that of many other countries.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 3 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Lived history has its own special value. Thanks.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      Hi Ologsinquito, yes, it was a scary time. But at the same time it was good to be finally united in wanting to take Marcos out, and in feeling like this time, we had a chance (referring to EDSA I and the snap elections). As for the coups d'etat, those were scary but strangely enough, when it happened so often, you got to the point that you were desensitized. However, in the one that I write of above, there really was a strong sense that this was different coup and it might win. Thankfully, it was just another failed coup.

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

      Those of us living in the United States had daily coverage of all of these events. It must have been difficult to live through this.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 4 years ago from Philippines

      Hello Mel Carriere, thank you for your warm feelings for the Philippines and Filipinos. I must say the country has a long way to go, but I will take democracy any day over martial law, having lived here before martial law, during martial law and after. Freedom is always better.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 4 years ago from San Diego California

      The last time I was in the Philippines was in 1988 and I saw the bullet holes in the walls around Malacanang palace from a coup prior to this one you are speaking of. I really hope and pray for peace in the Philippines. I have many Filipino friends here in California and they are a smart, hard-working and hospitable people. Great hub!

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 5 years ago from Philippines

      Hello Thomas Swan,

      Yes, America intervened. Sometimes the intervention is a blessing, sometimes not. The Americans originally supported Marcos. However, they do listen to the pulse of the people and when they realized how powerful Cory Aquino was with the people, they did quite a bit to keep things peaceful. During EDSA I, the Americans warned Marcos several times that they wouldn't support a military attack on the people. So that was good. Also, I think we were lucky to have a leader like Cory Aquino, who always pushed for peaceful revolt, people power. And Filipinos are generally peace loving. When the tanks came through, children gave the soldiers flowers, people gave them sandwiches, people urged the men in the tanks to get down. We are really a pretty jolly bunch of people -- with great imperfections, but I think we are so very lucky not to be in the situations that have occurred in Syria, Libya and Egypt. I just wish that we will succeed in addressing the enormous poverty in our country and build a good strong middle class. Cory's son, PNoy, is now president and has done quite a bit to harness corruption. But so much more remains to be done. And we hope the next president will also be similarly inclined.

    • Thomas Swan profile image

      Thomas Swan 5 years ago from New Zealand

      It's almost satisfying to hear of a civil war that didn't involve the killing of civilians. Libyans, Egyptians and Syrians could learn something from that, like you say at the end. I think those wars are more divided along tribal lines though, so allegiances are more easily assumed, and easier for them to act on. Even in the war you've described, America had to intervene, which made me roll my eyes... they seem to have interfered in every conflict since WW2. They may be finally learning their lesson, but once Obama's gone, I'm sure they'll return to old ways.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 5 years ago from Philippines

      The weather is great in Tagaytay, it's my husband's most favorite place in the world. There are some nice farms in your area, there is one by a Kano who grows veggies, and behind it a fantastic place for young abandoned children who are disabled, called Chosen Children. There is also the Honeybee farm, and a beautiful flower farm. Balay Indang is a great place if you wanna bring friends for a relaxing experience. As you can see, we often go to Tagaytay:)

    • Borsia profile image

      Borsia 5 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      No problem GOL; I live in Tagaytay about 40 km south of Manila.

      Our subdivision is actually a little further south in Alfonso.

      I'm on the ridge of Taal lake, the Tagaytay Nasugbu Highway.

      It's a very nice area at about 2,300' its quite a bit cooler than the lowlands. I moved here last March from Colombia but I'm originally from California.

      Before I moved to Colombia in 2009 I lived for 2 years in China, first in Sanya and later in Chengdu.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 5 years ago from Philippines

      I agree with you, Borsia, the younger generation has no idea, just as I'm sure my generation had no appreciation for what my parents had to go through under the Japanese occupation.

      The difference is that the Philippines and the US have free speech and the power to explain history for what it really was. We just have to move forward and do it. In China everything is censored, including the truth of Mao and the cultural revolution. That's why the young people look to Mao as a hero and see this need to go back to what was policy in his time.

      On the positive sign they say that cellphones with internet will soon be very cheap and if that's possible, even the lower class people from all countries will have access to information. In China, they may find ways to get past internet censorship and to learn more about the true story. And its up to the older generation of China to tell that story. But that's more easily said than done in a totalitarian government.

      BTW, what part of the PI are you in? We live in the south, in Paranaque. If you don't want to tell, that's ok, I will respect your privacy. I was just curious.

    • Borsia profile image

      Borsia 5 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      GOL; The same is true in China where even now the people are mostly completely in the dark about what a monster Mao was and the irreprible damage he did to both the people and the land. How he was directly and indirectly responcible for the death of millions and for freezing China in time for 30+ years.

      The US has been going downhill for over 100 years and just keeps going faster and faster, again the public can't see past yesterday and the history books say almost nothing.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 5 years ago from Philippines

      Thank you, Borsia.

      I know, I taught briefly in college and some kids made this miniature impression of EDSA which looked NOTHING like the real thing. When my daughter was in grade school I was SHOCKED that her school book said Marcos was a good president, and didn't speak well of Cory. When she was older we watched the movie that was made of Cory and the EDSA revolution. Kat said over and over in surprise, "I can't believe this was the Philippines." The kids simply don't have any understanding of what we went through and how we fought for freedom and democracy. I spoke to people I know to readdress this, but they are media people and school books are made and approved by the DECS (Dept. of Educ. and Sports). So I hope it reached them that they have got some serious rewriting to do.

    • Borsia profile image

      Borsia 5 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      Hello GOL;

      What great stories and another great hub.

      I think what you say is true everywhere "monsters" of any kind tend to bring people together and show the true character in all of us.

      Now that I am living in the Philippines I should learn more of the nation's history.

      When I talk to young Filipinos I find that they have very little knowledge of their own history. The same has been true of other countries I've lived in and very true of the US.

      Sad in that they don't know what went into what the countries are today and sad in that history has a way of repeating when it is forgotten.

      I hope you will share some of those other stories with us.


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