- Politics and Social Issues
What Was The Coup D'Etat That Almost Toppled Philippine President Cory Aquino?
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?
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.