Marcos's fall: how it happened. Reformists within the Army were the moving force behind the revolt -- not Aquino or Enrile or Ramos. Now that the dust is settling, some reformists are willing to discuss the details.

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

It was the intersection of two military plots that sparked the revolt that ended the 20-year rule of President Ferdinand Marcos. One plot originated in the Marcos government. The other was instigated by reformist military officers. The day before the Feb. 22 revolt, rebel leaders say, they learned of a plan by the Marcos government to round up opposition figures, to allege an opposition coup plot, and probably to declare a state of emergency. Rebel leaders say this Marcos plot was a total fabrication similar to the incidents contrived by Mr. Marcos to justify martial law in 1972.

In fact, there was a plot, but not the one the Marcos government had in mind. Instead, members of the military reform group, usually known as RAM, were planning a suicide attack on Malacanang, the presidential palace. Their plan was either discovered or deliberately leaked (opinions in RAM differ) just before the Feb. 22 uprising. As the revolt developed, RAM members say, they received help from the United States and other quarters.

What now seems clear is that RAM was the moving force behind the revolt -- not Corazon Aquino, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, or Gen. Fidel Ramos. RAM may even have choreographed the uprising. At least on the record, some RAM members still deny that an attack was planned. Others are now willing to discuss the details.

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The assault was to be launched at 2 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, says Lt. Col. Eduardo Kapunan, chief of intelligence at the Defense Ministry and a founding member of RAM. RAM members mostly from the Defense Ministry were to have launched a three-pronged, commando-style assault.

Colonel Kapunan, with 80 men from the ministry's security unit, would attack through Malacanang Park, which houses the Presidential Security Command's headquarters. A second group, this one of 30 men, under the Defense Ministry chief of security, Col. Gregorio Honasan, would attack the palace from the Pasig River, which runs past the palace. A third group would attack the walls of the palace with demolition charges.

The explosion of five car bombs -- one at the palace gas depot, four near the armories -- would be the signal for the attack, Kapunan says. The plotters were helped in their plans by ``at least six'' officers of the Presidential Security Command who were RAM sympathizers, he adds.

``We wanted to capture the President and ask him to reconsider everything,'' Kapunan says. Other RAM officers say they simply wanted Marcos to step down. They decline to say what they would have done if he resisted.

The attack would not have worked, says Colonel Honasan. ``Given the extra troops put into Malacanang in the week before, the attack would have been a wipe-out,'' Honasan says. ``But just by initiating it, we would have won. We'd have shown 54 million Filipinos that there were military men ready to die for their people.''

Elsewhere in the city some four to five battalions led by RAM sympathizers were to have launched diversionary attacks.

The plot was put together late last year, RAM members say. RAM was considering moving before the Feb. 7 election, but decided against it, even though members were almost certain that Marcos would fix the election. After Feb. 7, however, ``the only question was when, not if, we would move,'' a RAM leader says.

``The armed forces had become so weakened by lack of credibility that we couldn't go any lower,'' says Honasan. ``Constitutional reforms were out of the question. The Ver-Marcos power bloc had already consolidated everything -- the judiciary, the legislature, the executive,'' he added. Gen. Fabian Ver was Marcos's chief of staff.

Kapunan, in a conversation several days before the election, had hinted at RAM feelings: If the elections were fixed, he noted, Philippine society would be even further polarized; and the only winner would be the communist insurgents.

RAM had planned its move in coordination with civilian activists, including members of the more radical ``cause-oriented groups'' (moderate activist groups that support Aquino). Long before the strike, they had established relations with the groups. Just before the coup, some activists were informed of the plan.

``We asked them to increase the tempo of their civil disobedience a few days before we moved,'' said Honasan. The groups obliged, and the surge of population -- partly spontaneous, partly organized -- that followed the uprising played the decisive role in defeating efforts by Marcos to counterattack.

At the last minute, the plot was uncovered. Kapunan says there was a security leak. Honasan, generally viewed as the main RAM strategist, hints at a deliberate leak. RAM could ``exploit the situation by leaking [plans],'' Honasan says. ``If the government reacted, we'd weigh our chances.'' This line of reasoning implies that RAM hoped to precipitate an open split in the military and isolate the President.

With the disclosure of the strike on the palace, Plan A, RAM switched to Plan B: securing the ministry and, if possible, other major military camps. It is at this point that the ostensible leaders of the military uprising, Mr. Enrile and General Ramos, finally come into the picture.

On Saturday, Feb. 22, Enrile says, his security men warned him of the planned government roundup. One sign of this was the arrest of the security men of a Marcos Cabinet minister, Roberto Ongpin. The security men were connected to the Defense Ministry. It was suspected that the government would make them confess to a spurious plan that would implicate him, Enrile explained. ``The President always likes to do things in a legalistic way.''

Honasan, Enrile's security chief, says the information was not conclusive, but ``tactical expediency'' required them to act. ``We had been priming the minister for some time about the general situation,'' he said. The reformists were confident he would side with them. But most RAM members had already lost any hope that Ramos would act decisively; they asked Enrile to contact him.

The next 36 hours were crucial. The rebels held all of Camp Crame, Ramos' headquarters as commander of the Philippines Constabulary. They held one building, the Ministry office block, in Camp Aguinaldo, just across the road. But they had only 400 to 500 troops, according to a RAM leader, Navy Capt. Rex Robles.

Contacted by phone at 1 a.m. Sunday, Enrile sounded jovial but apprehensive. ``If we don't meet again, it's been fun,'' he said at the end of the conversation.

Marcos troops set up artillery within range of the rebel bases. But they did not move in. Early Sunday afternoon Enrile abandoned Aguinaldo in favor of Crame. He appeared to have less than 200 men with him.

Just before dawn Monday morning, the defenders of Crame were convinced that they would soon be making their last stand. ``Marines are probing Gate 3,'' said constabulary Colonel Maala at 4 a.m. They'll attack between 5 and 6 this morning.'' Inside General Ramos's office, and the rebel leaders and their staff could be heard singing the national anthem. ``Want one?'' said an officer half in jest, holding out an Uzi submachine gun.

Outside the camp, thousands of civilian demonstrators -- Crame's true means of defense -- listened to the radio. At 5:14, Corazon Aquino came on with a brief appeal to the Marcos military not to use force. ``At last she's saying something,'' said an exasperated listener.

The attack never came. Instead, the regime unraveled. At 6:09, five helicopters circled Crame menacingly, then landed. They were supposed to assault the rebels. At 9 a.m., Marcos held a press conference at Malacanang to prove he was still in charge. As he spoke, the government TV channel blacked out, captured by the rebels.

Captain Robles spent the revolt moving around, maintaining contact with foreign embassies. The US response, he says, was ``very, very neutral. Factual. No definite offer of help came until the matter [the revolt] was clear.'' One opposition leader, Jaime Ongpin, said Aquino aides tried to contact US Ambassador Stephen Bosworth Saturday afternoon. They were able to speak only to the political counselor, Scott Halford.

``You people know more than we do,'' Mr. Halford was quoted as saying. Robles implied that the US military was more helpful than the embassy. ``We got a lot of prompt information regarding things in their [the military's] domain,'' Robles said.

A RAM member who did not want to be identified added that the rebels received ``both visual and electronic'' assistance from US monitoring teams. The assistance included information about troop movements and orders given. Asked if some of this information came from the US electronic listening post in San Miguel, the officer replied ``I think so.''

In the early days of the revolt, Enrile had refused to talk to Marcos. ``I know how his mind operates,'' Enrile said. ``He'd like to soften you, assess your resolution and strength, and then plan countermeasures.''

Their first phone conversation took place Sunday night. Marcos offered a deal: He said that RAM members would have to go on trial but would not be harmed. He promised that he would pardon them. Enrile temporized. On Tuesday morning, when the balance had shifted in the rebels' favor, Enrile got another call from Marcos.

``He said, `Johnnie, how can we settle the problem?' '' Enrile replied that he did not know. ``What I need is a graceful way out,'' Marcos told Enrile. ``Let's do this. I'll cancel the last elections. We'll organize a provisional government. I'll remain as honorary President till 1987. But you run things the way you want.''

Enrile says he declined. The feeling in RAM, he said, was that Aquino was the rightful President. Marcos asked him to explore the idea with Aquino, whose own swearing-in ceremony was due that morning. Enrile said he did not get around to doing so; there were too many people around her that morning. Later, he fell asleep.

At around 6 o'clock that evening -- three hours before Marcos was lifted off in US helicopters -- Marcos called again. He asked Enrile to stop rebels from firing at the palace. Enrile answered that they were not his men. Marcos then asked Enrile to arrange for Gen. Theodore Allen of the Joint US Military Assistance Group to provide an escort for him and his family to leave. Much later that evening, Enrile says, Ambassador Bosworth called with details of the evacuation plan for Marcos.

When Marcos reached the US's Clark Air Force Base, he reportedly balked at leaving the country. He demanded instead to go to his home province of Ilocos Norte. Enrile claims that a public statement from him praising Marcos's ``single act of nobility'' in leaving Malacanang without making a last stand finally convinced Marcos to leave. Another Aquino minister says that Marcos demanded this final concession to his dignity and place in history. Enrile refuses to comment.

Looking back a week later, Captain Robles laughed at the precariousness of the situation. ``In Manila, we [RAM] had a maximum of 70 to 80 people,'' he said. At one point as he explained RAM strategy, he stopped. ``I'm talking as if I knew what I was doing. But, in fact, the thing was sheer luck.''

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