THE LONG VIEW
Defender of the republic
Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:35 AM June 14, 2023
The two decades of adventurism by young military officers began and ended in hotels. In February 1987, Marcos loyalists took over the Manila Hotel; and in November 2007, Antonio Trillanes IV and friends took over the Manila Peninsula in Makati. Within this period, the most serious coup attempt, because it came very close to success, was in 1989, which the American scholar David Timberman then summed up as, “A good year turns sour.” If 1983 can be said to have erased the gains, such as they were, of the dictatorship, then 1989 erased the gains of our being a newly restored democracy.
As vivid as the experience was, for anyone who lived through it, it is nearly impossible for Filipinos, born after the fact, to appreciate what the coup attempt of 1989 was like. The first, vague reports, involving Tagaytay: As it turns out, it represented the bungling of the plan, because the takeover took place a day ahead of schedule. Then, the sudden air of impending menace, as troops were reported to be racing to the capital; the broadcast of President Aquino, the eerie appearance of soldiers at dawn on the rooftop of (what was then called) Manuela Mall, and then the flurry of activity as the battle for hearts and minds took place in parallel to the actual fighting: featuring remarkable broadcasts in which senators and congressmen, led by their respective leaders, vowed to resist. Then, the return of urban fighting to Manila, the booming of artillery, the thudding of choppers, the screaming fighters, the battle for Camp Aguinaldo, and the siege in Makati.
The face of the New Armed Forces of the Philippines — given that name in 1986 by Fidel V. Ramos — in many ways was that of Gen. Rodolfo Biazon. On the day he passed away, veteran journalist Glenda Gloria penned a vivid word portrait of Biazon, as he led the resistance to the rebels, which included establishing a makeshift command post in the Camp Aguinaldo grandstand. A grateful president would further promote him; a grateful nation would later elect him, to the Senate and the House.
Reviewing the befores and afters of that career-defining event for Biazon, several things struck me. The first was a detail reported by Radio Veritas, now in the invaluable www.edsarevolution.com timeline. Davao businessmen approached Biazon, then military commander in Davao, to ask him to protect Cory Aquino, as her supporters scrambled to figure out security alternatives for her, when the Edsa revolution began. Biazon pledged to keep her safe. The report states that even as Biazon made his pledge, higher-ups in Manila had instructed his aide to put a bullet in Biazon if he turned against Marcos. It seems future President Aquino learned of his pledge and was grateful for it.
The second, related to the first, comes from his authorized biography, in which the book bluntly described him as a “fence-sitter” during Edsa. It surprised him, according to the book, when, despite this wait-and-see attitude, she decided to move him from Davao and make him superintendent of the Philippine Military Academy.
The third was from 1987, when he led the Marines to come to the aid of embattled Presidential Security Group (PSG) troops as rebels attacked the presidential palace in 1987. The PSG was understrength, with many deployed outside Manila in preparation for scheduled provincial consultations by the president. He then led the counterattack against the rebels in Camp Aguinaldo after the rebels were beaten back (as they retreated, they infamously responded to jeering bystanders by mowing them down with automatic fire). It is a testament to the seriousness of the 1989 attempt that there would be defenders of the republic in 1987 who would become supporters of the 1989 coup attempt.
And the fourth was 1989 itself. An interesting detail in the fact-finding commission’s official report on that coup attempt, is that Biazon, who was then commanding general of the National Capital Region Defense Command, “detected that a coup attempt was shaping up and that there would be an alliance between the RAM-HF and the [Marcos] Loyalists.” The problem was, even as government geared up to confront the attempt, coup plotters were themselves present in the planning briefings.
So, he was a human being aside from being as professional and accomplished a soldier as one could ask for. He could admit to being a fence-sitter, even as friends and foe could roll their eyes over his ability to talk and talk. But his successful candidacy, after his retirement from the military, was proof positive of public approval of his soldierly actions in 1989: but also a lesson in the perverse (or wise, a case can be made for both) nature of our electorate, because it is capable of conferring a national mandate both on coup busters and the putschists themselves. In the end, he stayed closer to what the new armed forces once aimed to be, than many of his seniors and juniors in uniform.