BY JOSE MARIA SISON
WITH DR. RAINER WERNING AS INTERVIEWER. He asked the questions and I answered them in 1987 to 1988. The book was published by the US publisher, Taylor & Francis Group, in 1989.
Sealing the Doom of Marcos
Q3: What in your view finally sealed the doom of the Marcos dictatorship?
A: In 1979 international credit for the Philippines as well as for the third world countries started to tighten. As a result, the state corporations and the crony corporations–all big comprador enterprises–started to collapse in 1981. More and more groups of big compradors and landlords started to openly criticize Marcos and his cronies who were the only ones bailing themselves out of the crisis with state resources.
The regime had difficulties providing funds for the over-expanded military establishment. It was obvious that the fascist dictatorship had failed to suppress the armed revolutionary movement. Instead, it succeeded in causing its accelerated growth in strength. The legal democratic movement had by then started to make conspicuous advances in the form of new militant mass organizations, increasing indoor and outdoor rallies and workers’ strikes.
In 1983 Benigno Aquino, who had been in exile in the United States since his 1980 release from prison, thought it was time for him to return home and seize the political initiative from Marcos. He decided to fly to the Philippines on August 21, 1983. The Marcos clique got into a political panic and decided to have Aquino assassinated.
The Aquino assassination proved to be the biggest political mistake of the regime. The outrage over it unlid the long pent-up hatred of the broad masses of the people and resulted in unprecedentedly huge mass actions in urban areas and further intensification of the armed struggle from 1983 up to the fall of Marcos. At the core of the revolutionary mass movement was the Communist Party of the Philippines.
The series of Marcos’ mistakes, starting with the Aquino assassination, sealed the doom of the Marcos dictatorship. This doom was ensured by the aggravated and deepened socio-economic crisis of the system which had become thoroughly exposed, as well as by the dramatic advances by the revolutionary mass movement, especially the armed revolutionary mass movement.
It was the revolutionary mass movement that had consistently and vigorously isolated and weakened the Marcos dictatorship over a long period of time. And it was fear of this revolutionary mass movement already making large strides that drove the United States and the majority of the big compradors and landlords, including the Catholic Church, to decide on preparing the way for Marcos’ replacement in anticipation of the whitewash of the Aquino assassination.
I would say that in the end both the revolutionary forces and the anti-Marcos counterrevolutionary forces converged against the Marcos dictatorship in the same way that,internationally during the World War II, the revolutionary forces and the antifascist big bourgeoisie converged against the fascists.
If we single out the most decisive factor that brought about the fall of Marcos, we must point to the revolutionary mass movement led by the Communist Party of the Philippines. This fact is, however, obfuscated by the rise of Corazon Aquino and her pro-imperialist and reactionary cohorts to government positions. The balance of forces was such that the revolutionary movement could cause the downfall of Marcos but could not as yet seize political power or get a major share of power in a government headed by Aquino.
If I may add, let it be understood that the U.S. and local counterrevolutionaries were not able to put one over the revolutionaries. The biggest advantage gained by the revolutionary movement from the downfall of Marcos has been the aggravation of the violent contradictions among the reactionary factions. The increased tendency of the ruling system to disintegrate is beneficial to the growth of the revolutionary forces. There is nothing to regret about the overthrow of Marcos.
Evaluation of the Popular Uprising
Q4: Marcos’ ouster has been variably described as the feat of “people power,” a “peaceful revolution,” a “miracle of prayer or the rosary,” and a “pre-emptive revolution.” How do you evaluate the decisive four days–February 22 to 25, 1986–when the dictator Marcos was forced to leave the country?
A: Let me first comment on those pretty slogans used in the establishment media to hype Aquino’s rise to power and snipe at the revolutionary movement of the people.
Indeed the people’s uprising was decisive in bringing down the Marcos dictatorship. And the reactionaries prefer to call it “people power” as if it were something they can use and manipulate like horsepower. The revolutionaries would rather speak of people’s power–power belonging to the people.
The reactionaries speak of “peaceful revolution.” In fact, there were two armed camps–the Marcos-Ver camp and the Enrile-Ramos camp. These two camps came into a stalemate as various forces–the United States and the reactionaries as well as the organized progressive forces and the spontaneous masses–moved into the gap between the two armed camps.
While the military stalemate was on, more officers and men of the AFP swung to the Enrile-Ramos camp. At the same time, in view of the people’s uprising, the former military minions of Marcos could not by themselves decide who should replace Marcos. They had to accede to Aquino because she was the one with a legal claim to the presidency and had broad popular support at the time.
Cardinal Sin, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and the church-run Radio Veritas played a prominent role by calling on the people to protect the Enrile-Ramos camp. But it smacks of obscurantism to talk of a “miracle of prayers or the rosary” only to negate other political forces, especially the progressive forces, whose absence would have made the overthrow of Marcos impossible.
The notion of a pre-emptive revolution to avert the armed revolution is absurd. There was no revolution as there was no fundamental change of the political and social system to the satisfaction of the people.
The armed revolution has continued against armed counterrevolution. And violence has even escalated among the reactionary factions of Aquino, Enrile, and Marcos which have their respective well-armed followings.
The military mutiny of the Enrile-Ramos camp and the RAM; and the people’s uprising, including the mass organizations of the national democratic movement and the spontaneous masses responding to the radio broadcasts, were the most conspicuous features of the process of oustin Marcos.
Behind the scenes the United States exerted effective pressures on the Marcos-Ver camp to prevent it from making a more determined military offensive against the Enrile-Ramos camp. In the end, Washington intervened to fly Marcos and his retinue out of the presidential palace to Clark Air Force Base and onward out of the country to Hawaii.
There was a convergence of contradictory forces– progressive and antiprogressive–against Marcos. Although the people’s uprising played a decisive role, I must stress that the balance of strength between the revolutionary forces and the counterrevolutionary forces was such that the United States and the reactionary classes would still determine the character of the Aquino government at the top.
Progressive Forces in the Uprising
Q5: Wasn’t the February “revolution” a Metro-Manila centered affair? And what can you say about the claims of some people that BAYAN was absent from the uprising?
A: The most decisive and most dramatic mass actions were, of course, centered in Metro Manila.
But there were mass uprisings organized and spearheaded mainly by BAYAN in provincial capitals, cities, and towns outside of Metro Manila. The most dramatic among these was the one in Angeles City, which blocked the tanks of General Palafox from Camp Aquino in Tarlac. The mass uprisings in the provinces served to neutralize and paralyze the civilian and military followers of Marcos.
If the imperialists and obscurantists were to be believed, the people’s uprising was no more than that one on the EDSA, between Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame. And they invent the myth that the organizations of BAYAN were not present here despite the fact that they formed the bulk of the hard core of the uprising. Twenty percent of the mass uprising was hard core and 80 percent was spontaneous.
There can be no denying that more than 90 percent of the people who surrounded Malacanang Palace and the Malacanang Park came from the member-organizations of BAYAN, especially Kilusang Mayo Uno, League of Filipino Students, KADENA and so on. It was also more than 500 members of the Quezon City chapter of BAYAN who stormed Channel 4 (the government radio-TV station) at a crucial moment.
Such organizations as BANDILA, KAAKBAY, PDP-Laban, and UNIDO were very small then. Their members made a tiny fraction of the hard core of the mass uprising even at the EDSA highway.
U.S. Role in Marcos’ Overthrow
Q6: What role did the United States play in toppling Marcos?
A: Soon after the assassination of Aquino, the U.S. State Department steadily took the stand of easing Marcos out and pushed the line that he would have to institute reforms or face serious consequences. U.S. pressures were made through threats of withholding bilateral economic and military assistance funds and freezing of requests for loans and loan rescheduling.
Close to the return of Aquino, U.S. Representative Stephen Solarz and U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs Paul Wolfowitz had advised Marcos to allow Aquino to return and not to harm him. U.S. state secretary George Shultz took the assassination as an affront to the U.S. government. As has been revealed in Raymond Bonner’s Waltzing with a Dictator, Shultz encouraged Michael Armacost, Stephen Bosworth, Wolfowitz, Morton Abramowitz and John Maisto to advocate the ouster of Marcos. The general feeling of outrage in the U.S. Congress helped the U.S. State Department in pushing for the ouster.
As the mass movement surged forward in an unprecedented way from 1983 to 1986, surpassing the mass movement in the early 1970s, the U.S. State Department became more convinced that Marcos had to go. There was the growing fear that should Marcos stay in power until the end of his term in 1987, the armed struggle and the united front would advance so greatly that the entire ruling system would be gravely jeopardized or at the very least the situation would become too difficult for the United States to manage.
It was the Pentagon that at first opposed the view of the State Department with the argument that if Marcos were to be removed before 1987 a split within the AFP would have to be made in order to break Marcos’ grip on it. The split was at first considered too high a cost to pay.
But even within the Pentagon, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs Richard Armitage and his deputy James Kelly issued, as early as September 1984, identical papers stimulating anti-Ver elements in the AFP. They were in effect accusing Marcos and Ver of mismanaging military affairs and impressing upon Marcos that he could no longer use the U.S. bases as a bargaining chip. Admiral William J. Crowe, commander-in-chief of the Pacific Area Command, also derided the mess in the AFP and warned against the growing armed revolutionary movement.
In November 1984 the National Security Study Directive (NSSD) signified that there was already a U.S. interagency consensus for weakening the position of Marcos through a demand for “reforms” and for easing him out. But there was the misleading diplomatic language about Marcos not being the target of removal and destabilization and his being a part both of the problem and the solution. In January 1985 Reagan signed the NSSD to become the National Security Decision Directive (NSDD).
The Pentagon encouraged the formation of the RAM, which was openly launched in March 1985. CIA director William Casey saw Marcos in May 1985 to propose a presidential election. It was obvious that at the level of the National Security Council, the plan was to ease or kick Marcos out before 1987 and pre-empt further public outrage at the anticipated whitewash of the Aquino assassination.
The formation of the RAM in early 1985 and the snap presidential election in 1986 worked as complementary devices against Marcos. Reagan appeared to vacillate on Marcos despite the interagency consensus until the chips were falling down and Philip Habib gave him the final explanation. At any rate, it was Reagan’s confidant and shield Senator Paul Laxalt who had succeeded in putting Marcos into the snap election trap in November 1985 and who would advise him to “cut and cut cleanly” in the end.
To effect the military stalemate between the Marcos-Ver and Enrile-Ramos camps, Ambassador Bosworth, the U.S. military attache and the CIA station chief picked General Rafael Ileto as the mediator between the two camps. It was Bosworth who would make sure that Marcos did not give the final order to fire artillery at Camp Crame from the University of Life campus and who would arrange the exit of Marcos. He would also be the first to greet Corazon Aquino as Madame President.
It is wrong to say that the United States had nothing to do with the toppling of Marcos just as it is wrong to say that the mass organizations of the national democratic movement had nothing to do with it. But, of course, the two contradictory forces had different motivations and objectives.
Even while I was in prison, I did my bit in hitting hard at Washington for propping up the Marcos regime. In several interviews I repeatedly pointed out that Marcos would bring down the entire ruling system with him should he be allowed to stay in power up to or beyond 1987 and I demanded that the U.S. and local reactionaries had better drop a hot potato like Marcos.
But I was confident that even if Marcos had been removed and Aquino had assumed power, the crisis of the ruling system would continue to worsen and the armed revolutionary movement would continue to forge ahead.
Attitude Towards Dangers During the Uprising
Q7: On the days that Marcos was falling in February 1986, people in your country and abroad were deeply worried that Marcos might order the execution of political prisoners like you. Were you not afraid?
A: There never was a time that I was afraid. I estimated that the entire Marcos-Ver camp was too busy minding the Enrile-Ramos camp, the growing people’s uprising, and U.S. dictates to even think of what to do with the political prisoners. I estimated that the Marcos-Ver camp would be afraid to kill political prisoners because to do so would complicate and aggravate its own situation.
I knew and was emboldened by the fact that the Marcos-Ver camp was increasingly isolated and desperate from hour to hour. The masses from the progressive organizations of BAYAN, especially Kilusang Mayo Uno, League of Filipino Students, KADENA, and others encircled and pressed upon the presidential palace. Marcos must have been terrified and could easily imagine that the masses would break through the ranks of his demoralized palace guards if he committed the outrage of killing political prisoners.
Moreover, a helicopter gunship of the Enrile-Ramos camp at one instance strafed the palace. Upon the advice of concerned friends, anti-Marcos elements in the military warned the pro-Marcos elements that they would not be able to escape responsibility if they harmed the political prisoners. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the human rights organizations like the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines also made appeals to Marcos about the safety of political prisoners.
Let me tell you more about what I did, thought and felt during those days. It was around ten o’clock in the evening of February 22 when I overheard the voice of Marcos from the television set in the cell adjoining mine. I thought it was unusual for Marcos to be on TV so late in the night. So I called out to my co-detainee viewing the TV to ask what Marcos was talking about. He shouted back that there was a coup attempt and that it had been foiled.
Immediately, I turned on my radio set and tuned in to Radio Veritas. I heard the agitated declarations of Enrile and understood that a critical event was still developing. In the space of less than a minute, I was happily calling out to my fellow detainee Alex Birondo in the adjoining cell, “Crisis! . . Confrontation! . . . Marcos is falling! . . . We will be out soon!”
From that time on, I was thrilled as I listened to the radio. I felt like I was on a ringside seat in an exciting boxing match. I could fully understand the developing situation. Enrile, Ramos and RAM were making a stand at the Ministry of National Defense administration building in Camp Aguinaldo. They were calling on the people to support them and bring food to them. Cardinal Sin was calling on the people to protect his friends. Butz Aquino was asking the people to converge in front of a large department store along the EDSA highway near Camp Aguinaldo. General Ileto was acknowledged by Enrile as the mediator and arranger of a truce between the Enrile-Ramos camp and the Marcos-Ver camp. Mrs Aquino was being contacted in Cebu City.
I did not sleep anymore. I listened to the radio through the night. At around four o’clock in the morning, a colonel and another officer came to ask why I was not yet asleep. I told them that Marcos was in a process of collapse, that General Ileto was the U.S.-appointed pro-Aquino mediator between the two armed camps and that the Marcos-Ver camp would become impotent as the people would rise up and the troops would change sides. I knew that General Josephus Ramas, the Philippine Army chief and commanding general of the Military Security Command, was a close adjutant of General Ver. But tongue-in-cheek I told the colonel to tell General Ramas to change sides because he was no match for General Ileto within the Philippine Army.
The two officers left and I continued listening to the radio. I went to sleep only at around noon and woke up after only two hours to resume monitoring the developing situation. Julie came late in the afternoon for her weekly visit. Before coming she went briefly to EDSA where the masses had converged to see things for herself.
The previous Sunday, February 15, I had told her both seriously and jokingly that I could be out of prison within a month because I had already heard over the radio the full text of the February 14 pastoral letter of the CBCP condemning the Marcos regime as illegitimate and immoral and based on fraud; and endorsing nonviolent protest. A former classmate of mine in high school, Bishop Teodoro Bacani, had pushed the pastoral letter successfully and was militant in the mass uprising. This time I told Julie to stay with me up to Wednesday morning because I had a hunch that Marcos would fall before midweek.
I felt that my prediction was certain, especially after word came from Reagan threatening to cut off military aid if Marcos attacked the Enrile-Ramos camp. That was the clear public rejection of Marcos by his own foreign master at the highest level. At any rate, it was quite an exciting game calculating when Marcos would finally fall.
The conservative opposition leaders were predicting as late as Tuesday afternoon that Marcos would hold out in Malacanang Palace for a period ranging from one week to one month. Marcos flew out of the presidential palace at 9:05 P.M. or 21:05 Manila time on Tuesday. Over Radio DZRH, I heard the sound of helicopters in the background and I thought at that instant that Marcos, his family and close associates were already being flown out. It would only be some twenty minutes later at 9:25 P.M. that the radio announcer started to speculate that it was Marcos who had flown out with his retinue. He confirmed the fact only at around 9:40 P.M.###