Interview with late ex-senator Agapito ‘Butz’ Aquino about anti-Marcos movement

Posted on August 18, 2015 01:25:56 AM | BREAKING NEWS

Below is a piece that extensively quotes senator Agapito “Butz” A. Aquino who died on Monday, August 17, 2015. He was 76. Entitled “August 21 Movement: Standing for democracy,” the story was published in the August 21, 2009 edition of BusinessWorld and narrates the formation of the anti-Marcos August Twenty-One Movement (ATOM).

File photo of ex-senator Agapito "Butz" A. Aquino during an interview with BusinessWorld in 2009.
It was about 11 p.m. of Feb. 22, 1986, a Saturday, when Agapito Butz A. Aquino and co-members at the August 21 Movement (ATOM) appealed to the public by radio to converge on Epifanio de los Santos Ave. (EDSA) separating the military and police headquarters to support a mutiny against the Marcos regime.

This led to the People Power revolution, a culmination of public indignation two-and-a-half years after the assassination of Senator Benigno “Ninoy” A. Aquino, Jr. on Aug. 21, 1983 at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport after returning from self-exile in the United States.

Days after his elder brother's death, Butz, Antonio P. Gatmaitan, Wilfredo L. Enverga, Arthur Macapagal, Ramon B. Magsaysay, Jr. and Jejomar C. Binay formed ATOM to oust the dictatorship and restore democracy.

“We didn't know exactly how it was going to be done but our objective was to remove the dictator and bring about democracy as we knew it,” Mr. Aquino told BusinessWorld at his office in Makati City. “You can just imagine, our country was sinking and we were not doing anything about it.”

Emboldened by public perception that Ninoy's assassination was the handiwork mainly of President Ferdinand E. Marcos as shown by close to two million protesters who joined Ninoy's funeral cortege on Aug. 31, ATOM's anti-Marcos rallies, he recalled, were held on Ayala Ave. in Makati, but the group was clueless as to how these could be sustained. Thus, Butz added, it was almost providential when events led to People Power.

To recall, Marcos, sensing the need to shore up his credibility, called for snap elections on Nov. 3, 1985. Corazon Cory C. Aquino, Ninoy's widow, took up the challenge on Dec. 3, 1985 and the election was held on Feb. 7, 1986.

The events fell into place:

• several Commission on Elections encoders at the Philippine International Convention Center noticed discrepancies favoring Marcos that prompted a dramatic walkout seen on national TV;

• Marcos referred to the rubber-stamp Batasang Pambansa for the results and the national assembly subsequently proclaimed him winner;

• Cory called for a civil disobedience; a group of young military officers seeking reforms but were ignored by Marcos and his military chief Fabian C. Ver sought refuge at the Defense department in Camp Aguinaldo and were welcomed by Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and military vice-chief of staff Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, both of whom called for Marcos to resign on Feb. 22;

• Butz Aquino, over Catholic-run Radio Veritas, asked for public support to the mutineers in the evening of the same day and was followed with a similar call by Jaime Cardinal L. Sin; people massed at EDSA the next day; and the Marcoses were flown out of the country on Feb. 27.

“When we called for a massing of people, we didn't expect a massive turnout. But suddenly, in a space of one hour after we made a call on radio, tens of thousands of people came. We could sense that people were very, very angry, and they felt maybe it was a chance to participate,” said Mr. Aquino.

Anything that had to do with Ninoy, FM [Marcos's initials] was always involved. So we thought some project like eliminating Ninoy wouldn't have gone through without FM's approval. That was our logical deduction.

After its pivotal role in People Power, ATOM turned dormant, with leaders of the former opposition ending up into splinter groups. It also ended a one-off political unity in defense of democracy.

“Everybody was ambitious, everybody wants to be the leader,” said Mr. Aquino of failed efforts then to unite political leaders. “Maybe the conviction that removing a dictator can be done contributed to the unity... It was an impossible dream [to be reunited].”

Fast-forward to 2009, political analysts interviewed by BusinessWorld admitted that the lack of unity in the opposition is a major factor in failing to muster a solid popular uprising not against a dictatorship but against widespread irregularities in the Arroyo administration.

While the administration has been savaged with alleged corruption scandals, the opposition was attacking each other, said Benito O. Lim, a professor at the Ateneo de Manila University.

For Ramon C. Casiple, executive director at the Institute for Political and Economic Reforms, unless there is a strong, galvanizing issue, people will not be united. “Back then, there was no problem because the only issue was how to topple the dictatorship. He noted a sense of public apathy toward current political issues. People need to be concerned.”

But for Mr. Aquino, attempts to unseat President Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo have failed due to the lack of a real alternative.

To which Mr. Lim agreed: “People are really a bit tired because they feel that there is no genuine leader [to replace Mrs. Arroyo].”

Meanwhile, with most of ATOM's core group having advanced in their political careers, Mr. Aquino said the Spirit of EDSA lives 26 years after Ninoy's death, with some members recalling the inspiration in today's death anniversary commemoration.

Mr. Aquino himself has become congressman in Makati; Mr. Binay is an end-term Makati mayor; Mr. Enverga was a former congressman and governor of Quezon province; Mr. Magsaysay became a senator; while Mr. Gatmaitan went on to become a political analyst. Mr. Macapagal, who has been prodded to enter politics, is the half-brother of Mrs. Arroyo.

ATOM, in fact, had a resurrection of sorts as its banners showing the sprawled body of Ninoy at the tarmac joined those of other groups in the eight-hour funeral procession of Cory's remains on Aug. 5. Mrs. Aquino succumbed to colon cancer on Aug. 1.

On its relevance to present issues, Mr. Aquino said ATOM will stand up every time democracy is threatened. “ATOM is a movement that is very closely allied to the ideals of Ninoy and Cory. It was born in the assassination of Ninoy and our spiritual guide has always been Cory... That is what EDSA is all about.”