THOSE who are old enough to remember will agree that the bloodiest and most serious coup attempt against the late president Corazon Aquino was the one that was launched on Dec. 1, 1989 by the combined forces of the Reform Armed Forces under then Col. Gringo Honasan and Marcos loyalist soldiers led by Gen. Jose Ma. Zumel.
In the first few hours of the coup, the rebels were able to seize control of Villamor Airbase, Fort Bonifacio, Sangley Airbase and Mactan (now Benito Ebuen) Airbase.
Planes and helicopters manned by mutineers took off from Sangley and bombarded Malacañang, as well as the headquarters of the police and the armed forces.
It was only the intervention of the US that saved the day for Mrs. Aquino. Fighter jets from two US aircraft carriers (the USS Enterprise and the USS Midway) and from Clark Air Base cleared the skies of rebel aircraft, allowing loyal forces to regroup and consolidate.
The rebels did not give up easily, however, marching to Makati where they occupied more than 20 high-rise buildings in the Ayala business complex, after they were repulsed in Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo. The stand-off would last until Dec. 9. The last to fall back into government hands was Mactan Airbase.
When the smoke cleared, there were 99 dead, 50 of them civilians, and 570 wounded. Among those wounded was Mrs. Aquino’s only son, Noynoy, who is now the Liberal Party (LP) candidate for president.
The rebel soldiers who occupied Makati were led by a young Scout Ranger officer who graduated from West Point, Maj. Danny Lim. Among those who defended the government from the rebellion was Ramon “Mon-Mon” Mitra, a newly minted Marine lieutenant from the Philippine Military Academy and the third son and namesake of the Speaker of the House at that time.
Lim and Mitra are both running for the Senate on May 10, the former with the LP under Noynoy and the latter with the Nacionalista Party. If they win, they will join Honasan in the Upper Chamber.
I still remember the Saturday after the December coup was resolved. House Speaker Ramon Mitra was in Cebu and, with Cebu City South Rep. Tony Cuenco, was a guest in “On the Spot,” the best talk show ever in the history of Cebu television, hosted by Lani Echavez.
The elder Mitra’s mood was light during the show until he was asked to comment on claims by the rebels that the soldiers were poorly paid and treated by the government. Mitra’s mouth became taut and his eyes blazed. “My son receives the same pay and treatment as all the other soldiers his rank but he risked his life defending the Constitution,” he said.
The emotional reaction took me aback and it was only 20 years later that I understood why. It turned out that the 22nd Marine Rifle Company of the Marine Battalion Landing Team lost three men during the coup. The young Mitra was executive officer of the unit, which was based in Bulacan until it was brought to Manila as an anti-coup force.
It is a long and colorful story which has to be told in person in order to “do justice to the three loyal men that we lost,” Mon-Mon said of his unit’s exploits in an e-mail to me. That will probably have to wait until he comes to Cebu during the campaign.
Not that I need any personal story-telling to convince me that he has done this country proud. He is third in my list of favorite senatorial candidates, after Alex Lacson, who was his mistah in the Academy until Alex left to pursue the nobler profession of law, and Lim.
Honasan, Mitra, Lim and Alex Lacson: politics does breed strange bedfellows.