Thursday, February 25, 2016

The MFP: “Warriors from Afar”

The People Power or EDSA Revolution of 1986 is again being celebrated to commemorate the Filipino people’s successful struggle to overthrow the dictatorial regime of Ferdinand Marcos. While homeland oppositionists and rebels were primarily responsible and therefore, mostly credited for the restoration of democracy in the Philippines, the positive role of exiles or “warriors from afar” cannot be denied.

The Movement for a Free Philippines (MFP) was a group of exiles that led the efforts to assist in the battle for freedom; to expose the atrocities of the Marcos regime; to convince the U.S. government to reverse its policies supporting the dictatorship; and to eventually help in the overthrow of the dictator.

The leader of MFP was Raul S. Manglapus - a former Senator, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and leader of the Progressives at the 1973 Constitutional Convention. He was Secretary General of the SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization). His friendship with some of the U.S. Congressional and State department leaders helped open some doors in Washington.

I joined the movement after escaping from the Marcos regime in 1976 via kumpit (pump boat) disguised as a Muslim barter trader named Abdul Julkanain. Traveling with my wife Tina, daughter Tanya, cousin Prepedigna Maynigo Bugayong, and Gerry Jumat with his family, Boots Ayson, Lara, and Wally, we were escorted by Muslim soldiers armed with sub-machine guns. The latter fought back pirates in the high seas who were chasing us.

We passed by Zamboanga, Jolo, Tawi-Tawi, Sitangkay, and eventually reached the Island of Sabah, Malaysia where we stayed for 4 months until registered as refugees by the UNHCR and paroled into the United States. This route became the escape trail for other leaders who joined MFP.

While organizing and holding rallies and pickets in front of Congress and the White House pre-occupied us to gain attention, our focus was public information, lobbying, and recruitment of US–based Filipinos to join the cause. This propelled the birth and growth of the Philippine News – the equivalent of La Solidaridad, which was founded by a group led by Jose Rizal and Lopez Jaena in Spain during the Spanish regime in the Philippines. The MFP was dubbed the Propaganda Movement of the period.

MFP’s lobbying efforts concentrated on the following: (1) convince US to withdraw military and economic aid to Marcos; and (2) to get the US to encourage the holding of elections, and the restoration of Philippine democracy and the Filipinos’ bill of rights. US leaders were informed that Marcos: “shut down the Congress and the independent media imprisoning innocent nuns, priests, professionals, journalists, professors, students, labor leaders and political oppositionists; imprisoned and tortured tens of thousands of others whose only offense has been to dissent; caused the killing of lesser known political prisoners; castrated the judiciary; emasculated the labor unions; prostrated the teaching profession; disgraced the vocation of journalism; assaulted the minds of the young; dragged real wages down; caused the transfer of ownership of major industries to relatives and friends; and made Imelda, the most bejeweled and richest first lady.” (Philippine Times, “The Christian Force”, Raul S. Manglapus).

America’s resistance to our lobbying efforts was due to its own military and economic interests. The Cold War with the Soviet Union was still on going. America needed to retain its military bases and needed a reliable ally in Asia like Marcos who “might be a son of a bitch but America’s own S.O.B.”

When Ronald Reagan was Governor of California, he visited the Philippines. He became a close friend of Marcos and was very impressed with Marcos’ alleged heroic war exploits and his corresponding War Medals. This friendship and Marcos’ image as an alleged war hero built the strongest wall of resistance to our lobbying efforts when Reagan became US President.
Author with President Ronald Reagan
Led by Colonel Boni Gillego, MFP decided to focus on proving that Marcos was a fake hero with fake War Medals. Research was done in the Army Archives located at Suitland, Maryland and St. Louis, Missouri. The initial findings of Gillego who also followed the escape trail that we took, were shown to the Washington Post and the New York Times. Both conducted their own separate and independent research verifying Gillego’s findings. The Washington Post and the New York Times did publish their own versions drawing similar conclusions. The Philippine News and the Philippine underground paper Malaya published Gillego’s findings in a series of articles.
MFP President Raul S. Manglapus and wife Pacita with Senator Edward Kennedy
American leaders reevaluated their relationship with Marcos upon learning that he was really a fake war hero. Even worse, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. was later assassinated under the care of Marcos’ guards. The beginning of the end of Marcos’ reign was no longer an “impossible dream”.

The death of Ninoy awakened many fearful and apathetic Filipinos. The movement to restore democracy became stronger and Marcos was forced to call new national elections. The latter pitted Ferdinand Marcos against the widow of Ninoy, Cory Aquino. The former again used what is called the 4 Gs – Goons, Guns, Gold, and Girls. But the yearning for freedom and justice could no longer be denied to a people that Ninoy said to be “worth dying for”.

Observers, monitors, and participating voters and canvassers knew that the Filipinos elected Cory as the new President of the Philippines. But the Marcos-controlled Parliament proclaimed Marcos as the winner. Recognizing this mockery of the electoral process, courageous Filipinos started plotting a peaceful revolution. Then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile defected to the opposition after learning that Marcos ordered his arrest for plotting the Marcos’ overthrow. The defection coincided with that of General Fidel Ramos.

Jaime Cardinal Sin responded to Enrile’s plea for support by asking Filipinos to converge at EDSA. Cory and the Yellow Army joined and a real peaceful revolution was unleashed. Over a million people gathered and blocked the tanks aimed at Ramos and Enrile’s forces. Meanwhile, more soldiers from the Philippine Air Force, Army, PC, Navy, and other government institutions defected.
The MFP and its chapters in the US nationwide concentrated on convincing Embassy and Consular officers to defect. Honolulu was my assignment. Raul Rabe did not need convincing. He already scheduled a Defection Press Conference before I could meet him. The Honolulu Consulate added another nail to Marcos’ coffin as a dictator.

As the world was witnessing the historic People Power Revolution, President Ronald Reagan sent a known close friend Senator Paul Laxalt (R, Nevada) carrying a letter to Marcos telling him it was time to leave.

The rest is history.

*"The MFP: Warriors from Afar", Page 17, Manila Mail, February 16-28, 2016

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