A last look at a departed general

Manuel L. Quezon III
7 min readJun 15, 2023

Rodolfo Biazon has been hailed as the last of his kind

The passing of Rodolfo Biazon is being marked with all the pomp the military and civilian authorities can muster. His was, indeed, a remarkable life.

This week’s The Long View:

THE LONG VIEW

Defender of the republic

By: Manuel L. Quezon III@inquirerdotnet

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.

A word on the past:

Here is a telling detail about Rodolfo Biazon during the time he was assigned to Davao, from an article by Gus Miclat:

These multi-sectoral assemblages epitomized what could have been a real and functioning democratic coalition government that mirrored the aspirations of the majority. Thus when welgang bayans were launched in Mindanao, the dictatorship trembled as entire cities were paralyzed; as generals like Rodolfo Biazon shed tears when confronted by puny student leaders like Rocky Balili or Flor Garcia in the middle of a barricaded street; as urban poor multitudes and farmers occupied entire highways; as bakeries and stores willingly poured out their wares to the hungry and thirsty strikers while even the commercial radio stations gallantly, continuously reported the welga as it progressed.

Two vivid accounts of the prelude to 1989, the 1987 coup attempt: The Philippines The Coup That Failed in Time Magazine, and “They were out to kill me!” from the Philippines Free Press.

You can access the 1990 Fact-Finding Commission Report online in full, as well as its component parts:

The Report that follows is the Fact-Finding Commission’s Final Report. It has seven chapters and 19 appendices. In order to provide a better understanding of the phenomenon of the coup d’etat, Chapter I describes it, analyzes its various elements, and discusses various hypotheses explaining why a coup d’etat occurs on the basis of other countries’ experiences. Because a coup d’etat pertains primarily to the relationship between the government and the military organization, Chapter II describes political changes and military transformation in the Philippines prior to the failed coup of December 1989. Because a coup d’etat is primarily the handiwork of military officers and does not take place in a vacuum, Chapter III describes and analyzes the socialization process which the Filipino military officer undergoes to understand the possible reasons for his politicization, the domestic socio-economic-political environment in the country at the time of the failed coup, and the external linkages of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) which might have influenced its officers’ orientations. It also provides some insights on the political orientations of purposively selected military units to determine their predisposition towards a coup d’etat. In Chapter IV, the Report discusses the various coup plots in which factions of the AFP had involved themselves from the failed coup of February 1986 against former President Ferdinand E. Marcos which was overtaken by the EDSA Revolt up to that of 28 August 1987 to show that there is a continuity of the main plots and the main coup plotters.

Chapters V to VII contain the core of the Commission’s findings as to the coup attempt itself; the main plotters; the causes, both alleged and real; the Commission’s analysis, conclusions, and recommendations

A contemporary supplement would be The Failed December Coup: View from the U.P. Community, while a well-written account of 1989 from the government’s point of view can be found in The Aquino Management of the Presidency: In The Face of Crisis (pp. 28–34).

It seems to me that even when he criticized Rodrigo Duterte, the famously touchy president didn’t react with a double-barreled attack on Biazon. This suggests the standing he had in Davao and which he kept among those who experienced his period of service there.

One can only surmise that residual contacts in Davao might have helped tip him off in 1989: the Fact-Finding Commission’s report includes an intriguing though circumstantial inquiry into the arrival of Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. from exile, days before the coup attempt took place (involving a cast featuring his eventual business and political heir, Ramon Ang).

Duterte’s mother would lead the Cory Resign movement in Davao, marked by a manifesto on December 28, 1990 asking Aquino to step down to give way to Vice-President Salvador H. Laurel. We know, too, that the future president had run against, and defeated, Aquino’s official candidate in 1988. He joined the Nacionalista Party, then headed by Laurel, in 1990. We also know he would support the presidential bid of Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. (which was, indeed, popular with business types there), in 1992. And there’s his membership in a group formed to support the military rebels. Ultimately, what is no mystery is that by 1989, there were those pledged to defend our being a newly-restored democracy, and those committed to turning their back on the era as a mistake.

Originally published at https://mlq3.substack.com.

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Manuel L. Quezon III

Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Editor-at-large Spot.ph. Views strictly mine. I have a newsletter, blog, podcast, and Patreon.