President Benigno S. Aquino III’s Speech at the memorial for the late Ambassador Stephen W. Bosworth, former US ambassador to the Philippines
Church of the Holy Trinity, Makati City
28 February 2016
I feel a bit inadequate in that all the speakers before me had occasions to have really interacted, deeply interacted, with the person we are honoring today. I of course was described as my mother’s favorite son, and dakilang alalay [manservant], so I was not party to a lot of the conversation. And I guess the first time I ever spoke to Stephen Bosworth was when I visited Washington, when I was already president, and it was but a three-minute conversation. But when I was invited to attend today’s memorial service, given the enormity of his contributions to the Philippine cause, I was compelled to say yes. Here is, perhaps, the viewpoint from the younger generation who witnessed Stephen’s contribution for the Filipino People.

Just three days ago, I attended the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution. There, I spoke both as a son and a father: a son of a family that suffered during the dark days of Martial Law, and a father of a nation composed of young people who may not grasp the various freedoms that Filipinos were deprived of during Martial Law. I likewise took the opportunity to acknowledge the millions of men and women who took to the streets to call for the ousting of Mr. Marcos and put an end to oppression.

This afternoon, I speak to you in a similar vein. We are paying tribute to a man, and a generation, faced with momentous decisions as the dictatorship toppled and ultimately fell. Those decisions continue to affect us today and will remain of enduring relevance long after all of us are gone.

Others more senior than myself can account for the manner in which Stephen Bosworth gained the goodwill of the then-opposition, because of his fairness and good judgment. His time here began in May of 1984, and he was welcomed by a fair amount of challenges through which he had to navigate. It was less than a year after my father’s assassination, and it was right before the Parliamentary elections, where the opposition won a third of the seats. During a time of flux in terms of both politics and security, he really performed as an ambassador should, especially in the most critical of times. Today, I wish to focus on February 24 to 25, 1986—forty-eight hours that determined whether or not our country would plunge into violent civil war.

One of the enduring myths about Mr. Marcos is that, even in his time of maximum peril, he somehow found it in himself to hold back rather than harm the tens of thousands of unarmed civilians gathered at EDSA. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A careful study of the reports and anecdotes right after the revolution dispel this myth. There is much evidence of Mr. Marcos’s orders to resort to violence, and perhaps I may share a few that we have unearthed: Early in the third day, Mr. Marcos sent marines to attack Camp Crame, which prompted Ambassador Bosworth to phone Washington to report that an attack was expected at dawn. This eventually led President Reagan to order the Ambassador to tell Marcos his time was up, and a transition should be worked out. On that same day, the Marcos military prepared, and they eventually tear gassed Santolan to get through the crowd. Generals Fabian Ver and Ramas gave the order to use tear gas, artillery, helicopters, and bombs from jets to wipe out the rebels, but instead when the helicopter gunships landed in Camp Aguinaldo and joined the side of the people, Marcos subsequently lost his airpower.

There are even more reports: There is, for instance, the order by General Josephus Ramas to attack Crame, knowing full well that civilians were there. Fortunately, Col. Braulio Balbas of the Philippine Marine Corps, who received the order, delayed his actions not once, but four times—having been given the order four times. Moreover, after the rebels began strafing Malacañang, Mr. Marcos’s cohorts responded by ordering a “suicide assault,” which Mr. Marcos himself approved, but the Marines refused to do it.

I recount these in detail because of the Marcos myth. Many Filipinos remember the press conference where General Ver argued with Marcos about attacking Camp Crame. Today, however, we know that not just one—but several orders had been made, that would have had bloody consequences if carried out.

Everyone knows that, in the morning of the last day of EDSA, Marcos made his fateful phone call to Senator Laxalt, where the Senator advised the dictator to “cut and cut cleanly.” As historians and journalists tell us, fewer know that General Fabian Ver was still trying to bring in reinforcements, but the planes carrying those reinforcements were diverted.

The historical record also tells us that, by the time my mother’s inauguration was set to take place, Mr. Marcos had tried one last gambit: to convince his former Defense Minister Enrile to support a power sharing agreement proposal to my mother, which obviously failed. It was around that time that the Marcoses started packing. Between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., Marcos called Enrile to ask Ambassador Bosworth to arrange safe conduct away from the Palace. After learning of Mr. Marcos’s plan to leave, Ambassador Bosworth informed my mother of the dictator’s decision. As the situation progressed, he continued speaking to both sides—acting as an honest broker—to help clarify the terms by which Mr. Marcos would leave the country.

Just to emphasize Mr. Marcos’s desire to cling to power: At one point, he even requested a two-day rest period in his hometown of Paoay, which my mother declined, knowing the dangers of the dictator consolidating his forces in the north and further undermining the democratic process, and perhaps even launching a civil war. Instead, she allowed for an overnight stay in Clark, after which the dictator had to depart the country.

Indeed, during times of great stress and turmoil, it is easy to believe what you want to believe, and act upon those beliefs. This is why Ambassador Bosworth’s role as an honest broker was critical. He chose his words with precision, and always acted towards reaching a peaceful solution. Imagine, if he had chosen the wrong words, and had somehow hinted to Mr. Marcos that he could keep power if he could just hold on for a few days. The dictator might have taken even more drastic actions against the people; and if the Ambassador had somehow made the opposition feel hopeless, then that may stoked some fires, and have led to immeasurable consequences. Clearly, the man to whom we pay tribute was key in reaching a reasonable solution—one that steered us away from the threat of a bloody civil war. Repeatedly, consistently, and firmly, Stephen Bosworth put himself on the side of peace, and was an advocate of using his influence to convince his superiors that not only Marcos, but Ver and all the fatigue-wearing hard-liners egging him on like Ferdinand Marcos, had to be prevented from conducting a massacre.

At the time of his passing, I mentioned how my mother always saw him as a diplomat who went beyond the call of duty to help us reclaim our freedoms and rebuild our country. I called him then, as I call him now, a true friend of the Philippines. Over his tenure here, it was through his eyes that the United States—and perhaps the rest of the world—saw the true condition of our country. He was crucial in letting his government know how the dogs of war that Mr. Marcos wanted to unleash were at the brink of snapping their leashes. And even after he left the Philippines, I am told that he, along with our friends at the U.S.-Philippine Society, kept a keen eye on our nation, sincerely wishing for our nation’s progress, and for the strengthening of our democracy. Thus, I believe I speak for many of our countrymen when I say he will always have the respect and the gratitude of the Filipino people, and that we hope that even more diplomats will follow in his footsteps as partners for the collective progress of our nations, and of the world at large.

Thank you. Good day.