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1986 February Revolution "Chabacano Code Talker" Story

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    February 1986 EDSA Revolution

    With me is 2LT Benito Asuncion Madarang at left, 15th Strike Wing pilot, my Charlie Companymate in PMA, Godbrother and rebelmate carrying the crate of 2.75-inch rockets we were to use to conduct the only ever airstrike on Malacanang Palace, Feb 24, 1986 with an AUH-76 Sikorsky helicopter. (Camp Crame, Quezon City)

    In Feb 86, during the revolt that would later topple the Marcos dictatorship, there was also a utilization of “code talkers” of sorts. During those times, we would fly the rebel helicopters to Clark Air Base, in Pampanga at sunset to seek “assylum” at the American bases, rather than risk sabotage in Camp Crame. In the evening of Feb 24, while we were in Clark with all the 7 helicopters and handful of T-28’s of the 15th Strike Wing who were able to leave their bases in Sangley Point and Villamor Air Base, BGen Jose L Zumel, superintendent of the Philippine Military Academy and a purported Marcos loyalist, was according to intelligence, reported to have been sighted in Basa Air Base, home of the fighter jets presumeably enticing pilots to side with Marcos and bomb Camp Crame the next day. Of course, this according to BGen Jose Zumel, was inaccurate as his only mission from the CS-AFP was to evaluate the situation there.

    A plan of action was hatched and a mission to assault Basa Air Base and destroy all its air assets on the ground in a dawn pre-emptive strike was planned. We even had to wait until about 9PM for the US State Department to agree on fueling the choppers, but they refused to refuel the bomb-laden T-28 Tora-tora’s so as not to further escalate the war. During the planning of the assault, a handful of Chabacano-speaking soldiers from Zamboanga in the 15th Strike Wing were used while hatching a plan to spirit out much needed .50-cal linked ammunition as well as 2.75-inch rockets which were to be hidden at the end of the runway in Sangley Point for us to pick-up at the crack of dawn the next day and ferry to the Floridablanca, Pampanga area close to Basa Air Base, for the impending air assault.

    Perhaps the Chabacano dialect, from Zamboanga, a mixture of Spanish and the local dialect,  is one of the fewest spoken in the Philippines so they were the ones used to relay messages amongst each other. I distinctly recall how everything, including computations of combat air loiter, as well as utility of rescue helicopters for the downed or wounded. Supposedly, two things were to happen: one was to sabotage them and blow all the canopies of the jets, rendering them not airworthy.

    Apparently, jets, when downed, have a lanyard that a rescuer can pull from outside the plane shooting the ejection seat up for its pilot’s immediate rescue, in case that was needed to be accomplished in only a few seconds. Doing so, will disable the jet and not be able to fly until another canopy is installed. If this kind of sabotage was not feasible, we were to go to plan B and simply shoot up all the jets on the ground and deny Marcos jet fighters.

    During all these planning, the radios were so busy with Chabacano code talkers chatting from different bases in Sangley, Villamor Air Base and us in Clark Air Base with very minimal risk. At the same time, we were hearing heavy sounding CH-53 helicopters flying in our vicinity getting us all excited that they were out to help us. We did not realize what was going on until we went to the tarmac to refuel our helicopters where we would find about a battalion of US Marines in full-combat gear, just like us. They were flown in from Subic Naval Base in Olongapo and apparently, their mission was to be realized when we were already on our way back to the Clark Air Base Command (CABCOM) HQ of the Philippine Air Force after refueling all our aircraft.

    Riding in a Toyota Coaster (small bus that can ride about 22 persons) we were suddenly stopped and all those US Marines dropped on the ground at the open tarmac pointing their weapons at us. A marine officer politely asked who the head of the team was in the coaster, by which then Maj. Charles Hotchkiss, commander of the 20th Helicopter Squadron who owns the gunships we had, alighted from the vehicle and spoke with them. After a few tense moments, we were all requested to alight from the vehicle and requested to turn in all our weapons and asked us to follow them back to the CABCOM building. Upon arrival there, we noticed more US Marines ringing the whole perimeter of the building’s fence line. To our surprise, all of our weapons were given back to us upon arrival there, although we were all requested to stay inside the building or its perimeter. Inside, to our surprise, the 13th Air Force commander of the US Pacific Command, suddenly came with a few other officers bearing boxes of champagne and announced that the CH-53 helicopters they had were already en route back to Clark Air Base, bearing with them the first family of the Marcoses and all others who would join them, for what they thought would be Paoay, but instead a longer trip to Hawaii. The US Marines were there to secure their safety against us rebels while they were transiting, thus ending the people power revolution of 1986.

    That would be the second time I would ever see my father, then a colonel and the commander of the 15th Strike Wing, cry, but of tears of joy, telling me that Marcos is done, and is leaving the country! (The first was when my mom was found to have terminal cancer back in 77, but with God’s good graces, is still with us to this day!) Early the next day (Feb 25, 1986) we would see the last remnants of Marcos’ Air Force planes land one after another, signifying their intent to join us. There were all kinds of planes there that morning, and the 15th Strike Wing’s AUH-76 Sikorsky helicopters and the T-28’s did one last fly-by over Camp Crame to an empty EDSA, and the start of a new chapter in our country’s life of democracy. That is our very own “code-talker” story for the books!!

    This story has never ever been published until this writing and am just sharing with you a snippet of a lot of the things that happened during those few days of the EDSA revolt. All the best!!

    Source: Nick Sotelo

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