I have stacks of steno notebooks, a.k.a., my journals. Writing in them has been my way of paying attention to the world around me and saving my observations for the future.
In recent years I haven’t been journaling much. On the other hand, I am making good use of some old journal entries.
The novel I’m working on now (working title: Diana) is set in the Philippines near the end of 1989. The dramatic events I wrote about in my last two posts, an assassination, the declaration of martial law, and the People Power Revolution, happened before my novel starts. By 1989, the lovely wife of the assassinated senator had been elected president, and everyone was living happily ever after.
Not. Sorry. Troubles are never ending, and they didn’t end with the election of Corazon Aquino. During the first four years of her presidency Cory survived four plots, two incidents, and four full-blown coup attempts, the most serious of which was the attempted coup of December 1989.
My husband and I lived in Manila then. Our three daughters were in college and graduate school in the States.
On December 1, the rebels, having done some serious planning (or semi-serious), got off to a good start. They seized Fort Bonifacio and several air bases, shut down the Manila International Airport, and came close to seizing the presidential palace.
Expatriates like us watched from a distance. We snickered a bit about the rebels’ planes. T-28 Trojans (tora-toras) would have been nothing to joke about in 1941. But in 1989 they looked like toys. Even so, the rebels had captured the government air bases, so for a few hours their little tora-toras ruled the sky.
According to my journal, we onlookers wavered between concern and enjoyment of the spectacle. I went up to the rooftop of our apartment building and watched the tora-toras and later the Philippine Air Force F-5 jets and then the US F-4 Phantom jets from Clark Air Base.
A touch of Hollywood drama hung over the whole undertaking due in no small part to the rebels’ swashbuckling leader. Gregorio Honasan, who was known as “Gringo” for his cowboy tough-guy attitude, had led a previous bloody coup attempt after which he’d twice been captured and twice escaped. During the second escape he’d convinced his guards to escape along him. The man was not lacking in charisma.
With previous plots and coup attempts having come to nothing, we weren’t seriously worried. That changed on the second day of the coup when foreign tourists and many of our friends found themselves smack in the middle of the action. The rebel Scout Rangers, having decided to abandon Fort Bonifacio, marched into nearby Makati.
Makati, besides being the premier financial district of the country, was also the favorite place for expats to live. On the morning of December 2, Scout Rangers bearing their firearms, mortar tubes, and Howitzers marched down Ayala Avenue. Then they proceeded to occupy 22 high-rise buildings in Makati and place snipers on the rooftops.
Government forces couldn’t dislodge them, not with more than a thousand foreign tourists and business executives trapped in hotels and office buildings and readily available to use as hostages. Instead, the government blocked off escape routes. And for the next five days tourists and Makati residents were trapped.
You won’t read in Wikipedia about the many phone calls of friends checking on friends or about the rumor that rebels were marking the homes of Americans with a cross and circle so they could use them later as hostages. You won’t read about the Vietnamese woman who needed ingredients for her husband’s dinner and was killed in front of Makati Supermarket. You will, however, find those details and others in my journal.
Some of those journal entries just might make their way (in a fictionalized form) into my new novel.
Diana is still a long way from being finished. But if you haven’t read my first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, you can find it on Amazon, barnesandnoble.com, and Apple iBooks. If you can’t find it in your favorite bookstore or library, they can order it for you. Just ask.
Here’s a video of American coverage of the coup attempt (Peter Jennings on ABC).