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25 February 2006

Remembering Another Philippines Coup Attempt

August 1987. A college-student is enjoying her month-long visit to the Philippines. She’s been invited on this trip by two college friends who were spending the month with their aunt and her family in Quezon City. This is not a hostel and backpack trip. No, the family she is staying with is a comfortably wealthy family that owns its own textile factory. There is a cook and two house maids, two drivers and a “family companion” for the daughter of the family. Our college student will, in the future, feel slightly ashamed at the opulence of her lifestyle during this trip. But right now, it is a wonderful experience: they have visited the jungle and the beach, and they have spent a few days in the mountains at a luxury hotel (where they met a group of international youth chess champions, and have danced in the hotel nightclub with geeks [but that’s OK, because at heart she’s a geek, too]). Their time in Manila is filled with mornings visiting monuments and “educational” sites, siestas at home, and evenings (very late evenings) going to clubs for dancing and “midnight snacks” at hotel restaurants.

Our college student and her two friends have planned this summer well, they think. June and July were spent at home so they could work summer jobs for school-year money (and put in some time with parents and siblings). August in the Philippines, and they timed their return trip so they’d have two days for getting back on East Coast time before heading to DC for the start of their Sophomore year.

Except that the day before their return, August 29, the military academy begins a coup attempt. The radio is the people's only source of news right now. Stay put, the newscasters warn. People of Caucasian heritage should stay indoors, away from windows. No one knows if rioting and mayhem will be reaching Manila. The US Embassy is closed, and they are not answering their phone. Stay put! But our college student isn’t so sure that the US Embassy would help her. She isn’t even a US citizen, just a permanent resident. Stay put! The airport is closed, flights are cancelled. Stay put!

The host family suggests our student should call home, to let her family know she is alright. This early in the unrest, the phone lines are still up, so she should call. Now.

But there are many time zones between Asia and the US East Coast. When our college student calls home, it is the middle of the night there, and her father answers groggily.

“Listen, I’m alright, but there’s a chance I’ll be a few days late. I’m alright, but could you call my school and let them know I may not be back by the first day of term?”

“Young lady, you damn better be back in time to start school! I know you are having a good time over there, but don’t you play around with this, missy! You are not allowed to—”

Click. Phone line’s dead.

[Fine then, if they don't care, I don’t need to talk to them! And she spends the next 36 hours staying indoors, listening to the news, playing cards, and getting the airline to re-route her ticket.]

Later, when she gets back home, with about five hours to spare between arriving in New York and starting the drive down to DC, she will be told by her sisters that there was quite a to-do in the house later on the morning of the 29th, when everyone was awake and US news agencies began reporting a coup attempt in the Philippines. Her father realized that he hadn’t been dreaming the phone call, that it wasn’t just an irresponsible daughter trying to get out of going back to school, but that there was something serious going on there. By then the phone lines were either overloaded or down, so her family couldn’t get back in touch with her. Mother was angry. Father felt sheepish. Both were worried.

Our college student feels righteous indignation, but is generous with her forgiveness.

Never distrust your daughter!