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Rex Robles, Plotter of Philippine Coups, Is Dead at 77

2020-07-12 15:43:15

Rex Robles, a prominent member of a clique of Philippine military officers who plotted several coups in the 1980s against two presidents, Ferdinand Marcos and his successor, Corazon Aquino, died on July 5 in Manila. He was 77.

His family said the cause was cardiac arrest.

The officers’ first plot, against Mr. Marcos in 1986, was not carried out but was a catalyst for a breakaway by military leaders that gave rise to the mass protests, known as People Power, that drove him from office.

Mr. Robles and the other young officers were at the core of that breakaway, known as Edsa, which was led by the armed forces chief of staff, Fidel Ramos, and the defense minister, Juan Ponce Enrile, for whom they served as a security detail.

Mr. Marcos was succeeded in February 1986 by Mrs. Aquino, who soon became the target of at least six coup attempts, some led by the same group of officers. The attempts continued through much of her six-year presidency.

Mr. Robles was detained after one of those attempts, but he was released after nine months when charges against him were dropped.

Rex Robles was born on May 2, 1943, in Iloilo City on the central Philippine island of Panay. His father was a landowner and his mother was a teacher. He graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1965, joined the Navy and rose to the rank of commodore.

His survivors include his wife, Marilyn Robles; a daughter, Penny Robles; two sons, King and Mikael, and two grandchildren.

Mr. Robles was known as a chief theorist and propaganda expert in the group of officers, known as the Reform the Armed Forces Movement, or RAM, and spent considerable energy cultivating the press and confiding a variety of frightening but unrealized scenarios that served to put pressure on the government. “We will move before the year is up,” he said at one point.

“Rex was RAM’s quintessential intellectual — the officer who had an explanation and theory on everything and anything,” said Glenda Gloria, a journalist who is an expert on the military and knew him well. “In those days, he took time to address journalists’ queries, debate with them, engage in a vigorous and passionate back and forth that would end up often in a deadlock,” Ms. Gloria said.

She added: “He bridged RAM with media, and did it well. He played a critical role in ‘humanizing’ them, on one hand, and projecting them as a group that gave politics a lot of thought. A skillful psywar man who knew how to play into media’s weaknesses, i.e., hunger for exclusives, hunger for insider stuff, hunger for arguments.”

The group was made up of some of the most able and ambitious officers in the military. Under its charismatic leader, Col. Gregorio Honasan, it attracted a public following.

“These men are bright within their very limited world — and cocky,” a Western diplomat once said. “The classic profile of colonels who take over governments.”

To demonstrate their patriotism and machismo, members of the group sometimes jogged up a major thoroughfare late at night carrying a Philippine flag.

“They want to obtain power,” Carolina G. Hernandez, an expert on the military and a professor of political science at the University of the Philippines, said in an interview with The New York Times in 1986 as rumors swirled that the group was planning a coup. “Unless these people are mad, they will not attempt it.” But, she added, the group was driven and hard to predict.

These young officers’ sense of virtue and political entitlement as they rebelled against what they saw as the corruption and incompetence of their superiors was a major destabilizing factor in Mrs. Aquino’s presidency.

When Mrs. Aquino died in 2009, Mr. Robles acknowledged the damage that the officers’ actions had caused. “On hindsight,” he said, “it wasn’t the best thing to do.”


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