By Raïssa Robles
Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas played a key role in a coup attempt against then President Corazon Aquino shortly after being ejected from the Marcos-appointed Supreme Court in the wake of the 1986 Edsa People Power uprising, .
[UPDATE, March1: Former Supreme Court Justice Serafine Cuevas admitted today that he once lawyered for Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile in the most important case of Enrile’s life. But Cuevas said their past lawyer-client relationship was “no big deal” and would not affect the judgment of Enrile as presiding officer of the Senate Impeachment Court.
This confirms my story. To read sacked Supreme Court Justice Cuevas’ explanation, click on this link.]
Cuevas defied the Rule of Law by swearing in Arturo Tolentino as the “Acting President”. The game plan was for Tolentino to pave the way for the return of the ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos to Manila.
The ceremony led by ex-Supreme Court Justice Cuevas on the Manila Hotel driveway was a fiasco: It was one of the more comical coup attempts staged by Marcos loyalists, who took over the hotel and occupied it for a few days. In the process they ate most of the food and trashed the establishment.
A year later in August 1987, the sacked Supreme Court justice came to the rescue of then Senator Juan Ponce Enrile who was accused of instigating another coup attempt against Cory Aquino. Enrile was arrested for the crime of “rebellion complexed with murder”. Cuevas was one of the lawyers who forcefully argued for the dropping of this charge against the former defense secretary.
While the Manila Hotel coup attempt was a farce, the August 27 to 28, 1987 coup attempt that implicated Enrile was tragic – resulting in the deaths of 53 mostly unarmed civilians and the wounding of over 200.
Among those seriously wounded in the August coup was President Aquino’s son, Benigno III.
OUR Plaza Miranda members research Supreme Court Justice Cuevas
I am very proud to say that it wasn’t I who found out about Supreme Court Justice Cuevas’ participation in the 1986 coup attempt, nor Cuevas’ lawyering for Enrile in 1987.
Both incidents were shared with me by readers and commenters to this blog. This indicates that this blog is indeed becoming OUR Plaza Miranda – where insights are shared and ideas are vigorously debated on.
It was @Andrew Lim who first sent me the link to the United Press International Report below on the Manila Hotel fiasco:
The report named the person who swore in Tolentino as “ousted Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Serapin (sic) Cuevas.”
The original file can be accessed here.
A commenter named @Baycas sent the same UPI report, entitled MARCOS ALLY LEADS CHALLENGE NEW ‘PRESIDENT’ HOLED UP IN HOTEL, but published by Albany Press.
A commenter named @Odasoid separately sent a Philippines Free Press report on the same incident:
Violence and Farce
What started out as a weekend show of Marcos “loyalists” turned into a weekly politically rally, then into violent Sunday demos, that eventually culminated in an open rebellion on July 6, exactly the 14th Sunday from Easter on the seventh month of the year. On that day, Tolentino took his oath as Vice-President of the Philippines and, in the absence of Marcos, proclaimed himself “acting President” under the l973 Constitution. The moment of Tolentino’s “last hurrah” had finally come, testing the four-month old Aquino revolutionary government.
In a ceremony at the driveway of the luxurious Manila Hotel, covered by both local and foreign media, the former running-mate of Dictator Marcos, flanked and backdropped by former members of the discredited defunct Batasan, was sworn into office by former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas. After naming his new “cabinet members”, the 75-year old “acting President” promptly directed former Speaker Nicanor Yñiguez to convene the Batasan, whose first order of business was to pass a law that would call for national elections at the earliest opportunity.
Members of the “Tolentino cabinet” included Rafael Recto as Justice Minister, Manuel Collantes as Foreign Affairs Minister, Isidro Rodriguez as Local Governments Minister and Manuel Alba as Budget Minister. Tolentino also appointed Juan Ponce Enrile Jr., Defense Minister, for whom the position of Prime Minister was reserved in concurrent capacity. Without the benefit of appointment, former assemblyman Gerardo Espina of Manila served as Acting Information Minister. Except for Enrile, who was “in the suburbs attending to private business”, all members of the “Tolentino cabinet” were present.
Before the oath -taking, Tolentino lowered the boom on President Aquino, describing her government as “illegal”. He claimed that Marcos and he were the country’s legitimate leaders, having been proclaimed “winners” in the last presidential and vice-presidential election by the Batasan, Characterizing both Cory Aquino and “Doy” Laurel as power grabbers, Tolentino produced a letter from Marcos authorizing him to assume as “legitimate head of the country until such time that I return to the Philippines.”
Another commenter named @Maria said:
We have mystified Cuevas but in fact he was only SC justice for 2 years and was ousted by people power. Arturo Tolentino took his “oath of office” before him as Acting President.
I tried to look for more info about this but there’s very little material available on the web
@Tomas Gomez III, the Philippine Consul General in Hawaii when Marcos was exiled there, also wrote in to say:
Lest we forget….Serafin Cuevas was the one who administered the oath of office to Arturo Tolentino as acting President designated by deposed dictator Marcos (from Honolulu) during the Manila Hotel coup d etat of July 6, 1986. What was Cuevas thinking then? That he may become Chief Justice presiding over Manila Hotel’s Food & Beverage operations? Remember also the 30 push ups as punishment for the participating soldiers
According to the Final Report of the Fact-Finding Commission chaired by Hilario Davide on the series of coup attempts against Mrs Aquino, when Filipinos ignored the farcical “government”, the 490 fully-armed soldiers and 5,000 Marcos loyalists dispersed from Manila Hotel and their leaders – including Tolentino and Cuevas – slunk away. But not before they had eaten most of the food and trashed the hotel, inflicting P10 million worth of damage.
That was Cuevas’ assertion of the Rule of Law.
Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas
Separately, a lawyer who personally knows Enrile told me Cuevas was one of the lawyers who had defended Enrile in court in his rebellion-complexed-with-murder case.
Why am I unearthing these facts regarding events that happened almost a quarter of a century ago?
I want to drive home the point that when Justice Cuevas insists before the Senate Impeachment Court on the “Rule of Law”, it’s a very relevant and material question to ask him – what rule of law?