It was August 1987, and some military officers were staging a coup d’état in the Philippines to topple the new government of President Corazon Aquino, who had deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The dissident officers’ strategy was to attack downtown Manila, the capital, and cripple the financial district. American expatriates like me were particularly vulnerable, for the U.S. was seen to be behind Aquino’s rise to power.
Our official walkie-talkie crackled with news of violence and advice to stay indoors. Several civilians had died in the initial firefight, and nobody expected the inexperienced new government to be able to end the insurgency anytime soon. There was no television news; the station was reportedly under siege. No use calling the American Embassy, which had already announced that it could do little to assist anyone till morning. I called neighbors, who said insurgents had commandeered some people’s homes to better target key street corners. It was hazardous to stay put, but with the sound of gunfire from three sides, it was just as hazardous to leave.
My wife and I moved the baby to a central room and shuttered all the windows. We also packed two suitcases with essentials, in case there was an opportunity to get out. Then we did the most difficult thing of all: we waited.
Three hours later, as the guns rattled, the official word came that at dawn U.S. civilians were to form a convoy of cars near the school and drive to a hotel in a safe area near the port, so that if the situation turned worse, we could be evacuated to a U.S. Navy vessel.
As the sun rose, we rushed to our car with our suitcases and drove to the hotel. For a week we lived in a curious bubble: while violence raged elsewhere, we passed leisurely days in five-star comfort, at government expense, eating gourmet food in plush restaurants, our children entertained on the manicured hotel grounds by clowns and musicians. No work, all play. We drank coffee and bourbon, pored over newspapers for tidbits of news about the unfolding and then unraveling coup, chatted with colleagues, read books and just relaxed. Our daughter took it all as an extended picnic and reveled in the endless company of familiar kids.