The most serious coup d'etat against the government of Philippine President Corazon Aquino was staged beginning December 1, 1989, by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines belonging to the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) and soldiers loyal to former President Ferdinand Marcos. Metro Manila was shaken by this Christmas coup, and they almost seized the presidential palace. It was completely defeated by the Philippine government by December 9, 1989.
The coup was led by Colonel Gregorio Honasan, General Edgardo Abenina, and retired General Jose Ma. Zumel, and staged by an alliance of the RAM, led by Honasan, and troops loyal to Marcos, led by Zumel. At the onset of the coup, the rebels seized Villamor Airbase, Fort Bonifacio, Sangley Airbase, Mactan Airbase in Cebu, and portions of Camp Aguinaldo. The rebels set patrols around the runway of Ninoy Aquino International Airport effectively shutting it down. From Sangley Airbase, the rebels launched planes and helicopters which bombarded and strafed Malacañan Palace, Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo. Three hours after the fall of Villamor Air Base, Aquino went on air to address her people, and said that "We shall smash this naked attempt once more". At that point the government counterattack began. Seven army trucks headed for Channel 4, and fierce fighting occurred there. Ramos and Renato de Villa monitored the crises from Camp Crame, the Constabulary headquarters. With loyal forces hard-pressed by the rebels, Aquino requested US Military assistance, at the behest of her military commanders, and it was granted. 120 marines, part of an 800-strong U.S. contingent stationed at Subic Naval Base, were deployed at the grounds of the US Embassy as a defensive measure. President Aquino stated that the loyal forces lacked the ability to contain the rebel forces. American help was crucial to the Aquino cause, clearing the skies of rebel aircraft and allowing loyalists to consolidate their forces. While many mutineers surrendered, Aquino declared: We leave them two choices; Surrender or die. Government F-5 jets sortied and challenged rebel planes culminating in the destruction of the rebel T-28 Trojans. Government forces recaptured all military bases save for Mactan Airbase by December 3, but rebel forces retreating from Fort Bonifacio occupied 22 high-rise buildings along the Ayala business area in Makati. The government claimed the coup was crushed, but fierce fighting continued through the weekend, with Camp Aguinaldo set ablaze by the rebel howitzers. The occupation of Makati lasted until December 7, while the rebels surrendered Mactan Airbase on December 9. The official casualty toll was 99 dead (including 50 civilians) and 570 wounded.
The United States military supported the Aquino government during this coup. Operation "Classic Resolve" involved the use of US airpower from the USS Midway (CV-41) and USS Enterprise aircraft carriers and F-4 Phantom II fighters from Clark Air Base. The US Air force jets retook the skies for Aquino. The US planes had clearance to "...buzz the rebel planes at their base, fire in front of them if any attempted to take off, and shoot them down if they did".
Following the failure of this coup, President Aquino established a Fact-Finding Commission headed by COMELEC Chairman Hilario Davide, Jr. to investigate and provide a full report on the series of coup attempts against her government. The report became known as the Davide Commission Report.
Participants of the December 1989 coup later blamed perceived deficiencies in the Aquino government in areas such as graft and corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency, and lenient treatment of communist insurgents as the reasons for the coup. In response, the Davide Commission recommended several short-term and long-term counter-measures, including the establishment of a civilian national police force, a crackdown on corruption in the military, a performance review of appointive government officials, reforms in the process of military promotions, a review of election laws in time for the 1992 presidential elections, and a definitive statement on the part of Aquino on whether she intended to run for re-election in 1992.
Philippine politics between 1986 and 1991 was punctuated by Aquino's desperate struggle to survive physically and politically a succession of coup attempts, culminating in a large, bloody, and well-financed attempt in December 1989. This attempt, led by renegade Colonel Gregorio Honasan, involved upwards of 3,000 troops, including elite Scout Rangers and marines, in a coordinated series of attacks on Camp Crame and Camp Aquinaldo, Fort Bonifacio, Cavite Naval Base, Villamor Air Base, and on Malacañan Palace itself, which was dive-bombed by vintage T-28 aircraft. Although Aquino was not hurt in this raid, the situation appeared desperate, for not only were military commanders around the country waiting to see which side would triumph in Manila, but the people of Manila, who had poured into the streets to protect Aquino in February 1986, stayed home this time.
Aquino found it necessary to request United States support to put down this uprising. In November–December 1989 US forces moved to evacuate Americans during the coup attempt, and generally protect US interests in the Philippines. During this operation, a large special operations force was formed, USAF fighter aircraft patrolled above rebel air bases, and two aircraft carriers were positioned off the Philippines.
In early December 1989, the USS Enterprise participated in Operation Classic Resolve, President Bush's response to Philippine President Corazon Aquino's request for air support during the rebel coup attempt. Bush approved the use of US F-4 fighter jets stationed at Clark Air Base on Luzon to buzz the rebel planes at their base, fire in front of them if any attempted to take off, and shoot them down if they did. The buzzing by US planes soon caused the coup to collapse. On 2 December 1989 President Bush reported that on 1 December US fighter planes from Clark Air Base in the Philippines had assisted the Aquino government to repel a coup attempt. In addition, 100 marines were sent from the US Navy base at Subic Bay to protect the US Embassy in Manila. Enterprise remained on station conducting flight operations in the waters outside Manila Bay.
Politically this coup was a disaster for Aquino. Her vice president, Salvador Laurel, openly allied himself with the coup plotters and called for her to resign. Even Aquino's staunchest supporters saw her need for United States air support as a devastating sign of weakness. Most damaging of all, when the last rebels finally surrendered, they did so in a triumphant televised parade and with a promise from the government that they would be treated "humanely, justly, and fairly." One of the devastating results of this insurrection was that just when the economy had finally seemed to turn around, investors were frightened off, especially since much of the combat took place in the business haven of Makati. Tourism, a major foreign-exchange earner, came to a halt. Business leaders estimated that the mutiny cost the economy US$1.5 billion.
Again in 1990, there were other coup attempts between March and October. The Hotel Delfino siege happened on March 4, when suspended Cagayan governor Rodolfo Aguinaldo and his 200 armed men seized the Hotel Delfino in Tuguegarao, Cagayan as a result of the previous failed coup against the president. Brigader General Oscar Florendo, his driver and four members of the civilian staff, and several other people who were made hostages led another mutiny to end and later killed in a gunfight. Seven months later on October 4, the tenth and last coup attempt happened in an army base in Mindanao where Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and 21 others mutinied for two days until they surrendered on October 6 as it failed.