In the early stages of the tense military confrontation that forced President Ferdinand E. Marcos to flee the Philippines, Galen W. Radke, a lanky Special Forces colonel who recently retired as the U.S. Army attache in Manila, strode into rebel headquarters at Camp Crame to talk with the rebel troop commander, Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos.
Radke, 57, says he has known “Eddie” Ramos for 26 years. They first met while they were both in Special Forces training at Ft. Bragg, N.C., in 1960. They spent more time together while stationed in Taiwan, and the ties broadened after Radke came to the U.S. Embassy in 1983 to help the Philippine armed forces combat the insurgency of the Communist New People’s Army.
Now, Radke, who retired from the Army in October and came back to the Philippines in January to work for a private computer security agency called Distributed Processing Systems Inc., was contacting his old friend once again to express his supPort.
Philippine Leftists Upset
Radke’s presence in Camp Crame is now being cited by the Philippine political left as an indication of U.S. involvement in the toppling of Marcos. During a recent interview, Leandro L. Alejandro, secretary general of the umbrella left-wing group Bayan, pointed to Radke as evidence of U.S. support for Ramos and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile in their defection from the Marcos camp.
On Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger confirmed that Philippine military helicopters joining the rebels had refueled at Clark Air Base northwest of Manila. Weinberger said in giving that help, the United States was seeking to avoid bloodshed.
Radke says his trip into Camp Crame with the rebels “was purely an expression of my personal, individual feelings.” He said he believes that the efforts to portray him as a representative of the U.S. government at Camp Crame are being spread by unknown enemies of Ramos.
‘A Legitimate Company’
“I work for a legitimate company,” the retired military officer said.
At one point, he went on, “I carried up a great big bag of sandwiches” to the besieged Philippine military officers. “Did I ever go behind a closed door and talk to him (Ramos)? No. Eddie Ramos doesn’t need any advice from any Americans.
“I spoke to Eddie Ramos one time on Sunday night. How long does it take to shake hands? I told him that my wishes and my wife’s wishes were with him.”
In an interview with The Times, Radke said repeatedly that he had gone to see Ramos strictly on his own and was not there on behalf of the CIA. He said he was motivated by personal sympathy for the Ramos forces.
That concern had been growing, he said, ever since he began receiving phone calls from friends in the Philippine armed forces asking him for help and refuge.
Those calls began on the afternoon of Saturday, Feb. 22. Radke said that at least two Philippine officers called him to say that Enrile was about to break with Marcos. Thus, Radke knew, before Enrile’s public announcement, of the impending confrontation.
“For some reason, my house became a gathering place for all these people,” Radke said, referring to the Philippine military friends allied with Ramos.
Enrile, who is once again the defense minister in the new government of President Corazon Aquino, and Ramos, who was promoted to full general and made military chief of staff, have said they were tipped off that Saturday that Marcos was about to arrest them and other reform-minded officers.
Radke’s account of his role demonstrates the extraordinarily close relationship that has over the years existed between the U.S. military and the Philippines. And, on another level, it shows the extent to which American expatriates in the Philippines sympathized with the coalition of forces that overthrew Marcos.
Radke spoke to Times reporters at lunch in the Army-Navy Club, an elegant old structure in downtown Manila overlooking the bay. The club was founded by Adm. George (“You may fire when you are ready, Gridley”) Dewey, the American naval commander who seized the Philippines from Spain in 1898. Past presidents of the club have included Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur.
Japanese forces tried to burn down the building when they abandoned Manila during World War II, but it survived and remains today a gathering place for American and Philippine military and security officials. A well-dressed Filipino stopped by the table to ask Radke for a tennis game. Radke identified him as a senior intelligence official in the Marcos government who switched allegiance to Enrile and Ramos.
“I was in the U.S. in 1962,” the official said. “I went for training by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover.”
Radke’s assignment to the Philippines in 1983 was his first job as a military attache. He had served in the Special Forces for 20 years, including more than three years in Vietnam.
“My main job here was the insurgency,” he said. During his tour of duty, he made several trips around the Philippines and got to know other senior leaders of the nation’s armed forces, including the chief of staff under Marcos, Gen. Fabian C. Ver, who fled with the former president.
Honeywell Affiliate’s Offer
Radke said he remained on good terms with leaders of both factions within the Philippine military. Last fall, he said, he received an offer from the four-year-old Philippine company that handles Honeywell equipment to stay on in Manila after retirement from the army.
Radke went to the United States, retired and then returned to Manila for Distributed Processing Systems on Jan. 5, as the election campaign between Marcos and Aquino was intensifying.
He does not characterize himself as a fervent or longtime opponent of Marcos. “I made my decision to stay on here while Marcos was president,” he said. “I could have stayed on with Marcos.”
By Radke’s account, his ties to the forces defecting with Ramos were so close that he became swept up in their post-election efforts to overthrow Marcos and support Aquino.
“I was trying to avoid it, to be quite honest with you,” Radke said. “Everyone has to make a commitment some time. . . . What I saw on the streets was probably the greatest expression of democratic feeling I ever saw in my life. There were middle-class people, poor people, nuns--people who’d never done anything like this before in their lives.”