Marcos inflicted immeasurable damage on democratic
values. He offered the Filipino people economic progress and national dignity, but the
results were dictatorship, poverty, militarized politics and a politicized military, and
greatly increased dependence on foreign governments and banks. His New Society was
supposed to eliminate corruption, but when Marcos fled the country in 1986, his suitcases
contained, according to a United States customs agent, jewels, luxury items, and
twenty-four gold bricks. Estimates of Marcos's wealth ran from a low of US$3 billion to a
high of US$30 billion, and even after his death in 1989, no one knew the true value of his
estate, perhaps not even his widow.
If Marcos had been merely corrupt, his legacy would
have been bad enough, but he broke the spell of democracy. The long evolution of
democratic institutions, unsatisfactory though it may have been in some ways, was
interrupted. The political culture of democracy was violated. Ordinary Filipinos knew fear
in the night. An entire generation came of age never once witnessing a genuine election or
reading a free newspaper. Classes that graduated from the Philippine Military Academy were
contemptuous of civilians and anticipated opportunities for influence and perhaps even
wealth. Marcos's worst nightmare came true when Corazon Aquino used the power of popular
opinion to bring him down.
Aquino inherited a very distorted economy. The
Philippines owed about US$28 billion to foreign creditors. Borrowed money had not promoted
development, and most of it had been wasted on showcase projects along Manila Bay, or had
disappeared into the pockets and offshore accounts of the Marcos and Romualdez families
and their friends and partners. Many Filipinos believed that they would be morally
justified in renouncing the foreign debt on grounds that the banks should have known what
the Marcoses were doing with the money. Even Cardinal Jaime Sin declared it "morally
wrong" to pay foreign creditors when Filipino children were hungry. Aquino, however,
resolutely pledged to pay the debt. Otherwise, the nation would be cut off from the credit
it needed. Although the Philippines could pay the interest on the debt every year, it
could not pay the principal. This never-ending debt naturally inflamed Filipino
nationalism. A Freedom From Debt Coalition advocated using the money to help the
unemployed instead of sending the hard currency abroad.
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The Rise of Corazon Aquino
President Corazon Aquino, 1986
Courtesy Robert L. Worden
Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, universally and
affectionately known as "Cory," was a Philippine president quite unlike those
who preceded her. Observers have groped for the right word to characterize the Aquino
presidency. She was first called a "revolutionary," but later a mere
"reformer." When the old landed families recaptured the political system, she
was called a "restorationist."
She was born in 1933 into one of the richest clans
in the Philippines, the powerful Cojuangcos of Tarlac Province. Her maiden name
indicates Chinese mestizo ancestry; her Chinese great-grandfather's name could have been
romanized to Ko Hwan-ko, but, following the normal practice of assimilationist Catholic
Chinese-Filipinos, all the Chinese names were collapsed into one, and a Spanish first name
was taken. Aquino neither sought power nor expected it would come to her. Her life was
that of a privileged, well-educated girl sent abroad to the Ravenhill Academy in
Philadelphia, the Notre Dame Convent School in New York, and Mount St. Vincent College,
also in New York. She studied mathematics and graduated with a degree in French in 1953,
then returned to the Philippines to study law, but soon married the restless, rich scion
of another prominent Tarlac family, Benigno ("Ninoy") Aquino, Jr. Benigno Aquino
became a mayor, a governor, and a flamboyant senator, and he probably would have been
elected president of the Philippines in 1973 had Marcos not suspended elections. On the
same night in 1972 when Marcos declared martial law, he sent troops to arrest Benigno
Aquino. Senator Aquino was incarcerated for some seven years, after which Marcos allowed
him to go to the United States. In August 1983, believing that Marcos was dying, Aquino
ventured back to Manila and was gunned down just seconds after being escorted from the
airplane Aquino's murder galvanized the Filipino people and was the beginning of the end
Ferdinand Marcos had perfected the art of ruling by
dividing his enemies: scaring some, chasing others out of the country, playing one clan
against another, and co-opting a few members of each prominent provincial family. The
"oppositionists," as the controlled Manila press called them, were never united
while Marcos was in Malacaņang, and only through the intervention of Cardinal Jaime Sin
did they agree on a unified ticket to oppose Marcos in the "snap election" that
the ailing dictator suddenly called for February 1986. The widow Aquino had public support
but no political organization, whereas the old-line politico Salvador H. "Doy"
Laurel had an organization but little popular support. After difficult negotiations,
Laurel agreed to run for vice president on a ticket with Aquino. Aquino won on February 7,
1986, but the margin of victory will never be known, for the election was marred by gross
fraud, intimidation, ballot box stuffing, and falsified tabulation.
Aquino had to perform a delicate balancing act
between left and right, within society at large and later within her own cabinet. Aquino
and Laurel triumphed in good part because of the defection of Enrile, who was then
minister of defense, and Fidel V. Ramos, the acting Armed Forces of the Philippines chief
of staff. Both men had served Marcos loyally for many years but now found themselves
pushed aside by General Fabian Ver, Marcos's personal bodyguard and commander of the
Presidential Security Command. They risked their lives defying Marcos and Ver at the
crucial moment. Enrile and Ramos conceived of the new government as a coalition in which
they would have important roles to play. Laurel saw it the same way.
In one sense, the Aquino government initially was a
coalition--it drew support from all parts of the political spectrum. The middle class was
overwhelmingly behind "Cory," the democratic alternative to Marcos. Most
leftists saw her as "subjectively" progressive even if she was
"objectively" bourgeois. They hoped she could reform Philippine politics. On the
right, only those actually in league with Marcos supported him. Aquino's support was very
wide and diverse.
The coalition, however, began unraveling almost
immediately. Enrile thought that Aquino should declare her government
"revolutionary," because that would mean that the 1986 elections were
illegitimate and that new presidential elections would be held soon. When Aquino made it
clear that she intended to serve out her entire six-year term, Enrile and Laurel set out
to undermine her. Ramos took a cautiously ambivalent position but ultimately supported
Aquino. Without his loyalty, Aquino would not have survived the many coup attempts she
successfully put down.
Aquino's political honeymoon was brief. Arturo
Tolentino, Marcos's running mate in the February election, proclaimed himself acting
president on July 6, 1986, but that attempt to unseat Aquino was short-lived. By October
1986, Enrile was refusing to attend cabinet meetings on the grounds that they were "a
waste of the people's money." Aquino fired him the next month, after he was
implicated in a coup plan code-named "God Save the Queen" (presumably because
the conspirators hoped to keep Aquino on as a figurehead). The plotters were suppressed,
and on the morning of November 23, Aquino met with her entire cabinet, except for Laurel,
who was playing golf. She asked for the resignations of all other members of her cabinet
and then jettisoned those leftists who most irritated the army and replaced Enrile with
Rafael Ileto as the new minister of national defense. Aquino started a pattern, repeated
many times since, of tactically shifting rightward to head off a rightist coup.
Enrile was out of the government, but Laurel
remained in, despite his vocal, public criticism of Aquino. She relieved him of his duties
as minister of foreign affairs on September 16, 1987, but could not remove him from the
vice presidency. A month later, Laurel publicly declared his willingness to lead the
country if a coup succeeded in ousting Aquino. The next year, he told the press that the
presidency "requires a higher level of competence" than that shown by Aquino.
The disintegration of the original
Aquino-Laurel-Enrile coalition was only part of a bigger problem: The entire cabinet,
government, and, some would say, even the entire nation, were permeated with factionalism.
Aquino also had difficulty dealing with the military. The first serious dispute between
Aquino and the military concerned the wisdom of a cease-fire with the New People's Army.
Aquino held high hopes that the communists could be coaxed down from the hills and
reconciled to democratic participation if their legitimate grievances were addressed. She
believed that Marcos had driven many people to support the New People's Army.
"Whatever else happens in her
rule," said TIME, "Aquino has already given her country a bright, and inviolate,
memory. More important, she has also resuscitated its sense of identity and pride."
Despite repeated coup attempts and a mixed record of success, Corazon Aquino remained in
office for more than six years. She was succeeded as president by longtime supporter Fidel
Ramos when she did not seek reelection in 1992, and she retains her popularity with the
military, which had been fighting the guerrillas for seventeen years, was hostile to her
policy initiative. When talks began in September 1986, military plotters began work on the
"God Save the Queen" uprising that was aborted two months later. Aquino tried
reconciliation with the Moro National Liberation Front and sent her brother-in-law to
Saudi Arabia, where he signed the Jiddah Accord with the Moro National Liberation Front on
January 4, 1987. A coup attempt followed three weeks later. In the wake of these coup
attempts, Aquino reformed her cabinet but she also submitted to military demands that she
oust Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo, a political activist and her longtime confidant.
Her legal counsel, Teodoro Locsin, whom the military considered a leftist, and her finance
secretary, Jaime Ongpin, also had to go. (Ongpin was later found dead; the coroner's
verdict was suicide, although he was lefthanded and the gun was in his right hand.)
Aquino had been swept into office on
a wave of high expectations that she would be able to right all of the wrongs done to the
Philippines under Marcos. When she could not do this and when the same problems recurred,
Filipinos grew disillusioned. Many of Aquino's idealistic followers were dismayed at the
"Mendiola Massacre" in 1987 in which troops fired into a crowd of protesting
farmers right outside Malacaņang. The military was simply beyond her control. The entire
staff of the Commission on Human Rights resigned in protest even though Aquino herself
joined the protestors the next day. Those people who hoped that Aquino would liberally use
emergency power to implement needed social changes were further dismayed by the fate of
her promised land reform program. Instead of taking immediate action, she waited until the
new Congress was seated, and turned the matter over to them. That Congress, like all
previous Philippine legislatures, was dominated by landowners, and there was very little
likelihood that these people would dispossess themselves.
Aquino's declining political fortunes were revealed
in public opinion polls in early 1991 that showed her popularity at an alltime low, as
protesters marched on Malacaņang, accusing her of betraying her promises to ease poverty,
stamp out corruption, and widen democracy. Nevertheless, Aquino's greatest achievement in
the first five years of her term was to begin the healing process.
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Philippine politics between 1986 and 1991 was
punctuated by President 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 Malacaņang 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. Furthermore, Aquino found it necessary to request United
States air support to put down this uprising.
Politically this coup was a disaster for Aquino. Her
vice president 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 triumph and with a promise from the government that they would
be treated "humanely, justly, and fairly."
A fact-finding commission was appointed to draw
lessons from this coup attempt. The commission bluntly advised Aquino to exercise firmer
leadership, replace inefficient officials, and retire military officers of dubious
loyalty. On December 14, 1989, the Senate granted Aquino emergency powers for six months.
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.
Source: Library of Congress: Portals to the World <http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/phtoc.html>
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Corazon Aquino: Lady Liberty
The political widow and former housewife
led a revolution that restored power to the people in the Philippines and inspired
millions across Asia
By SANDRA BURTON
To the dismay of the soldier who was driving Corazon Aquino to her swearing-in ceremony in
1986, the housewife who would be President insisted on stopping at red lights to let
civilian traffic pass. Eager to signal a break from the past, she chose to abandon the
imperial-style motorcades of Ferdinand and Imelda
Marcos. Although the military high command was quick to quash that egalitarian notion as
an unacceptable security risk, she found countless other ways during her six years in
office to drive home the message that distinguished her from the dictator she had toppled:
she owed her power to the people. Aquino was still at it on the day in 1992 when she rode
away from the inauguration of her successor, Fidel Ramos, not in a government-issue
Mercedes, but in the simple white Toyota Crown she had purchased to make the point that
she was once again an ordinary citizen.
Source: Time Asia
TIME 100: August 23-30, 1999 Vol. 154 No. 7/8
||Aquino's achievements as President
ranged far beyond the symbolic. They were substantial--even revolutionary. She restored
the democratic institutions Marcos had destroyed, presided over the promulgation of a
constitution designed to be dictator-proof, freed political prisoners, launched a peace
process that eliminated communist and Muslim insurgencies as major threats to national
stability, and laid the foundations for economic recovery.
Yet it is her slight,
bespectacled embodiment of People Power--at once fragile and invincible--that defines her
hold on history. Her determination to "lead by example" helped restore
Filipinos' faith in government--and themselves. Beyond the archipelago, her ability to
overcome force without resorting to violence made her a role model for an ever-lengthening
line of women leaders--Violeta Chamorro, Benazir Bhutto, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Khaleda
Zia, Megawati Sukarnoputri, Aung San Suu Kyi--who, like her, were thrust into public life
by the violent fates that befell husbands and fathers.
In the beginning Cory Aquino did not seem like the prototype for a new breed of democrat,
much less a trailblazing woman. Sure, she knew about democracy, having come of age in the
newly independent Philippines and worked as a volunteer in Thomas Dewey's 1948
presidential campaign during her college days in New York. Later, as the wife of Benigno
"Ninoy" Aquino Jr., a charismatic politician whose popularity doomed him to
become Marcos' best-known political prisoner, she learned firsthand the thrill of
electoral victory and the agony of martial law. Ninoy's 1983 assassination on his return
to Manila from exile in the U.S. catapulted her out of his shadow and into the spotlight.
But she lacked the self-confidence to take up his fight to restore democracy on her own.
When I met her shortly after Ninoy's funeral, she was under the illusion that as soon as
public curiosity about her waned, she could retreat to the privacy of her old life and
fight Marcos from the sidelines. Little did she--or anyone--foresee the potential power of
her role as a widow. Despite her growing influence within the opposition, she refused to
think of herself as a political leader. She rejected appeals to run for office and made
light of her ability to help elect others. "It's very simple," she would say in
her sweetly self-deprecating way. "I just tell my sad story, and people weep."
Not until late 1985, when Marcos suddenly called a "snap" presidential election
in an attempt to capitalize on opposition disarray, did Cory finally acknowledge that she
alone could unite the anti-Marcos forces and transform the race into a political morality
play. This revelation came to her after 10 hours of meditation at the convent of the
Sister-Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration, not far from Manila. "We
had to present somebody who is the complete opposite of Marcos, someone who has been a
victim," she concluded. "Looking around, I may not be the worst victim, but I am
Once she believed the Lord was on her side, she could pursue even the most impossible
mission with serene confidence. Yet to assume that she proceeded on faith alone was to
underestimate her, as I discovered on the last leg of her campaign for the presidency. All
day I watched her work her magic on the mammoth crowds. I shared her view that she could
win the vote. But what, I asked, led her to believe Marcos would let her win the count?
During our late-night flight back to Manila, she stunned me by confiding that she had
recently received a delegation of reformist military officers who had pledged in secrecy
to support her in the likely event that Marcos rigged the vote. "I think the military
will come into the picture if they perceive gross irregularities will be committed,"
she said bluntly.
Within days history confirmed the strength of her faith and the quality of her military
intelligence. Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Deputy Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos
mutinied against Marcos, claiming massive electoral fraud. When Marcos forces threatened
to retaliate, the influential Archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin, broadcast an
appeal for "people power" to protect them. By the time Marcos' tanks began
rolling down a key highway, which bore the inspired name Epifanio de los Santos (EDSA for
short, after a Filipino hero), toward the defectors' camp, hundreds of thousands of
Filipinos had gathered to pray the rosary and stop them in their tracks. In four days the
so-called "Miracle of EDSA" swept Cory into power with the backing of the
victorious rebels and whisked Marcos off to exile in Hawaii.
The hard part began as soon as she took office. To survive seven coup attempts by
disgruntled military elements within her makeshift coalition, Aquino was forced to
transcend her conciliatory nature and steel herself to make unpopular decisions. Her
defining moment came when forces identified with Enrile threatened to topple her if she
fulfilled her campaign promise to negotiate with the communist guerrillas. Typically, she
dithered and prayed. But then, in a move that marked her coming of age as a leader, she
cemented her relationship with General Ramos, fired Enrile, announced a controversial
ceasefire with the insurgents and calmly took the heat. Six years later, after both the
communists and the coup-plotters had been marginalized, she made one of the least
popular--but most responsible--decisions of her career. Defying her core supporters in the
liberal community and the Catholic Church, she endorsed Ramos, an architect of martial law
and a Protestant, as the candidate best equipped to restore stability and promote economic
Then, Ninoy's mission accomplished, Cory retired with a clear conscience to play with her
grandchildren, write her memoirs and paint landscapes as sunny as her outlook. She also
pioneered a new role as ex-head of state, something nearly unprecedented in Asia, where
leaders rarely left office voluntarily or alive. Commuting regularly to a family-owned
office building in the heart of Metro-Manila's Makati business district, she directs a
portfolio of projects aimed at furthering the spread of Asian democracy from the bastions
of the middle class where it began to the villages it has barely reached. No longer shy
about courting controversy, she has played host to visiting groups of
oppositionists-in-exile and delivered a speech smuggled out of Burma in the name of
opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She has also extended a public podium to Wan Azizah
Ismail, who--shades of the young Cory--is struggling to fill the political shoes of her
jailed husband, Malaysia's ex-Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
"I tell them I don't have any formula for ousting a dictator or building
democracy," says the former housewife who managed to do both. "All I can suggest
is to forget about yourself and just think of your people. It's always the people who make
things happen." Provided, of course, they have a leader who can touch their hearts.
Source: Time Asia TIME 100: August 23-30, 1999 Vol.
154 No. 7/8 <http://www.time.com/time/asia/asia/magazine/1999/990823/aquino1.html>
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