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Cory Aquino and the people's triumph over tyranny

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Fatima Measham |  05 August 2009

Cory Magic is BackTo many outside the Philippines, the 1986 People's Power Revolution is just a footnote in world history. It occurred in a period of great political and ideological upheaval,including the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Few now remember the radical, unprecedented nature of the protest on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) in Manila. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos had gathered to form a protective barricade around two rebel figures, Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel Ramos, then Minister of National Defense and Armed Forces Vice-Chief of Staff respectively.

That civilians came to the aid of military figures seems improbable; in light of the ways in which the army and police were used during Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship, it seems preposterous. For nine of the 20 years that Marcos had ruled, the Philippines was under martial law. Opposition figures were arrested, detained, tortured, or summarily executed by men in uniform.

If it hadn't happened, the revolution would sound like a fairytale. A people, oppressed by their own defence and security officials, gathered in droves outside two military camps in order to stop a dictator from arresting two of his own men.

People stayed on the street for four days, unarmed. They ate there, they slept there. They sang and prayed there. At times it felt strangely festive. In the end, they did no more to overthrow Marcos than simply be there.

It was the first instance in modern times where civilians, not the military, unseated a corrupt leader without even a call to arms. The term 'people power' was coined. For long afterwards its spirit was invoked in mass demonstrations elsewhere.

One of the key figures in this movement was a slight, fair-skinned woman. Little known to the rest of the world, but already loved by her people, Cory Aquino was a political widow. Her husband Benigno (commonly known as Ninoy) had been assassinated three years earlier upon his return from exile.

Although such an assasination were not uncommon then, Filipinos had taken Ninoy's murder quite personally. It was outrageously brazen, taking place in daylight on an airport tarmac.

Aquino's grief, which may have otherwise been private, became the lightning rod for national outrage. The pressure on Marcos built up. It culminated in a 'snap' election between Marcos and Aquino. His victory was quickly exposed as fraudulent. Soon afterwards Enrile and Ramos withdrew their support from the government, so setting in motion the events that led to Marcos and his family fleeing to Hawaii.

Filipinos will remember Corry Aquino for these events. She passed away on Saturday, having lost her struggle against colon cancer. Although her presidency was later marred by controversy, most people would give her credit for navigating the transition back to democracy with considerable equanimity and wisdom, despite her complete lack of political and economic experience.

In fact, she became a focal point of national pride, the embodiment of triumph over tyranny. Although others were involved in the overthrow of Marcos, including Archbishop Jaime Sin, Aquino's ordinariness — a critic called her 'just a housewife' — highlighted the burden she had taken upon herself, and revealed the strength of her character.

Part of her mythology is that she had initially resisted calls to run against Marcos (who derided her as 'just a woman'). After spending time in prayer at a convent, she decided to form a coalition party with Senator Salvador Laurel, who gave away his own ambition. She was inaugurated as president on the fourth day of the revolution. She relinquished her position promptly six years later, going back to live in the family home in the suburbs.

Her detachment from political power distinguishes Aquino from other Filipino leaders,. It now intensifies people's contempt for current president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who reneged on a promise not to run for office after succeeding Joseph Estrada.

Since winning the 2004 election, Arroyo has been plagued by impeachment attempts and claims of human rights abuse and suppression of the press. Many comments on social networking sites that mark the passing of Aquino bitterly draw attention to the contrast between her and Arroyo.

Cory Aquino's funeral cortege passed through EDSA on Monday and was attended by up to 40,000 people. As Filipinos worldwide mourn her passing, it remains to be seen how their grief will interact with their grievances against the present leader.

Remembering Aquino both recalls the hope and joy that attended her inauguration, and invites questions about what has really been gained since then.


Fatima MeashamFatima Measham is a state school teacher in Victoria.

 



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Submitted comments

Thank you, Fatima. I think the more people remember Cory Aquino today the better. She was/is an inspiration, not only to the Filipinos, but probably to millions of women and men in different parts of the world

Maryrose 05 August 2009

And now, barely twenty-three years later, Arroyo, as Commander in Chief, presides over the death squads who murder outspoken journalists, trade unionists, and left wingers.

Peter Downie 05 August 2009

I arrived at the M.I.A. on the afternoon of the day that Ninoy Aquino was shot down by Marcos' 'Goons'.The place was swarming with military.On seeing the 6pm News on TV, I knew then that Marcos was doomed.I had experienced first hand Marcos' distrust of teachers on a previous trip. I agonised through the days of the EDSA Revolution.We witnessed the power of prayer. I met Jamie Sin twice; what a powerful, caring person he was.

Sadly "G.M.A."(the current President) is sadly just like the 'run of the mill' leaders the Philippines has had to endure since the untimely death of Magsaysay in strange circumstances quite a few decades ago.

Tita Cory was a member of a very wealthy family, but unlike many of the rich,she cared for the ordinary Filipino.I saw much change during her Presidency and a sense of purpose returning to ordinary Filipinos.Unfortunately the rich and powerful still control the destiny of the Philippines.Cory proved unable to remove these obscenely rich and corrupt people.Maybe another People's Revolution is needed to bring her dream for the ordinary Filipino to reality.

Gavin 06 August 2009

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