Corazon Aquino 1933-2009

Undoubtedly the news of the death of former Philippine president Corazon Aquino is spreading like wildfire not only amongst the Filipino American community, but all over the world. Many Filipino Americans, such as myself, who came of age during the 80s may not have had a grasp of the incredible circumstances under which Mrs. Aquino rose to power, but we nonetheless knew of her as the first Filipina woman to hold the seat of Philippine president.

President Aquino left an impression upon many young Filipino Americans as some of us would proudly proclaim that the United States was well behind the political curve of our homeland as we in fact had beaten Americans to the punch of putting a woman in charge of our highest public office. Repping Tita Cory back in day was actually the cool thing to do.

People Power Uprising:  February 22-25, 1986
People Power Uprising: February 22-25, 1986

The EDSA revolt, People Power “Revolution”, People Power Uprising, “Bloodless Revolution” or whatever seemingly interchangle term used by mainstream media to describe the chain of events in which a sea of ordinary Philippine citizens united in mass protest against the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. The immense demonstrations, backed by the Philippine military, led to expulsion of President Macros from the Philippines. The aforementioned events have to this day been part of a hotly debated discourse concerning not only who really was responsible for leading and or inspiring the mass demonstrations, but also whether the Philippines was actually better off in the long-run of having Aquino rather than Marcos as its president.

At the moment, popular news has portrayed the anti-Marcos uprising as largely under the leadership of Mrs. Aquino citing that “her work” also inspired such events as the “downfall of Communism” in eastern Europe and any other incidents framed by mainstream media as resistance against repressive regimes.

The media, however, seems to be mixed about what were the long term repercussions of the immediate post-Marcos era on the current socio-political conditions of Philippine society. For starters her Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) which aimed to tackle one of the main problems of Philippine society, the landowning elite’s stranglehold on the livelihood of poor peasants, did little to nothing relieve the misery of the majority of Philippine people.

Despite what may initially have been genuine intentions to better balance the inequality between the haves and have-nots and to reform the corruption of the Philippine government which had been all the more exacerbated by the Marcos’ dictatorship, President Aquino could not single-handedly upend the root problems of Philippine society. Aquino may have had the best of intentions, but even she was a member of the landowning elite and did not dare to stand against the interests of her own class background.

The CARP issued worthless scraps of paper upon which were written empty promises of land ownership and still left peasants landless at the hands of greedy landlords and without a true source of livelihood. Outrage over the ineffectiveness of the CARP led to farmer and peasant demonstrations in Manila by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Movement of Philippine Peasants).

Mendiola Massacre January 22, 1987

Mendiola Massacre: January 22, 1987

When the demonstrators decided to march to Malacañang Palace in order to bring their demands directly to Aquino units of the Integrated National Police, the Philippine Marine Corps, and a phalanx of army trucks and firetrucks met the over 10,000 strong demonstration. The clashes between the police escalated to the point where police and military fired live ammunition in the crowd murdering over a dozen people and injuring scores more. The most striking facts about the Mendiola Massacre is that it happened even less than a year after Aquino took power not to mention that Time Magazine had also named Aquino its Woman of the Year for 1986. (Well, Time also put Ferdinand Marcos on the cover in October of 1966 with the tagline “Two Decades of Independence in Asia.” haha funny.) The massacre has a served as a glaring reminder to Filipinos that regardless of who is in the power, if the corruption of Philippine government and inequality of Philippine society remain intact than the Philippines will continue to be plagued by poverty and suffering.

The legacy of Mrs. Aquino should be considered as a complex one inasmuch as the fact that despite many of the terrible failures of her presidency, she does in fact remain an icon of the Philippine peoples’ aspirations to end dictatorship and corruption.

Even during her last years she was willing to publicly criticize the regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for its corruption and election fraud. Tita Cory may not have been “People Power’s Philippine Saint” as Time Magazine has canonized her, but she will always be one of the more dynamic figures of Philippine history.