Today, as many of you know, is the funeral and burial of Corazon Aquino, President of the Philippines from 1986 to 1992. It is impossible to ignore the impact of her life on Filipinos – yellow ribbons adorn cars and poles, hundreds of thousands have turned out to wait in line to say their good-byes and today was declared a National Filipino Holiday so that people could watch the proceedings. There is great pride in the city today as Filipinos say their good-byes to their Mother of Democracy. I thought I’d share a few things that I’ve learned about her life and it’s legacy.
Corazon Aquino was born in 1933 and later married Benito (Ninoy) Aquino, a leading figure in the political opposition of President-turned-Dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. Her husband was arrested when Marcos announced Martial Law in 1972. He remained in jail until 1980 when US President Jimmy Carter intervened and helped arrange for him to be brought to the US for medical care. The real trouble began when Ninoy returned to Manila on August 21st, 1983. He was shot and killed while walking down the airplane staircase onto the tarmac at Manila’s international airport (now named after him). The murder was never solved, but the Marcos government is widely believed to have been responsible. Nearly 2 million people attended his funeral a few days later, the largest funeral attendance in Filipino history.
Ninoy’s death was a turning point – Filipinos were no longer willing to live under Marcos’ martial law. The opposition convinced Cory to run against President Marcos in a snap election he called on February 15th, 1986. Despite Cory’s overwhelming popularity at the time, Marcos was declared the winner amidst widespread allegations of election-rigging. One week later the People Power Revolution or EDSA (named for the highway it took place on) was set into motion. Nearly two million people mobilized in the streets and demanded that Marcos resign.
Marcos’ defense minister, Juan Ponce Enrile (now president of the Philippino Senate) broke ranks with the Dictator, and along with his deputy Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan (also a future Senator), led a faction of the army against Marcos. When it became clear they wouldn’t be able to topple the government, the rebel soldiers fled to a local military camp. As Marcos’ troops moved in to destroy them, the common people, on orders from Cory and Catholic Cardinal Jaime Sin, surrounded the advancing government soldiers in an effort to protect the rebels.
The most inspiring part of this entire process was that it was all done peacefully. One cab driver I rode with told me that when the tanks rolled up and were about to begin crushing the people, many Filipinos began walking up to them and handing them rosaries. The government soldiers quickly acquiesced. Marcos turned to his old ally, the United States, for help (the largest naval base outside the US was at Subic Bay, Philippines). American Senator Dick Lugar got on the phone with the Dictator and told him to “Cut, and cut clean.” Marcos was finished.
The result of EDSA was that Cory Aquino assumed the Presidency on the morning of February 25th, 1986. Marcos “voluntarily” exiled himself to Hawaii along with his wife Imelda. All the shoes were left behind. He would never see the Philippines again. The peaceful way through which she assumed the Presidency made Cory Aquino an icon of democracy around the world and “people power” served as a model for the non-violent “color” demonstrations that ended communism in Eastern Europe. I’d like to share a 5 minute video that best captures the Filipino spirit surrounding this event. It was aired on TV following Cory’s Appointment as President and really attests to the courage it took to fight for democracy.
- The first woman President of Asia and the Philippines, paving the way for other women Presidents to follow her
- Time Magazine’s Woman of the Year in 1986
- Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize
In closing, Bob Simon, an anchorman at CBS said, “We Americans like to think we taught the Filipinos democracy. Well, tonight they are teaching the world.”