Corazon Aquino

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  • Topic: Corazon Aquino, Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos
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Corazon Aquino

The lady in the simple yellow dress, stood at the podium, addressing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos. They were gathered on a highway between two military camps in Manila in a festive, carnival-like uprising. This stirring display of "people power" on 21st September 1986 had ousted dictator Ferdinand Macros and brought Corazon Aquino to the presidency. She had been pushed into the whirlwind of politics after her husband, Benigno Ninoy Aquino, had been ruthlessly shot dead in August 1983, the very moment he landed at the airport to challenge Marco’s rule. Just like in the song, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree" where the guy requested the girl to tie a yellow ribbon in the oak tree to indicate that he was still welcomed by the girl, all around Metro Manila yellow ribbons had been tied on trees to welcome him back. After his tragic death, yellow became the colour of opposition movement, the colour of Corazon Aquino and the colour of a revolution that spread like wildfire but simmered into ashes all too quickly.

The historic 1986 EDSA People’s power revolution occurred after Aquino called for massive civil disobedience against former strongman Ferdinand Marcos who had manipulated votes in his favour in the 1986 Snap Presidential Elections. She was the first female President in Philippines, and was chosen as the face and symbol of the opposition movement against Marcos. Martyrdom of Ninoy Aquino became the rallying point for the huge and diverse groundswell of revulsion of those who had become disgruntled by fourteen years of martial law. As the crowd chanted “Cory, Cory”, it appeared that the whole nation was behind her.[1] The promise of democracy and popular reform won her admirers from all over the world. However, within months her administration had collapsed into a din of coup attempts, assassinations and political intrigue. Reid calls her presidency a bushfire revolution; just like dry weed which catches fire but burns out hot and fast. [2] It is also a common Filipino tendency, to lose interest quickly in projects that begin with the greatest of fervor. While she was fondly hailed as “Virgin Mary” or “Saint of democracy” who restored democracy in Philippines, public opinion polls in 1991 showed her popularity at all-time low. She had begun losing legitimacy among large sections of the population who accused her of false promises to ease poverty, stamp corruption and widen democracy.

This paper argues that Corazon Aquino essentially left a mixed legacy. She led a peaceful democratic transition that did restore institutional democracy in Philippines but faced many deeply entrenched systematic and cultural obstacles in achieving democratic consolidation. She made little headway into championing the rights of rural poor, and improving the economy. Corruption and graft became widespread, and caciques hegemony once again revived that marred progress. The real drama was the episodic power struggle within competing factions’ threatening to destabilize the regime. Ultimately, she was a survivor, having outlived six coup attempts against her, and neutralizing the warring factions of communist rebels, Muslim insurgencies and military dissidents.

Before I begin expounding on her achievements and failures, it would be perhaps useful to highlight the herculean task that confronted her, especially given that she had no political experience. Corazon Aquino essentially inherited a 28 billion foreign debt[3] from the previous regime, massive poverty, poor dilapidated infrastructure, highly factionalized military, active communist insurgency, three Muslim secessionist movements, and huge expectations from a newly awakened civil society bursting with energy after fourteen years of one man rule. Very bluntly, she had a lot on her plate. She had to come to terms with a deeply embedded culture in Philippines which operates on a network of mutual obligations and favours - where alliances are built on...
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