Philippine History Part III – Nation. Section 3 – Post-Marcos Period

1986-1992: Cory Aquino

After having been brought into power by the People Power Revolution in February 1986, President Corazon Aquino quickly had the Cory Aquino during a ceremony honoring US Air Force1987 Constitution drafted, which provided for a renewed Presidential system and a bicameral legislature, reviving the Congress and the Senate. It also provided for autonomy for Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras. She also appointed OIC governors and mayors to replace Marcos appointees. Among them were Jejomar Binay in Makati and Rodrigo Duterte in Davao.

Inspite of her inexperience in government matters, “Cory” rose to the occasion. During her term, a new Family Code, an reformed Administrative Code and especially a new Local Government Code which partly decentralized government where instituted. The Office of the Ombudsman was created to address grievances efficiently. She also decided to honor the debts that the Marcos regime had incurred, a measure very unpopular with the people, but one which helped restore international confidence. Important laws such as the Build-Operate-Transfer Law, Foreign Investments Act and the Consumer Protection and Welfare Act were also passed in President Aquino’s term, during which the crony monopolies created during the time of President Marcos were dismantled and the economy was liberalized. Unfortunately, economic growth did not come that quickly. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, economist and daughter of former President Macapagal, was appointed Assistant Secretary to the Department of Trade and Industry in 1987, and Undersecretary in 1989.

In 1988, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law was passed. This was after the Mendiola Massacre of farmers by state security forces in 1987. The term of President Corazon Aquino was also beset by coup attempts from 1986-1990, the worst one of which was the December 1989 coup attempt. In the same year, former President Marcos died in Hawaiian exile. Imelda Marcos was allowed to return in 1991, but without her husband’s corpse. Imelda was arrested immediately.

In the same year, Mount Pinatubo erupted, heavily damaging especially Clark Air Base. The United States military bases, which had been the subject of much recent debate, left the Philippines. One of the “Magnificent 12” Senators who voted to terminate the RP-US military bases agreement was former actor Joseph Estrada, also known as “Erap” to the common people. Also in that year, the Philippine Constabulary and the Integrated National Police (which Ramos had formed under Marcos) were merged to form the Philippine National Police or PNP.

The 1987 Constitution did not allow a second term for any President. Therefore “Cory” endorsed her Secretary of Defense General Fidel V. Ramos as her candidate for the 1992 elections. Her endorsement of Ramos, a Protestant, was questioned by the Roman Catholic Church. Ramos won the 1992 election narrowly against Secretary of Agrarian Reform Miriam Defensor Santiago. Meanwhile, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who had only shortly served as President Aquino’s Secretary of Defense, ran for Congressman in Cagayan and won.

1992-1998: Fidel RamosRamos Pentagon cropped

In the same year, Joseph Estrada became Vice-President and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became Senator. President Ramos allowed Imelda Marcos to bring home her husband’s body in 1993, but did not allow its interment in the Heroes Cemetery. Imelda put her husband’s body into a glass mausoleum near her mansion, where it remains to this day.

President Ramos managed to negotiate a ceasefire with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1994. In 1996, the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was established. Groups for whom autonomy was not enough, such as the Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), continued to cause problems. The Abu Sayyaf conducted its first major attacks in 1995. Ramos managed to negotiate a cessation of hostilities with the MILF in 1997, but this was not to be the end of the Muslim issue.

A short-lived economic boom was cut short by the Asian Financial crisis of 1997. In the same year, Ramos initiated the first attempt at Charter Change (cha-cha) toward a parliamentary system. Vice-President Estrada, former President Corazon Aquino, Cardinal Jaime Sin, Senator Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and others led an anti-charter change rally with about half a million people in Rizal park, fearing that Ramos would make another Presidential term possible for himself. Estrada resigned as chairman of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC) which he had led.

Estrada won the presidential elections in 1998 with one of the biggest victories ever. Ramos had been the last Philippine President formed by the American period. Estrada had been born in that period but was not formed by it anymore, having been too young for that. His hallmark was using Filipino very frequently, making it acceptable as the language of leadership. His successors were to continue that legacy. Filipinization had continued with the 1987 Constitution and the 1991 creation of the Commission on the Filipino Language. De facto Filipinization had already gained momentum in the Marcos period, including the “Ama Namin” sung translation of the Lord’s Prayer into Filipino. The truly Filipino period of the Republic was to begin with President Estrada, carried by the 1998 celebrations of the Centennial of Aguinaldo’s first attempt at an independent Philippine republic in 1898. Yet more trouble lay ahead for the now more conscious nation.

The population had increased slightly from around 56 million in 1986 to almost 75 million by 1998.What increased strikingly was the number of deployed overseas foreign workers (OFWs) – as per official Philippine Overseas Employment Authority (POEA) statistics which had shown just around 36 thousand when they first were measured in 1975, then more than one hundred thousand OFWs for the first time in 1979, around 380 thousand in 1986 – to around 830 thousand in 1998. Not counting permanent migrants, illegals and others. From my observation and own experience, the migrant and OFW experience may have been instrumental in strengthening Philippine national consciousness by bringing together Filipinos of different ethnic background, even different educational attainment and social class together abroad. People got to know each other who’s ways never would have crossed in the Philippines. Filipinos got to see how other countries work, making some of them question why things were always going the same old way in the old country. The Philippine blogosphere was yet to be born, but first ideas may already have been conceived.

The naive euphoria that had permeated the nation after the February revolution had long passed. The ebullient economic optimism of the decidedly well-run early Ramos administration was over. Yet the nation was to lose its innocence in more ways than it could yet imagine in June 1998, on the way to a more mature national consciousness, there were to be a lot more growing pains.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 27. June 2015

Part of the Philippine History Series.

29 thoughts on “Philippine History Part III – Nation. Section 3 – Post-Marcos Period


    By William Branigin September 14, 1986

    Less than seven months after she came to power in a largely peaceful uprising that was hailed around the world, President Corazon Aquino is in trouble.

    As she heads to Washington for a crucial first meeting with President Reagan this week, the 53-year-old widow, commonly known here as “Cory,” remains highly popular among her 55 million compatriots.

    But for all her unquestioned sincerity and good intentions, there are signs of growing pessimism about her ability to handle the country’s problems. The euphoria that accompanied her “people’s power revolution” has largely given way to a sense that these problems may overwhelm her in the difficult times ahead.

    Her government increasingly is perceived to be floundering amid the wreckage left by the disastrous administration of deposed president Ferdinand Marcos. But it is also weighed down with problems of its own making. While she holds the middle ground and does her best to referee infighting in her fractious 26-member Cabinet, centrifugal forces inexorably are pulling apart her unwieldy coalition, riven by multiple party loyalties, ideological differences and personality clashes.

    Compounding her problems have been new gains by the radical left, the questionable loyalty of some elements in the military, the failure of the business community to make anticipated investments, a volatile labor situation, nationwide feuding over the appointment of more than 1,600 governors and mayors, and the likelihood that the Aquino government will not have effective control of the future Congress.

    This assessment is based on interviews with government officials, military officers, communist rebels, church leaders, diplomats and a variety of other sources in different parts of the country over the last several months.

    “Part of the problem is that Cory, having been brought to power as a sort of symbol who presides over warring groups, is not inclined to interfere with squabbles because she wants to be above it all,” said a Cabinet minister. “She knows she is very popular, but the danger is that all these squabbles might engulf her.”

    He added: “There’s no doubt that everywhere Cory has gone, she has charmed people. She’s honest and conducts herself in a high moral tone. But will she end up like Jimmy Carter?”

    Similar expressions of concern have been aired by other prominent Aquino backers, notably the archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Jaime Sin. The spiritual leader of this predominantly Roman Catholic country, the only Christian nation in Asia, Sin was instrumental in mobilizing the church to support the military-led “revolution” that drove Marcos into exile in Hawaii.

    “Disunity shows its very ugly head,” Sin said in a recent homily aimed at bickering government officials. “The gains of the revolution are little by little being lost.”

    Like Sin, many of those who have criticized Aquino’s government desperately want her presidency to succeed. “I’d like to see her make it; I really would,” said one western military attache. “But she’s surrounded by tigers and crocodiles.”

    In an interview Tuesday, Aquino did not deny that pessimism about her government’s unity has set in, but she renewed appeals for patience and understanding.

    “I guess there were very great expectations,” she said. “Many people believed that in the short space of six months, many of our problems would be solved. I guess this has disappointed some of them.” On the other hand, she added, many Filipinos “realize that with the enormity of our problems and our limited resources, government cannot really act as fast as it would like to in solving these problems.” She indicated that she was banking heavily on increased foreign investment to generate more employment.

    Aquino also complained that some of her problems were being exaggerated by an unshackled local press. Manila alone now has 24 scoop-hungry daily newspapers, which compete for circulation totaling only about 2 million.

    Indeed, a case can be made for the optimism publicly expressed by the Reagan administration and other U.S. officials, such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), who visited here in August.

    Having been vaulted into political prominence by the 1983 assassination of her husband, opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr., the former housewife clearly has been “growing in the job” and steadily acquiring more confidence as the Philippines’ seventh president.A Reputation for Honesty

    Marcos loyalists still have a potential for disruption and outbursts of violence against the Aquino government, but they pose no serious threat of overthrowing it. The deposed Marcos, who turned 69 Thursday, has been reduced to a grating voice in the Hawaiian wilderness, issuing dire warnings that World War III will erupt in the Philippines unless he returns to power. Equally implausibly, his wife, Imelda, now complains that Aquino is wearing one of the 3,000 pairs of shoes she left behind in Malacanang Palace.

    Besides showing greater self-confidence, Aquino has upheld her reputation for common sense, honesty and integrity — virtues generally agreed to be badly needed in the country today following the Marcos era. And, as much as she says she harbors no ambition for power, Aquino expresses a determination to succeed.

    “I am not one to give up very easily,” she said in the interview.”

    Yet, a wide range of sources agree, the reasons for pessimism about her government these days outweigh the positive factors.

    In the interview, Aquino said she was a member of no political party, although she ran for president under the banner of her vice president’s party. She has spurned suggestions from supporters that she form her own party, explaining that “there are enough political parties and I do not want to add more confusion.”

    Some supporters fear that this disdain for dirtying her hands in politics will further undermine the effectiveness of her government when Filipinos vote in local and legislative elections set for next year.

    “In effect, she is abdicating the political leadership, and this will have very dangerous repercussions in Congress,” said the mayor of a large provincial city. “Being an apolitical person, she cannot conceptualize the need for a political organization to support her presidency. The dynamics of governance are not perceived by her. She expects people to follow her because she has good intentions.”

    In contrast to the directionless drift that is widely attributed to the Aquino government, communist rebels and their leftist allies have emerged as the only unified force with a clear, common goal. The left has recovered, both rebel and military sources agree, from the isolation and disarray it displayed immediately following the Feb. 22-25 “revolution” that brought Aquino to power in the wake of the victory claimed by Marcos in a rigged presidential election.

    In a rare public admission of a “major tactical blunder,” the Communist Party of the Philippines acknowledged in May that it had erred in promoting a boycott of the Feb. 7 national election, a policy that isolated it from the anti-Marcos upheaval that followed. Now, after a period of “self-criticism and rectification,” including leadership changes, the outlawed party and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), have adjusted their strategy and appear again to be making headway in their 17-year-old “people’s war.”

    A Questioned Approach to Insurgency

    Elements of the country’s 250,000-member armed forces, meanwhile, appear to be growing increasingly frustrated with what they see as the Aquino administration’s naive approach to the insurgency and communist influence in government. Some officers close to Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, the Philippines’ leading anticommunist crusader, now openly discuss the prospect of staging a military coup sometime in the future if the perceived leftward drift becomes intolerable.

    “If Cory Aquino is seen as continually being soft on communists to the point they become too strong, she will have to contend with a military that is very agitated,” said a member of an armed forces reform movement that spearheaded the revolt against Marcos. “If the military has to launch a corrective movement, I don’t think it will be bad for the Filipinos,” he added. He said there would be “no martial rule” and that the military would “just kill a few NPAs.”

    The economy, so damaged by the “crony capitalism” and outright plunder of Marcos’ 20-year rule, has shown signs of improvement. But there is widespread concern that the gains may be too small and come too slowly to resolve some of the underlying causes of the insurgency.

    Contributing to this concern is the realization that the United States, for all its goodwill toward the Aquino government, will apparently prove incapable of supplying the massive aid that many here had hoped would amount to a new Marshall Plan for the Philippines.

    Part of the problem is that the business community, which provided crucial support for Aquino in the February election, is mired in a Catch-22 situation. Businessmen are reluctant to invest because of uncertainty arising mainly from the communist insurgency. But progress in undercutting the insurgency depends largely on an economic turnaround, which requires business confidence and new investments. An exasperated Aquino made matters worse, some businessmen believe, by publicly scolding the business community in a recent speech, accusing it of timidity.

    A major worry for the business community has been the wave of strikes it has suffered since Aquino assumed the presidency and installed a leftist human rights lawyer, Augusto Sanchez, as labor minister. Many of the strikes have been called by the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno (May 1 Movement), a labor federation dominated by the Communist Party. So far this year, the Labor Ministry has recorded 428 strikes, a figure that already exceeds the 371 strikes called in 1985.

    Another source of trouble for the Aquino government is the Constitutional Commission, a 48-member body appointed by Aquino in May to draft a new constitution that will pave the way for local and legislative elections, probably early next year.

    The commission, beset by bickering and long-winded debates between a minority leftist bloc and a more conservative majority, has missed an informal Sept. 2 deadline set by Aquino for completing its work. In the process, it has delved into areas that some critics feel would be better left to a legislature, such as setting the ratio of foreign equity in business enterprises, a subject of intense debate that led to a walkout by the leftist bloc amid condemnation of what it called “the tyranny of the majority.”

    So many clauses are being inserted into the charter, wrote one critic of the commission, columnist Maximo Soliven, that “I am surprised that up to now nobody has suggested that the draft constitution prescribe the brand of toothpaste to be used by every Filipino.”

    According to a Cabinet minister and other political sources, the commission may already have thrown a major obstacle in front of the Aquino government by passing a provision for a bicameral legislature consisting of a nationally elected Senate and a House of Representatives elected by district. The sources said that, based on past experience, such a system was likely to prove tedious and time-consuming. Senators have tended to spend their time posturing as future presidents, they said, and district — instead of province-wide — elections of representatives have served to perpetuate the dynasties of political warlords. A unicameral legislature might be more suitable for the Philippines, these observers said.

    “The purse and legislation will be controlled by Congress, and it will be the most independent one you’ve ever seen in the history of the country,” said a Cabinet minister. Given the fractious political situation and splits in the Aquino coalition, he predicted, “The government will lose control of Congress and will not be able to accomplish anything. In the end, the bicameral system will be more conducive to a stalemated government.”

    Controversial Appointments

    Perhaps the most divisive factor in the Aquino government has been the appointment of “officers in charge” to replace the 74 governors, 60 city mayors and 1,520 town and village mayors elected or appointed under the Marcos government. The appointments have been the responsibility of the minister of local governments, Aquilino Pimentel Jr., an ambitious former mayor who was once jailed by Marcos on subversion charges for allegedly helping communist rebels.

    Pimentel is a leader of the PDP-Laban party, a left-of-center group headed by the president’s brother, Jose (Peping) Cojuangco. Members of the United Nationalist Democratic Organization, a rival party known as UNIDO and headed by Vice President Salvador Laurel, have accused Pimentel of appointing a disproportionate number of his own party members as governors and mayors to further his own presidential aspirations. Pimentel denies this.

    Nevertheless, it is clear that the fortunes of Laurel’s UNIDO have waned under the Aquino government, and he has openly broached the prospect of allying with a conservative opposition group, the Nacionalista Party, in the forthcoming local and congressional elections. The latter party was formed recently by a protege of Defense Minister Enrile and is widely viewed as a vehicle for his own presidential ambitions. Most of its members are defectors from Marcos’ once-powerful New Society Movement party, which split after his ouster.

    All this raises the likelihood, according to political analysts, that the PDP-Laban will line up in the next elections with the newly formed Partido Ng Bayan, which is essentially a legal communist party put together by Jose Maria Sison, the founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and Bernabe Buscayno, alias Commander Dante, the original leader of the communist New People’s Army. Both were released from prison by Aquino.

    At the Partido Ng Bayan’s founding congress in Manila on Aug. 30, Sison said the party’s participation in elections would be “secondary” to “extralegal forms of struggle,” which he did not define. Party officials said they expected to win 20 percent of the 1,900 positions that will be at stake in the local and congressional elections.

    According to leaders of the communist underground, the formation of the Partido Ng Bayan reflects a major shift in Communist Party strategy.

    “To us, it doesn’t matter how you win power,” one party official said.

    NEXT: The insurgency



      Corazon Cojuangco Aquino glides into the reception room, smartly dressed in a pastel peach suit. Smiling warmly, she radiates serenity and self-confidence as she chats about her family, her travels, the weather. I have known her for two decades, and she has always appeared to be extraordinarily poised, even under enormous stress – a trait she attributes to her fatalism. Now, however, her composure seems to mask a certain uneasiness. She recoils when I seek to steer the conversation toward the problems facing her presidency – as if an admission of troubles might be construed as a sign of weakness. But she is indeed beleaguered by daunting difficulties.

      In July, an earthquake that devastated central Luzon, the most populous island in the archipelago, dramatized the inability of Aquino’s Government to cope with a crisis. Not only was its relief effort sluggish, but she was further embarrassed when troops from Clark Air Base and the Subic Bay Naval Station – the two major American bases in the Philippines – arrived on the scene first, thus underlining her dependence on the United States.

      Aquino is haunted by dissident army groups, which have already tried six times to oust her. Not a week passes without fresh rumors of a new coup, and one may succeed before 1992, the year she has vowed to retire after her six-year term expires. Neither is she safe from assassination in a land where political violence is endemic. Never far from her mind is the memory of her husband, Senator Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino Jr., who was murdered at the Manila airport in August 1983 as he returned from exile in Boston to challenge Ferdinand E. Marcos, whose corrupt autocracy was crippling the country. She mobilized the opposition and staged a spectacular election campaign. After a military mutiny and prodding from Washington, Marcos and his wife, Imelda, fled to Honolulu in February 1986.

      ”Ninoy used to say that Marcos would leave so many problems behind that whoever followed him wouldn’t last six months,” Aquino has repeatedly recalled to me and others as an indirect way of emphasizing that she has not only defied that gloomy forecast but has made notable progress.

      She regularly points out in public speeches that she has rebuilt the democratic institutions dismantled by Marcos and revived a measure of faith in the shattered economy. She proudly cites her record in servicing the country’s $28 billion foreign debt, another consequence of Marcos’s profligacy. She claims credit for the decline of the Communist insurgency, which grew to alarming proportions during Marcos’s regime. She further asserts that ”people power” – as she called her drive to unseat Marcos – kindled resistance to dictators elsewhere in Asia and even spread to Eastern Europe.

      For all her achievements, however, Aquino has lost the luster she enjoyed after toppling Marcos, when the world exalted her as the devout housewife who had exorcised evil. Her approval ratings in the Philippines, once astronomic, have dropped to below 50 percent.

      Yet her critics sound sorrowful rather than angry, disappointed rather than hostile. ”We like Cory personally, but nothing has changed,” is a refrain I heard more and more in towns and villages. Though they hector her relentlessly, Manila’s flamboyant politicians and newspaper columnists temper their derision with deference. A noted commentator, Luis Beltran, said a few months ago, ”She is sincere, moral and honest, but the presidency is obviously beyond her, beyond her capabilities, beyond her experience.”

      President Bush is reported to be distressed by Aquino’s lack of direction. ”We’re committed to her, and we hope that she’ll muddle through,” says a senior State Department official, ”but she simply doesn’t know how to govern. Moreover, as the Soviet threat recedes, American strategists no longer see the Philippines as crucial to the security of the United States and their concern for the destiny of that Southeast Asian country has diminished accordingly.”

      Aware that her glow has dimmed, Aquino has explained that her victory over Marcos raised expectations of miracles that she could not conceivably fulfill. But she fuels such illusory aspirations by portraying herself as divinely guided – a belief she holds as a devout Roman Catholic. Her defeat of Marcos, she intoned not long ago, ”was indeed a miracle” as well as ”a symbol of God’s love and the task he set us to do.”

      Similarly persuaded that her virtue will serve as an example, Aquino prefers to remain aloof from the political fray. But many Filipinos submit that rectitude does not work in a feudal society like the Philippines, where local bosses and their political surrogates must be cowed, coddled or plied with patronage.

      Armando Doronila, the editor of The Manila Chronicle, imputes Aquino’s ”clumsy and arthritic reflexes” to her unwillingness to exercise power. ”Her vision of the presidency is that of a figurehead,” he has written, contending that she operates on the theory that the political institutions she restored would ”create their own magic and dynamism.”

      Conspicuously absent from her approach is an imaginative vision for the country. John J. Carroll, an American Jesuit who has lived in the Philippines for many years, says, ”She is not a conceptual thinker.”

      Aquino recently formed a new movement, Kabisig, roughly meaning ”linked arms,” whose purpose is to inspire citizens to jolt the stagnant legislature and bureaucracy out of their inertia – and revive her waning popularity should she run for re-election. The traditional politicians – ”tradpols” as the Manila press calls them – dismiss the movement as an effort to blame them for Aquino’s own inadequacies. And they can obstruct her further, as they have been doing for years, by rejecting her appointments and tying up bills in committee.

      The present mood of the Philippines reminds me of the 1960’s, when I covered the country as a correspondent in Asia. The disorder, drift and doubt of that period prompted many Filipinos to support Marcos’s imposition of martial law in September 1972, and I suspect that numbers of them might now welcome another Marcos, perhaps in different guise. For despite their love of freedom, Filipinos respect an iron hand. Marcos, who understood this duality, skillfully gave them doses of both – at least before his regime slid into decay. Revisiting Manila recently, I was surprised by the expressions of nostalgia for Marcos, who died in Hawaii last fall, especially from his former foes. ”With all his faults, he was a strong leader,” several said, evoking his best years, when he enforced discipline and improved the economy.

      This yearning for decisive leadership currently benefits Aquino’s estranged cousin, Eduardo (Danding) Cojuangco, a former Marcos insider who amassed a pile from various monopolies. A vigorous figure beneath his gentle exterior, he fled to Los Angeles when Marcos fell, and subsequently hired Chwat/Weigend Associates, a firm of Washington lobbyists, to teach him to act like a statesman.

      Returning covertly to Manila after Marcos’s death, Cojuangco began organizing for the 1992 election, either to sponsor a presidential candidate or to run himself. He has lured a large following, mainly by dispensing money. His chances of gaining power may be thin, but for a one-time Marcos crony to attract support at all reflects the growing frustration with Aquino.

      Other contenders for the presidency include Vice President Salvadore H. Laurel, who broke with Aquino in 1987, and Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, her former Defense Secretary. The most popular among them, judging from opinion polls, is Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, a West Point graduate and Aquino’s present Defense Secretary.

      ”Manila is a place to make a fortune,” Cory Aquino has said, citing as proof new construction, flourishing corporations and a lively stock market. But the boom has been lopsided. Expensive condominiums tower over squatter shacks that lack electricity and running water, while the extravagant parties at the lavish homes of the wealthy seem to be taking place a million miles away from nearby slums. Fancy restaurants cater to clients who spend more on a meal than a peasant earns in a month. The levels of destitution are such that the servants of the affluent themselves employ servants.

      The income gap is visible in statistics showing that the top fifth of the population receives half of the national income. In 1988, the World Bank reported that half of the population lived in ”absolute poverty,” their income unable ”to satisfy basic needs.” The poverty is most glaring in rural areas, home to more than half of the country’s 60 million people.

      To a large extent, the President herself personifies the contrasts and contradictions that characterize the Philippines. ”Cory would have made a tremendous moral impact if she had started out by giving Hacienda Luisita to the workers,” says Raul Locsin, the editor of a Manila business journal, referring to her family’s vast sugar plantation. Instead, Aquino’s family has profited from a toothless agrarian reform law that permits landlords to keep their property by selling a minority share to the workers over a 30-year period – at prices set by the landlords.

      So Hacienda Luisita is shielded against reform. Its contract cane-cutters are packed into barracks located not far from airier pens that house the thousands of fighting cocks bred by the President’s brother, Jose (Peping) Cojuangco. The plantation also boasts a superb 18-hole golf course.

      The Philippine Congress, whose election in 1987 Aquino hailed as a hallmark of democracy, is dominated by landed and business factions opposed to change. She has not introduced effective measures to streamline the snarled bureaucracy, whose underpaid employees are responsive only to bribes. Out of religious conviction, she has been slow to endorse birth-control programs aimed at curbing the soaring population. Aquino and her husband were victims of Marcos’s despotism, but she has ignored human-rights violations by vigilante groups, whose creation she approved as a weapon to combat the Communists. Aquino’s plans to privatize state-owned enterprises like the Manila Hotel and Philippine Airlines have crumbled, partly because the appointees who direct them have been battling to keep their jobs. Cool to ”unsolicited advice,” as she puts it, Aquino often disregards or revamps her cabinet, which, in any case, has been chronically divided by rivalries.

      Her personal probity is above reproach, but rampant corruption costs the Philippine treasury some $2.5 billion a year – or about a third of the national budget. Shortly before his death two years ago, Joaquin Roces, a distinguished newspaper publisher and one of her early backers, startled Aquino at a reception by openly accusing her of yielding to ”vested interests, relatives and friends.” Stung, she told an interviewer soon afterward that she had warned her family against taking advantage of her position. ”Short of ordering them to hibernate or go into exile,” she added, ”I don’t know what else I can do.”

      To stroll through some of Manila’s downtown streets requires sidestepping uncollected garbage, and driving through the city’s chronically congested traffic is a nightmare. The breakdown in basic public services, the political uncertainties and mounting violence as well as corruption and bureaucratic tangles, have unnerved foreign investors, with potentially grave repercussions on the economy. A planned $360 million petrochemical plant, to be built by a Taiwan group, has been shelved, as has an electrical-power project contemplated by two American companies, Cogentrix and Caltex Petroleum. Of the 388 multinational corporations that maintained offices in Manila in 1985, only 120 remain – and many of those are pondering a pullout. The Communists, badly split by internecine disputes, have resorted to terrorism in an effort to sustain their momentum. Within the last three years they have killed seven American servicemen stationed at Clark Air Base and Subic Bay. All 261 members of the Peace Corps, the third-largest contingent abroad, were withdrawn in June as Communist guerrillas abducted a volunteer on the island of Negros. The volunteer was released earlier this month, but Washington’s unilateral withdrawal had shocked Aquino, who had sought to dispel the picture of a country in turmoil.

      Nothing, however, has afflicted her more than dissension within her military establishment. The army, modeled on American lines during the period of United States colonial rule, before World War II, had scrupulously avoided politics – until Marcos imposed martial law. He co-opted his generals by giving them smuggling and other illicit privileges, which alienated younger officers who felt that favoritism and corruption were hobbling their fight against the Communists.

      The disaffected officers created the Reform Armed Forces Movement, or R.A.M., under the auspices of Juan Ponce Enrile, who was then Marcos’s Defense Minister but was turning against him. In February 1986, Enrile and Ramos, at the time Marcos’s acting Chief of Staff, triggered the military mutiny that catapulted Aquino into office.

      Recalling her husband’s years in army jails during the Marcos years, Aquino at first distrusted the dissident soldiers and even denied her debt to them. But, recognizing their strength, she soon acceded to their demands. She retreated from promised social reforms, gave them greater latitude to fight the Communists and ignored their human-rights abuses.

      Emboldened, the rebels launched a series of comic-opera coups designed to intimidate rather than overthrow Aquino. Each time, fearful of antagonizing them further, she punished them lightly – in one case ordering them to do 30 push-ups. In August 1987, however, dissident soldiers staged a serious, though abortive, uprising that left 53 dead.

      Aquino seemed to be recovering from that attempt when, on Dec. 1, 1989, rebel troops again attacked. They were close to winning when President Bush, heeding her appeal for help, sent in two Phantom jets from Clark Air Base, 50 miles north of Manila, to protect Malacanang, the presidential palace, against the dissidents’ planes. The American display of force initially deterred the rebels, who may have also been discouraged by a White House warning that all American aid would be cut off if they prevailed. Nevertheless, they fought on for nearly a week, and more than 100 Filipinos, most of them civilians, were killed before a truce was declared.

      Even Aquino’s most vocal critics were relieved when the coup failed, concluding that, for all her defects, she was preferable to a military junta. But the assault shook her badly. If crowds did not rush out to acclaim the rebels, neither did they pour into the streets to cheer Aquino. And her plea for American intervention predictably drew charges that, out of gratitude for her rescue, she would bow to American pressure to retain the bases in talks then due to start. Aquino has privately hinted that she favors renewing the leases on the bases, at least for a limited time. To deflect her nationalist critics, however, she will say publicly only that she is ”keeping my options open.”

      The uprising also revealed a new dissident army faction: the Young Officers Union, or Y.O.U., composed mainly of majors and captains. More ideological than R.A.M., it has called for ”genuine national and social liberation” – a slogan that has inspired conjecture that the group might join the Communists in a coalition.

      Six weeks after the attempted coup, President Bush sent a special envoy to Manila on a mission that aggravated Aquino’s woes at home and further impaired her image in Washington.

      Bush’s deputy national security adviser, Robert M. Gates, met alone with Aquino. After reaffirming America’s support for her Government, Gates bluntly told her to ”get your house in order” by regaining the allegiance of the army, checking corruption and bureaucratic red tape, and introducing urgent economic and social reforms. ”The most pressing problem is stability,” he reportedly said. ”It’s time to stop putting off the hard decisions.”

      American officials recalled that Aquino had ”listened impassively” to Gates. However, Filipinos close to her revealed that she was ”stunned” by Bush’s message, and doubly wounded when American officials, to intensify the pressure on her, leaked its details to the American press. She was even more rankled when Congress cut $96 million off a proposed $481 million assistance package to the Philippines as part of a global reduction in foreign aid.

      Aquino retaliated in February by refusing to see Dick Cheney, the United States Defense Secretary, then due to arrive in Manila on a tour of Asia. Never before had a Philippine leader snubbed a high American official, and her gesture ignited protests in Washington, where it was read as a gambit to extract more aid for the bases.

      Representative Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat who heads a House subcommittee on Military Installations and Facilities, accused Aquino of ”upping the ante.” Toby Roth, a Wisconsin Republican and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, asserted: ”Let them keep their bases. We do not want them, we do not need them. They are only an albatross around the necks of the American people.”

      Bush was equally dismayed, but he admonished Aquino in his typically casual manner. ”Listen,” he said in a newspaper interview, ”every time I talk to Dick Cheney I come away smarter. . . . So maybe you’d be like me, maybe you could learn from the man – or he could learn from you.”

      Aquino’s rebuff of Cheney boosted her stock in Manila, where newspapers blared headlines like ”Cory Gets Tough.” But several Filipinos, her partisans among them, soon began to chide her for ”overreacting.” While tweaking Uncle Sam’s nose might be gratifying, several observed, American ”rent” for the bases and other expenditures bring in about $1 billion a year. Aquino’s former press secretary, the columnist Teodoro Benigno, wrote: ”We lose a lot in this refusal, because it is based on personal pique and not . . . on the national interest.”

      Nevertheless, convinced that flexing her muscles would enhance her popularity, Aquino went after Enrile, her fiercest critic, now a senator. Late in February, she ordered his arrest for ”rebellion and murder” in connection with the aborted December coup – the same charge she had denounced as ”politically motivated” when Marcos had used it to jail her husband.

      The episode was vintage Manila theater. Enrile sauntered into an air-conditioned ”cell” equipped with a television set and telephones, spent a week being feted by relatives, friends and journalists, and sauntered out on bail of 100,000 pesos, or about $4,500. In June, the Philippine Supreme Court dropped the charge, ruling that it lacked substance.

      Another Aquino initiative backfired in March when one of her generals was killed in northern Luzon while trying to seize Rodolfo Aguinaldo, a rebellious provincial governor, who escaped and is still at large.

      Aquino was further embarrassed last month when a New York jury acquitted Imelda Marcos and her co-defendant, the Saudi Arabian expediter Adnan M. Khashoggi, of fraud and racketeering charges. Aquino had hoped that a conviction would confirm Marcos’s culpability in looting the Philippines and, by implication, improve her own image.

      Whatever her deficiencies, Corazon Aquino largely owes her predicament to the past, which has dealt the Philippines a bad hand.

      Before the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, the archipelago lacked common bonds or a remote, divine emperor who symbolized central authority. The United States took over in 1898 and ruled until 1946. Hence Philippine history is essentially colonial history. A neat quip accurately sums it up: ”Three hundred years in a Catholic convent and a half-century in Hollywood.”

      This heritage has inhibited Filipinos from forging a strong sense of their national identity, so that their society today is fragmented by family, clan and regional loyalties. Thus their unity lies chiefly in an allegiance to Christianity and the legal definition of Philippine citizenship.

      Under Spain, the Philippine economy languished until the 19th century, when the industrial revolution in the West spurred a demand for such commodities as sugar, hemp and copra. Plantations grew, developing a class of big landlords – many of them Chinese immigrants married to Filipino women – whose dynasties dominate the Philippines today. Corazon Aquino’s great-grandfather arrived from China in the 1890’s, converted to Catholicism, prospered as a trader, and acquired the plantation still owned by his descendants. The Americans were benign imperialists compared with their European counterparts. Their dream was to turn the Filipinos into imitation Americans – ”our little brown brothers,” as the first civilian governor, William Howard Taft, dubbed them. American teachers spread English, and facsimile political and judicial bodies were housed in Greek-style buildings copied from those of Washington. By 1907, the Filipinos had the first freely elected legislature in Asia. The United States Congress voted nine years later to grant them eventual independence, and from that point on the people virtually ruled themselves. During World War II, they fought alongside American troops against the Japanese.

      But American officials failed to protect the peasantry against exploitation by big plantation owners. American manufacturers were allowed to export their products to the Philippines duty-free, in exchange for which Philippine commodities could enter the United States without tariffs. This classic colonial arrangement, besides stunting the growth of local industry, preserved the traditional landed oligarchy. The United States Congress imposed the same trade system after the Philippines became independent in 1946, when the country, shattered by World War II, desperately needed American aid. Filipinos were, and continue to be, captivated by American culture. They adopt American nicknames, American food and American sports. Yet their fundamental values remain largely unchanged. Suspicious of impersonal institutions, Filipinos function through a web of personal ties based on mutual obligations.

      This is especially true in politics, where parties have customarily been cliques whose members seek office not to govern but to furnish jobs, public-works contracts and other favors to their families and friends, who in turn labor to elect them or to keep them in office. So lucrative are the spoils of power that Marcos spent nearly one-quarter of the national budget on his 1965 re-election campaign. Limited to two terms under the law, he scrapped the system, remained in office and went on pillaging without restraint.

      The Philippines never became a ”showcase of democracy,” as many Americans often claim. The most prominent Filipino politician during the American colonial era, Manuel Quezon, was an autocrat. The old dynasties that opposed Marcos were outraged less by his despotism than by his expropriation of their assets to reward his cronies. Neither was the martyred Ninoy Aquino an unalloyed champion of civil liberties. His models included Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and the South Korean General Park Chung Hee, neither of whom would qualify as democrats.

      Looking back, many political analysts argue that Corazon Aquino ought to have used her initial burst of popularity to push through drastic reforms rather than depend on the democratic process, which has, in effect, restored the reactionary oligarchy. But she felt that to resort to arbitrary rule would have violated her campaign pledges. Her occasional excursions into liberal oratory notwithstanding, she is also deeply conservative.

      However the future unfolds for Aquino, the Philippines still resembles the portrait painted by her husband, Ninoy, in Foreign Affairs magazine in July 1968.

      ”Here is a land in which a few are spectacularly rich while the masses remain abjectly poor,” he wrote, ”where freedom and its blessings are a reality for a minority and an illusion for the many. Here is a land consecrated to democracy but run by an entrenched plutocracy . . . dedicated to equality but mired in an archaic system of caste.” Its government was ”almost bankrupt,” its state agencies ”ridden by debts and honeycombed with graft,” its economy ”in pathetic distress.” Filipinos were ”depressed and dispirited . . . without purpose and without discipline . . . sapped of confidence, hope and will.” But, he concluded, the fault was chiefly their own. ”They profess love of country, but love themselves – individually – more.”

    • – chemrock

      “Cory Aquino, perched from a high moral ground but dismally incompetent in handling the business of governance at a time of very challenging transition?”

      A dumb housewife she never was although it is fashionable for armchair critics to describe her as such. To many. it seems easy to clean the Aegean stable of Philippines dirty politics and corrupt, chauvinistic culture out of a completely bankrupt country,

      I admire Cory more for what she never did. Cory made sure she never exercise dictatorial power although she was running a revolutionary govt. Having ousted a hated dictator, she was not going to be a dictator herself. She went about picking up the running of the govt instead of gunning after the scums in the country. There was no sequestration of assets stolen by Marcos’ cronies or Imelda, She formed the PCGG to recover stolen wealth by legal process. She did’nt bring out the guillotines. That perhaps was her greatest mistake that allowed scumbags to stay embedded in high positions and who continue to pose a problem for the country today. There was clamour for her to seek a 2nd term which legally she could because she was never elected under the 1987 constitution. But she refused, so as to give others a chance.

      The first order of her day was to re-assure the world that Philippines was back to business as normal and to garner international support. She did a marvelous job when she addressed the combined house of the US Congress and Senate to a rousing standing ovation. Her efforts obtained for Philippines a huge sum of Aid money from President Reagan. That was money critically needed to rebuild the economy.

      She brought back to life a dead economy. At one time reached 6.7% GDP, but last 2 years of her presidency it slipped to 4% due to combination of natural calamities and bad rice harvest.

      She gave democracy back to the country. If that was no mean feat, she could have succumbed to the tremendous pressures of the numberous of coup d etat that drained her energy and resources. Had she failed, we may have Enrille or Honasan sitting in Malacanang today.

      She faced a Congress not sympathethic to the burdens she shouldered. Out of 200 congressmen 169 were from the same elitist clans of Marcos days. Many initiatives were blocked. Including some tax reforms that were pre-requisites for obtaining IMF credit lifelines.

      She did something that all women of today probably never knew or appreciate. Cory pushed and passed the Family Code into law. Philippines is a masochistic state, still is, and more so before. Before Cory’s time, women in Philippines faced much legalistic disadvantages, reminiscent of women in Saudi Arabia. Do Filipinas today understand that that without Cory’s Family Family Code, women cannot even open a bank account in their name? They can’t even register a company in their name? And many other stuff.

      I admire Cory.

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