1986-1992: Cory Aquino
After having been brought into power by the People Power Revolution in February 1986, President Corazon Aquino quickly had the 1987 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.
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.