Maria Corazon Cojuangco Aquino died today.
Those of you that know, know.
…for those of you that don’t, Cory Aquino was the 11th President of the Philippines, coming to power after the murder of her husband, exiled senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. and massive election fraud by the incumbent President, Ferdinand E. Marcos.
The Aquinos went into exile during the 1970s when Marcos declared Martial Law – Ninoy was seen as the frontrunner to succeed Marcos, and the two were from opposite parties. (It’s messier than you might think – the two were fraternity brothers, served in government together, and Marcos was close to members of Cory’s family) but Ninoy stood up to Marcos’s abuses of power and had to bounce.
Cory and Ninoy returned in the 1980s to challenge Marcos, who was ailing. Ninoy never touched the ground – he was shot as he climbed out of his plane in a case that’s still mysterious. Blame fell immediately on the President. Cory used her status as martyr (and her reputation as a pious Catholic housewife) to bolster the opposition. Marcos called a snap election to silence critics – both sides claimed victory. Cynics will say that both sides cheated (and if Filipino historians and journalists have anything to say, it happened often pre-Martial Law) but Cory’s supporters among students, the middle class, the Church, the aristocracy, underground activists, and even the army stood up and said “aw, hell naw.”
(Marcos’s regime, with its cronyism, kickbacks, gratuitious violence, and the blatant murder of a popular senator on national television, had pissed off all sorts of people, from Communist Jose Maria Sison to Catholic Jaime Cardinal Sin.)
Protestors took to the streets in Manila, on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, or EDSA. They faced down Marcos’s troops – children by putting flowers in gun barrels (very 60s-ish) nuns by kneeling in front of tanks and praying the rosary, and everybody by chanting Cory’s name and lifting forefinger and thumb in an “L” for Laban – Tagalog for “struggle” and the acronym for Cory’s coalition, Lakas ng Bayan (People Power)
Marcos, God bless his kleptocratic soul, did not fire on the protestors – keeping EDSA from turning into Tiananmen Square or the 8888 Uprising in Burma. Instead, he hauled ass out of the Presidential palace and went to Hawaii to die in exile.
Cory was the first democratically elected Philippine President in nearly two decades – she had to face off coups and attempts on her life as well, but at the end of her six years, she handed power to Fidel Ramos and left the country (relatively) stable – a woman taking power from a dictator and giving power to a democratically-elected general a full decade before my parents’ home country.
I study Southeast Asian history, and typically, I get a little depressed. Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia…I can go on, but it always seems like my “little brown brothers” (pace to the American occupying forces between 1898-1941) end up serving as pawns in chess games, violent violins played by ruthless virtuosos harping on tightly-strung resentments. EDSA I, or the First People Power Revolution, is always a relief – so nonviolence actually does work!
A good friend of mine (a Filipino who is generally jaded about Filipinos and who stands aloof from pinoy pride things here in California) said this about EDSA:
“It was their finest hour.”
I will not say anything about the political situation in the Philippines, or elsewhere, but Cory’s contributions to her people (and her proof to all people that might isn’t necessarily right) deserve at least a nod.
So, Cory, farewell, dear saint, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.