Corazon Aquino: the uprising, its failings and a glorious ending

Running throughout the discussions of the life and works of the former Pres. Corazon Aquino is a simple yet profound theme: She could have done much more, but she did less.

That President Aquino changed the course of history was never an issue, but that she could have changed Philippine history for the better is a specter that haunts her memory. It’s not that the restoration of democracy is not the better route for the country but, as Prof. Randolf David puts it, with so much power at President Aquino’s disposal during the transition years of 1986 to 1987, she could have pushed for a social revolution for greater equality among the people.

With so much respect and awe from Filipinos and the world over, she could have rallied the nation to a new start where centuries-old problems of poverty, corruption, monopoly, elite dominance, agrarian reform, foreign control, civil unrest and communist insurgency could be finally put to rest. But these things were left undone.  

In defense of the former president, however, is a recognition of the uniqueness of the situation and circumstances that swept her to power. President Aquino never had a truly united political backbone. What she had was a group that was loosely galvanized by a desire to depose the dictator. Her political backing was “united more by what it opposed than what it stood for.”

These politicians figured out that it was much easier to overthrow the strongman than to form a new government, embodying the ideals and hopes of the nation. Thus, after Ferdinand Marcos, came a vacuum that slowly ripped the fragile coalition. Right in the middle was President Aquino torn by competing ideologies, stakes and interests, not to mention, military adventurism from disgruntled members of the armed forces—a vestige of the police state.

The promises of EDSA People Power did not materialize on the one hand because of the reluctance of the president to exercise her revolutionary powers to bring about social revolution. This is understandable for she did not want any semblance of the dictator in the way she ran the newly restored democratic government. Furthermore, the absence of a powerful constituency that sought beyond a return to normalcy bred a government that limited itself to a mere mechanism for political stability, forsaking a clear direction for the nation’s future.

Despite these criticisms, however, is a recognition of the Filipino’s unique cultural treatment of death. As a cultural and social force, “death triggers the surfacing of history’s underside.” In the case of the late President Aquino, death underscored her contributions, while downgrading her administration’s failings. Filipinos have so much reverence and awe of this phenomenon that, suddenly, the color yellow—its meaning long buried in history—once more dominated the streets. The thumb and forefinger again formed the “Laban” sign. And Ninoy Aquino’s famous line once more fluttered in banners and posters: “The Filipino is worth dying for.”

Corazon Aquino is a name that will forever be associated with democracy. To Filipinos, she became the hope in a time of distress, the symbol of freedom in a time of repression, the image of a brave opposition amidst a sea of Marcos cronies and allies. Decades from now, her contributions will soon be just textbook facts for our children. In this generation, however, she is the embodiment of a hard-fought battle to regain the freedom that was lost in the hands of a tyrant. Surely, whenever, wherever democracy is threatened again there will always be people fighting, drawing inspiration from the simple housewife who overpowered a dictator.
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