Monday, August 3, 2009

RIP Corazon Aquino (25 January 1933 - 1 August 2009)

4 August 2009

Today I write to honor the life of Corazon Aquino.  Who was this remarkable woman, that she inspired throngs of mourners to pay respects at her funeral? 


This photo is from today's LA Times online,


In some ways, Corazon Aquino started off life as an "ordinary housewife," though she was never ordinary.  She was born into wealth, educated in the USA, and then married a young and upcoming politician, Benigno Servillano "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr..  In his role as Senator, her husband first became a leading critic and then, eventually, a leader of the opposition to the government of Ferdinand Marcos.  After Marcos instituted martial law in 1972, he imprisoned Benigno for three years, charging and convicting him on trumped up murder charges.  In 1975, Benigno went on hunger strike in protest of the sham trial, but he was convicted and sentenced to death.  Marcos knew, however, that to execute Benigno would elevate him to status of a martyr.  In an arrangement brokered by Jimmy Carter, Marcos allowed the Aquinos to exile in the USA.  In 1983, Benigno, decided to return from exile.  He was assassinated as he exited his plane.  His final statement, which he was unable to deliver, was, ""I have returned to join the ranks of those struggling to restore our rights and freedom through nonviolence. I seek no confrontation."

His wife was allowed to return to the Philippines to manage the funeral of her husband.  She became a tireless campaigner and ran for President in 1986.  Amid widespread allegations of fraud, Marcos declared himself the winner of the election.  What happened next changed not just the history of the Philippines, but the history of the world. 

Nonviolent Revolutionary

It was the nonviolent People Power Revolution.  Two million people took to the streets of Manilla in nonviolent, prayerful protests led largely by the Catholic church.  The army refused to fire on so many unarmed civilians.  Units began defecting.  A reporter who was present at the time, Al Pessin, stated in an interview,

What he [Marcos] didn't count on was, I think, the bravery of the Filipino people, coming out in the streets and blocking the tanks and blocking the military units and also a few key officers, his defense minister and the vice-chief of the army who went over to the revolutionary side. . . . 

Eventually, Marcos conceded defeat and fled to exile in the USA.  Corazon Aquino represents profound victory for the forces of nonviolent change.  The People Power Revolution demonstrates that nonviolence can work.  At the time of the People Power Revolution, Bob Simon, an anchorman at CBS said, "We Americans like to think we taught the Filipinos democracy. Well, tonight they are teaching the world."[20]

This image is from

After being elected, Aquino still faced many challenges.  Saturday's Washington Post writes,

In her six . . . years in office in the fractious, strife-torn, disaster-prone archipelago, Aquino resisted seven coup attempts or military revolts, battled a persistent communist insurgency and grappled with the effects of typhoons, floods, droughts, a major earthquake and a devastating volcanic eruption. . . .  As she dealt with those challenges, she took pride in restoring democratic institutions that had been gutted under Marcos's 20-year rule. And she presided over a series of relatively free elections, the dismantling of monopolies and an initial spurt of economic growth.

In 1992, Corazon Aquino voluntarily relinquished power after another democratic election.  This, too, was hailed as a victory for forces of nonviolence, setting a precedent for peaceful transition in a country with a history of military dictatorship. 

As Pessin notes in his interview:

But if you look back you could see that the Philippine revolution was one of the first during that period and then it was followed either by revolutions, or democracy movements in other parts of Asia, in Thailand, in Indonesia, as well as in eastern and central Europe as we saw in 1989.  . . .  So, it really was an early model for all of that sort of people power that we saw in the subsequent years.


1991 image of Yeltsin on Russian army tank is from

The People Power Revolution is credited with setting the stage for other People Power movements throughout the world.

The symbols of Corazon's campaign were the color yellow, the power sign of hand held up with fingers upright and thumb extended, and the song Banyan Ko, a song which celebrates the beauty of the Philippine islands and freedom from oppression. 

Here is a version of Banyan Ko from YouTube that includes English captions:

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