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Cory Aquino, Freedom’s Champion

August 7, 2009

Before nodding off to sleep, I’d like to share a truly touching tribute written by Canadian priest Father Raymond de Souza who writes in Canada’s National Post newspaper.

De Souza most generously calls our late president ‘Freedom’s Champion’:

national post scrnshot

Burying freedom’s champion

Corazon Aquino was buried beside her late husband, Benigno Aquino, yesterday in Manila. The assassination of the latter vaulted the former into public life, and she brought down the Philippines’ Marcos dictatorship in 1986 with her “people power” revolution.
The funeral was a restrained affair. While the Catholic Church granted her honours reserved only for the cardinal archbishop of Manila, her family declined a state funeral, the current president did not attend and there was no gathering of the assortment of vice-presidents and foreign ministers customarily assembled for such occasions. Less than 25 years after the glorious uprising of February 1986, it seems the former president’s place in history is already being overlooked.
Which is a shame, for Cory Aquino’s revolution was one of the great moments of 20th-century history, and the lessons of hope that it taught are still relevant today.
In the 1980s, the final decade of the Cold War, non-communist dictators often held on to power with the support of Western governments because the alternative was thought to be worse. It was accepted the dictatorial thugs could be deposed only by force — usually by militias supported either by Moscow or Washington. The Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos was a typical opportunist in this Cold War environment. Confident that the United States would back him against Marxist guerrillas, he called a snap election for February 1986, hoping to put a gloss of democratic legitimacy on his regime.
Cory took up the mantle of her fallen husband — who’d been imprisoned, exiled and then finally assassinated by the Marcos regime. The assassination was brazen. Benigno returned to the Philippines on Aug. 21, 1983, from exile in the United States. Warned not to return, the Marcos regime had more than 1,000 troops at the Manila airport to greet him. Benigno just reached the tarmac when he was shot in the back of the head. The Marcos regime killed him in broad daylight in front of an attentive nation.
Cory united the opposition, won the 1986 election and led the people into the streets when Marcos fraudulently declared himself the winner. The people rallied, Marcos went into Hawaiian exile and Cory was peacefully installed as a democratically legitimate president. She promulgated a new constitution, put down a half-dozen coup attempts and, in 1992, at the end of her term, voluntarily left office.
The Aquino triumph had meaning beyond the Philippines. It meant that there was a peaceful and democratic alternative to Third World authoritarian regimes. The old Cold War argument that the choice was between our SOB and their SOB was exposed as false. It turned out that it was possible not to have an SOB at all. Indeed, in the whole history of human government, there have been few figures as luminous as Cory Aquino.
In the years following the Filipino revolution, dictatorships fell like dominoes around the world in peaceful elections and demonstrations: South Korea, East Timor, Indonesia and other places in Asia; Chile, Nicaragua and almost all of the rest of Latin America; Poland, Czechoslovakia and the whole of the Soviet empire. Cory Aquino’s rise gave hope and confidence to freedom fighters far from the Philippines.
Cory Aquino’s revolution was a religious one, even though it was broader than that. Her strongest ally was Cardinal Jaime Sin, archbishop of Manila, who called the people on to the streets to defend her. The sight of nuns praying the rosary in front of tanks was a singular image of the power of peaceful, public religion.
The Catholicism of Cory’s revolution was another welcome surprise. As late as the 1960s, many believed that Catholic countries were unsuited for democracy. There were few Catholic democracies and it was thought Catholics preferred to be ruled by authoritarian regimes. That view began to change with the democratic changes in Portugal (1974) and Spain (1975). The explicitly Catholic revolution on the streets of Manila smashed that view; the subsequent global wave of democratization took place in many Catholic countries.
By the time Cory Aquino retired as president in 1992, she was just one of dozens of heads of government of newly democratic states. Indeed, when Violeta Chamorro defeated Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua in 1990, Cory was not even the only widow of an assassinated public figure to be elected in her own right. History was moving fast, and Cory’s historic achievement was quickly overtaken by ever greater novelties elsewhere. But Cory’s moment was a bright spot in a dark century, and her trademark yellow was the dawn of a new hope.


desouza225Father Raymond J. de Souza is a Roman Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ont., where he serves as chaplain for Newman House, the Catholic chaplaincy at Queen’s University. Before entering the seminary, he studied economics at Queen’s and the University of Cambridge, England, including a year abroad doing research in economic development in the Philippines. In addition to his priestly duties, Fr. de Souza teaches at Queen’s, is frequently invited to be a guest speaker, and writes for several publications, both religious and secular.

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