I’ll always see Cory Aquino as the demure amateur thrust into the limelight.
I first saw her in 1983 in the Santo Domingo Church in the Philippines. I was there for KRON-TV/ San Francisco doing a story for the NBC network. I was covering the funeral of Aquino’s late husband the charismatic Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, the former journalist and Philippine Senator who was considered the main foe of Philippine autocrat Ferdinand Marcos.
Cory Aquino wore a black, not yellow dress, as she took to the vestibule in mourning and asked the entire country to “not let Ninoy die in vain.”
She then led a crowd of at more than a million people through the streets of Manila in what was a magnificent funeral procession and a harbinger of the “People Power” revolution that would take place within three years.
Cory Aquino didn’t do half bad, really, as political wives go.
The feelings for Benigno Aquino and the negative feelings for Marcos were so strong, that the momentum was set up for anyone who dared to stand in the spotlight.
Cory Aquino was it by default.
She had enough in her to inspire the millions ready for change to boldly stand with her in 1986 against the dictator. This was the peaceful revolution known as People Power. The assassination, the distraught situation of the Philippine people, and the unwillingness of the country to accept a fraudulent Marcos election bestowed on Aquino a kind of sainthood. Cory was the Philippines patron saint of democracy.
That was Cory Aquino’s ideal role. She was perfect at that.
But as president, she was a bit lacking.
In interviews, she admitted she had no real idea what she was doing. The devout Catholic had her sincerity, her earnestness. But we learned that public policy is not built on prayer alone. Aquino did manage to survive and keep things together, no small task considering that by the time she left office in 1992, she had survived six coup attempts.
The real disappointment of her reign, however, was not that Cory couldn’t do it, but that the Filipino people who thrust her into power couldn’t do it. With Marcos gone, the deck was merely reshuffled among the governing class. The Ins were Outs. The Outs were In. Net change: Zero.
Exiled leaders came home to their lost fortunes. Former leaders came to America, or accepted lesser posts. The poor did not/could not rise. The country’s collective fate did not improve.
Unfortunately, it’s still debatable if the Philippines is better off now than it was under Marcos.
Since Aquino left office, the Philippines has been reliving watered down versions of its past. Corruption is dialed back, but not eliminated. A bad president (Estrada) is thrown out by “mini-people power,” and is replaced by another oligarch, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Arroyo, who was with President Obama this past week, is the anti-Cory in every way. Cory wore yellow. Arroyo wore red.
It’s safe to say Arroyo is no Cory Aquino.
I’ve called Arroyo Marcos Lite. All the taste of the former dictator, but with fewer calories.
Even Cory Aquino marched in protests that called for Arroyo’s resignation.
Ironically, Cory Aquino’s death may actually make her an even more powerful force in such a devoutly Catholic country.
Death should only solidify Aquino’s role as the spirit of a democratic ideal for the Philippines.