Aquinos over Marcoses?

During the administration of Cory Aquino, I was forced to leave my job at an NGO. The loss of income led my family (my eldest who was then 4 and my husband who was earning a pittance as an orthopedic resident) to move out of our small apartment and live with my parents.

A year later, I would accept a research fellowship at the University of Amsterdam as a form of preventive self-exile. All this because I was on the assassination list of Cory Aquino's military. Don't get me wrong. I wasn't a big time activist but a minor pinch hitter. But it had become difficult very quickly after EDSA. My moves were what we in the underground movement against the Marcos dictatorship called “pagpag ng init” (shaking off  the heat), but now the heat was happening during the Cory Aquino administration.

At the time, I was the health sectoral representative in the National Council of Bayan, which the military had pinpointed as a front of the Communist Party of the Philippines. During that period, the leadership of Bayan was being assassinated, the most prominent of them being labor leader Rolando "Ka Lando" Olalia.

It was clear to us in the way ambushes were conducted, in the way Olalia's driver bodyguard was found tied and tortured, and in the profile of human rights violations cases we saw then, that the military had resumed its war against dissenters and progressives.

Sins of omission

It was also clear to us that the many ills that plagued the nation before and during martial law were not going to be corrected. For example, land distribution was not going to happen. (It didn't, and not just the land of Hacienda Luisita.)

Despite urgent pleas from many activists and progressive economists, Cory Aquino did not repudiate the immoral and illegal debts that the Marcos regime had taken which enriched only his pockets and the pockets of his favored colleagues. Instead, she affirmed that we would pay all of them, and we continue to do so today. 

To our dismay, military men, some of them torturers (trust me, they were named by my patients who were torture survivors) assumed leadership again and rehabilitated themselves into prominent careers in the post-Marcos landscape. One such person is Juan Ponce Enrile, Marcos' defense secretary/minister who was known widely as his chief crony and co-architect of martial law. Cory was never able to establish the culpability of the torturers and murderers. She never even got to the bottom of who killed Ninoy Aquino for that matter. Other countries who went through similar dictatorships have done so and their national history has become one of greater accountability and on this basis, national healing. Such an effort is also greatly contributory to the establishment of human rights standards and practices.

We had hoped that we could go after the Marcos plunder quickly, but that matter has become slow and unsatisfactory. A visit to the PCGG website will disabuse claims that the Marcos family has not stood in the way of ill-gotten wealth recovery. A visit to the PCGG website should also show that plunder did occur. Something that those of us who went through those years never doubted. Yet, as the recent scandal on the Panama papers show, that money still eludes us.

The Communist Party of the Philippines had predicted all these things correctly. They said she was a woman of the elite who would never change the economic landscape of the country. They said that the few leftists she appointed to government, like Joker Arroyo who became her executive secretary, were tokens. They predicted that these progressive people would either be eased out or coopted, and this happened in many cases.

Still a Cory fan

Yet years later, but long before Benigno Aquino III became President of the Philippines, my son would be surprised as he did his dissertation on martial law and People Power, that I generally took a benign view of her administration.

The difference between many communists and myself was that I forgave Cory Aquino for her failures even if it came at great personal cost to me. She did not and could not promise us radical and fundamental reforms. Yes, because of her class origins, which made her more likely to be a timid reformer rather than a radical visionary. For example, she could have at least made sure that the basic education courses would teach more about the  horrors and damage of martial law rather than the few insignificant paragraphs kids learn these days. But it was also because she inherited a difficult and volatile political situation made worse by the decision of the Communist Party and its influenced organizations to boycott the 1986 snap elections and peripheralize themselves from the people power revolution that led to the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship.

The real revolutionaries were left out of the new dispensation precisely because they had refused to join the people who were truly disgusted with the abuses (political, economic, human rights) of the Marcos regime. It is a pity because for decades the Communist Party had served as the backbone of opposition to the Martial Law regime and many of the martyrs of the anti-dictatorship struggle were members of the CPP. 

But the error left a space open for the  likes of  Enrile, Ramos and the leaders of the Reform the Armed Forces group within the military to become the armed heroes of the EDSA revolution. Meanhwile  the armed force that bore the brunt of the resistance during the long decades sat on the sidelines, convinced that there was no need to help Cory because Cory was, well, Cory.

Democrat who gave up power

During the course of her administration Cory Aquino fulfilled the only promise she could afford to make to our people: to return formal democracy in all its elite glory to the Philippines. She had to declare a revolutionary government for awhile and given how she was idolized, how the people around her would have succumbed to yet more authoritarianism (this was the same unreformed military after all as shown by their quick return to assassinating activists and mounting coups against her), she could have become a new dictator.

But she didn't keep the power. She convened a Constitutional Commission which was flawed but sufficiently diverse with some genuinely pro-people and democratic elements.  That came up with our current Constitution which was ratified in a generally peaceful plebiscite by a big majority.

Cory Aquino then placed herself under the rule of law which limited her term as President. When she was about to end her term, many wanted her to extend it, arguing that she was sui generis and that the Constitution could not have applied to her because it did not exist when she came to power. But she didn't take that option. Instead she handed over power in peaceful elections to a man who had been part of the system that persecuted her family during Martial Law but had proven his rehabilitation to her by having her back during the at least 6 coup attempts of her regime. Coup attempts, by the way,  which were planned and funded by old Marcos die-hards and which derailed the economic take-off which began to take shape during her term.

I was on a plane to attend an anti-torture conference in Paris with a friend when Gringo Honasan launched his most deadly coup attempt. Our airplane was one of the last planes out before the airport was closed. During the long flight my friend and I discussed our options should Gringo Honasan succeed. We knew that as human rights workers who had begun to shout off our heads (again!) at the military abuses during those years, we were probably bound for arrest if the coup succeeded.  My friend,  a former detainee, would seek exile. I would negotiate return because I could not see myself separated from my young son and husband.

Having made our heart-rending decisions, we raced to the newsstands the minute our plane touched down at the Charles de Gaulle airport. How happy we were when we learned Cory had survived yet another coup attempt.

It seems strange perhaps, that I who was in danger during the Aquino regime should have been most happy that she survived the coup attempts. But that same military under her had also put me on the order of battle during the Marcos years causing me to also go into hiding. At least during her term I was sure, given the coup attempt that she was not  in control of the most fascist sectors of the military. At least I was certain that as long as she stayed in power, I was far safer.

Nation-building is not soap opera

Today the things my generation of activists fought for remain to be won. Land reform is still a myth and laborers do not have the protection and dignity they deserve. Overseas work, a supposed stop-gap measure that Marcos started to ease the economic miseries towards the latter part of his regime, has become institutionalized. Women continue to be second rate citizens along with so many other dispossessed groups – LGBTs, indigenous peoples, and so on.

Today, even under the term of Noynoy Aquino, as it has been during every regime since Marcos, human rights violations occur. Today, graft, corruption and incompetence continue to plague us. And I will bet, this incoming administration will also have the same problems. It isn't a question of "if it will happen." It's only a question of whether it will join a trend of lessening the inequity and lack of democracy or increasing it.

But trust me, young people who never went through those times, the Marcos regime was the worst. If you want to know how things can get worse, read your history of those years.

Perhaps the saddest cut of all is that these days people for selfish political agendas have reduced the battle to the idea that it is all some sort of family feud between the Aquinos and the Marcoses. It has benefited the Marcoses and their allies for example to point to all the faults of the Aquinos, the Liberal Party of Noynoy Aquino and the current shortcomings of his administration to paint the picture that they are the better leaders. But that is a lie.

Today it has become a convenient excuse that those of us who are willing to give President Aquino his due (as I have his mother) are thought off as coopted and fake democrats.

But that can only be done if you believe this tale that the national story can be confined to the soap opera narrative of Noynoy versus Bongbong. It can only be done if people continue to believe in personality politics and the possibility of a leader as messiah. It can only be done if people do not understand how painstakingly slow nation-building can be and that even the fastest turn-arounds do not happen in a lifetime. 

But I listened to the people then when I urged the CPP-NPA-NDF to campaign and vote for Cory Aquino. I understood why, when Cory died, millions remembered and showered her funeral parade with displays of gratitude. I understand why this propelled her son to the presidency. I see why, despite all his faults, Noynoy Aquino leaves Malacañan with historically high approval ratings while Bongbong Marcos loses his bid to Leni Robredo who remained uncompromising in her analysis of the ills of martial law.

Aquinos versus the Marcoses? It never was as simple as that. But if you like, I choose to be a yellowturd. –