Friday, August 07, 2009

Cory, the People and People Power

Streetwise
By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
The Business World 7 August 2009


In death as in life, former President Corazon “Cory” Aquino continues to be a political phenomenon. The Aquino family themselves had not anticipated the people’s outpouring of love, adulation and respect for their mother after she died last August 1. Tens of thousands lined up to view her remains and hundreds of thousands more accompanied her funeral cortege to the cemetery. It evoked a sense of déjà vu in people old enough to remember her slain husband Ninoy’s own mammoth funeral cortege more than 25 years ago.

It was also reminiscent of the huge crowds that Mrs. Aquino drew in her presidential campaign against the dictator Marcos; the gigantic rally in Rizal Park where she called for civil disobedience to force him to step down after the exposure of massive electoral fraud; culminating in the popular mass uprising, eventually dubbed “people power”, that finally ousted his hated dictatorship. Yellow was the color of the day; the air reverberated with shouts of “Cory, Cory”; and the hand sign for the letter “L” meaning “Laban!” sprung to life once more.

In stark contrast was the complete isolation of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the week-long homage to Cory. The unspoken but powerful message from the people is that Mrs. Arroyo has no place in honoring and celebrating her predecessor’s life of selfless service, integrity, humility, simplicity and fortitude. Because these are qualities alien to her and which she has repeatedly and shamelessly trashed even as she laid claim to the highest office in the land.

The Aquino family’s rejection of Malacañang’s offer of a state funeral was an undisguised statement that they did not want Mrs. Arroyo to have anything to do with the funeral rites. Her early morning visit at the Manila Cathedral hours before Mrs. Aquino was laid to rest was marked by stealth (she had to go through a side door), stiffness and brevity. The absence of Mrs. Arroyo at the funeral itself was highlighted rather than made up for by the full honors that were given by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police sans their de facto Commander-in-Chief.

The accolades for Mrs. Aquino’s singular role in bringing down strongman rule and ushering in the return of democratic processes and institutions; the Catholic Church’s rendering of burial rites until then reserved only for their own top hierarchy; and the tearful remembrances of grateful family members, friends and even ordinary staff members – all paled in comparison to the sea of humanity that braved the stifling heat then drenching rains and patiently waited for hours to catch a glimpse of Mrs. Aquino’s flower-bedecked coffin atop a flatbed truck winding slowly through the crowded thoroughfares.

How then do we begin to explain the massive turn-out that took place during the entire duration of the wake until Mrs. Aquino’s burial. Especially in light of the fact that her seeming ability to rouse people power to demand government accountability or to thwart succeeding administrations’ attempts to hold on to power and restore tyrannical rule appeared to be waning.

Let us recall how even after Mrs. Aquino had called for the resignation of Mrs. Arroyo from the presidency, marched to Congress to call for her impeachment, joined numerous protest actions to keep hammering home the point about the Arroyo regime’s illegitimacy, corruption and abuse of power – the people stopped short of pouring out into the streets to support her calls.

Both her admirers and, more so, her detractors came to the conclusion that the “Cory magic” was gone. Some opined that it was after all a “Sin-Cory magic” with Cardinal Sin providing the irreplaceable political astuteness and the moral and organizational clout of the Catholic Church in the partnership. Mrs. Arroyo’s drumbeaters have gleefully proclaimed that the people were “tired” of people power and not even Cory could summon it.

Until Cory, the icon of democracy, dies under conditions of severe political and economic crisis.

What takes place can not just have been nostalgia, a people grateful for Mrs. Aquino’s role in what New York Times writer Stanley Karnow described as “guid(ing) the transition from unscrupulous autocracy to dubious democracy”.

The people’s sense of loss in the passing of a highly respected and beloved leader underscores the fact that despite her shortcomings and limitations, people appreciate, to various degrees, Cory's good traits as essential to a worthy head of state or national leader.

The hankering of the people for the kind of sincere, honest and unadulterated public service that Cory Aquino personified and which is glaringly absent in today’s incumbent leader, Mrs. Arroyo, is palpable and unmistakable. In particular, compare Mrs. Aquino’s gracious and unambiguous readiness to relinquish power as her term ended and Mrs. Arroyo’s equivocation and vile machinations to cling to power far beyond her undeserved nine years in office.

More than Cory’s outstanding traits as a political leader and Mrs. Arroyo’s profound character flaws, the most plausible and inescapable explanation is that the spirit behind People Power 1 and 2 -- the longing for change and the courage, selflessness and determination to match that longing and turn it into reality -- is alive. As much as a collective expression of gratitude to and reverence for Cory, it was also a silent but unequivocal act of protest against the rule of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is generally perceived as Cory's diametrical opposite.

Why then has there been no People Power 3 despite Cory's calls for the people's unified actions against the perpetrators of plunder, fraud and the gross betrayal of public trust?

Perhaps it only indicates that an increasing number of people are becoming keenly aware that it will take more than a replacement of leaders -- more than even another Cory -- to effect genuine and lasting change in Philippine politics and society.

While the Aquino presidency certainly had its mistakes and shortcomings and ultimately failed to live up to expectations in effecting the thoroughgoing socio-economic reforms that would benefit the Filipino people, it was the unabated corruption, puppetry and tyranny of her successors, and most especially of the Arroyo regime, that has driven home this painful lesson.#

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