MANILA (UPDATED) – Four years after the death of Corazon Aquino, Filipinos continue to call for change, which they were expecting to happen as far back as the late former president’s term.
Filipinos took to social media both to honor the memory of the former president and also vent their ire about her apparent lack of action on issues during her term, as well as her son’s continuation of that “legacy”.
“Cory”, as she is known by Filipinos, was thrust into the limelight and eventually ran for president when her husband Ninoy, then among the leaders of the opposition to the government of President Ferdinand Marcos, was killed as he got off a plane in the Manila International Airport in August 1983.
The late Aquino’s presidency was heralded as the beginning of the post-Martial Law era, when democracy was restored to the Filipino people. However, she was also criticized for her lack of political will and a clear goal for the country, which led to incidents such as the Mendiola Massacre and several attempted coup d’ etats, as well as the supposed intrusion of the Americans in local affairs.
Until now, her selective action on issues continues to haunt even her son, currently the country’s president, who was elected in the wake of her death. Like his mother, Benigno Aquino III is also being criticized for being reactionary and allegedly failing to address the concerns of the poor, particularly concerning the issue of the distribution of land in Hacienda Luisita.
Responding to questions posted by ABS-CBNnews.com online about what they remember about former President Cory Aquino, Joy Levy replied that she was “the biggest mistake in Philippine history,” a comment that was liked 662 times.
This was seconded in over 94 replies, including Rhye Remolana, who said that the Philippines was better off during the Marcos era, when the country was regarded as one of the fastest and most progressive countries in Southeast Asia. “Aside from China we [were] one of the most powerful and influential [countries] in Asia. Ngayon, [nasaan] tayo?”
Meanwhile, Gabriel Rose said “President Marcos was the real father of Democracy in this country. He [saved] the Philippines from becoming a communist state when he declared Martial Law.”
Overseas Pinoy Nenita Godfrey, also said she remembers more good done by Marcos. “Mas marami akong naalalang mabuting nagawa ni Pangulong Marcos, at sya ang bibigyan ko ng respeto sa araw ng kanyang (Aquino) pagpanaw. This lady? Coldplay...’it was all yellow’. Yellow everywhere, buti di pinalitan ang kulay ng ating watawat.”
“First of [all], may you rest in peace madam. But I must admit that once I hear the name Cory Aquino, three words automatically comes into mind--oligarchy, hypocrisy, and FAILURE. And to be honest, her presidency was one of the country's biggest mistake so far... pumapangalawa lang kasi ang pagkaka-luklok sa pwesto ng anak niya,” said Anna Clarissa Garcia, an account executive and entrepreneur.
Surgeon Vincent Maldia, meanwhile, was diplomatic in expressing his views about Aquino and former President Ferdinand Marcos, and said Cory Aquino “was at worst a necessary evil”. While he thanks her for restoring democracy, he also wished that she would have stepped down instead of finishing her term because of her mediocre performance.
“Even if we accept the theoretical premise that Martial Law saved us from communism, it did not save us from communism by making us a democracy, it made us a dictatorship…Marcos was a good leader only during the first part of his reign. During the second part he lost it,” he said.
Angelo Malabana said that while Aquino was “nice”, the people behind her victory were not. “During her term, nothing really happened, just democracy that made private investors gain access to all public lands, the rich became richer, the poor became poorer,” he said.
Others, however, said they continue to regard Aquino as an inspirational icon worth respect.
Overseas Filipino Sunny Garbino said he remembers Aquino as a good person and a model mother, as well as a good, god-fearing leader. “Dapat nating isipin at alalahanin na minsan may isang Cory na nagpabagsak sa rehiming sakim at diktadurya..mananatili ka sa sa puso ko Cory Aquino. Bahagi ako ng EDSA 1...humarap sa tangke at mga sundalo,” he said.
“She's [a] saint because of Cardinal Sin. According to some Pinoys, ‘She 's the [worst] president ever!’ For me, she's a woman that deserves respect,” said Pastor Erick Ella.
Meanwhile, Alejandro Legaspi, who said he met the former president when she spoke at an event about Philippine democracy, said Filipinos should not be quick to judge the late president.
“Not a few can ever survive what she had to go through in life; losing a husband to leading a nation clamoring for change. Yet she took [the] helm and steered. She was charismatic in her own meek and humble way.”
Was the Aquino government a poor successor to the Marcos regime?
Often called as the "mother of democracy," Corazon Aquino was elected as the president of the country following a bloodless revolution, dubbed as the People Power Revolution. Aquino’s election as the country’s president brought an end to the 21-year regime of President Ferdinand Marcos.
Aquino, a housewife, was brought to the limelight as the grieving wife of Ninoy Aquino, a popular candidate against Marcos. Despite her lack of experience in politics, the Filipino people supported her candidacy, and even took to the streets when the results the February 7, 1986 snap elections still showed Marcos as the winner.
Governing a country which still bears the wounds of the Martial Law was not easy. President Aquino was plagued with controversies and different issues, ranging from poverty to land reform. There were also several attempts to overthrow Mrs. Aquino from power, showing the people’s dissatisfaction with her governance.
Mrs. Aquino was seen as a beacon of hope during the first few years of her presidency. But as people failed to notice changes in their status and condition, problems started to be highlighted, and Mrs. Aquino was engulfed in problems that were already too big to solve.
Some traditional politicians even poked fun at her being a mere housewife. These politicians, mostly Marcos cronies, believe that Aquino’s place was in the kitchen, and not in Malacañang.
Filipinos started to become nostalgic, reminiscing the times when they enjoyed economic perks, like cheaper prices, higher salaries, and lower exchange rates. Some even started thinking that they were better off during the Marcos regime, and that if Aquino was not elected, they would still be enjoying the perks that Marcos was able to provide them.
“We need to give Mrs. Aquino credit for stepping up at a time of crisis, for ushering in a new era of freedom, and for providing the moral authority sorely needed in the immediate post-EDSA period,” explained Roy Carpio Devesa, a history graduate and a law student.
However, in an article entitled “Marcosian Economics: Myths And Realities”, written by historian Alvin Campomanes and published in his personal Facebook page, discusses in length the different “myths” surrounding the Marcos administration, myths which were often used by Marcos propagandists as a reaction to the Aquino administration, especially after Cory and Ninoy’s son, Noynoy Aquino, was elected as president in 2010.
“Life was easier when Marcos was president” is one of the most common comment Filipinos would utter when asked about the Marcos administration. According to Campomanes, although there is some truth in this statement, this shows “unhistorical wishful thinking,” popular among people who do not have enough knowledge about history, or those who choose to forget.
Some of the points Campomanes discussed in his article include the economic prosperity that the Philippines enjoyed during the Marcos administration, such as the Php 2: $1 exchange rate, the numerous infrastructure projects and the country’s self-sufficiency in rice. These are also some of the points commonly thrown by Marcos propagandists when comparing Marcos and Aquino, saying that all these benefits were proof of Marcos’ better governance.
“The regime harped on this semblance of prosperity. This is perhaps the “good old days” that many Filipinos are nostalgic about. It was the urban middle class and the co-opted section of the traditional elite that generally benefited from the economic diversification and growth that followed the imposition of martial rule. But this prosperity was short-lived and illusory,” explained Campomanes.
Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua, a historian, also explained that many Filipinos had expectations that were not met by Aquino’s post-EDSA administration. He stated that it is not surprising that a lot of Filipinos believe that Marcos was better than Aquino.
“Maraming Pilipino ang nakaranas ng ginhawa nung panahon ni Marcos. Matapos ang EDSA revolution, hindi na-fulfill ng post-EDSA presidents, not just Cory Aquino, ang promise of EDSA dahil akala ng tao wala na siyang gagawin, puro pangulo na lang. Nahirapan ang mga tao,” explained Chua.
He added that Marcos wanted to show that he was the only one who could help the citizens, through centralization, "which is not how government should work, as the president should not be the only source of relief."
“Filipinos have a different notion of democracy, different from that of the West. Halimbawa, for many people, democracy means food and relief from poverty, not necessarily civil liberties...Akala ng tao wala na siyang gagawin, puro pangulo na lang. Dahil lahat naman ng pangulo may sinikap iambag diyan [sa pag-unlad].”
Chua also cited that this point-of-view showed the effectiveness of the Martial Law propaganda, especially that of Marcos’ control of the press. During the Martial law, newspapers and news reports on radio and television highlighted all the achievements of the administration, without mentioning the killings and the imprisonment of those who opposed Marcos.
“Madaling makalimot ang mga Pilipino, lalo na sa mga pangyayaring hindi maganda,” said Chua. He considers this as a kind of coping mechanism, when Filipinos choose to forget bad things that they experienced in order to move on with their lives.
“Marami sa mga tao [na pro-Marcos] ay galit kay PNoy, kaya nadadamay si Cory.”
“Hindi santo si Marcos, pero hindi rin siya demonyo. Gayundin, hindi rin santo si Aquino,” added Chua, referring to "extreme" comments online of the former presidents. "Bilang historian...kailangan ng objectivity."
40 years after the declaration of Martial Law and 27 years after the People Power Revolution, the debate goes on. But unlike in the past, when debates occur inside classrooms or in newspaper opinion sections, people use social media.
The Aquino-Marcos debate is specially highlighted during special occasions such as today’s commemoration of Cory Aquino’s death. Conflicting views and information found on the Internet further sparks discussion.
“Madali ma-amplify ang opinion sa social media kaya madali rin ma-spread ang pro-Marcos propaganda at nostalgia. Madali kasi mag put out ng information, say statistics, online, at napatunayan nang madali mapaniwala ang mga tao sa mga nababasa nila sa internet,” explained Elsid Benueza, a history graduate.
Information that are pro-Aquino or pro-Marcos can both be considered as propaganda, Chua said.
At the end of the day, it is no longer Cory Aquino who holds power in Malacañang, but her son, Benigno Aquino III. As long as there is an Aquino in power, this debate, and the never-ending calls for solutions may not see an end.