What A Difference A Year Makes Aquino Still Turning Things Around For Filipinos

Posted: February 23, 1987

It's been a year since Corazon Aquino refused to concede an election that Ferdinand Marcos was confident he had stolen.

A year since a church prelate with the unlikely name of Sin convinced Filipinos by the tens of thousands that "People Power" could stop tanks dead on their tracks.

A year since the color yellow prevailed over khaki in the archipelago of more than 7,000 islands known as the Republic of the Philippines.

One year may not seem a big deal in the cosmic scheme of things. But after more than two decades of the Marcos rot, for a political rookie like Aquino to have survived a year as president is at least a minor miracle.

Only three years earlier, remember, the prospect of democratic reform seemed so hopelessly remote, the opposition leader in exile was saying that whoever succeeded Marcos would not survive six months in power.

That grim prediction was made by Cory Aquino's husband, Benigno, shortly before he was assassinated by Marcos loyalists as he was deplaning at Manila Airport to renew his own challenge.

But now a full year has passed since the estimable Cardinal Jaime Sin helped rally the people behind those yellow banners, and President Corazon Aquino has done more than survive. Having defused at least a half-dozen attempted coups, she is slowly, yet resolutely, fulfilling her pledges of economic recovery and democratic reform.

While six of every 10 Filipinos have yet to rise above the poverty that was institutionalized under Marcos, official larceny has been eliminated, the decline in the gross national product has been completely reversed, and an equitable constitution is finally in place.

Reversing the order of that memorably optimistic U.S. military slogan from World War II, Cory Aquino has already done the impossible, but the difficult will take a while longer.

Historically, change has never come easily in the Philippines. Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan was still in the process of proving that the world was indeed round when he first planted a flag in the archipelago on behalf of his sponsor, King Charles I of Spain.

Old Charlie proudly named the islands for his 15-year-old son, the future King Philip II. The natives then had to endure close to four centuries of Spanish exploitation until the United States finally acquired the Philippines for a pittance of $20 million, as partial settlement of the 1898 Spanish- American War.

Even then, the Filipnos had to suffer through America's first real fling at imperialism. After a brief native uprising was effectively squashed, some U.S. opinion-shapers were promoting a view of the new territory that was far from benevolent, as witness this editorial excerpt from a 1902 issue of San Francisco's weekly Argonaut magazine:

"These islands are enormously rich; they abound in dense forests of valuable hardwood timber; they contain mines of precious metals; their fertile lands will produce immense crops of sugar cane, rice and tobacco. Touched by the wand of American enterprise, fertilized with American capital, these islands would speedily become richer . . .

"But, unfortunately, they are infested with Filipinos!"

No, this was not some Jonathan Swift turn of social satire. Using capital letters to emphasize its seriousness, the editorial concluded that "the American people, after thought and deliberation, have shown their wishes.

"THEY DO NOT WANT THE FILIPINOS. THEY WANT THE PHILIPPINES!"

Fortunately, a more enlightened American view eventually prevailed. After a 1934 promise of self-determination was delayed by the Japanese occupation in World War II, the Philippines gained at least nominal independence in 1946.

Yet, through the ineptness of earlier governments and the blatant misrule of Marcos, Filipinos have never experienced a true sense of nationhood.

Full realization of this ideal is one of those difficulties that will take Corazon Aquino a while longer, of course.

But at least someone's finally working on it!

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