A tribute to Cory
As we mark this month the fifth anniversary of President Corazon C. Aquino’s passing, I humbly offer this personal tribute to an exemplary Filipino political leader and human being who brought great honor to our country and made us proud to be Filipinos:
• For her heroic sacrifice in the long struggle against authoritarian rule, together with her husband, former senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr., the foremost leader and martyr in that struggle.
• For leading the nation in challenging the dictator as the united opposition candidate in the “snap presidential election” of 1986 and in the people power revolt known as “the Edsa Revolution” that ended the dictatorship, and for restoring democracy under the 1987 Constitution, whose writing she sponsored and whose ratification campaign she led.
• For her transforming leadership that put love of God, country and people, democracy, national unity, and moral and ethical governance as the highest values and norms of citizenship and public service.
• For resisting and surviving the coup attempts mounted by some military and opposition leaders to topple her presidency and restore the authoritarian rule they enjoyed during the Marcos dictatorship.
• For showing through her presidency and in her civic work in retirement, and even in her illness and in her death in 2009, that countless people here and abroad appreciate the basic values she stood for and honor her for it.
In striving for democracy and development, the Filipino people appreciate President Cory’s sterling character and the specific political values and virtues she promoted: democracy, a just and humane society, the rule of law, peace, national unity, respect for human rights, honesty, truth, transparency, equality and justice.
Her foremost achievements as a political leader are:
• Overthrowing Ferdinand Marcos and his entrenched authoritarian regime from October 1972 to February 1986, following his democratic presidency of eight years, a regime that set back the nation’s political and socioeconomic development.
• Starting to rebuild the fragile political institutions of democracy during her six-year term.
• Defeating the seven coup attempts to overthrow her presidency, thus saving the reviving constitutional democracy she headed, and preventing the return of authoritarianism under military leadership.
• Ensuring a generally peaceful, orderly and honest election that made possible the democratic transfer of political power by the election of her chosen successor, President Fidel V. Ramos, thus blocking Marcos’ political heirs from recapturing the presidency.
To this may be added President Cory’s overall leadership in transforming the military, weakening the communist insurgency, and restarting the process of national economic recovery. In all this, she may have passed “the test of [her] leadership function [by her] contribution to change, measured by purpose drawn from collective motives and values” (MacGregor Burns, 1979): her own, those of other leaders, and those of the people who were opposed to Marcos and united in rebuilding the shattered democracy and the ruined economy. While she did not, and could not, have brought about the achievements alone, she intended and willed these changes and had them realized. Contrary to the opinions of many critics, she was purposeful and determined in realizing her own vision of what should be done. Not accidentally, she became one of the world’s popular symbols and leading proponents of democracy.
In pointing out President Cory’s leadership achievements, we are not denying the people’s crucial support. By definition, leadership exists as a relationship between the leader, other leaders, and many followers. The people provided her with the crucial support she needed, but she led them in the process.
Over the next several years after her presidency in 1986-1992, President Cory suffered a debilitating cancer. When she succumbed in 2009, a grieving nation favored her son, Benigno Aquino III, over his rivals to become president in 2010, to succeed President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. P-Noy was recognized as the son of his heroic parents, not as a distinguished leader. But he is doing his utmost to deserve his election by his “bosses” and his parents’ tremendous moral legacy
I recall that on Ambassador Emmanuel Pelaez’s request, President Cory wrote the United Nations University in Tokyo (where I was working) to enable me to help her government peace panel led by Pelaez. The aim was to persuade Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front and Conrado Balweg of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army to agree to end their rebellions and observe a permanent truce with the government. Pelaez’s consummate leadership made the government succeed. And I greatly enjoyed President Cory’s gracious, informal and friendly manner in her meetings with Pelaez, which I attended.
When I was president of the University of the Philippines, President Cory made me a member of her Cabinet committee on the negotiations with the United States to extend its use of the Subic Naval Base. Actually, I was against our Senate’s rejection of the proposed extension of the US-RP Military Bases Treaty. President Cory tapped me to chair the
Legislative-Executive Military Bases Council to prepare the plan for the conversion of all our military bases to peaceful and beneficial uses. I was very pleased and challenged to lead the preparation of the conversion plan. It has now greatly succeeded, as shown by the redevelopment of Fort Bonifacio, Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base.
President Cory also accepted my invitation for her to inaugurate the faculty housing apartments we had built for the UP faculty. She gave us funds to put up the third wing of our College of Public Administration. And she backed the establishment of our Center for Leadership, Citizenship and Democracy. (She personally advised me to add “Democracy” to the name of the center.)
Late in 1991, she invited me to her Cabinet meeting so I could present my proposed plan for the UP Public Lectures on the Philippine Presidency, to assess what she and her administration achieved from 1986 to 1992. At the meeting she said my idea was “brilliant.”
Indeed, she inaugurated the UP Public Lectures shortly before her term ended in 1992, and UP was able to publish several books to record the achievements of her presidency and our other restored democratic institutions. Presidents Ramos and Arroyo cooperated with the UP Public Lectures on the Philippine Presidency as an official act of accountability to the people for their leadership and governance.
What great and memorable personal satisfaction, joy, and accomplishment President Cory made possible for UP, and for me as its president and occasional adviser to her.
Jose V. Abueva is the 16th president of the University of the Philippines, UP professor emeritus, founding president of Kalayaan College, and cofounder of the Movement for a Nonkilling Philippines and the Centrist Democratic Party-Ang Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya.