Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Essay: Cory Aquino: A Speculative Philippines

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

When you mention the word president, the first person that comes to mind is the late Cory Aquino. As a kid, she was the first person I associated with the position, in part due to the aggressive propaganda of the 80's when yellow was the color of the decade (and clashed with the red of the Marcos regime). I remember walking along Edsa during the first few years of the People Power anniversary as tanks and other military vehicles would parade down the street, a reminder of the bloody civil war that could have erupted in 1986.

Two decades down the line, the Cory Administration is one of the most fantastical things you can read about. In epic fantasy, one of the tropes is the reluctant hero. The said hero eventually rises to a position of power, not because he or she wants it, but because the populace demands it. In reality, however, this is seldom the case. Politics, for the most part, involves politicians wanting to be in a position of power (whether they use their acquired influence for good or for ill is something else altogether). Cory Aquino is the exemption from the norm because she is the archetypal heroine: she initially didn't want to become president. It was only later, after thousands of Filipinos signed a petition, that she agreed to run for president. By this time, her nemesis, Ferdinand Marcos, was painted as this embodiment of ultimate evil: greedy, cruel, and corrupt. Unfortunately, nothing is ever simple and in Cory's bid for presidency, she ran into conflicts and hurdles which had to be overcome, the most famous of which is the Edsa Revolution--which some declared as democracy at its finest.

Using a science fiction lens, Cory Aquino's election applies today just as it did more than twenty years ago. Iran's 2009 election, for example, is reminiscent of the Philippines in 1986 (or any other election that happens in the Philippines ever since): the government censoring media, the tampering of election results, and a dissatisfied populace that eventually rebels.

Even America's recent election has shades of Cory's success: we have a political underdog (Cory as the first female president of the country, Obama as the first African-American president) who is successor to a declining regime (martial law in the case of the Philippines, the economic downturn and Bush administration in the case of America). Yet in their election, there is a renewed sense of hope (although the critics are perhaps right in proclaiming that the new presidency won't solve the country's problems overnight).

Personally, I find it ironic how Cory Aquino is currently a well-loved president. I remember when that wasn't the case, when opponents tirelessly assaulted Aquino because she was a mere housewife and lacked the political expertise to rule a country. There were the numerous coups that occurred as protest to her administration which were bloody and destabilized the nation. The Aquino administration didn't have a fairy tale ending and had its fair share of controversies, yet it's interesting to see how Filipinos have romanticized those years.

But the Edsa Revolution and Cory Aquino's administration is the source of many ripples that affected the country in years to come. The generals who defected to Cory eventually entered politics; Cardinal Sin became a personality that's embedded in the Filipino zeitgeist; Kris Aquino, daughter of the president, would eventually become this media superstar who has her own fair share of sexual controversies; and let us not forget the perpetual Charter Change that hounds every politician.


Marcelle said...

Looking at the current dispensation, where someone far more than a "mere housewife" is earning the ire of so many people, it's easier to romanticize something that was categorically better: a rebuilding of a democracy, whereas the current dispensation is a gradual breakdown of what has already been rebuilt.

I agree it wasn't all roses back then for us, but I grew up in awe of Cory then, and in her death, I look on in awe as well. I doubt the people today who were our age back then feel that way about our current president.

To me, that's precisely why we hold Cory in such high regard, even possibly glossing over her many faults at times. She earned the right to be cut some slack.

Marianne said...

Don't you think this outpouring of grief is for more than just Cory the person? It's also for the past, for the failed promise of the EDSA Revolution . . .

banzai cat said...

The Philippines under the Aquino administration post-1986 was probably akin to the JFK period (i.e. Camelot) in the US. after all, JFK also had his fair share of problems (remember the Bay ofPigs?) but everyone remembers how much it was a golden time.

Charles said...

Marianne: Unfortunately, no. Perhaps on a subconscious level, but I don't think they're associating with that on a conscious level.

Partially, I think this is all nostalgia (see people's reactions when Celebrity X dies--such as Michael Jackson) and in part because Edsa I was a participatory event for them ("I was there!"). If Imelda Marcos falls dead right now, there'll similarly be a celebration of the woman, although perhaps not on this scale (i.e. a holiday will be declared).

Benny said...

Did you just... place Cory Aquino in the same level of notoriety as Michael Jackson? Really?

I, for one, will not be celebrating a woman who condemned our country to penury through national debt while her children and grandchildren continue to be schooled in elite private schools abroad.

Charles said...

You're free to read into that comment all you want, but my point is--whether it's Cory, Michael Jackson, or Imelda, they're all famous (whether it's due to notoriety or saintlihood is something else).

All three have good qualities along with the bad (it's up for contention though which is dominant).

And perhaps the next Filipino president who'll have a similar procession will be Joseph Estrada, if only due to sheer popularity. Their actual (as opposed to perceived) character has little to do with it.

elyss said...

Cory's is different, Charles. I don't think anyone else in our country could bring out such an outpouring of grief and love from Filipinos across all social classes. Sorry ha, but my fearless forecast is that Erap won't have that kind of honor when the time comes.

Marianne- it's possible, though I'm inclined (and hopeful) to think that our country's destiny unfolds over time, and, as ours is a relatively young democracy, Edsa 1 to 3 and other forms of struggles are preliminaries to what we need to be in the future- a truly united nation. If only I get to live long enough to see it. :)

Charles said...

If it's just quantity, then no other Philippine president will probably draw as much sympathy as Cory.

But if it's just the fact that we're mourning her loss, celebrating her life, etc., there are other possible candidates.

And if you just want sheer numbers, more people (worldwide, not just limited to Philippines) probably cried in Michael Jackson's funeral.