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What Acquino taught the world

By Owei Lakemfa
IT was like  a movie. It had all the trappings of a thriller; a conscienceless and blood thirsty dictator reigned over a seemingly hapless people with the backing of the world’s most powerful nation.

Ferdinald Emmanuel Edralin Marcos was a member of the Filipino House of Representatives for 10  years from 1949 and a senator for  six years from 1959 the last two of those years he served as Senate President.

Finally, he was elected President in 1965

Intolerant of opposition, he built a personality cult and curtailed human rights. His regime was credited with 3,257 extra judicial killings, 33,000 tortured victims and 70,000 detention cases.

With his absolute control of the armed forces and the police, his private ownership of the country’s Central Bank and foreign reserves, and solid backing by the United States, Marcos was supremely confident and his regime seemingly impregnable.

An exasperated Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal  Jaime Sinn in a letter to then American President  Gerald Ford said  in reference to Marcos:  “ We cannot jail a man indefinitely and still call ourselves Christians”. And When Marcos called a phoney referendum, Sinn said: “Even Barabbas was able to defeat Christ by means of a referendum”.

In 1972 Marcos imposed martial law in the Philippines under which he dissolved the National Assembly, removed term limits from the presidency and ruled by decree. Under this emergency rule, he began a systematic purging of the opposition.

One of them was a former Provincial Governor and Senator, Beningno “Ninoy” Acquino who had become the opposition leader. Marcos  had Acquino hurled before a Military Tribunal accused of having links with communists and sentenced to death.

The then US president,  Jimmy Carter, prevailed on Marcos to allow Acquino leave in May 1980 for a heart surgery in America.

After his surgery, Acquino stayed back in US. But in 1983 despite the dangers, he decided to return home and challenge Marcos in the elections. Marcos wife, Imelda, pro-Marcos supporters and the military warned him not to return as he could be killed. To these Acquino  responded: “The Filipino is worth dying for”.

On August 21, 1983 as he disembarked from the commercial airline that brought him, one of the soldiers that had been provided to escort him shot Acquino dead on the tarmac. Marcos might have thought that with such foul murder he had vanquished his most potent enemy, but ironically, he awakened  his nemesis :  Maria Corazon Acquino, the lady he had just made a widow.

She had married Acquino  in 1954 and although she had a degree in French from a New York college and her husband was a popular politician, Corazon was a full time housewife taking care of the couple’s five children.

Three days after Acquino’s assassination, his widow returned to lead some two million mourners in a funeral that shook the dictatorship. On November 23, 1985 Marcos on the promptings of the US called snap elections  to hold within 12 weeks.

The opposition asked Corazon to run against Marcos to which she responded: “What on earth do I know about being president?”  She eventually did. The official polls awarded  Marcus victory with 53 per cent while the National Movement for Free Elections declared  her the winner with 52 per cent of the votes.

With both sides claiming victory and confusion reigning, some military officials led by Defence Secretary, Juan Ponce Enrile planned to topple Marcus. The plot leaked and the plotters  holed up in a military camp, Aguinaldo. They asked the acting Chief of Staff, General Fidel  Ramos for help. He obliged.

On February 22, 1986 Enrile and Ramos announced that they had resigned from the government and were now in support of the opposition. Marcos ordered their arrest. Within three hours,  Cardinal Sinn  announced on Radio Veritas that Filipinos should prevent the arrest by blocking the  Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue (EDSA) higway which led to the plotters camp. Hundreds of thousands responded and thus began the Peoples Power Revolution.  The demonstrators formed a human shield around the plotters.

When a contingent of marines and tanks led by Brigadier General  Artemio Tadiar arrived to flush out the plotters, Nuns holding rosaries knelt before the tanks, and crowds of men and women linking arms blocked the troops.   After failed attempts, the troops withdrew. Next morning, marines lobbed teargas at the crowds and three thousand marines seized part of the camp.

The 15th Strike Wing of the Air Force  led by  Colonel  Antonio Sotelo  was ordered to attack the camp, rather than do so , the pilots and the troops they carried landed in the camp and declared support for the opposition. This meant that the mutineers now had some air cover.

On the third day of the standoff,  Mrs  Acquino came to the rebel camp to side with the rebels. She declared: “This is the first time in the history of the world, a civilian population has been called upon to defend the military”.

When a broadcast by Marcos was being aired on the Channel 4 television, a contingent of soldiers led by Colonel Mario Santiago captured the station and stopped the broadcast. On February 25, 1986 with clashes between rival troops raging, Mrs Acquino went to the Club Filipino and swore herself in as president on a Bible held by her mother-in-law, Aurora Acquino.  Meanwhile, at the Malacang Presidential palace, Marcos was sworn in. By afternoon, Marcos called Enrile asking for a safe passage out of the country for himself and his family.

Later, the Americans flew the Marcos clan to Hawaii where Marcos died three years later. Acquino restored democracy to her traumatised country, presided over it for six years before stepping down. Last  Saturday August 1, 2009  the Lady  of steel who once taught the world that a people united can defeat any force on earth, died at 76.But she will never die in the hearts of democracy lovers.


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