The Blog

Corazon Aquino


12:00 AM, Aug 4, 2009 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Marcos was sworn in as president, and immediately fled the country. Aquino's "people power" had won. The peaceful transition from authoritarianism led by Aquino stunned the radical left, which had expected to use their arms and foreign support to push the democratic effort aside. The NPA lost most of its appeal almost as soon as Marcos departed--in the 1980s and 1990s the organization underwent murderous, Mao-style purges that further depleted its cadres. It was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department in 2002. It survives, we are told, but its influence is marginal at worst.

Aquino served as Philippine president until 1992, giving her country a new constitution and instituting widespread reforms. "People's power" in Manila, and the self-confidence of Mrs. Aquino, reinforced by her religious commitment and her alliance with Cardinal Sin, got the headlines. But the removal of Marcos also had much to do with a phenomenon little understood outside the Philippines. The country's middle class had grown, as its entrepreneurs had grown up. What was once a dependent nation had produced a business community tired of submitting to the corruption of the Marcos order, an obstacle to normal economic transactions, and they backed Aquino. Similar developments--free elections backed by the local financial elite--would be seen in Taiwan in 1996, South Korea in 1998, and Indonesia, the Philippines's giant neighbor, in 2004.

Cory Aquino was the first woman to serve as chief executive of an Asian country. She was a forerunner of Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the anti-military movement in Burma beginning in 1988, and of Violeta Chamorro, whose election ended the Sandinista dictatorship in Nicaragua in 1990. During Aquino's presidential term, and afterward, she had to face and overcome weak coup attempts by military rivals and usurpations of power by political successors. The lessons of her life are universal and deserve to be remembered far and wide, and not least in the U.S., where the neoconservative commitment to global democracy, which found in her its first luminous hero, has become an object of loudly-expressed contempt among the chattering classes. Cory Aquino and Philippine people's power proved that, in MacLeish's words, determination and faith can win against oppression, and that the yearning for liberty abroad benefits from American help. Let us hope she is recalled, and mourned today, above all in Tehran, as well as in Washington.

Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.