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Cory Aquino's betrayal

In 1986-87, I joined a group called “Youth for Cory and Doy” in Cagayan de Oro City, where I grew up. It was my first taste of political activism, and it was exhilarating. There I was, a freshman in college, staying out late at night at the city plaza, singing decidedly subversive songs, joining other activists to denounce Ferdinand Marcos. Like many Filipinos at the time, I was convinced that Cory Aquino, the widow of the assassinated Marcos foe Sen. Benigno Aquino, was definitely better than the dictator; that, although she was what Marcos had derisively called a “mere housewife,” she represented a moral, honest leadership. She promised a new beginning for all of us. Today, more than two decades after the Filipino people toppled the dictator, I am not sorry that I joined the struggle to oust Marcos and install Cory to the presidency - despite the fact that Cory, for all her much-vaunted success in restoring democracy and all that, turned out to be one of the worst presidents we have had. I am not sorry because ousting Marcos was the right thing to do, regardless of how it turned out later, regardless of how Cory and her minions bungled every opportunity to make this country great again. I wished Cory had thought as well that ousting Joseph Estrada in 2001 was the right thing to do, an act that should not be second-guessed just because of how Estrada's succesor, Gloria Arroyo, performed later. But by apologizing to Estrada this week for leading the movement to remove him, Cory essentially proclaimed that the Filipinos in Edsa Dos were all wrong in ousting a corrupt president. Make no mistake - Estrada did not deserve to be president. He was corrupt. Worse, he was incompetent. He is a convicted plunderer later pardoned by an equally corrupt regime. Corazon Aquino is viewed a saint because we often compare her to the monster that was Marcos. But a look at what she had done as president should convince us that she is anything but. When Cory took power, the Philippine foreign debt was around $26 billion. As a supposedly revolutionary government, her regime was well within its right to repudiate that debt, most of which were odious debts anyway. But Cory did not. She succumbed to the pressure of international creditors, like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as governments such as the US, which propped up the dictator Marcos (a support that, in turn, allowed him to amass all that debt) and later propped up Cory. The pressure was such that even Cory's finance secretary at that time, Jaime Ongpin, threatened to resign if Cory repudiated our debts. And so, to this day, we are saddled by the effects of this (in)decision, with the largest chunk of our national budget going to interest payments alone, taking away money that should be going to education and health care. To be sure, repudiating the debt would have had serious consequences, something that Ongpin and his friends at the IMF and World Bank had warned about (then again, Ongpin et al were also against the idea of a debt-repayment cap of at least 10 percent of export earnings). But such a repudiation, or at least a repayment scheme that would be easy for Filipinos, would have been the right thing to do. Cory did no such thing. While the Marcos dictatorship was responsible for horrendous human rights abuses, it was during Cory's term that the “total war policy” against leftists and their perceived supporters was launched systematically and cold-bloodedly - a policy that continues to this day, albeit going by other names like Oplan Bantay Laya. It was during her term that cannibal vigilantes went on a rampage in the provinces, used by the Philippine military to terrorize villagers and activists. Again, as a president whose ascent to power was partly made possible by a broad people's movement, the “total war policy” against the Left was a betrayal, to say the least. (Don't believe the myth being peddled by some that the Left was not at Edsa during the first people power. For one, many of them were not there because they were busy fighting the dictator's army in the hills, their victory in the countryside no doubt helping to cripple the dictatorship. For another, they had been in the streets, braving Marcos's water cannons and batons and bullets way before the middle class and the “snooty members” of society that supported Cory decided it was cool to march to EDSA, rosary in hand.) She had been taken hostage by the military establishment, which later developed a sense of entitlement to “people power” as shown by their later assertions that such a revolt can only succeed if the military “withdraws support” from the sitting regime. This was evident in the movement to oust Estrada and the attempt to topple Arroyo. Never able to rise above her class interest, Cory was also responsible for the monumental failure of the country's agrarian reform program. She promised to make it the centerpiece program of her administration and she failed at it miserably, as we can see now. Then again, to believe that a landlord would give away her land just like that is to believe a liar when he says “Trust me.” It was Cory's regime that crafted and passed a faulty agrarian-reform law that gave too much leeway to landlords, allowing them to duck the program, and not enough resources to peasants and farmers that would allow them to develop whatever land they would get out of it. The program was a failure because the Congress was, and still is, dominated by landlords. It was designed to fail. Cory, of all people, should know how silly the idea that landlords would just easily give up their lands. Proof: Hacienda Luisita remains in the hands of her family, when it should have been the first one to be parceled out to farmers if she really wanted the program to succeed. (Need I point out that the Mendiola Massacre and the Lupao Massacre - atrocities that victimized peasants and farmers mainly -- occurred during Cory's term as well?) And so to the groups who allowed themselves to be hoodwinked by the agrarian-reform program and are now castigating Bayan Muna's Satur Ocampo, who had long insisted that it was a bogus program and should not be extended, I say this: you deal with the devil, don't be surprised if you get burned. And now, Cory Aquino is sorry that she helped oust the corrupt Joseph Estrada. Filipinos who struggle for good governance and accountability should take that as an insult. What other atrocity will Corazon Aquino inflict upon us? Corazon Cojuangco Aquino an icon of democracy and moral leadership? She is an icon of everything that is wrong with this country. Carlos H. Conde is a journalist based in Manila.