Wednesday, August 5, 2009
So Long, My President
Corazon “Cory” Aquino became our inspiration in our struggle for freedom, justice and democracy in Occidental Mindoro National College (OMNC). I was a college student then when our own version of “People Power” forced its former administrator, Mr. Bernabe B. Macaraig, to vacate his San Jose National High School (SJNHS) post which he occupied in the early 70’s. SJNHS later became OMNC. Through series of mass actions initiated by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers in Occidental Mindoro or ACTOM and my group,- the League of Filipino Students-Occidental Mindoro Chapter (LFS), with support from other cause oriented groups and institutions in the province, we were able to bring substantial changes to our alma mater. Mrs. Virginia Sicat, my instructor in Filipino, became OIC (or Officer-in-Charge) president of the college from 1986-1987. That was August 1986 and months after Cory took her oath as the first woman president of the republic.
Outside of the campus, after the manipulated presidential snap elections of February 7, 1986, the Aquino administration immediately installed in the provinces OICs to substitute Marcos supporters who are still in office. In Occidental Mindoro, Pedro “Peter” O. Medalla, Jr. was appointed OIC-Governor. Unlike in Oriental Mindoro, where high tension situation ensued between OIC-Governor Benjamin “Chippy” Espiritu and the incumbent Hicoblino Catly, the transition between Madalla and Arsenio Villaroza became peaceful. Villaroza was a political ally of Marcos and served as governor from 1960 to 1986.
The initial years of the Aquino presidency, both insurgency-related and politically-motivated acts of violence in our province have increased. In February 1987, Batasang Pambansa Representative Pedro Mendiola, Sr. was assassinated by an unknown gunman. High profile cases of human rights violations have escalated especially in San Jose and Sablayan where militant farmer leaders were executed. The Aquino government’s banner program, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) have polarized social groups in Occidental Mindoro costing many lives and limbs. Significant cases happened during massive military deployment at the Aquafil Estate in Brgy. Bubog, San Jose, Occidental Mindoro where many of the farmer members of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or KMP were detained and arrested. Law enforcers and security officers of the property were not spared and even targeted by Communist hit squads. Some of the farmer-leaders even joined the New Peoples Army (NPA) after being hunted by the police and soldiers.
According to her critics, especially from the militant side, Cory did nothing on the fundamental social problems. Said problems were not solved and the United States just maintained her hegemony in the Philippines. Cory was considered by leftist groups, including LFS, as another “American Puppet” president. While Marcos loyalists tagged her as “Communist lackey”.
Incidentally just last Tuesday, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), conveyed its condolences to bereaved family of Cory. In a statement, the NDFP said that despite being unable to reach a final peace agreement with the government and the failure of the land reform program, the Aquino term was laudable for the release of all political prisoners and the improvement of the human rights situation in the country. The Communist-led group also considered the 1987 Constitution as a one of the legacies of Cory’s term.
Yet in my mind, her speech before the joint session of the United States Congress in Washington, DC in September 18, 1986 entitled “Restoring Democracy By the Ways of Democracy”, made me feel her fearless longing for democracy and at the same time her plea for American assistance. She told her audience, “Yet to all Americans, as the leader of the proud and free people, I address this question : has there been a greater test of national commitment to the ideals you hold dear than that my people have gone through? You have spent many lives and much treasure to bring freedom to many lands that were reluctant to receive it. And here you have a people who won it by themselves and need only the help to preserve it”. And that speech made me proud that I am a Filipino.
And Cory Aquino will forever and always be remembered for uniting Filipinos for their fight for freedom and justice. In a Time Magazine article written by Shiela Coronel in its November 13, 2006 issue (p. 35) it is written : “She (Cory Aquino) is also blamed for resurrecting a political system dominated by the elite clans, causing disappointed supporters to say that she could not transcend the interest of her class..” This is exactly the same situation we are experiencing in Occidental Mindoro today. The clannish political system still exists. And that was not solely Cory’s fault. It’s my fault as a voter and as a citizen. It is our fault.
Somewhere in the same article it is also emphasized, “To Filipinos, who are devoutly Catholic, she was both Mater Dolorosa and Joan of Arc”. And to the courageous woman whom Benedict XVI hailed as a “woman of deep and unwavering faith” : So long, my president…
(Photo by Reuters)