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The Philippines says goodbye to a symbol of democracy

A sea of mourners besieged the cortege of former Philippine President Corazon Aquino today as it passed along Manila’s central business district and brought the capital to a standstill. After a 16-month battle with colon cancer, and in the wake of numerous state-sponsored “healing masses“, Aquino died on August 1. Her body will lie in ...

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A sea of mourners besieged the cortege of former Philippine President Corazon Aquino today as it passed along Manila’s central business district and brought the capital to a standstill. After a 16-month battle with colon cancer, and in the wake of numerous state-sponsored “healing masses“, Aquino died on August 1. Her body will lie in state at the Manila Cathedral until her funeral on Wednesday.

“Cory” was the wife of national hero Ninoy Aquino, head of the opposition to former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Once dismissed by Marcos as a “mere housewife”, Aquino was catapulted into political limelight after her husband’s assassination and went on to lead the 1986 non-violent People Power Revolution that ended Marcos’ 20-year regime and made her Asia’s first female president.  

Despite seven coup attempts during her term in office, Aquino remained a symbol of Filipino democracy and a firm fixture on the national political arena until her death. Most recently, Aquino was one-half of an unlikely coalition of former presidents (the other half being Joseph Estrada, whom Aquino herself helped oust from the presidency in 2001 with the second People Power Revolution) that repeatedly called for incumbent President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s resignation. Even after being diagnosed with cancer, Aquino continued to serve as a rallying point for Arroyo’s opposition and remained an outspoken critic of the proposed charter change.

But Aquino’s death will likely foreshadow the death of the anti-Arroyo movement. If anyone was capable of bringing to life a third People Power Revolution, it was her. Besides a nation in mourning, what she leaves behind is a vacuum in Filipino politics — that functions almost exclusively on cults of personality — for a beloved figurehead.   

Yet one politician guaranteed to never fill that void is Arroyo, whose current visit to Washington has been altogether eclipsed by Aquino’s death, if the papers in Manila are any indication. In the face of mounting unpopularity, Arroyo’s hopes of a triumphant return to the international stage and a standard-issue U.S. blessing went unnoticed back home. Perhaps with Aquino or without, Arroyo’s days in office are numbered.

Nat Garcia/AFP/Getty images

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