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Tuesday, August 4

To Those Who Mourn for Cory

A Letter from the NY Committee from Human Rights in the Philippines

To Those Who Mourn for Tita Cory,

The NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines sends its condolences to the Cojuanco-Aquino family and joins the Filipino people in mourning the death of former Philippine President Corazon "Cory" Aquino last weekend after a long and brave battle against cancer.

During the three-year exile of the late Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino in the United States to seek medical treatment, the Aquino family settled in Boston and traveled frequently to New York City, where there still remains the legacy of an anti-fascist, anti-dictatorship, pro-democracy movement of overseas Filipino professionals. Many from New York City supported the Aquino family as the movement to oppose the Martial Law under Ferdinand Marcos can also be attributed to uniting broad ranks of Filipinos overseas as well as in Manila and throughout the Philippines.

By now, Cory Aquino's story is well-known. From the shadow of her murdered husband, this "mere housewife"-- as described by Marcos-- rose to become the first woman president of the Philippines and in Asia. The combination of Ninoy's tragedy and Cory's victory not only fast-tracked the toppling of a 20-year old dictatorship, it brought various Filipinos from different social standings together and was a wake-up call to the possibility of collective action and nationwide unity in order to make it happen. It also led to the release of hundreds of government critics who had been imprisoned and tortured by the Marcos government for political beliefs, as well as the exploration of peace prospects through negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, who have been in engaged in a 40 year old civil war.

These, perhaps, should be the most-remembered and lasting contributions of "Tita Cory", as she was fondly known.

Though Tita Cory's presidency had its notable shortcomings- - including a fraudulent land reform program that led to the shooting of indignant farmers calling for genuine land reform along Mendiola Bridge in 1987, as well as human rights violations committed by the same Armed Forces of the Philippines responsible for Martial Law-- these cannot deny its strong pursuit of reforms in the name of restoring democracy after Marcos. These include the formal closing of the former permanent US military bases after nearly a century of establishment, the restoring of the Philippine Congress as a pillar of democracy that had been dismantled under Marcos, and the creation of the 1987 Philippine Constitution to include specific provisions that limit foreign intervention and promote Philippine sovereignty as well as safeguard against executive abuse of power in the form of martial rule.

Though moral conviction against tyranny and corruption made Tita Cory stand apart from previous Philippine administrations and earned her the support of the Catholic Church, it also subjected her to the wrath of destabilizers within her own government and military that sought to bring her down. In the end, Tita Cory's popularity withstood several attempts at military coup d'etat to overthrow her.

Even after retiring from the presidency, Tita Cory publicly stood up against gross government corruption traced to both the administrations of Joseph Estrada and most recently with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Now the pro-sovereignty provisions to the Philippine Constitution that Cory's administration introduced stand to be erased due to a relentless campaign for greed and power under Arroyo, as exemplified through Arroyo's Charter Change. Though many have compared these two women presidents of the Philippines and pointed out their incidental similarities, let us focus on what makes them starkly different.

While Cory's administration saw the formal closing of the permanent US military bases, Gloria's administration seeks to formally restore them.

While Cory publicly opposed corruption, Gloria is guilty of committing and promoting it.

While Cory framed the 1987 Philippine Constitution seeking restore democracy, Gloria wants threatens democracy by seeking to change it.

While Cory freed political prisoners who were illegally detained and tortured, Gloria continues to illegally detain and torture critics of her regime.

While Cory stood up against Marcos, Gloria is emulating Marcos.

While Cory proved her moral credibility with the people, the church and international community, Gloria has lost all moral credibility with the people, the church and the international community.

In her final years, Tita Cory was one of the few from the Philippine political elite who asked Arroyo to step down from the presidency. She remained firm to this position to her deathbed.

The fight inspired by Tita Cory in 1986 is far from over. Genuine democracy in the Philippines has yet to be restored and realized.

Let the movement that Tita Cory inspired not be in vain. In the midst of another tyrannical government, let us again unite from Manila, to New York City, to the far-flung provinces of the Philippines against corruption, rising fascism, and dictatorship.

As millions now gather to mourn, let us mourn as Tita Cory would want us to-- not just by tying yellow ribbons or flashing the "L" hand signs, but by continuing the people's movement in aspiration for genuine sovereignty, democracy, and peace.

Towards Unity & Nationhood,
The NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines

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