Freedom loving peoples all over the world will forever owe the late Corazon C. Aquino a tremendous debt of gratitude which can never be repaid.
The 1986 People Power Revolution rocketed Corazon Aquino, a widowed housewife with absolutely no experience in politics, into the Presidency of the Republic of the Philippines.
Her first official act was to set up, under the venerable Jovito Salonga, the Presidential Commission on Graft and Corruption (PCGG) to recover the ill-gotten wealth of Marcos and his cronies. Then, she organized another Commission to rewrite the Marcos Constitution. The result was the 1987 Constitution, sometimes called the Cory Constitution. She survived five attempts at coup d’état by rebellious soldiers.
TIME enshrined Cory as Person of the Year, and Newsweek soon followed with its own cover story.
In 1990, Ronald Reagan invited Cory to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. She was only the second lady from Asia to do so. The first was Mrs. Chiang Kai-Shek after Mao Tse-Tung’s Communists drove the Nationalists out of China and into Taiwan.
Wearing her trademark yellow dress, and speaking in her crystal-clear, convent-bred diction, she started her speech, thus:
“FOUR YEARS AGO, I LEFT YOUR COUNTRY IN GRIEF TO BURY MY
HUSBAND. (PAUSE) TODAY, I HAVE RETURNED AS THE PRESIDENT OF A FREE PEOPLE.” (THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE.)
Cory totally enchanted the hard-boiled politicians of the U.S. Congress. Her hour-long speech was punctuated many times with prolonged applause.
But the core of Cory’s speech had a lofty aim and was two-pronged:
First, the U.S. should never again be a friend to any dictator anywhere in the world. She was asking for a major shift away from John F. Kennedy’s pragmatic approach to foreign policy. (“A dictator — like Ferdinand Marcos — might be a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch.”)
Second, and more important, the U.S. should vigorously push the frontiers of democracy world-wide, and should be a strong ally to any democratic movement wherever it might be found.
After the speech, a Senator strode up to shake Cory’s hand and said, “You just hit a home run!” Cory, who had become a Red Sox fan during Ninoy’s self-exile in Boston, replied, “I hope it was grand slam!”
And it was. The U.S. – and, for that matter, the rest of the major democracies – wholeheartedly adopted Cory’s proposal for a double shift in foreign policy towards dictators and budding democracies. This policy remains steadfast to this day.
Dictators, like Saddam Hussein, are gone. Elections have been held in such unlikely places like Pakistan, Iran, the former Soviet Republics, and in darkest Africa. For the first time, Kuwaiti women have won their right to vote.
Everywhere, dictatorships are on the retreat. Democracies are on the march. That is Cory’s legacy to the world.