Luisita Magsasaka

From Maria Elizabeth Embry

Dear All:
allow me to post here what I had posted @ a yahoogoups
this is about a lengthy news article written almost 20 yrs ago. be w/ me & let us take a walk down memory lane

Worldwide-Filipino-Alliance] Hacienda Luisita: world famous for “cane-cutters, fighting cocks & golf course”Saturday, February 13, 2010 11:17 AM
From: “” View contact detailsTo:
to quote the following article:

“To a large extent, the President herself personifies the contrasts and contradictions that characterize the Philippines. ”Cory would have made a tremendous moral impact if she had started out by giving Hacienda Luisita to the workers,” says Raul Locsin, the editor of a Manila business journal, referring to her family’s vast sugar plantation. Instead, Aquino’s family has profited from a toothless agrarian reform law that permits landlords to keep their property by selling a minority share to the workers over a 30-year period – at prices set by the landlords.

So Hacienda Luisita is shielded against reform. Its contract cane-cutters are packed into barracks located not far from airier pens that house the thousands of fighting cocks bred by the President’s brother, Jose (Peping) Cojuangco. The plantation also boasts a superb 18-hole golf course”

to read more….
http://www.nytimes. com/1990/ 08/19/magazine/ cory-aquino- s-downhill- slide.html? pagewanted= all

Cory Aquino’s Downhill Slide
By Stanley Karnow; Stanley Karnow recently won the Pulitzer Prize for his book ”In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines. ”
Published: August 19, 1990

Corazon Cojuangco Aquino glides into the reception room, smartly dressed in a pastel peach suit. Smiling warmly, she radiates serenity and self-confidence as she chats about her family, her travels, the weather. I have known her for two decades, and she has always appeared to be extraordinarily poised, even under enormous stress – a trait she attributes to her fatalism. Now, however, her composure seems to mask a certain uneasiness. She recoils when I seek to steer the conversation toward the problems facing her presidency – as if an admission of troubles might be construed as a sign of weakness. But she is indeed beleaguered by daunting difficulties.

In July, an earthquake that devastated central Luzon, the most populous island in the archipelago, dramatized the inability of Aquino’s Government to cope with a crisis. Not only was its relief effort sluggish, but she was further embarrassed when troops from Clark Air Base and the Subic Bay Naval Station – the two major American bases in the Philippines – arrived on the scene first, thus underlining her dependence on the United States.

Aquino is haunted by dissident army groups, which have already tried six times to oust her. Not a week passes without fresh rumors of a new coup, and one may succeed before 1992, the year she has vowed to retire after her six-year term expires. Neither is she safe from assassination in a land where political violence is endemic. Never far from her mind is the memory of her husband, Senator Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino Jr., who was murdered at the Manila airport in August 1983 as he returned from exile in Boston to challenge Ferdinand E. Marcos, whose corrupt autocracy was crippling the country. She mobilized the opposition and staged a spectacular election campaign. After a military mutiny and prodding from Washington, Marcos and his wife, Imelda, fled to Honolulu in February 1986.

”Ninoy used to say that Marcos would leave so many problems behind that whoever followed him wouldn’t last six months,” Aquino has repeatedly recalled to me and others as an indirect way of emphasizing that she has not only defied that gloomy forecast but has made notable progress.

She regularly points out in public speeches that she has rebuilt the democratic institutions dismantled by Marcos and revived a measure of faith in the shattered economy. She proudly cites her record in servicing the country’s $28 billion foreign debt, another consequence of Marcos’s profligacy. She claims credit for the decline of the Communist insurgency, which grew to alarming proportions during Marcos’s regime. She further asserts that ”people power” – as she called her drive to unseat Marcos – kindled resistance to dictators elsewhere in Asia and even spread to Eastern Europe.

For all her achievements, however, Aquino has lost the luster she enjoyed after toppling Marcos, when the world exalted her as the devout housewife who had exorcised evil. Her approval ratings in the Philippines, once astronomic, have dropped to below 50 percent.

Yet her critics sound sorrowful rather than angry, disappointed rather than hostile. ”We like Cory personally, but nothing has changed,” is a refrain I heard more and more in towns and villages. Though they hector her relentlessly, Manila’s flamboyant politicians and newspaper columnists temper their derision with deference. A noted commentator, Luis Beltran, said a few months ago, ”She is sincere, moral and honest, but the presidency is obviously beyond her, beyond her capabilities, beyond her experience.’ ‘

President Bush is reported to be distressed by Aquino’s lack of direction. ”We’re committed to her, and we hope that she’ll muddle through,” says a senior State Department official, ”but she simply doesn’t know how to govern. Moreover, as the Soviet threat recedes, American strategists no longer see the Philippines as crucial to the security of the United States and their concern for the destiny of that Southeast Asian country has diminished accordingly. ”

Aware that her glow has dimmed, Aquino has explained that her victory over Marcos raised expectations of miracles that she could not conceivably fulfill. But she fuels such illusory aspirations by portraying herself as divinely guided – a belief she holds as a devout Roman Catholic. Her defeat of Marcos, she intoned not long ago, ”was indeed a miracle” as well as ”a symbol of God’s love and the task he set us to do.”

Similarly persuaded that her virtue will serve as an example, Aquino prefers to remain aloof from the political fray. But many Filipinos submit that rectitude does not work in a feudal society like the Philippines, where local bosses and their political surrogates must be cowed, coddled or plied with patronage.

Armando Doronila, the editor of The Manila Chronicle, imputes Aquino’s ”clumsy and arthritic reflexes” to her unwillingness to exercise power. ”Her vision of the presidency is that of a figurehead,’ ‘ he has written, contending that she operates on the theory that the political institutions she restored would ”create their own magic and dynamism.”

Conspicuously absent from her approach is an imaginative vision for the country. John J. Carroll, an American Jesuit who has lived in the Philippines for many years, says, ”She is not a conceptual thinker.”

Aquino recently formed a new movement, Kabisig, roughly meaning ”linked arms,” whose purpose is to inspire citizens to jolt the stagnant legislature and bureaucracy out of their inertia – and revive her waning popularity should she run for re-election. The traditional politicians – ”tradpols” as the Manila press calls them – dismiss the movement as an effort to blame them for Aquino’s own inadequacies. And they can obstruct her further, as they have been doing for years, by rejecting her appointments and tying up bills in committee.

The present mood of the Philippines reminds me of the 1960’s, when I covered the country as a correspondent in Asia. The disorder, drift and doubt of that period prompted many Filipinos to support Marcos’s imposition of martial law in September 1972, and I suspect that numbers of them might now welcome another Marcos, perhaps in different guise. For despite their love of freedom, Filipinos respect an iron hand. Marcos, who understood this duality, skillfully gave them doses of both – at least before his regime slid into decay. Revisiting Manila recently, I was surprised by the expressions of nostalgia for Marcos, who died in Hawaii last fall, especially from his former foes. ”With all his faults, he was a strong leader,” several said, evoking his best years, when he enforced discipline and improved the economy.

This yearning for decisive leadership currently benefits Aquino’s estranged cousin, Eduardo (Danding) Cojuangco, a former Marcos insider who amassed a pile from various monopolies. A vigorous figure beneath his gentle exterior, he fled to Los Angeles when Marcos fell, and subsequently hired Chwat/Weigend Associates, a firm of Washington lobbyists, to teach him to act like a statesman.

Returning covertly to Manila after Marcos’s death, Cojuangco began organizing for the 1992 election, either to sponsor a presidential candidate or to run himself. He has lured a large following, mainly by dispensing money. His chances of gaining power may be thin, but for a one-time Marcos crony to attract support at all reflects the growing frustration with Aquino.

Other contenders for the presidency include Vice President Salvadore H. Laurel, who broke with Aquino in 1987, and Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, her former Defense Secretary. The most popular among them, judging from opinion polls, is Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, a West Point graduate and Aquino’s present Defense Secretary.

”Manila is a place to make a fortune,” Cory Aquino has said, citing as proof new construction, flourishing corporations and a lively stock market. But the boom has been lopsided. Expensive condominiums tower over squatter shacks that lack electricity and running water, while the extravagant parties at the lavish homes of the wealthy seem to be taking place a million miles away from nearby slums. Fancy restaurants cater to clients who spend more on a meal than a peasant earns in a month. The levels of destitution are such that the servants of the affluent themselves employ servants.

The income gap is visible in statistics showing that the top fifth of the population receives half of the national income. In 1988, the World Bank reported that half of the population lived in ”absolute poverty,” their income unable ”to satisfy basic needs.” The poverty is most glaring in rural areas, home to more than half of the country’s 60 million people.

To a large extent, the President herself personifies the contrasts and contradictions that characterize the Philippines. ”Cory would have made a tremendous moral impact if she had started out by giving Hacienda Luisita to the workers,” says Raul Locsin, the editor of a Manila business journal, referring to her family’s vast sugar plantation. Instead, Aquino’s family has profited from a toothless agrarian reform law that permits landlords to keep their property by selling a minority share to the workers over a 30-year period – at prices set by the landlords.

So Hacienda Luisita is shielded against reform. Its contract cane-cutters are packed into barracks located not far from airier pens that house the thousands of fighting cocks bred by the President’s brother, Jose (Peping) Cojuangco. The plantation also boasts a superb 18-hole golf course.

The Philippine Congress, whose election in 1987 Aquino hailed as a hallmark of democracy, is dominated by landed and business factions opposed to change. She has not introduced effective measures to streamline the snarled bureaucracy, whose underpaid employees are responsive only to bribes. Out of religious conviction, she has been slow to endorse birth-control programs aimed at curbing the soaring population. Aquino and her husband were victims of Marcos’s despotism, but she has ignored human-rights violations by vigilante groups, whose creation she approved as a weapon to combat the Communists. Aquino’s plans to privatize state-owned enterprises like the Manila Hotel and Philippine Airlines have crumbled, partly because the appointees who direct them have been battling to keep their jobs. Cool to ”unsolicited advice,” as she puts it, Aquino often disregards or revamps her cabinet, which, in any case, has been chronically divided by rivalries.

Her personal probity is above reproach, but rampant corruption costs the Philippine treasury some $2.5 billion a year – or about a third of the national budget. Shortly before his death two years ago, Joaquin Roces, a distinguished newspaper publisher and one of her early backers, startled Aquino at a reception by openly accusing her of yielding to ”vested interests, relatives and friends.” Stung, she told an interviewer soon afterward that she had warned her family against taking advantage of her position. ”Short of ordering them to hibernate or go into exile,” she added, ”I don’t know what else I can do.”

To stroll through some of Manila’s downtown streets requires sidestepping uncollected garbage, and driving through the city’s chronically congested traffic is a nightmare. The breakdown in basic public services, the political uncertainties and mounting violence as well as corruption and bureaucratic tangles, have unnerved foreign investors, with potentially grave repercussions on the economy. A planned $360 million petrochemical plant, to be built by a Taiwan group, has been shelved, as has an electrical-power project contemplated by two American companies, Cogentrix and Caltex Petroleum. Of the 388 multinational corporations that maintained offices in Manila in 1985, only 120 remain – and many of those are pondering a pullout. The Communists, badly split by internecine disputes, have resorted to terrorism in an effort to sustain their momentum. Within the last three years they have killed seven American servicemen stationed at Clark Air Base and Subic
Bay. All 261 members of the Peace Corps, the third-largest contingent abroad, were withdrawn in June as Communist guerrillas abducted a volunteer on the island of Negros. The volunteer was released earlier this month, but Washington’s unilateral withdrawal had shocked Aquino, who had sought to dispel the picture of a country in turmoil.

Nothing, however, has afflicted her more than dissension within her military establishment. The army, modeled on American lines during the period of United States colonial rule, before World War II, had scrupulously avoided politics – until Marcos imposed martial law. He co-opted his generals by giving them smuggling and other illicit privileges, which alienated younger officers who felt that favoritism and corruption were hobbling their fight against the Communists.

The disaffected officers created the Reform Armed Forces Movement, or R.A.M., under the auspices of Juan Ponce Enrile, who was then Marcos’s Defense Minister but was turning against him. In February 1986, Enrile and Ramos, at the time Marcos’s acting Chief of Staff, triggered the military mutiny that catapulted Aquino into office.

Recalling her husband’s years in army jails during the Marcos years, Aquino at first distrusted the dissident soldiers and even denied her debt to them. But, recognizing their strength, she soon acceded to their demands. She retreated from promised social reforms, gave them greater latitude to fight the Communists and ignored their human-rights abuses.

Emboldened, the rebels launched a series of comic-opera coups designed to intimidate rather than overthrow Aquino. Each time, fearful of antagonizing them further, she punished them lightly – in one case ordering them to do 30 push-ups. In August 1987, however, dissident soldiers staged a serious, though abortive, uprising that left 53 dead.

Aquino seemed to be recovering from that attempt when, on Dec. 1, 1989, rebel troops again attacked. They were close to winning when President Bush, heeding her appeal for help, sent in two Phantom jets from Clark Air Base, 50 miles north of Manila, to protect Malacanang, the presidential palace, against the dissidents’ planes. The American display of force initially deterred the rebels, who may have also been discouraged by a White House warning that all American aid would be cut off if they prevailed. Nevertheless, they fought on for nearly a week, and more than 100 Filipinos, most of them civilians, were killed before a truce was declared.

Even Aquino’s most vocal critics were relieved when the coup failed, concluding that, for all her defects, she was preferable to a military junta. But the assault shook her badly. If crowds did not rush out to acclaim the rebels, neither did they pour into the streets to cheer Aquino. And her plea for American intervention predictably drew charges that, out of gratitude for her rescue, she would bow to American pressure to retain the bases in talks then due to start. Aquino has privately hinted that she favors renewing the leases on the bases, at least for a limited time. To deflect her nationalist critics, however, she will say publicly only that she is ”keeping my options open.”

The uprising also revealed a new dissident army faction: the Young Officers Union, or Y.O.U., composed mainly of majors and captains. More ideological than R.A.M., it has called for ”genuine national and social liberation” – a slogan that has inspired conjecture that the group might join the Communists in a coalition.

Six weeks after the attempted coup, President Bush sent a special envoy to Manila on a mission that aggravated Aquino’s woes at home and further impaired her image in Washington.

Bush’s deputy national security adviser, Robert M. Gates, met alone with Aquino. After reaffirming America’s support for her Government, Gates bluntly told her to ”get your house in order” by regaining the allegiance of the army, checking corruption and bureaucratic red tape, and introducing urgent economic and social reforms. ”The most pressing problem is stability,” he reportedly said. ”It’s time to stop putting off the hard decisions.”

American officials recalled that Aquino had ”listened impassively’ ‘ to Gates. However, Filipinos close to her revealed that she was ‘’stunned” by Bush’s message, and doubly wounded when American officials, to intensify the pressure on her, leaked its details to the American press. She was even more rankled when Congress cut $96 million off a proposed $481 million assistance package to the Philippines as part of a global reduction in foreign aid.

Aquino retaliated in February by refusing to see Dick Cheney, the United States Defense Secretary, then due to arrive in Manila on a tour of Asia. Never before had a Philippine leader snubbed a high American official, and her gesture ignited protests in Washington, where it was read as a gambit to extract more aid for the bases.

Representative Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat who heads a House subcommittee on Military Installations and Facilities, accused Aquino of ”upping the ante.” Toby Roth, a Wisconsin Republican and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, asserted: ”Let them keep their bases. We do not want them, we do not need them. They are only an albatross around the necks of the American people.”

Bush was equally dismayed, but he admonished Aquino in his typically casual manner. ”Listen,” he said in a newspaper interview, ”every time I talk to Dick Cheney I come away smarter. . . . So maybe you’d be like me, maybe you could learn from the man – or he could learn from you.”

Aquino’s rebuff of Cheney boosted her stock in Manila, where newspapers blared headlines like ”Cory Gets Tough.” But several Filipinos, her partisans among them, soon began to chide her for ”overreacting. ” While tweaking Uncle Sam’s nose might be gratifying, several observed, American ”rent” for the bases and other expenditures bring in about $1 billion a year. Aquino’s former press secretary, the columnist Teodoro Benigno, wrote: ”We lose a lot in this refusal, because it is based on personal pique and not . . . on the national interest.”

Nevertheless, convinced that flexing her muscles would enhance her popularity, Aquino went after Enrile, her fiercest critic, now a senator. Late in February, she ordered his arrest for ”rebellion and murder” in connection with the aborted December coup – the same charge she had denounced as ”politically motivated” when Marcos had used it to jail her husband.

The episode was vintage Manila theater. Enrile sauntered into an air-conditioned ”cell” equipped with a television set and telephones, spent a week being feted by relatives, friends and journalists, and sauntered out on bail of 100,000 pesos, or about $4,500. In June, the Philippine Supreme Court dropped the charge, ruling that it lacked substance.

Another Aquino initiative backfired in March when one of her generals was killed in northern Luzon while trying to seize Rodolfo Aguinaldo, a rebellious provincial governor, who escaped and is still at large.

Aquino was further embarrassed last month when a New York jury acquitted Imelda Marcos and her co-defendant, the Saudi Arabian expediter Adnan M. Khashoggi, of fraud and racketeering charges. Aquino had hoped that a conviction would confirm Marcos’s culpability in looting the Philippines and, by implication, improve her own image.

Whatever her deficiencies, Corazon Aquino largely owes her predicament to the past, which has dealt the Philippines a bad hand.

Before the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, the archipelago lacked common bonds or a remote, divine emperor who symbolized central authority. The United States took over in 1898 and ruled until 1946. Hence Philippine history is essentially colonial history. A neat quip accurately sums it up: ”Three hundred years in a Catholic convent and a half-century in Hollywood.”

This heritage has inhibited Filipinos from forging a strong sense of their national identity, so that their society today is fragmented by family, clan and regional loyalties. Thus their unity lies chiefly in an allegiance to Christianity and the legal definition of Philippine citizenship.

Under Spain, the Philippine economy languished until the 19th century, when the industrial revolution in the West spurred a demand for such commodities as sugar, hemp and copra. Plantations grew, developing a class of big landlords – many of them Chinese immigrants married to Filipino women – whose dynasties dominate the Philippines today. Corazon Aquino’s great-grandfather arrived from China in the 1890’s, converted to Catholicism, prospered as a trader, and acquired the plantation still owned by his descendants. The Americans were benign imperialists compared with their European counterparts. Their dream was to turn the Filipinos into imitation Americans – ”our little brown brothers,” as the first civilian governor, William Howard Taft, dubbed them. American teachers spread English, and facsimile political and judicial bodies were housed in Greek-style buildings copied from those of Washington. By 1907, the Filipinos had the first freely elected
legislature in Asia. The United States Congress voted nine years later to grant them eventual independence, and from that point on the people virtually ruled themselves. During World War II, they fought alongside American troops against the Japanese.

But American officials failed to protect the peasantry against exploitation by big plantation owners. American manufacturers were allowed to export their products to the Philippines duty-free, in exchange for which Philippine commodities could enter the United States without tariffs. This classic colonial arrangement, besides stunting the growth of local industry, preserved the traditional landed oligarchy. The United States Congress imposed the same trade system after the Philippines became independent in 1946, when the country, shattered by World War II, desperately needed American aid. Filipinos were, and continue to be, captivated by American culture. They adopt American nicknames, American food and American sports. Yet their fundamental values remain largely unchanged. Suspicious of impersonal institutions, Filipinos function through a web of personal ties based on mutual obligations.

This is especially true in politics, where parties have customarily been cliques whose members seek office not to govern but to furnish jobs, public-works contracts and other favors to their families and friends, who in turn labor to elect them or to keep them in office. So lucrative are the spoils of power that Marcos spent nearly one-quarter of the national budget on his 1965 re-election campaign. Limited to two terms under the law, he scrapped the system, remained in office and went on pillaging without restraint.

The Philippines never became a ‘’showcase of democracy,” as many Americans often claim. The most prominent Filipino politician during the American colonial era, Manuel Quezon, was an autocrat. The old dynasties that opposed Marcos were outraged less by his despotism than by his expropriation of their assets to reward his cronies. Neither was the martyred Ninoy Aquino an unalloyed champion of civil liberties. His models included Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and the South Korean General Park Chung Hee, neither of whom would qualify as democrats.

Looking back, many political analysts argue that Corazon Aquino ought to have used her initial burst of popularity to push through drastic reforms rather than depend on the democratic process, which has, in effect, restored the reactionary oligarchy. But she felt that to resort to arbitrary rule would have violated her campaign pledges. Her occasional excursions into liberal oratory notwithstanding, she is also deeply conservative.

However the future unfolds for Aquino, the Philippines still resembles the portrait painted by her husband, Ninoy, in Foreign Affairs magazine in July 1968.

”Here is a land in which a few are spectacularly rich while the masses remain abjectly poor,” he wrote, ”where freedom and its blessings are a reality for a minority and an illusion for the many. Here is a land consecrated to democracy but run by an entrenched plutocracy . . . dedicated to equality but mired in an archaic system of caste.” Its government was ”almost bankrupt,” its state agencies ”ridden by debts and honeycombed with graft,” its economy ”in pathetic distress.” Filipinos were ”depressed and dispirited . . . without purpose and without discipline . . . sapped of confidence, hope and will.” But, he concluded, the fault was chiefly their own. ”They profess love of country, but love themselves – individually – more.”

Photos: Senator Juan Ponce Enrile waving from prison in February following a December coup attempt. Charges were later dropped. President Corazon Aquino reviewing troops in Manila shortly after last year’s rebellion. With her are Lourdes Quisumbing, then the Secretary of Education (left), and Sergio Barrera, Chief Protocol Officer. (Photographs By Andy Hernandez/Sipa) ; Government soldiers in Manila rushing to positions during last December’s aborted takeover. (Sygma)

A version of this article appeared in print on August 19, 1990, on page 624 of the New York edition.


Mari a Elizabteh Embry


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