1980s >> 1986 >> no-981-may-1986

Grief and Cory

If ever a politician came to power on the basis of who they were rather than what they stood for, it was Corazon (Cory) Aquino. The new president of the Philippines has no political experience at all, beyond having been married to an exiled political leader who was assassinated on his return to the country

Many commentators have seen Aquino as a People’s President’, coming to power on a wave of popular support. Clearly there was widespread opposition to the corrupt and vicious Marcos regime  — from the impoverished Philippine workers and peasants, from the Catholic church (the Philippines contains 50 million Catholics, more than any other country in Asia) and from the capitalist class (who were unhappy with the state of the economy and Marcos’ own extortions). But while it was clear what these groups were against — Marcos — it is not at all clear what they are for. Aquino certainly has no political or economic programme beyond a few platitudes which are even vaguer than those most capitalist politicians go in for.

It is idle to expect Aquino to be able to solve the problems of the Philippine economy or to benefit the vast majority of the population. Apart from the general uncontrollability of capitalism, she will have to cope with the country’s relationship with America. Much Philippine industry is in the hands of American multi-nationals, and the Philippines house the largest overseas American air force and navy bases. Any action that might interfere with the interests of the American ruling class would be likely to bring swift retaliation, economic if not military.

In addition. Aquino is herself a member of the Philippine capitalist class. As a member of the Cojuangco family, she is co-owner of the Hacienda Luisita, a fifteen-thousand acre sugar plantation. This employs 2,300 workers, who earn £1.50 a day (and that only during the milling and planting season). The workers live in delipidated palm and bamboo huts, while the Cojuangco clan live in luxurious villas with swimming pools and servants. The “People’s President” is not an ordinary Filipino. Nor are the other members of her cabinet, which includes capitalists who have made their millions from exploiting workers in mines, flour mills and so on.

The new government, then, is filled with members and representatives of the capitalist class. It is the interests of this class that it will defend, whether by anti-working class economic policies or by outright use of force. The Philippine capitalists eventually decided that the Marcos regime was not defending these interests adequately. Quite apart from the personal fortune siphoned off by Marcos and his family, corruption was so rife that efficient economic management was impossible and a massive foreign debt had been contracted. Such considerations led Juan Enrile, Minister for National Defence, himself a multi-millionaire, to launch the military rebellion that precipitated Marcos’ fall.

Aquino may not have much experience of political manoeuvring, but she has certainly been learning fast. Within a month of taking over, she has abolished the National Assembly and given herself sweeping powers, said by some to be more far-ranging than those enjoyed by Marcos. No court can question her authority or the validity of any law she decrees. Her personal popularity may mean that for a while she can carry off such measures, but it will not be long before ordinary Filipinos and their masters become impatient with the lack of any economic or political progress. Then Aquino will have to learn the ins and outs of political shenanigans with a vengeance.

Among the problems faced by the new regime will be guerrilla warfare on two fronts. One is against the New People’s Army of the illegal “Communist” Party. The other is against the Moro National Liberation Front on the southern island of Mindanao, who are fighting for “autonomy” for Muslim areas. Again, after an initial honeymoon, there will come a time of reckoning when the supporters of these movements will expect major concessions from the government and the ruling class will want the expensive and draining guerrilla wars to be brought to an end.

The Philippines shows that no ruler who has lost support can survive in office for long. In the same way, no government trying to impose its will on a population containing an overwhelming majority of socialists could carry on for long either. But meanwhile the important thing to realise about the Philippines is that it is in no way a popular revolution that has replaced a hated and despotic tyrant with a progressive and reforming champion of the common people. Clearly Marcos’ departure is regretted by few outside the beneficiaries of his bribery and corruption. But Marcos and Aquino belong to the same class — the capitalist class — and represent the same interests. The slum-dwellers and child prostitutes of Manila, the impoverished workers on the huge plantations — in other words, all but a tiny handful of the Philippines’ population — these may just about notice the change of regime but their poverty and oppression will continue.

Paul Bennett