By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
MANILA — When former President Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco-Aquino succumbed to cancer last week at 76, tributes poured in from all over, including from groups that are part of the Left. Reading only the statements and press releases from these groups, one would think that their relations with Cory had always been smooth.
In fact, the Left’s engagement with Cory had been both pleasant and acrimonious at certain stages. While they linked arms with her on a number of causes, there were also issues on which leftists found themselves at odds with the late president.
At first, according to former National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) spokesman and now Bayan Muna (People First) Rep. Satur Ocampo, the Left’s linkages were with Cory’s husband, opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino. During the series of protest actions now known as the First Quarter Storm of ‘70s, activist leaders like Julius Fortuna of the Movement for a Democratic Philippines (MDP) and Aurora Javate of the Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties (MCCCL) did liaison work with opposition politicians, among them Ninoy.
“He shared to the groups in the mass movement information about Marcos’s Oplan Sagittarius, which had something to do with the declaration of martial law,” Ocampo said. “But things happened too quickly, and Ninoy himself failed to elude arrest.”
Ninoy, who had been detained at Fort Bonifacio, was tried by a military court on charges of murder, illegal possession of firearms, and subversion, and was eventually sentenced to death by firing squad. His sentence, however, was not carried out. He was even allowed to participate in the 1978 Batasang Pambansa (National Assembly) elections under the Lakas ng Bayan (Laban or People’s Power) ticket, but he and other Laban candidates lost due to massive fraud. In 1980, after suffering a heart attack, he was allowed to go to the United States for medical treatment. He returned to the Philippines in 1983 and was assassinated upon disembarking at the Manila International Airport.
Ocampo, for his part, had disappeared into the revolutionary underground movement upon the declaration of martial law in September 1972, but was arrested in 1976 and detained for nine years at the Bicutan Rehabilitation Center in Taguig.
Beginnings of Engagement with Cory
The Left’s engagement with Cory began months after Ninoy’s assassination. Church-based human-rights groups were then in the midst of a campaign for the release of all political prisoners.
“She visited us in Bicutan, and promised to help in the Free All Political Prisoners campaign,” Ocampo said.
In the February 1986 snap presidential elections, Cory was chosen by various opposition forces as their common standard bearer against then president Ferdinand Marcos. The elections were marred by massive fraud and violence and Cory was catapulted to power on the wave of what is now known as the Edsa 1 uprising.
“The first positive thing that Cory did as president was to deliver on her promise to free political prisoners,” Ocampo said.
The next positive action from Cory came in March that same year, when she was invited to be the graduation speaker at the University of the Philippines (UP). It was the first speech in which Cory put forward the call for peace negotiations with armed revolutionary groups. “She said that to end what was already a long-standing armed challenge to the government, there was a need to address the root causes of the armed conflict,” Ocampo recalled.
Ocampo, who was by then back in the underground after escaping in 1985, issued a statement as NDFP spokesman, saying that the NDFP was willing to go into peace negotiations. Cory responded positively.
But things turned sour when, despite a ceasefire declaration agreed upon by both parties, several NDFP negotiators and consultants – including Rodolfo Salas, who was then chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) – were arrested.
Then Mendiola happened. In January 1987, police and military fired upon farmers demonstrating at the historic bridge near Malacañang, killing more than a dozen people. The peace negotiations collapsed.