An Appraisal: Cory Aquino and Human Rights

While Cory Aquino restored democratic institutions and became a symbol of integrity in governance, her regime remained beholden, if not hostaged, by the military and Washington. This resulted in massive human-rights abuses that, based on data from human-rights groups, were even worse in terms of number of victims than those committed so far under the Arroyo regime.


MANILA — “Mrs.Aquino was already laid to rest… but my father remains missing and so is justice for victims of enforced disappearances and massacres.”

Ghay Portajada wrote that sentence in her Facebook status, one of the many users of the social-networking site who reminded people of the other side of the regime of former president Corazon Aquino, who died on Aug. 1 from cancer at age 76.

Ghay’s father, Armando Portajada Sr., was president of the Coca-Cola workers’ union when he was forcibly taken by 15 armed men in broad daylight on July 31, 1987. Armando just got out of the Coca-Cola factory in Pasong Tamo, Makati, when the abduction took place. He was never found.

Armando was only one of the 816 desaparecidos – the disappeared, or victims of enforced disappearances — during the six years of Cory’s regime. The Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, at the time the country’s leading human-rights group, recorded more than 1.2 million victims of dislocations due to military operations, 135 cases of massacres, 1,064 victims of summary executions, and 20,523 victims of illegal arrest and detention.

Based on these figures, human-rights abuses were, in fact, worse during those six years under Cory than the past nine years under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

And so when Ghay witnessed the funeral of Cory Aquino, her heart became heavy. “Unlike Tatay [Father], she [Cory] was indeed fortunate to have a decent burial and her family was given respect and recognition.”

Ghay was only 12 years old when her father disappeared. As the eldest in four siblings, Ghay had to take care of her youngest sister who was then only six months old while her mother searched for her father. Her two other siblings had to stay with a family friend.

“It was traumatic. We had to stay apart,” Ghay told Bulatlat. They were forced to stop attending classes for a while for security reasons. “We could not understand why they took Tatay away,” Ghay said. “Was he a bad person? But we know Tatay was a good person, a responsible father. He would find time to take care of us, to play with us.”

Later, Ghay and her siblings were taken to the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC). There, Ghay recalled having met many children of victims of enforced disappearances. “We realized we were not the only victims. There were many of us.”

Low Intensity Conflict

Ghay believes what happened to her father was part of state policy. “She declared a total war against the Filipino people,” Ghay said, referring to Cory.

In March 1987, in her commencement speech at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), Aquino unsheathed the sword of war and declared that “the answer to the terrorism of the left and the right is not social and economic reform but police and military action.” It was a crucial departure from an earlier policy of engagement with the left when, immediately after she took power, Cory released dozens of political prisoners, among them the top leaders of the Communist movement.

Aquino’s “total war” policy was essentially patterned after the US military strategy of “low intensity conflict” or LIC. The US came out with the LIC doctrine in the aftermath of the US defeat in the Vietnam war. Instead of direct involvement of American troops in combat, local troops of “host” countries were trained to fight “proxy wars” with rebels or insurgents. The US government was the principal author of Cory’s “total war” scheme, in charge of funding, equipment, training, intelligence and other requirements, according to Bobby Tuazon, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines and a political analyst at the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, a Manila think tank.

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