An Appraisal: Cory Aquino and Human Rights

Marcos’s plundered wealth, Araullo pointed out, has never been recovered and the Marcoses were never properly prosecuted and punished. Under the law, part of the Marcos assets to be recovered should be used to indemnify victims of abuses by the dictatorship.

Moreover, Tuazon said Cory did not reform the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) — she instead strengthened it as a repressive instrument of the state. “Having been thrust to the presidency without any political experience, she came under extreme pressure from the military establishment whose power was built by Marcos,” Tuazon said.

“The US government also pressed Mrs. Aquino toward a ‘reconciliation’ with the Marcos remnants and started distancing herself from the Left that led to the gradual easing out of the ‘progressives’ in her Cabinet,” Tuazon said. “Her entire presidency was shielded by a militarist cordon sanitaire preventing her government from pursuing serious peace talks with the armed Left and instituting reforms as she had promised.”

Araullo said Cory, like Marcos, bowed to US dictates. Aquino passed the Automatic Appropriations Act, which, as it name implies, automatically allotted money from the budget for debt servicing, at the expense of health and education expenses should be the priority, as mandated in the Constitution.

Major Violation

For Tuazon, the major human-rights violation committed by Cory was the failure of her own Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

“By exempting her own hacienda [from land distribution], Aquino violated the rights of millions of farmers. Her claim of being pro-democracy,” Tuazon said, was shattered by this act of protecting her own family’s interest. The Aquinos and the Cojuangcos own Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.

Signed on June 10, 1988, by Cory, CARP vowed to emancipate the peasants from landlessness. However, the Cojuangco-Aquino landed clan managed to skirt the law through what are called non-land transfer schemes. CARP gives option to landowners to choose “all other arrangements alternative to the physical distribution of lands, such as production or profit-sharing, labor administration, and distribution of shares of stocks which will allow beneficiaries to receive a just share of the fruits of the lands they work.”

In the case of Hacienda Luisita, it preferred the stock distribution option, which made farmers and peasants veritable investors in the hacienda but never owners of the land that they have been tilling for decades.

Then came the Hacienda Luisita massacre. On Nov. 16, 2004, elements of the police and military opened fire at the striking farm workers of Hacienda Luisita, resulting in the death of 14 farmers, including women and children, and the wounding of 200 others.

“The lack of genuine social and economic reforms and other failings in her presidency contributed much to the fading away of the People Power spirit, as indicated by the decreasing people’s participation in subsequent Edsa 1 anniversaries,” Tuazon said. “If we mean democracy by the turnover of power to the people, it was not the case. What happened is a transfer of power from one faction of the elite to another.”

Real Heroes

Tuazon believes that Cory’s ascendancy to power was accidental. “Aquino came at a time when the anti-Marcos dictatorship was already on the upsurge. It became strong due to years of struggle of peasants and workers,” he said.

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