Corazon Aquino's Legacy of Freedom

By Fidel Ramos

MANILA - The death of former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino - "Tita Cory" to most of the 92 million people of the Philippines - left behind a precious inheritance: a legacy of freedom that the Philippines came to share with oppressed peoples around the world.

Her revolution was the first of the wave of "velvet revolutions" that liberated countless millions from Manila to Seoul to Johannesburg to Prague, Warsaw and Moscow. President Aquino's "People Power" revolution, indeed, is among the proudest moments in my country's history, and the distinctive contribution of our people to the saga of mankind's long struggle for freedom and dignity.

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Aquino motivated ordinary Filipinos to peaks of daring and selflessness at a time when their spirit had almost been broken by a 14-year dictatorship. While her husband Sen. Ninoy Aquino lived, she - as the unassuming but caring housewife - was the stabilizing influence that tempered his personality. After his assassination in August 1983, she stepped resolutely into his role as political leader of my country's democratic opposition to an entrenched despotic regime.

Devoid of histrionics, without pretension - "simply by telling people what the dictator has done to this country" - she touched the hearts of freedom-loving Filipinos everywhere. The pain of the traumatic murder of her husband evoked in them memories of their own suffering and thwarted hopes. It was in her name that concerned Filipinos mobilized families and neighbors to confront the tanks, guns and barbed wire of the dictator's cohorts. And, in God's infinite wisdom, the militancy of common people burst forth in the nonviolent revolution that overthrew Ferdinand Marcos.

We the soldiers and policemen who backed her were reinforced by Aquino's steel core of values and principles. In crisis after crisis during her presidency, she exemplified unwavering firmness in the democratic exercise of power as a servant-leader.

Aquino provided policy guidance as commander in chief, but trusted the Defense Department and armed forces to carry out their missions in the face of nine coup attempts that were all frustrated. These mutinies were all death-dealing situations that threatened national stability, and yet she never flinched.

Prayer and spiritual devotion were important components of Aquino's daily endeavors - and a major influence in her decision-making and personal relations. Her inner reserves of faith, indeed, kept her going through every hardship. Her spiritual strength arose out of her deep and abiding reliance on the grace and boundless mercy of the god she believed in. In the tumult of the post-revolutionary period, she presided with surprising evenhandedness over the unavoidable rivalries among different sides of the political spectrum.

More important, Aquino sparked the momentum for the Philippines to regain a position of respect, dignity and even admiration in the community of nations. So Aquino's death has, in many ways, orphaned the Filipino nation. We who are left behind owe her the duty of safeguarding her legacy of freedom - and of enriching it with social justice and unity in nation-building. For until the very end of her battle with cancer, she continued to speak out for individual transformation and, on the part of those elected to lead us, for their selfless stewardship.

The finest tribute Filipinos and other freedom-loving peoples can offer to Aquino's memory is for responsible citizens to work toward the vision of an empowered, bountiful future for which she and Ninoy aspired. Irrevocably, their names will forever be intimately intertwined with the peaceful revolution of 1986, which restored our liberty and democracy.

But the liberation she brought to us was just one battle in the generational struggle the people of the Philippines must wage to secure their liberation from poverty, inequity and injustice. Success in that war is not pre-ordained but can only be won through willing sacrifice, faithfulness to duty, and concerted action for our people's well-being.

These are the internal wars every nation and society, no matter how big or small, must win. Aquino's lifetime of service and sacrifice provided the tools and a model for how to win that seemingly eternal struggle.

To sustain such a treasured legacy and defend democracy wherever it is threatened is our collective responsibility.

Fidel V. Ramos succeeded Corazon Aquino as president of the Philippines from 1992 to 1998. © 2009 Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org)
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