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SPEECHES: POST-PRESIDENCY
 

Reflections on the Restoration of Democracy in the Philippines
 

The University of the Sacred Heart, Milan, Italy
October 24, 1995

It is truly a great honor for me to receive this morning from the Academic Authorities of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart the Laurea Honoris Causa on Political Sciences as I am well aware of the high national and international reputation of this university.

I also wish to express personal thanks to the Rector, Professor Adriano Bausola, to the Dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences, Professor Alberto Quadrio Curzio and to members of the Academic Corpus who have stated my honorary degree.  Thanks also to all authorities and to the Students who are here this morning for this ceremony.

The warm welcome and the kind hospitality I have received from all of you, rekindles the regard and affection I have always held for Italy and what in culture, the arts and religion, it has given with so great a largesse to the world.

Catholics in the Philippines have of course heard of this great Catholic university, with whose beginnings the revered names of Cardinal Andrea Ferrari and Father Agostino Gemelli are linked.  So many of our Filipino priests have studied in Rome and elsewhere in Italy, and have told us of the quality and dynamism of the intellectual life of this center of learning.  It is thus a distinct joy for me to be here for my first visit to this magnificent university complex, constructed primarily by the generous contributions of your Catholic lay people, tribute to both their love for culture and their devotion to the Church.  As I stand here this morning I can only repeat the words spoken by your great Cardinal Achille Ratti, later Pope Pius XI, who greeted this university's inauguration on 7 December 1921: “vivat, crescat, floreat!"  If I repeat those words, it is because they arise in my own mind and heart at this moment.

I presume that the honor just conferred on me is one intended to give tribute, not to me alone, but to all the men and women in my country who helped restore democracy in my land, before during and after the "People Power revolution" of February 1986, nearly ten year ago.  If I stand here this morning, it is because there were so many fellow-Filipinos who, in the dark days of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, believed in their hearts that human dignity and freedom were worth fighting for and worth dying for, even in dark hours of fear and near-despair.  In honoring me, I know it is all of them you honor, and this is what moves me now, and for which I give you our heartfelt thanks.

In the brief time I have with you this morning, I can only take up with you one, perhaps singular, factor in the history of our struggle for democratic restoration.  I mean, the dimension of faith that was present in it: the faith of my people, especially their Christian faith.  For that was the deepest element in their steadfast belief in the dignity and rights of human persons and of their adherence to the democratic liberties which the dictatorship was trampling on.  It was this faith in the purposes of God, this faith in the meaning and realization of those purposes in our social and political life which, if perhaps in unquantifiable measure, brought together the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who massed at Epifanio de los Santos Avenue or EDSA and surrounding areas, and finally brought about the end of the Marcos tyranny.

Perhaps my personal retelling of the restoration of democracy in our country could begin with the willing sacrifice of his life which my husband, Ninoy Aquino, made on his return to Manila on 21 August 1983.  You know, I suppose, that Ferdinand Marcos, on declaring martial law and assuming dictatorial powers, had my husband arrested as leader of the opposition.  He had him incarcerated, first with others, then in solitary confinement, for seven years and seven months.  He was released only when physicians judged that heart-surgery was urgently necessary to save his life.

The long stay in the concentration camp became for Ninoy a profound conversion-experience.  As the years lengthened, he rediscovered prayer, the rosary of Our Lady, and the New Testament.  He encountered, in a way which transformed him profoundly, the Christ who out of love suffered for him and for us.  From being a merely traditional Christian, he learned the deeper meanings and values of his faith, through what he endured.  His relationship with the Lord became a deeply personal one.  Setting aside his ambitions for power, he placed his life at the service of the Lord’s purposes for his people.  He found peace in that handing-over of himself, for the deliverance of our country.  He wanted to bring the dictatorship to an end, but by peaceful means, by non-violence.  Gandhi and Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King became his teachers.  The non-violent alternative grew into a passion: non-violence as a way of bringing violence to term, in a journey of reconciliation.

Thus my husband’s death, – his martyrdom, if you will – for all those who lined up to see his battered body became a symbol of what our people were undergoing, and a symbol, too, of the hundreds who had given and were giving their lives for the deliverance of our nation.  Thousands lined up to view Ninoy’s body; the wake found a theme, “Hindi ka nag-iisa”: you are not alone.  Hundreds have been jailed, hundreds killed like you.  You are not alone, your people are with you.  You are not alone, for now you have awakened us, and we are here with you.  In a true sense, people power was born there, where his broken body lay.  “Unless a grain of wheat die; it remains but one grain.  If it falls to the earth and dies, it brings forth a great harvest.  He who holds on to his life shall lose it, but he who loses his life in this world, shall keep it unto everlasting life." (John 12, 24-25)  His funeral, ten days later, from the Dominican church near our home, to the cemetery at the end of the city, lasted ten hours, and some two million people sent a single message to the dictator and to the world that they were willing to be counted, with Ninoy.  “You are no longer alone, we are here with you." 

One constant element in this new development was the role of faith, of the power of religious conviction.  Ninoy's wake and funeral found their center around the Eucharist, around the memorial of the Lord's sacrifice on the cross.  An unending series of Masses, with thousands devoutly present and so many receiving communion, Hymns from the liturgy lending their meaning to the gathered throngs, rites clarifying motive, defining self-offering to God and country as the deepest meanings, in what was taking place.

Thus, we could say, did the history of “People Power" begin.  In the next two years it would gather momentum.  Across the entire political and ideological spectrum more and more people took courage to join the struggle: in rallies and the ‘parliament of the streets', where even our elder leaders joined the increasingly committed young; in print and in clandestine broadcasts; in guerrilla battles in the hills.  If some ideological lines held stubbornly, still the more moderate sectors began to coalesce.  The church sector became increasingly involved; priests, seminarians and sisters; bishops – if belatedly – speaking out in defense of human rights.  Even in the public media the convictions of religious belief began more and more openly to speak to the worsening situation.

A passage from the Second Book of Chronicles, repeated on radio over and over again, became the moment's theme: "If my people, upon whom my name is spoke, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, I shall hear their prayers from heaven, forgive them their sins, and restore their land to them." (2 Chronicles 7: 14-15) This was the promise our people laid claim to; in that claim lay their hope and their trust.

On the Catholic side, the Philippine bishops declared 1985 a Marian Year, following on Pope John Paul II's urging to mark the bimillennium of Mary's nativity.  Our church people set up two main objectives: to work for conversion in individual lives and in society; to storm heaven for deliverance, through peaceful, non-violent and yet effective means, from the increasing ruin of our nation.  The Marian Year was an outpouring of supplication, but also conjointly a gathering of resolve.  Cardinal Sin was to say: "So great has been the response to the call for prayer and penitence, so fervent the expression of people's faith, that the Lord must hear our petitions and answer us – even if the answer has to be a miracle!"

The "miracle" began with Marcos' calling for snap elections. A campaign that gathered more than a million signatures had asked me to oppose the dictator, a seemingly quixotic task.  As the campaign gained momentum, I began to believe that we could win, because everywhere the people were with us.  The little people, above all; they who knew the burdens of suffering which the regime of power had laid upon them.  They who believed in the God of the little and the poor to whom they turned.  They, who because they believed, kept hope living in their hearts.

Perhaps an anecdote from my campaign will show what I mean.  One morning we were standing on the back of an open truck, waving to people lined up along the roadsides.  We were on our way to a rally in one of our major cities.  As our truck passed through the poorest outlying sectors, where homes were mere shanties, a shabbily dressed woman ran beside us, and handed an envelope to my son-in-Iaw.  Thinking it contained letters, he put it aside and forgot about it till that evening.  On opening it he was surprised to see that it contained a pile of bills, in small denominations, but adding up to a respectable amount.  With the money, a short handwritten note, saying people in that community were praying for me and my victory.  It brought tears to our eyes: this gift of the poor, given with so much grace to us.  People, who really didn't have enough to eat, had sacrificed from their need, to help us.  Few things in that campaign touched me more, or gave us more hope, that we could and would win, because the people were with us, praying for us, placing their hope in us.

What happened afterwards is probably better-known to you.  TIME magazine wrote of our campaign as a series of "what amounted to improvised prayer rallies."  Short of the massive resources Marcos controlled, with a political machinery hastily put together with little more than prayer and hope, the crowds yet turned out for us.  If their numbers were impressive, their courage was more surprising still.  Both numbers and courage were there, the day the votes were cast, despite massive intimidation.  They were there too, in the NAMFREL citizen-volunteers, often led by priests, nuns, seminarians, and erstwhile merely pious parishioners, who protected the ballot boxes, against heavily-armed goons sent there to sow terror among them.  Faith and courage were there, once the counting of votes began, in a small band of official computer analysts, who walked out when their tallies began adding up to patently falsified results; it was to Cardinal Sin they turned for refuge, fearing for their lives.

On 11 February 1986, one of our campaign leaders, the brave and idealistic Evelio Javier was brutally gunned down by government thugs.  His blood-bathed body was later found riddled with 38 bullets, his hand clutching his rosary beads in death.  Another sacrifice, not unlike my husband's, given for our people's freedom.  Once again, the grain of wheat fallen into the earth.  As his remains lay in state in the Redemptorist church in Manila, the Catholic bishops, concluding three days of deliberation, read out to the press an unprecedented proclamation, declaring the elections substantially flawed by fraud.  Thus, they held, Marcos now had lost the moral authority to govern.

When I started the post-election protest rallies in our major cities, calling for civil disobedience, it was with the Church solidly behind us, and with our conviction increasingly more firm, that justice was with us, and we would win.  Only, equally firm would be our faith in each other, and in the righteousness of God.

The rest many of you saw, on your TV screens, or read about in your papers.  The uprising of "the unarmed forces of the Philippines,” with images and banners of Our Lord and our Lady present literally everywhere, with Masses celebrated in the midst of packed crowds at all hours of the day, with religious Sisters and seminarians, surrounded by whole families, praying the rosary and halting tanks and armored cars with their bodies.  Many of you saw this live on television: People Power had prayer power at its core.  What did happen without violence and bloodshed would have not been possible without faith and prayer.  If you do not believe in miracles in our time, at least you cannot deny that the people who wrought this dramatic turnover of power drew their courage from prayer and their faith in God.  One of our bishops spoke of “a thousand little miracles making historic event possible,” – for in the gathered thousands in our streets God truly walked among us to restore our land to us.

All retelling of stories oversimplifies the complexity of the real events, and yet as I look back I believe the story-line I started out with remained verifiable and true.

Through this stretch of years, when I found myself thrust into a role I did not seek in the public arena, it was to faith and prayer I had constantly to turn.  There I sought God’s will as I could see it, for I believed then, as now I even more firmly believe, that He leads us to His purposes if we seek to find and fulfill them.  It was in the peace that was the fruit of prayer, not mine only but those of many others, that I made the decision to seek the presidency.  It was that peace which sustained me and gave me courage through the gruelling campaign, amid a formidable host of threats.  It was by the strength my faith lent me that I could remain steadfast till the day I took my oath of office, on the day of the ancient feast of Our Lady of Victory, 25 February 1986.

The restoration of democracy I made my program from the beginning of presidency; the abolition of authoritarian powers, even when the situation was unstable still; the dissolution of the puppet parliament and of the dictator’s constitution which gave the color of legality to all his abuses; the cleaning-up of the judiciary that had become so pliant an instrument to his will.  And if this was not difficult enough, a sector of rightist military officers who thought our revolution should have established them, and not myself, in power, tried repeatedly to bring down my government.  Seven coup attempts in all, when the final count was in.  At times it seemed like we were destined to be under recurrent and chronic siege to the end, with no recourse except the continued support of our people, and our trust in God.

Often I had said that the rule I lived and worked by, was: "Pray with all my heart, Work with all my might, And the rest I leave to God."  All else flowed from that: truth, sincerity and integrity; perseverance in good; detachment from self-seeking, in power and in gain; the public interest placed unquestioningly above all else; a total commitment and effort to give the best of oneself in all one's days.  Six years of governance, where one sought, firmly but humbly, to do right by the democratic ideals we fought for, to hold in honor one's commitment to our people, under God's eyes.  And constantly, with faith at the center; faith as compass needle, on the long and uncertain journey towards the just society which was the vision on our horizon.  The psalmist says, "Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who would raise it up.  Unless the Lord guard the city, in vain does the guardian watch." (Ps 127: I) – I believed through those years whose story I have shared with you, and I believe now: the words of the psalm are not guidelines for spirituality only, but the pursuance of policy and action in the most realistic politics.

As we come to the end of our narrative, we might ask what truth we may draw from this history.  It has been suggested that my reflection might be spelled out from a personal perspective: If I might make explicit the convictions from which I have acted, through those years of trial and struggle, and of re-building our democracy. – So let me try.

(1) First, I believe that as men and women of faith we must constantly renew in our minds the conviction that God, as Lord of history, pursues within history, a divine design and purpose which we are bidden to make ours.  We do this by faith and prayer; we do this by deeds.  As Christians who are politically engaged, we must see our involvement as a vocation, from God, to be fulfilled in freedom, amid ambiguity and uncertainty: a vocation constantly renewed, and constantly responded to, in the truth of our commitment to him.

(2) I believe that in Christ, God has entered our history as partner in the human enterprise, and that He has released within that enterprise His Spirit and the energies of redemption.  I believe these can enter into our strivings, if daily we will seek His will for us, with the light and courage which come from that seeking.

You will tell me that these are “ancient verities", which may even seem to our contemporaries as pious and irrelevant generalities.  Yet in our secularization of spirit we have in practice ceased to believe them, and even as I Christians we have singularly failed to make them operative principles in our political action.

(3) Thirdly, I believe that the Holy Spirit is at work today, renewing in the hearts of men and women everywhere the longing for justice, for solidarity, for equality and participation, for community, as perhaps never before in ages past.  These aspirations we meet in humanity everywhere, newly rekindled and alive, – among the poor, the excluded, the minorities and the powerless in the world.  The recent history of this continent bears witness to this.

(4) Increasingly the poor in our world hold before us the sentence of a condemnation passed upon ourselves and the human history we have given shape to.  I believe that we are called today, as the Church herself has been teaching us, to turn to the victims of what has been called "the underside of history”, and in their hearts, read the word of God’s judgement, and its summons to repentance, and to the solidarity of deeds.  Only when we do this are we truly free to respond and witness to God’s ultimate purposes beyond history.  It is in this sense I understand what contemporary preaching insists on: that the Lord is calling us to salvation from the midst of the poor and suffering in our world.

(5) We witness in our day, almost everywhere in the world, the death of totalitarianisms and the resurgence of democratic faith. I take these as indicators of where the growth-Iines of humanity may be today discerned.  Our own "people-power revolution”, in diverse manners re-enacted in other lands, was surely one of the most significant signs of our times.

Have not the Popes told us, in recent decades, that if the Gospel provides no blueprint for political systems, yet among the options history has made available to us, democracy still seems most in keeping with human nature and the perennial aspirations of Human community?  As my husband wrote, "the essence of democratic faith is that through the continuing process of political education, {people} can grow sufficiently reasonable to discover, with evidence and the give and take of free discussion, better ways of solving common problem.”  The participation of every citizen which democracy aspires to, the respect for the individual and his or her convictions, the imperative for community and its values, – all these spring from the most authentic aspirations of the human person, and yes, the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.

(6) In a special way I believe that the movement for non-violence is an idea, which has found its time.  This was a growing conviction my husband held; in a way he gave his life for it.  It too is part of my creed.  That human conflicts may be resolved through shared reverence for the truth; that the faith in, and respect for, the humanity of “the other" must underlie every effort to dissolve enmity; that reconciliation can come only from mutual conversion of heart – these seem to me principles to be found at the heart of every religion, especially that of the Gospel. So many events in the past decade show us, if with varying success, that non-violence really “works", and that we in this post Cold-War world, where so much strife has already raged, must learn the ways of non-violence, or descend into yet more rabid hatreds and ethnic cleansings which have unleashed the bloodshed and barbarism these latter years have seen.

(7) There are other beliefs I might now number, but only one more I may not omit, I believe that the vocation of politics must be accepted by those who take up the service of leadership as a vocation in its noblest meaning; it demands all of life.  For the life of one who would lead his or her people, in our time as never before must strive for coherence with the vision aspired to, else the vision itself and its realization are already betrayed.  That vision must itself, be present, in some authentic way, in those who seek to realize it; in the witness of their example; in a purity of heart vis-a-vis the exercise and usages of power; in an ultimate fidelity to principle, and a dedication that is ready to count, in terms “of nothing less than everything."  It is Cardinal Newman I believe who said that in this world we do good only in the measure that we pay for it in the currency of our own lives.  For us Christians, there is always the image of Jesus, and the price his service demanded.  And for me there has been a constant reminder, the sacrifice my husband offered, and the word that it has spoken to  me and my people.

One last word, and I have finished. In this University which bears the name of the Heart of the Redeemer, it will surely not be out of place to speak the word of Love.  The heart is a symbol of Love and the heart of the Christ – the final symbol of that love which remains the most powerful force in the universe we inhabit, – l’amor che move il e I'altre stelle. – There is a line from the English poet [WH Auden] which says, "We must love one another, or die."  As Christians we resonate with the imperative, for ultimately it derives from the Gospel.  In the long evolutionary story of mankind, it would seem love has come as a latecomer to the scene.  The rule of tooth and claw, of life destroyed and blood poured out, the survival of the strongest – these are the laws which have controlled the progress of the human animal, even to our day. Perhaps the turning point in human history to which we feel we have come, will bring at last the coming-of-age of love, in a civilization of love.  Perhaps even this is the deepest meaning of the women's movement in our age: that love's hour has been sounded, that love's hour has begun.

At our 1987 constitutional convention, which I called that we might write a democratic constitution to replace that of the dictatorship, one of the earliest debates was whether one of the stated purposes of our politics would be, precisely to bring into being a commonwealth of love.  "No other constitution in the world uses that language: it belongs to the sanctuary, and not to the halls of governance."  But in the end, the word found its way into the fundamental laws of our land.  Is it naive, is it unseemly, that that purpose, that endeavor shall now be increasingly voiced in our political deliberations?  Only a couple of weeks ago, Pope John Paul II spoke of it, at the general assembly of the United Nations, echoing his plea in Centesimus annus, that we "build more just and fraternal structures in the world for a new civilization, a civilization of solidarity and love.”  I believe this is the great commandment for all of us who live in this age, as we come to the end of the century and begin a new millenium, two thousand years after the birth of the Prince of Peace.

I trust that we struggled to restore democracy in our land and cried freedom for all the world to hear, so that we might bring forward even by one step only the realization of a civilization of solidarity and love.  For if we build a common tomorrow, we must build it on love.  And if perfect Justice is not attainable in this world, yet we know – the saints tell us – that we can begin the task of reaching towards it with love.  "We must love one another or die.”  But, if we begin to love one another, as the Holy Father said only a few days ago, love one another as persons and peoples and nations across the world, why then, that shall be our service to hope.  And truly what we all have greatest need of, in this hour of the history of our planet, is hope.

 

 

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