The Heartbreak of History, Philippine Dept.

More

Twenty-three years ago, shortly after Corazon Aquino had replaced Ferdinand Marcos as president of the Philippines, I traveled through the country and wrote an Atlantic article called "A Damaged Culture." Mrs. Aquino was then still in the late stages of being perceived as a world hero. Her husband, Benigno, had become the martyred symbol of the anti-Marcos resistance after he was murdered by government goons as he got off a plane on his return to Manila. (His body on the tarmac, below.) Mrs. Aquino was the living symbol of the "EDSA revolution" of 1986, which with relatively little violence* had succeeded in driving Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos from power and appearing to open a new age of reform and promise for a long-suffering people. After the revolution, Mrs. Aquino had addressed a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress and been chosen Time magazine's Woman of the Year.


ninoyassassination.jpg

CoryTimeMag.jpg

But what I saw and heard in the country suggested that much less had changed than reformers and friends of the Philippines would have liked to think. For instance, as I wrote back then:
In a sociological sense the elevation of Corazon Aquino through the EDSA revolution should probably be seen not as a revolution but as the restoration of the old order. Marcos's rise represented the triumph of the nouveau riche. He was, of course, an Ilocano, from the tough, frugal Ilocos region, in the northwest corner of Luzon. Many of those whom he enriched were also outsiders to the old-money, old-family elite that had long dominated the country's politics. These elite groups, often referred to in shorthand as Makati (the name of the wealthy district and business center of Manila), regarded Marcos the way high-toned Americans regarded Richard Nixon: clever and ambitious, but so uncouth. 
Corazon Aquino's family, the Cojuangcos, is part of this landowning elite... Since the Spanish days land has been concentrated in a few giant haciendas, including the 17,000-acre Hacienda Luisita of the Cojuangco family, and no government has done much to change the pattern. "You could argue that real land reform would lead to more productivity, but it's an entirely hypothetical argument,' an Australian economist told me. "This government simply is not going to cause a revolution in the social structure.' Just before the new Congress convened, as her near-dictatorial powers were about to elapse, Aquino signed a generalized land-reform-should-happen decree. Most observers took this as an indication that land reform would not happen, since the decree left all the decisions about the when, where, and how of land reform to the landowner-heavy Congress.
It is very hard not to think of this history when reading today's NYT story, by Norimitsu Onishi**, about the latest front-runner for the presidency -- the Aquinos' son -- and the ongoing importance of the family plantations.

As the NYT says:

The land problem has drawn fresh attention since Mrs. Aquino's son, Benigno Aquino III,declared his candidacy for the May 10 presidential election, running on his mother's legacy of "people power." Though Mrs. Aquino made land reform a top priority, she allowed landowning families to eviscerate her distribution program. Critics say there is no greater example of the failure of land reform than her own family's estate. 

For the past five years, the family has been fighting in the Supreme Court a government directive to distribute the 10,000-acre Hacienda Luisita -- the second-biggest family-owned piece of land in the Philippines, about 80 miles north of Manila -- to 10,000 farmers.... Criticized for his family's position, Mr. Aquino, 50, the front-runner in the presidential election, announced recently that the family would transfer the land to the farmers after ensuring that debts were paid off....

But Mr. Aquino's cousin, Fernando Cojuangco, the chief operating officer of the holding company that owns the plantation, said that the extended Cojuangco family, owners of this plantation since 1958, had no intention of giving up the land or the sugar business.
"No, we're not going to," Mr. Cojuangco, 47, said in an interview here. "I think it would be irresponsible because I feel that continuing what we have here is the way to go. Sugar farming has to be; it's the kind of business that has to be done plantation-style."
There are more desperate and brutally-run countries than the Philippines, but I don't know of any whose self-limiting cycle of politics is sadder. 
_____
For some previous installments on this subject, see here and here. More when our "categories" function in our web site is restored and I can link to others in the Philippine category.

* The violence was minimal in part because, after decades of propping up Marcos, the U.S. government threw its weight against him and in favor of the reformers. Among the officials who played a crucial role in this policy was the young Paul Wolfowitz, as described here. His success there no doubt played a part in his thinking a similar quick transformation would be possible in Iraq. 

** General policy on talking about newspaper stories: When there's something nice to say, be sure to include the reporter's name! When it's a complaint about the latest screw-up by the WaPo or whomever, I avoid the name unless that person's tendencies are central to the critique. Reporters have enough problems... 
Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Global

From This Author

Just In