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.
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.
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."