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This post is dedicated to my faithful and kind readers in the Philippines – such good people. May God bless Tita Cory.

This just in from the Associated Press:

Corazon Aquino, Philippines president, dead at 76

By HRVOJE HRANJSKI, Associated Press Writer Hrvoje Hranjski, Associated Press Writer –

Fri Jul 31, 7:08 pm ET

Former Philippine President Corazon Aquino, who is suffering from colon cancer, have her picture taken with students before a mass and tribute to herself and her late husband Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. in Quezon City, Metro Manila, August 17, 2008

Former Philippine President Corazon Aquino, who was undergoing treatment for colon cancer, had her picture taken with students before a mass and tribute to herself and her late husband Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. in Quezon City, Metro Manila, August 17, 2008. Corazon Aquino died on August 1, 2009.

MANILA, Philippines – Former President Corazon Aquino, who swept away a dictator with a “people power” revolt and then sustained democracy by fighting off seven coup attempts in six years, died on Saturday, her son said. She was 76.

The uprising she led in 1986 ended the repressive 20-year regime of Ferdinand Marcos and inspired nonviolent protests across the globe, including those that ended Communist rule in eastern Europe.

But she struggled in office to meet high public expectations. Her land redistribution program fell short of ending economic domination by the landed elite, including her own family. Her leadership, especially in social and economic reform, was often indecisive, leaving many of her closest allies disillusioned by the end of her term.

Still, the bespectacled, smiling woman in her trademark yellow dress remained beloved in the Philippines, where she was affectionately referred to as “Tita (Auntie) Cory.”

Former President Corazon Aquino's favorite color was all around Metro Manila on Saturday as the nation mourned the death of its beloved first female president and hero of the People Power revolt that restored democracy in the country.

Yellow - Former President Corazon Aquino's favorite color - was all around Metro Manila on Saturday as the nation mourned the death of its beloved first female president and hero of the People Power revolt that restored democracy in the country. Even streetsweepers went about their chores with yellow ribbons tied around their heads in respect to "Cory" Aquino.

 

“She was headstrong and single-minded in one goal, and that was to remove all vestiges of an entrenched dictatorship,” Raul C. Pangalangan, former dean of the Law School at the University of the Philippines, said earlier this month. “We all owe her in a big way.”

Her son, Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” or Aquino III, said his mother died at 3:18 a.m. Saturday (1918 GMT Friday).

Aquino was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer last year and confined to a Manila hospital for more than a month. Her son said the cancer had spread to other organs and she was too weak to continue her chemotherapy.

Supporters have been holding daily prayers for Aquino in churches in Manila and throughout the country for a month. Masses were scheduled for later Saturday, and yellow ribbons were tied on trees around her neighborhood in Quezon city.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is on an official visit to the United States, said in a statement that “the entire nation is mourning” Aquino’s demise. Arroyo declared a period of national mourning and announced a state funeral would be held for the late president.

TV stations on Saturday were running footage of Aquino’s years together with prayers while her former aides and supporters offered condolences.

“Today our country has lost a mother,” said former President Joseph Estrada, calling Aquino “a woman of both strength and graciousness.”

Even the exiled Communist Party founder Jose Maria Sison, whom Aquino freed from jail in 1986, paid tribute from the Netherlands.

Aquino’s unlikely rise began in 1983 when her husband, opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., was assassinated on the tarmac of Manila’s international airport as he returned from exile in the United States to challenge Marcos, his longtime adversary.

The killing enraged many Filipinos and unleashed a broad-based opposition movement that thrust Aquino into the role of national leader.

“I don’t know anything about the presidency,” she declared in 1985, a year before she agreed to run against Marcos, uniting the fractious opposition, the business community, and later the armed forces to drive the dictator out.

Maria Corazon Cojuangco was born on Jan. 25, 1933, into a wealthy, politically powerful family in Paniqui, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Manila.

She attended private school in Manila and earned a degree in French from the College of Mount St. Vincent in New York. In 1954 she married Ninoy Aquino, the fiercely ambitious scion of another political family. He rose from provincial governor to senator and finally opposition leader.

Marcos, elected president in 1965, declared martial law in 1972 to avoid term limits. He abolished the Congress and jailed Aquino’s husband and thousands of opponents, journalists and activists without charges. Aquino became her husband’s political stand-in, confidant, message carrier and spokeswoman.

A military tribunal sentenced her husband to death for alleged links to communist rebels but, under pressure from U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Marcos allowed him to leave in May 1980 for heart surgery in the U.S.

It was the start of a three-year exile. With her husband at Harvard University holding court with fellow exiles, academics, journalists and visitors from Manila, Aquino was the quiet homemaker, raising their five children and serving tea. Away from the hurly-burly of Philippine politics, she described the period as the best of their marriage.

Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino, Corazon Aquino's husband, was the leader of the Filipino opposition to Ferdinand Marcos. He was shot dead in 1983 as he returned to the Philippines.

Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino, Corazon Aquino's husband, was the leader of the Filipino opposition to Ferdinand Marcos. He was shot dead in 1983 as he returned to the Philippines.

The halcyon days ended when her husband decided to return to regroup the opposition. While she and the children remained in Boston, he flew to Manila, where he was shot as he descended the stairs from the plane.

The government blamed a suspected communist rebel, but subsequent investigations pointed to a soldier who was escorting him from the plane on Aug. 21, 1983.

Aquino heard of the assassination in a phone call from a Japanese journalist. She recalled gathering the children and, as a deeply religious woman, praying for strength.

“During Ninoy’s incarceration and before my presidency, I used to ask why it had always to be us to make the sacrifice,” she said in a 2007 interview with The Philippine Star newspaper. “And then, when Ninoy died, I would say, ‘Why does it have to be me now?’ It seemed like we were always the sacrificial lamb.”

She returned to the Philippines three days later. One week after that, she led the largest funeral procession Manila had seen. Crowd estimates ranged as high as 2 million.

With public opposition mounting against Marcos, he stunned the nation in November 1985 by calling a snap election in a bid to shore up his mandate. The opposition, including then Manila Archbishop Cardinal Jaime L. Sin, urged Aquino to run.

After a fierce campaign, the vote was held on Feb. 7, 1986. The National Assembly declared Marcos the winner, but journalists, foreign observers and church leaders alleged massive fraud.

Ferdinand Marcos was elected president of the Philippines in 1965. In 1972 he imposed martial law and seized dictatorial powers. A massive four-day protest known as the People Power Movement forced him from office in 1986 and restored democracy in the Philippines.

Ferdinand Marcos was elected president of the Philippines in 1965. In 1972 he imposed martial law and seized dictatorial powers. A massive four-day protest known as the People Power Movement forced him from office in 1986 and restored democracy in the Philippines.

With the result in dispute, a group of military officers mutinied against Marcos on Feb. 22 and holed up with a small force in a military camp in Manila.

Over the following three days, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos responded to a call by the Roman Catholic Church to jam the broad highway in front of the camp to prevent an attack by Marcos forces.

On the third day, against the advice of her security detail, Aquino appeared at the rally alongside the mutineers, led by Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos, the military vice chief of staff and Marcos’ cousin.

From a makeshift platform, she declared: “For the first time in the history of the world, a civilian population has been called to defend the military.”

The military chiefs pledged their loyalty to Aquino and charged that Marcos had won the election by fraud.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan, a longtime supporter of Marcos, called on him to resign. “Attempts to prolong the life of the present regime by violence are futile,” the White House said. American officials offered to fly Marcos out of the Philippines.

On Feb. 25, Marcos and his family went to the U.S.-run Clark Air Base outside Manila and flew to Hawaii, where he died three years later.

The same day, Aquino was sworn in as the Philippines’ first female leader.

President Ronald Reagan and Philippine President Corazon Aquino meet on September 17, 1986 in the Oval office of the White House in Washington.

President Ronald Reagan and Philippine President Corazon Aquino meet on September 17, 1986 in the Oval office of the White House in Washington.

Over time, the euphoria fizzled as the public became impatient and Aquino more defensive as she struggled to navigate treacherous political waters and build alliances to push her agenda.

“People used to compare me to the ideal president, but he doesn’t exist and never existed. He has never lived,” she said in the 2007 Philippine Star interview.

The right attacked her for making overtures to communist rebels and the left, for protecting the interests of wealthy landowners.

Aquino signed an agrarian reform bill that virtually exempted large plantations like her family’s sugar plantation from being distributed to landless farmers.

When farmers protested outside the Malacanang Presidential Palace on Jan. 22, 1987, troops opened fire, killing 13 and wounding 100.

The bloodshed scuttled talks with communist rebels, who had galvanized opposition to Marcos but weren’t satisfied with Aquino either.

As recently as 2004, at least seven workers were killed in clashes with police and soldiers at the family’s plantation, Hacienda Luisita, over its refusal to distribute its land.

Aquino also attempted to negotiate with Muslim separatists in the southern Philippines, but made little progress.

Behind the public image of the frail, vulnerable widow, Aquino was an iron-willed woman who dismissed criticism as the carping of jealous rivals. She knew she had to act tough to earn respect in the Philippines’ macho culture.

“When I am just with a few close friends, I tell them, ‘OK, you don’t like me? Look at the alternatives,’ and that shuts them up,” she told America’s NBC television in a 1987 interview.

Her term was punctuated by repeated coup attempts — most staged by the same clique of officers who had risen up against Marcos and felt they had been denied their fair share of power. The most serious attempt came in December 1989 when only a flyover by U.S. jets prevented mutinous troops from toppling her.

Leery of damaging relations with the United States, Aquino tried in vain to block a historic Senate vote to force the U.S. out of its two major bases in the Philippines.

In the end, the U.S. Air Force pulled out of Clark Air Base in 1991 after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo forced its evacuation and left it heavily damaged. The last American vessel left Subic Bay Naval Base in November 1992.

former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos debuts her new line of accessories, 2006

former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos debuts her new line of accessories, 2006

After stepping down in 1992, Aquino remained active in social and political causes.Until diagnosed with colon cancer in March 2008, she joined rallies calling for the resignation of President Arroyo  over allegations of vote-rigging and corruption.

She kept her distance from another famous widow, flamboyant former first lady Imelda Marcos, who was allowed to return to the Philippines in 1991.

Marcos has called Aquino a usurper and dictator, though she later led prayers for Aquino in July 2009 when the latter was hospitalized. The two never made peace.

 

For more on Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos on this blog:

Look under “Categories” in column at right.

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Imelda Marcos being Imeldific, June 20, 2009, Manila.

Imelda Marcos being Imeldific, June 20, 2009, Manila.

“Filipinos are brainwashed to be beautiful. We’re allergic to ugliness,”

said Imelda Marcos as as she greeted reporters this weekend in her swank two-story Manila penthouse. Approaching her 80th birthday on July 2, she complained about her lot in life, saying she is penniless and struggling to still look presentable. Her claim is hardly believable, since she and her husband, the late President of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos, stashed away billions during his dictatorship. Meanwhile, a 22-carat diamond engagement ring still adorns the former beauty queen’s finger.

“Despite some 900 civil and criminal cases she had faced in Philippine courts since 1991 _ cases ranging from embezzlement and corruption to tax evasion _ she has emerged relatively unscathed and never served prison time. All but a handful of the cases have been dismissed for lack of evidence and a few convictions were overturned on appeal….

Imelda Marcos penniless yet jeweled

Imelda Marcos penniless yet jeweled

Imelda, her hair coifed and cheeks rouged, teared up as she complained she had to withdraw money from her husband’s meager war pension to post bail so she could travel to Singapore earlier this month for an eye checkup paid for by her children.“I was first lady for only 20 years. All the beautiful things I gave to the Philippines, am I being persecuted for that? I didn’t know you can inherit a crime from your husband.”

Her husband and his cronies allegedly amassed ill-gotten wealth estimated at $5 billion to $10 billion during Marcos’ 20 years in power, but the Presidential Commission on Good Government, created to recover the Marcos billions, says the government has only found cash and assets totaling $1.63 billion.

The assets include three separate sets of diamond tiaras, ruby brooches, emerald necklaces and other jewels.

She remains unashamed of her past, when she shopped in the world’s richest boutiques and launched lavish beautification projects at home in the midst of the Philippines’ extreme poverty.”

*Imeldific is a word coined after former First Lady Imelda Marcos. It means “ostentatious extravagance” as in this example:

She had a shoe collection that met Imeldific standards.

I’ve written more posts on the Marcoses:

“Ferdinand Marcos’ Restless Corpse”

“Imelda Marcos Almost Gets the Beatles Killed”

“Imelda Marcos: 2000 Shoes”

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Before they took off on their World Tour in June of 1966, the Beatles had put the finishing touches on their new album, “Revolver.” Click below to hear the song that would prove prescient of the “Fab Four’s” horrible experience in Manila – “Taxman.”

 

Monday, July 4, 1966
Manila, the Philippines, the second stop for the Beatles on their 1966 World Tour
The Manila Hotel

The Beatles: (l. to r.) George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon. ca. 1966

The Beatles: (l. to r.) George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon. ca. 1966

Manila, The Philippines:

Early in the morning, Tony Barrow, the Beatles’ publicist, and Vic Lewis, their booking agent, were awakened by sharp raps on the door of their suite. Two grim-looking men in military uniforms saluted and introduced themselves as the official reception committee from Malacañang Palace, the residence of President Ferdinand and First Lady Imelda Marcos.* They’d come to make final arrangements for the Beatles’ visit to the Palace for a luncheon hosted by the First Lady. (1)

Dictator Ferdinand Marcos with wife Imelda at his 1965 inauguration in the Philippines.

Neither Barrow nor Lewis knew what they were talking about. No one had told them that the Beatles were expected to make a presidential visit. The Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr – were sleeping, they explained, and couldn’t be disturbed. The band had just flown in from an exhausting concert in Tokyo. The “Fab Four” needed their rest, as they were schedule to give both afternoon and evening concerts in Manila that very day. Barrow and Lewis promised to pass along the request to Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager.

“This is not a request,” insisted the two men, one, a general, and the other, a commander, in the Philippine Army.

First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos was a former beauty queen. Here she models a traditional gown. She regarded herself as a goddess and was used to having her way. 1963

Fashion icon Imelda Marcos descends from a flight with her son Bong Bong. Undated photo

That afternoon, the Beatles performed their hits songs to an audience of 35,000. Afterwards, Tony Barrow and others in the Beatle’s entourage filed into Brian Epstein‘s suite to watch coverage of the concert on the evening news. They were pleased to discover that every channel featured scenes of screaming, swooning fans caught up in Beatlemania. However, Channel 5, one of the country’s major networks, ran additional footage not seen on the other channels. The scene showed the First Lady at the Palace with her disappointed luncheon guests, 200 children. The voice-over said, “The children began to arrive at ten. They waited until two….The place cards for the Beatles at the lunch table were removed.” Imelda Marcos was very mad as she and her guests filed into the grand dining room without their guests of honor. The spin was that the Beatles had deliberately snubbed the President and Mrs. Marcos by not showing up.

Brian Epstein went into full damage control mode. He issued a hastily written apology to the First Couple and called an interview with Channel 5 in his hotel suite, in which he professed complete ignorance of the invitation and praised the Marcoses. An hour later, the interview was broadcast but Brian’s appearance was blacked-out by static interference. That’s when everyone started to get nervous.

ticket stubs to the Beatles July 4, 1966 concerts in Manila

ticket stubs to the Beatles July 4, 1966 concerts in Manila

Worry soon turned to panic. After their evening show, the Beatles noticed that their police escort had disappeared. When their car pulled up to the Manila Hotel, the gates were locked against them. While they sat their in the idling car, wondering how they were going to get up to their suite, several dozen “organized troublemakers” attacked their car, banging on the windows, rocking it back and forth, and shouting threats in several languages. Vic Lewis shouted at the driver: “Drive on! Go through the people and smash the gates down!” The driver obeyed. At the entrance, everyone in the Beatles’ entourage ran into the hotel with the angry mob snapping at their heels.

Shortly, an official appeared at Vic Lewis’ suite demanding payment of local taxes. Lewis produced a contract stating that someone else – the promoter – had that responsibility, not the Beatles. This was brushed aside. Until all taxes were paid, said the taxman, no one in the Beatles party was being allowed to leave the country. When the man left, Lewis found Barrow. “We’ve got to get out of here – now.” He called the bell hop for help with the luggage.

The manager told Lewis that no one would be coming to help. “The whole hotel is going on strike. They think you’ve insulted President Marcos.” Bomb and death threats were telephoned to the deluged British Embassy and to the four Beatles’ hotel suite.

The next morning, Paul had seen the newspaper headlines blaring BEATLES SNUB PRESIDENT. The Beatles had known nothing of the invitation. “Oh, dear,” he thought. “We’ll just say we’re sorry.” About then “things started to get really weird,” recalled Ringo. He and John were hanging out in their bathrobes when a roadie popped his head in their room and shouted, “Come on! Get out of bed! Get packed – we’re getting out of here.”

Everyone in the entourage grabbed amplifiers and suitcases and made for the main elevators, but they were turned off. They had to take the service lift down. The halls were dark and lined with staff who shouted at them in Spanish and English. It was very frightening. When they got downstairs to check out, the front desk was deserted. Even their cars were gone. Someone managed to get a Town Car and everyone squeezed in and made for the airport.

But the airport route was sabotaged. Soldiers were stationed at intersections and roads were closed. Finally, they found a back road that led to the airport. The airport was deserted. “The atmosphere was scary,” remembered Tony Barrow, “as if a bomb was due to go off.” Once the Beatles got on the escalator, the power was shut off. As the Beatles moved through the terminal, little bands of demonstrators appeared, grabbing at them and trying to hit them.

Mobs rough up the Beatles at the Manila airport. John Lennon is at upper corner, right. July 6, 1966

They checked in for their flight as quickly as possible then were herded into a lounge “where an abusive crowd and police with guns had also gathered.” The cops began to shove the Beatles back and forth. It was impossible to tell the thugs from the military police. According to Ringo, “they started spitting at us, spitting on us.” The Beatles hid among a group of nuns and monks huddled by an alcove. Other members of their entourage, though, were kicked and beaten.

Finally, everyone was allowed to run across the tarmac to the plane. Vic Lewis felt sure he’d get a bullet in the back. The Beatles were terrified they’d be killed before they entered the safety of the airplane. Paul said, “When we got on the plane, we were all kissing the seats. It was feeling as if we’d found sanctuary. We had definitely been in a foreign country where all the rules had changed and they carried guns. So we weren’t too gung-ho about it at all.” Ringo remembered being afraid of going to jail. Ferdinand Marcos was a dictator (who, in a few years, would declare martial law in the Philippines.)

Everyone was poised for the plane to take off when the authorities came back on board and detained Tony Barrow for thiry minutes. For the plane to be allowed to take off with the Beatles on it, Tony was forced to pay a “leaving Manila tax” that amounted to the full amount of money the Beatles had made in their concerts before 80,000 fans.

Once the plane lifted off and everyone was safely in the air, all the anger of the past 24 hours boiled over. The Beatles blamed Brian for the debacle. He’d obviously received the invitation in Japan, ignoring it or misleading the Philippine authorities.

Beatlemania. October 1965, London, England, UK.  Policemen struggle to restrain young Beatles fans outside Buckingham Palace as The Beatles receive their MBEs (Member of the British Empire) in 1965.

Beatlemania. October 1965, London, England, UK. Policemen struggle to restrain young Beatles fans outside Buckingham Palace as The Beatles receive their MBEs (Member of the British Empire) in 1965.

By the time the Beatles had landed in India, they had made a command decision. This would be their last tour. They were never going to go on another tour again. Never again, swore John, was he going to risk his life for a stadium filled with screaming 13-year-old girls.

Brian said, “Sorry, lads, we have got something fixed up for Shea Stadium. If we cancel it you are going to lose a million dollars.” So they played New York’s Shea Stadium later that summer. It was the first stop on their U.S. tour, their final tour as the Beatles.

shea-stadium-ticket

Click here to read: “Imelda Marcos Almost Gets the Beatles Killed Part 2”

(1) Spitz, Bob. The Beatles: The Biography. (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005)

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