When Cory divided LP

Aries C. Rufo

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Cory Aquino sobbed, tearfully admitting that the question remained unanswered for her, too, at that point

MANILA, Philippines – In observance of the 27th anniversary of the 1986 EDSA people power revolution, we recall the events that led a widow to carry the torch for the opposition against the Marcos regime.

Based on his recently launched autobiography, “Light from My Father’s Shadow,” former Manila mayor Joselito Atienza reveals that when Marcos announced the snap elections in 1985, the Liberal Party (now the ruling party) was divided between fielding veteran party leader Sen Jovito Salonga and Corazon Aquino. The other opposition groups pushed for Salvador “Doy” Laurel.

Atienza recalls the different opposition groups that were formed under the National Unification Committee (NUC), which was tasked to come up with a common candidate versus Marcos. Along with former Sen John Osmeña, Atienza represented the LP in the NUC. He also reveals the role that former president Diosdado Macapagal played in these meetings.

Atienza allowed us to run the following excerpts from his book:

There was no early consensus as to who should run as standard bearer. It seemed that Doy Laurel was it: he was the active opposition leader, he led us in the Batasang Pambansa election, he had organized the UNIDO. Within the LP ranks, veteran party leader Jovy Salonga was the choice for many. But there were those like me who, early enough, felt that it was Ninoy’s widow Cory who should run. In our view, neither Jovy nor Doy would have enough cache to pull through a victory under the circumstances…

Our group of 30 Liberals would hold meetings in the house of former president Diosdado Macapagal, occasionally joined by LP diehards such as John Osmeña, Sally Perez, Evelio Javier, along with the ‘old guards’ such as Salonga, Maning Concordia, Ramon Diaz and Magdaleno Palacol. It was in one such meeting that the grand old man himself posed the crucial question: “since snap elections are being called, are we putting up our own candidate?”

Since I was an incumbent MP, he asked me first for a reaction. I stressed the expectations of the people, and the requirements to beat President Marcos: to stay united and bring together the different factions…

Being a former senator, John had the floor next. He expressed the same sentiments, although in a more belligerent forceful way. The grand old man then turned to Evelio, probably to balance the opinions stated so far on the table. Evelio delivered exactly the same message: “We cannot put up our own candidate without attracting suspicion..”

Then the old guards all spoke up, by turns, extolling the qualities of Senator Salonga. First off was Maning Concordia, with his clear Laguna accent, Ramon Diaz, in fluent English with a mellow Ateneo accent, spoke about Senator Salonga’s presidentiable qualities. In eloquent Tagalog, Magdaleno Palacol pointed out the advantages of putting up a separate LP candidate.

There was a stalemate as there was a clear delineation of opinion between the younger members and the older ones, the young LPs and the old LPs. But all of us had the same wishful thinking: if Ninoy had not been killed, he could easily, hands down, be our standard bearer, and all the other factions would have easily been carried. So I, Evelio, Sally, Raul del Mar and Bren Guiao, among others, eventually came to the fateful decision to openly push for Cory as the united opposition candidate.

Among the opposition MP ranks, I was in the minority as well, as the 40-plus were for Doy, and only 15 of us were for Cory. The NUC eventually broke up as no consensus could be reached.

Sometime in September 1985, our group of LP Young Turks—Ramon Mitra, John, Evelio, Sally, Bren, Bel Cunanan and I—had a meeting at the Hotel Intercontinental. Bren, being good friend of Ninoy, had the best access to Cory. Right then and there, Bren called her up. She agreed to meet us. Basically, we wanted to ask her to make a categorical declaration of her intentions, because our people in the field were getting confused by the day-to-day changes in the opposition announcements.

“Our people in the field need time to prepare well for battle,” we told her. “They cannot draw up their strategies, they cannot raise funds, they cannot recruit more warm bodies, if the opposition plans seem so tentative and project a certain weakening.” Up to that point, we have no rallying point of a candidate.

Then we confronted her: “Are you not running?”

We wanted to know her personal plans—and we wanted to get her to commit. There was a long pause. Then it happened. The one hitherto unconceived of moment: the widow of Ninoy, whose grimly determined face, sans tears, had been photographed around the world as she stood beside his casket, wept.

“You do not know the burden..You have no idea…” she began. This was my recollection, and Sally and John had similar ones.

She sobbed, tearfully admitting that the question remained unanswered for her, too, at that point. She also expressed the difficulty of accepting the destiny of facing up to a man like President Marcos, whom she thought had a hand in having Ninoy killed, and whom she might now have to joust with in the political arena.

Cory then went on to recall her long exchange with her spiritual adviser, her father confessor, who she said made it clear that under the circumstances, “the one who suffered the most, the clearest victim of injustice, should stand up against him (Marcos) in the electoral arena.” She shook her head, recalling this to us, then recovered. She said, rather calmly at that point, that she would make her decision if she got one million signatures urging her to run. We all agreed to that, and soon after, the Manila Times’ irrepressible publisher Joaquin “Chino” Roces would be the point man of a historic signature campaign. The rest of us threw whatever political clout we could each muster into that signature campaign: John and Raul got so many signatures in Cebu, Sally and Evelio worked in Antique, and elsewhere in the Visayas; I busied myself in the NCR and so on.

The subsequent selection of Corazon Cojuangco Aquino—the bright but soft-spoken, self-effacing widow of Ninoy—as THE candidate against the brilliant, powerful Ferdinand Marcos will go down in our political history as one of the highlights of the long struggle to restore democracy. – Rappler.com

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