Subject: Cory like Gandhi, Mandela, says Ramos-Horta

Cory like Gandhi, Mandela, says Ramos-Horta | 08/05/2009 6:05 PM

MANILA - East Timor President and Nobel prize winner José Ramos Horta paid his last respects to former President Corazon "Cory" Aquino on Wednesday.

"I couldn't fail to come here today to the Philippines. I was always, always inspired by her courage in the 1980s, in shouldering the legacy of [her husband] Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. And then she led the presidency with humility, compassion, with dignity," Horta said in an interview aired on ANC.

He briefly visited Aquino's remains at the Manila Cathedral on Wednesday morning, then left the church early for the Manila Memorial Park, where Aquino's body is set to be buried.

Horta was the only head of state to attend Aquino's funeral. He arrived in the Philippines on Wednesday morning and is set to leave the country the next day.

Asked what he thought of Mrs. Aquino, Horta likened the former president to Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement, and Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist and the first President of South Africa to be elected in a fully democratic election.

"For me, there is no greater quality in a leader than being compassionate and being humble. Because only through compassion and humility, one can bridge the divide, resolve differences, build bridges of dialogue between communites, between warring factions. So I put Cory Aquino in the same status as some of the greatest people of the 20th Century," he said.

Horta was also impressed by the sheer number of people who braved the heat and pouring rain to attend Aquino's wake and the funeral procession that followed. According to police estimates, as of 3:30 p.m., there were around 256,000 people attending the funeral procession.

He also said that Aquino's death should serve as a reminder for all Filipinos to abandon violence and unite in peace.

"I believe that a Filipino will remember the outpouring of love for Cory Aquino today and remember her legacy, her sacrifice, [and the] sacrifice of her husband. Maybe, through this, Filipinos must make renewed efforts to resolving the conflict in Mindanao and elsewehere," he said.

Horta said he could not stay long at the Church or join in the almost 6-hour funeral procession because of wounds he sustained in an assassination attempt against him in February 2008.

'She was a greater leader'

Horta said the last time he met with Mrs. Aquino was in August 2008, when he paid a state visit to the Philippines. Knowing that Aquino was already diagnosed with colon cancer at the time, Horta said he wanted to visit Aquino at her home instead of having her come to visit his hotel.

"I wanted to visit her at her home. I feel that it was appropriate that she should come to my hotel because I am a smaller person and I view her as a matriarch, as a greater leader. But she's so humble and modest, she insisted that she come to my hotel. The last time we talked, we reminisced about the Philippine revolution, about Ninoy Aquino's legacy," he said.

During their meeting, he said Aquino looked frail, but was able to walk. She was also "lucid and attentive" and showed concern for Horta's health.

"This showed her very loving, caring personality. She cared more about others than herself. And it shows when she declined my offer to come to her place. She insisted on coming to see me. I was humbled by that," he said.

Horta and Aquino shared similar experiences in their political careers.

While Aquino campaigned against the dictatorship of former President Ferdinand Marcos and fought to restore democracy in the country, Horta actively fought for East Timor's independence from Indonesian occupation both as an exiled spokesman of the East Timorese resistance and as Prime Minister.

Both leaders also had to ease conflicts between warring factions during their terms as heads of government. Aquino's presidency witnessed 7 bloody coup attempts by restive military forces, while Horta survived an assassination attempt by East Timorese rebels a year after he became president in May 2007.

"God seemed to have wanted to test me, wanting to impose on me a heavy cross as a price to bring peace to my country. The moment I was shot and I was near death, all violence stopped in my country until today. All the rebels, one by one, surrendered peacefully. The gangs that were fighting each other stopped," Horta said.

"People can learn from extreme examples... I hope that these experience of the Philippines [of the] passing away of Cory Aquino - the many years of her struggles against so many attempts of coups, showing her courage and her dignity - that will leave Filipinos to make a greater unite," he added. -- by Kristine Servando,

as of 08/05/2009 6:05 PM


From Damien Kingsbury

It is generally considered poor form to speak ill of the dead, and more commonly those who have passed on are eulogised. Such is the case with Corazon Aquino, reflecting President ramos-Horta's tendency to be occasionally over-generous. She was not a bad person as such, but she was a very long way from being anything like a Gandhi or Mandela. A quick recap will help clarify here.

Prior to Ferdinand Marcos establishing a dictatorship in the Philippines, Cory Aquino's husbnad, Benigno, was of the same political ilk as Marcos. All three came from large, wealthy, landed families that had ruled Philippine politics since independence (and which had dominated it before then), although Marcos' family was less wealthy than the other two and in some senses was seen by them as parvenu. 'Democracy' in the Philippines meant widespread corruption, vite-rigging, vote-buying, murder of opponents and especially workers' activists, and the handing of political office from one family member to another - in the Philippines politics is a family business.

Ninoy Aquino was only marginally a democrat, but he was a competitor to Marcos. He was therefore jailed, and when given the opportunity fled to the US, where he was cultivated as an alternative to Marcos' growing and unsustainable excesses. .

Marcos' kleptocracy was his undoing, with not just the Philippines people but especially its elite turning against him. Aquino returned and was promptly murdered. Cory Auino was reluctantly drafted as his successor, in the style of Philippines poliotics as a family business, as a symbolic candidate around whom the various anti-marcos factions coudl coalesce. The subsequent election was, of course, rigged, when eventually led to the 'people Power' revolution.

The so-called 'People Power' revolution that toppled Marcos was a consequence of a coalescing of all segments of Philippines society against Marcos, but in particular its elites. The 'people' were just its most public face. It was only when the military worked out which way the wind was blowing that it switched sides, allowing the 'revolution' to succeed. Thus it was very much less a 'People Power' revolution, as romanticised by the international media, and very much more an elite-inspired and army-led restoration of the antebellum status quo.

What did Cory coming to power achieve? Philippines pooitcs was not so much 'democratised' as returned to 'business as usual'. Trade union and peasant leaders continued to be murderd, corruption continued if in a less singular and more diversified manner, the land reform program that was intended to address long-standing peasant grievances never got off the ground, and not much else changed. Cory Aquinio presided over this as a reluctant and ineffective 'leader'.

It is true that Corazon Aquino came to symbolise change away from the hated Marcos dictatorship. It is also true that she symbolised a return to Philippines political status quo. Cory Aquino was not a reformer, not a democrat in any meaningful sense and was not a good, much less strong, leader. She was the daughter of a very wealthy ruling family who married the ambitious son of another very wealthy ruling family, who opposed the personalisation of power of a third child of a somewhat less wealthy ruling family.

It did take some courage for Corazon Aquino to allow herself to be drafted as a presidential candidate against Marcos. But it was hardly the type of inspired leadership of the type offered by Gandhi or Mandela, or even Ramos-Horta himself.

Associate Professor Damien Kingsbury A/Director, Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights School of International and Political Studies Deakin University, Melbourne CRICOS Provider Code 00113B +61(0)439638834

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