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Tuesday 14 July 2015

1991: Philippines

1991: The last 2nd year of Cory Aquino in office

  1. 1991: Philippines

    1.      The year 1991 in the Philippines, like the preceding year, was fraught with natural disasters and economic crises. A series of eruptions of Mount Pinatubo in central Luzon in June and the massive mudslides and flooding that followed, which left hundreds of people dead and tens of thousands without shelter, was followed five months later by an even more calamitous event, tropical storm Thelma. Earlier in the year, the Persian Gulf War dealt a series of blows to the Philippines' already weakened economy, causing an oil price hike ordinary Filipinos could ill afford and the costly evacuation of thousands of Filipino contract workers from Kuwait. Reports of Filipino women workers being raped by Iraqi soldiers were also prominent in the Manila press.
                Other top stories included the return of Imelda Marcos to Manila on November 4 after almost six years of exile in Hawaii, the defeat of the treaty extending the U.S. lease on Subic Bay Naval Station, and the excitement surrounding preparations for the 1992 presidential elections.

    Aquino's Farewell Speech.

    2.      On July 22 an emotional President Corazon Aquino made what turned out to be a valedictory address to the country she had governed with little success since becoming president in February 1986, when a 'people power' revolution toppled the 20-year regime of Ferdinand Marcos. In her speech, which was meant to be a state-of-the-nation address before Congress, Aquino promised to conduct a peaceful and orderly succession after the May 11, 1992, presidential elections. Although Aquino repeated (by some counts for the 85th time) that she would not seek a second term, there was speculation that she might run again in order to unify the ruling party, the LDP (Strength of Democratic Philippines), and to blunt a possibly revitalized opposition. Some political observers said that a presidential run by Imelda Marcos would force Aquino's hand.
                In her speech Aquino cited democracy as her major 'steadfast and unalloyed' achievement. The transfer of power in 1992, she predicted, would be a solemn moment signifying the 'glory of democracy.' She expressed her hope that history would judge her favorably, because, 'as God is my witness, I honestly did the best I could.'
                But although her place in history as a symbol of moral outrage and 'people power' was secure, Aquino had been largely unsuccessful in instituting meaningful reform and change. Her lack of political savvy and executive experience hampered her ability to govern a long-troubled country of 66 million people, 60 percent of whom live in poverty. Per capita income grew at an annual rate of 2.4 percent between 1987 and 1990, compared to Indonesia's 9 percent and Thailand's 4 percent, giving credence to the Philippines' reputation as the 'basket case' of Asia. The economy was projected to grow at only .2 percent in 1991, and inflation and unemployment stood at almost 20 percent.

    Philippine-American Relations.

    3.      An era came to an end in the fall of 1991 when American troops turned Clark Air Base over to the Philippine government and the Philippine Senate voted against retaining the U.S. naval base at Subic Bay. Over the years there had been growing sentiment against the continuing presence of the U.S. military bases on Philippine territory. With the lease of the bases due to expire in September 1991, Aquino entrusted the task of drawing up a new lease to a panel headed by Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus, which spent more than a year negotiating with a U.S. delegation led by Richard Armitage. All along, Aquino indicated her intent to keep her options open — a stance that many insiders saw as typical of her indecisive leadership. Discussions about the future of Clark Field — occupied by the United States since 1901 — became moot after the facility was rendered unusable by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. (Evacuation of the 11,000-acre base was completed in late November.) In September the Philippine Senate, saying the Subic Bay base constituted a continuing infringement of Philippine sovereignty, defeated the proposed treaty to extend the U.S. lease for another ten years. The vote, in effect, terminated the Military Bases Agreement that was signed in 1947 by the United States and the Philippines. Aquino, noting that a shutdown of the base would remove millions of dollars each year from the Philippines economy and leave thousands of Filipinos unemployed, called for a national referendum to circumvent the Senate rejection of the treaty. Aquino backed off from her referendum stance when she saw that there was no great support for it nationwide. Even some of her cabinet members were opposed to the idea and threatened to resign if Aquino conducted a referendum. In October the Philippine Senate agreed to a three-year phase-out period for the naval base, but after negotiations between the two governments reached an impasse, the United States was told it must leave Subic Bay by the end of 1992.

    The 1992 Elections.

    4.      The return of Imelda Marcos and her son Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., added to the election fever that gripped the Philippine political scene in 1991. Mrs. Marcos's arrival in Manila to face charges of tax evasion and graft, as well as more than 30 civil suits, was allowed by the Philippine government in the hope of recovering some of the millions of dollars believed to have been secreted in Swiss bank accounts by the Marcos family. (A Swiss court said that the money at issue — some $356 million — could only be returned if Mrs. Marcos was charged and convicted.) Meanwhile, Mrs. Marcos continued to spar with the Philippine government about the burial of Ferdinand Marcos, who died in Hawaii in 1989 and whose body lay unburied in Honolulu. Mrs. Marcos wanted her husband interred in a heroes cemetery in Manila; Aquino said that the body could be interred only in Laoag, Marcos's home town.
                Speculation continued about whether Imelda Marcos would run for the presidency herself or support Vice President Salvador Laurel, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who helped lead the military revolt against Marcos in 1986, or Marcos crony Eduardo Cojuangco, a cousin to President Aquino. Late in the year Marcos indicated she might run as she accepted the endorsement of her late husband's party, the New Society Movement, as its presidential candidate.
                The ruling LDP selected Speaker of the House of Representatives Ramon Mitra as its presidential candidate on November 30. Mitra edged out former Chief of Staff and National Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos, who Aquino had been quietly supporting. Senate President Jovito Salonga was the front-runner for the nomination of the Liberal Party. An experienced political leader and three-term senator, Salonga led the Senate campaign to defeat the Subic extension treaty. Salonga lost his senate presidency in a preelection political shakeup in December but was still expected to run. Other major candidates included Senator Joseph Estrada, a popular movie actor who bolted the Liberal Party and formed his own Filipino Masses Party, and Miriam Defensor Santiago, formerly secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform and commissioner of immigration.
                Because the Philippine constitution does not call for run-off elections, some Filipinos feared that the election would be a violent and turbulent affair in which a candidate might win with as little as 20 percent of the vote. Hope was expressed that some of the 18,000 nongovernmental organizations and people's organizations — small groups that promote self-reliance and economic development throughout the Philippines — would work actively to ensure a peaceful election by discouraging local landlords and politicians from employing bribery, acts of terrorism, and other forms of fraud to frustrate the people's will. In addition, the Commission on Elections was planning to conduct a special program to educate voters on the issues and explain how to keep vote buying, intimidation, and other irregularities to a minimum.

    Natural Disasters.

    5.      Mount Pinatubo, a 4,800-foot peak that had lain dormant for more than six centuries, erupted in mid-June, spewing volcanic ash over cities and villages in central Luzon. Hundreds of people died and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee as homes collapsed under the weight of the ash, mudslides carried off buildings, water supplies were contaminated, and power lines fell. The ashfall was expected to continue for several months, hampering efforts to clean up affected areas and refurbish croplands.
                The memory of Mount Pinatubo was still fresh when the islands of Letye, Samar, and Negros were devastated by the tropical storm Thelma, which left an estimated 7,000 dead in a fury of floods and mudslides in early November. The disastrous floods were said to be the result of deforestation caused by illegal logging.

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