Return to Democracy 1986 - 1998

President Corazon Aquino inherited a country that was bankrupt and impoverished and, after twenty years of dictatorship, its public institutions had been subverted and corrupted. She took power in a jubilant mood of wild enthusiasm and tremendous expectations for the future. Even amongst her allies who had joined with her to defeat Marcos, many had doubts whether the simple housewife had the political acumen for the enormous task of national reconstruction her administration faced.

Aquino immediately restored the basic civil liberties of free speech, freedom of assembly and a free press. She released 500 political prisoners. She dismissed most of the incumbent provincial governors and city mayors loyal to Marcos and replaced them with her own appointments. Similarly in the armed forces, she retired most of the general staff.

A new constitution was ratified by referendum in February 1987. The new constitution replaced the National Assembly with a bicameral legislature and limited the president to a single, six year term in office.

Aquino entered into negotiations with the communist NPA and Muslim MNLF that greatly eased the threat of the insurgencies.

Still, at least for her critics, Aquino showed an unwillingness to address the underlying economic and social problems that divided Philippine society. Members of the Reformed the Armed Forces Movement led six coup attempts against the Aquino government between 1987 and 1989. These were the same people who had risked their lives to put Aquino if office and who were now in revolt against her over the compromises with the insurgencies and the slow pace of promised social reforms.

Whatever her shortcomings, Corazon Aquino deserves full credit for restoring democratic process to the Philippines. On May 11, 1992 she presided over a fair, open and mainly peaceful election that resulted in the lawful and orderly transfer of the presidency to her Secretary of Defense, Fidel Ramos on June 30, 1992.

If Fidel Ramos stands for anything at all, it is integrity. He was one of the original founders of the Reformed the Armed Forces Movement that had resisted the political subversion of the armed forces under Marcos and who, with Enrile, led the military revolt against the dictator. It is doubtful whether the Aquino government could have survived the attempted coups without Ramos as Secretary of Defence; resolved, as he was, to a non-political, professional armed forces even against his former friends and colleagues in the military.

President Aquino worked to restore constitutional stability in the Philippines. In his term, President Ramos worked to establish economic stability. He set out to improve the nation's long neglected energy, communications and transportation infrastructure and to introduce the economic and financial reforms needed for a competitive industrial economy.

As he approached the end of his term, Ramos was complimented on his solid and competent performance as President by the encouragement from several quarters, including Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada, that he should seek to amend the 1987 constitution to allow himself a second term. True to character, after lengthy consideration, Ramos decided it was still too soon to open the constitution for amendment.

On May 11, 1998, the former movie star Joseph Estrada won the second democratic presidential election since the EDSA revolution. In the election of President Estrada to succeed President Ramos on June 30, the Philippines passed another important test of its democratic institutions.

Estrada was the popular choice for President and not the preferred candidate of the outgoing President or of the political establishment. Genuine commitment to democratic government demands the unconditional acceptance of the lawful, constitutional process - regardless of its outcome.

As Filipinos everywhere this year celebrate General Emilio Aguinaldo's declaration of national independence 100 years ago, the institutions of democracy in the Philippines do indeed seem secure at last.