A tribute to Mrs. Corazon Aquino, President of the Philippines (1986-92)
In many conversations with Filipinos younger than 40 years old, I realized that most of them only have a vague idea of the turbulent 1970s and 1980s in the Philippines. And the death of Mrs. Cory Aquino accentuated that little knowledge of Philippine history.
One of the curiosities surrounding the Aquinos is why the yellow ribbon?
When then President Ferdinand Marcos installed himself as the military dictator in 1972, he jailed opposition leader Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino. The charismatic senator was given the death sentence, but was later allowed to go in exile to the United States to undergo coronary bypass surgery. For three years, he lived in the Boston area where he taught International Law at Harvard University, wrote, and lectured all over the country.
In 1983, sensing the deteriorating political situation in the Philippines coupled with Marcos’ ill health, Aquino decided to return to the Philippines to help the country transition back into democracy. But his return turned into a bloody welcome. On August 21, after he landed at the Manila International Airport (later renamed Ninoy Aquino International Airport), he was shot to death while being escorted down from the plane by military personnel. To this day, the mastermind of his murder has never been determined.
His murder sparked massive nationwide outrage and street protests. During the next 2-1/2 years, Aquino’s widow, Mrs. Corazon Aquino, united the opposition against the Marcos dictatorship to eventually topple the powerful dictator in February 1986. Mrs. Aquino served as transition president of the Philippines from 1986-92.
Mrs. Aquino used the yellow motif as the symbol of the democratic aspirations of her husband, whose return from exile to his beloved country echoed the opening verse and refrain of the 1973 hit by Tony Orlando and Dawn, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”:
I’m comin’ home, I’ve done my time,
Now I’ve got to know what is and isn’t mine.
If you received my letter tellin’ you I’d soon be free,
Then you’ll know just what to do if you still want me.
Refrain: Tie a yellow ribbon ’round the old oak tree,
It’s been three long years,
Do you still want me?
Senator Aquino “did his time,” seven years in a Philippine prison and three years of exile (how prophetic for him!) in the United States, but when he came home, the Marcos regime answered his question, “Do you still want me?” with a “shot heard around the world.” Subsequently, the Philippines’ “People Power” revolution became a model for peaceful uprisings against the Communist dictatorships in the Soviet bloc of Eastern Europe in 1989.
But the Filipino people welcomed Ninoy Aquino and his wife Cory Aquino:
Now the whole darn bus is cheering
And I can’t believe I see
A hundred yellow ribbons ’round the old oak tree.
Not with “a hundred yellow ribbons ’round the old oak tree,” but with a deluge of yellow ribbons and confetti ’round the whole country.