Speech of President Corazon Aquino on achieving peace through peaceful means

Excellency Corazon C. Aquino
President of the Philippines
On achieving peace through peaceful means

[Delivered in Waseda, November 12, 1986]


President Aquino recalls the events which led to the February Revolution, and eventually, her presidency. She credits her late husband Ninoy for conceptualizing, embracing and promoting the philosophy of reconciliation and nonviolence that became the moving force of the relatively bloodless revolution. The real challenge now is to achieve peace by the ways of peace — for so much can be achieved in peace rather than in war.

I Japan, I understand, it is contrary to custom for women to take the leading role, especially in the realm of politics. For much of my life, in fact until three years ago, I had much in common with the Japanese woman and wife. I had chosen to marry a very dominant man; one who was to become the focus and center of my life, and the vortex of Philippine politics. Ninoy was the kind of man who had to be No. 1 not only in politics but in the home as well. And so my life around his. I was the dutiful wife, silent and supportive; the woman remembered by his friends as the one who served coffee, much as the Japanese woman serves tea. Some of these friends of his are now my ministers. They do not talk about the times when I served them coffee. But all in all I was happy in my role, for I loved him greatly.

Today I am No. 1. Not only at home but over our entire country. Ninoy would have been amazed, but also proud. For he would not fail to say that it is thanks to the many things I learned at his side. And it is true – up to a point.

Ninoy no longer influences the specific directions or decisions I must make as President of the Philippines. But I must say that the reason I am where I am today is because, as was usual between us, Ninoy took the lead and I followed.

It was Ninoy who conceptualized, embraced and promoted the philosophy of reconciliation and nonviolence that became the moving force of our bloodless February revolution. It was also Ninoy who was the first rallying point of People’s Power that propelled me to the Presidency, keeps me there, and determines the course our nation is taking today.

Most people believe that People Power was born after Ninoy’s death. It was really born in 1978, when he was still in prison.

In 1978, Marcos called for elections in another attempt to legitimize the naked power grab he made when he declared martial law in 1972. He wanted to prove that he and his friends had the mandate of the people. Everyone knew that the elections would be fraudulent, that the results were already prepared. Marcos controlled the Commission on Elections, the media, and the national mint. The opposition, which had none of these things, and whose leaders were either in jail, like Ninoy, or under surveillance or city arrest, clearly did not stand a chance. But Ninoy decided to take up the challenge and ran as the figurehead of the opposition slate from his prison cell. He could not campaign, of course, but our daughter Kris, then seven years old, took her father’s place at the platform and appealed to the people during rallies. On the eve of elections, Ninoy was given one concession. He would be questioned on television by a government panel regarding his political views and the accusations that the government had made against him. He was taken straight from solitary confinement and thrust in front of the television cameras. I don’t know how he did it, but he bested them all. He answered all the accusations and went on to accuse the government in turn. Right after the broadcast, the city of Manila exploded in a noise barrage of people beating pots and pans, car drivers honking their horns, and people shouting in the streets. It was as if they wanted to tell Ninoy, swiftly thrown back in his cell, that he was not alone. The government was helpless to stop the non-violent, if hardly peaceful, demonstration. This was the germ of People Power that would hibernate through the rest of the winter of our oppression until Ninoy’s willing sacrifice of his life brought the spring of our liberation.

Ninoy would remember this night and ponder its meaning in his cell and later on in exile. This demonstration had shown the limits of tyranny, that could reach everywhere except the hearts of brave men and women. He went on to read the works of men who had also experienced the peaceful but irresistible power of ordinary people to say, No more, and demand a change. He read Gandhi and Martin Luther King. From Gandhi, he drew his arrival statement when he had decided to return to his homeland for one last desperate effort to bring peace and reconciliation to his divided land.

“I have returned of my own free will,” his statement read, “to join the ranks of those struggling to restore our rights of freedom through nonviolence. According to Gandhi, the willing sacrifice of the innocent is the most powerful answer to insolent tyranny that has yet been conceived by God and Man.” But as you saw on Japanese television, he never read that statement. He was dead before his feet touched the land he loved.

It was after his death that People Power blossomed in all its glory. Two million people accompanied his coffin to the grave, under the hot sun and the pouring rain. Again, the government was powerless. It had issued threats against any who joined the funeral march. It grounded public transport so that people would be inconvenienced. It held a grand ball so that the people would see its indifference to their protest. But the funeral march went on, mournful and silent. Thousands of candles lit the way to his gravesite. As his coffin slipped into the ground, Ninoy’s spirit entered his race. But Ninoy dead was more to be feared than when he was alive. For now his spirit was free to animate his people with the courage that had allowed him to face death. Courage, he said, is infectious. That night began the epidemic of bravery, from which the government learned there was no immunity.

The burden of Ninoy’s mission to liberate his people in peace fell on my shoulders. I was reluctant to take it on. I was not a politician. And now that he was dead, I had once more to take on myself the role of father and mother to our children. And so I stipulated two conditions before I would take on the leadership of the struggle for freedom. Two conditions I believe could not be fulfilled. One was that Marcos would commit the folly of calling for a snap election. And the other was the impossible demand that one million people would sign a petition asking me to run for President. And that is exactly what happened. In an excess of arrogance, Marcos called for elections to prove once and for all that the opposition was nothing. And over a million people signed a petition to prove he was wrong.

Again, in this election as in the previous one, Marcos had the guns, the goons, and the national mint. With these things, he believed he could buy the people’s mandate or, at least, thwart their will by fabricating a victory for himself at the polls. He was wrong. I and my running mate, with hardly any funds and barely any organization, nonetheless got the people. Or rather, the people got us in the grip of their determination to be rid once and for all of the tyranny that had abused and degraded them. Neither his tricks nor his thuggery could stem the irresistible tide of People Power that swept us to victory. Against his corruption, the people pitted their integrity by refusing to be bought. Against his threats, the people pitted their courage as they wrapped their arms around the ballot boxes to protect them from his thugs. Even his computer technicians, who were tasked with fabricating a fraudulent vote count walked out in protest. And against his debased parliament that proclaimed him the victor in the face of my overwhelming victory at the polls, they launched their nonviolent revolution. One million Filipinos gathered in Luneta Park to proclaim me and Doy Laurel as the victors of the election, the President and Vice-President of the People.

From that spot I proclaimed the strategy to vindicate the people’s will, to implement their decision to make me President. I outlined a program of passive resistance and civil disobedience that called, as a starter, for a boycott of Marcos enterprises. I could not predict when we would succeed, but we were certain that the end of Marcos was near. Marcos could stay in the Palace but he had already lost the rest of the country. This was so clear to everyone that no one was afraid to join the nonviolent campaign and in the end, even the army stood down. A military revolt called by a brave handful of soldiers under Minister Enrile and General Ramos, who declared themselves for my Presidency was immediately surrounded by a protective wall of People Power summoned by the Cardinal. That wall stood up to the tanks of the dictator. Marcos had lost every shred of legitimacy and, on the fourth day of the revolt, slipped away into exile.

As I came to power peacefully, so shall I keep it. This is my contract with my people and my commitment to God. The way of nonviolence had not exhausted itself in the struggle for Filipino freedom. It has the potential to give our nation a lasting and honorable peace as well. In that belief, I have called for negotiations with the communist rebels. Some people say I am naive to have done this. I can only say that I owe it to our people, who have lived in fear of the gun for so long, to exhaust every means within reason to give them the peace they so much deserve.

I do not know if I will succeed. I know I must try if only to show that before I take up the sword of war, I shall have stripped the olive branch of peace of every leaf of offering. I am confident of the power of government to deal forcefully with the insurgency in the last resort. The courage and skills of the new Filipino soldier assure us that we shall never lose our dearly bought freedoms. The real challenge is to achieve peace by the ways of peace. This is the best assurance that it will last and serve as the foundation for the national cooperation that is needed to restore my country’s wasted fortunes. You have seen this in your own history. You never achieved so much in war, as you did in peace. It is that experience of your country that inspires me to go on trying. I ask you to share with me the hope and prayers that I will succeed.

Source: Presidential Museum and Library

Aquino, C. C. (1986). Speeches of President Corazon C. Aquino : August 8 – December 31, 1986. [Manila : Office of the President of the Philippines].