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News Commentary

John Kerry recalls 'sham' Philippine election, people power

Camille Diola - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — "I think about that moment even today, about the power of people to make their voices felt."

In an address on the US' vision for the Asia Pacific in the influential Honolulu-based think tank on Wednesday, United States Secretary of State John Kerry recalled his trip to the Philippines in 1986 as a young senator who witnessed the "sham snap election" held by late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

Kerry was a neophyte senator when he visited Manila as chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs. He said many knew the presidential poll was to "fake everybody to prove how in charge [Marcos] was, to preserve his grasp on power."

"I will never forget arriving in Manila and seeing this unbelievable flood of people in the streets all decked out in their canary yellow shirts and banners of pro-democracy protest. Some of us knew at that time there were allegations of fraud," Kerry recounted.

"I was sent down initially to Mindanao to observe the morning votes and then came back to Manila, and was sitting in the hotel there when a woman came up to me crying and said, 'Senator, you must come with me to the cathedral. There are women there who fear for their lives'," he continued.

Once in the cathedral sacristy, Kerry listened to 13 women who were crying and huddled together, "intimidated for their lives."

The women witnessed the raw tally of votes disappearing on the computer tote board that used to record them.

"They blew the whistle on a dictator. We held an international press conference right there in the cathedral right in front of the alter, and they spoke out, and that was the signal to Marcos, it was over," Kerry said.

The top American diplomat said that the women's courage and the Filipinos' revolution "lit a spark that traveled throughout the world, inspiring not just a freshman senator from Massachusetts, but popular movements from Eastern Europe to Burma."

Now, I think about that moment even today, about the power of people to make their voices felt. I think about how Cory Aquino rose to the presidency atop a wave of people power when few believed that she could. I think about how her husband fought for democracy, even at the cost of his own life. And I think about how, decades later, their son would rise to the presidency in democratic elections. In his inaugural address, President Benigno Aquino said: 'My parents sought nothing less, died for nothing less, than democracy and peace. I am blessed by this legacy. I shall carry the torch forward.'

Kerry said that the Filipino people's courage in deposing a dictator inspires him to push for the US' vision for the Asia Pacific, a promising region that develop "modern rules for a changing world."

"There is still a long road ahead. But nothing gives me more hope in the next miles of the journey than the courage of those who have reached a different and more hopeful kind of future," he said.

ASIA PACIFIC ASIAN AND PACIFIC AFFAIRS CORY AQUINO EASTERN EUROPE FERDINAND MARCOS KERRY MINDANAO PRESIDENT BENIGNO AQUINO THINK UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY
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