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Influence of Former Philippine President Corazon Aquino Waning, Observers Say


Former president Corazon Aquino is revered in the Philippines as the symbol of the ouster of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. But Mrs. Aquino's repeated calls for the resignation of incumbent President Gloria Arroyo, over allegations of election fraud, have so far gone unheeded. The iconic former president's influence appears to be waning.

Last week, former president Corazon Aquino, the woman who sparked a revolt that toppled a dictatorship, joined politicians and businessmen calling for the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The calls followed allegations that Mrs. Arroyo had rigged the 2004 presidential elections in her favor.

Many thought that with that, Mrs. Arroyo's days were numbered.

But the public did not take to the streets by the hundreds of thousands to demand Mrs. Arroyo step down, as they had done with two of her predecessors.

In 1986, Mrs. Aquino was the grieving widow of Benigno Aquino, Ferdinand Marcos's leading rival, who was gunned down as he returned to Manila from exile. Along with the late Cardinal Jaime Sin, Mr. Aquino called on the people to take to the streets, and they forced Mr. Marcos to flee the country in a movement that would come to be known as "People Power."

Mrs. Aquino again called the people into the streets in 2001, a move that resulted in the forced resignation of President Joseph Estrada, who was accused of massive corruption.

Political analyst Joel Rocamora, director of the private Institute for Popular Democracy, says Mrs. Aquino, widely known as Cory, listened to the wrong people this time and miscalculated the political situation.

"The people who put those things together thought that they would be enough to bring president Arroyo down, force her to resign, as it turned out, they were wrong," he said. "And I think Cory brought into that way of looking at things. I think she was made to believe if she joined the groups, she would be on the winning side."

Mrs. Aquino is a deeply religious Roman Catholic with a strong sense of right and wrong. She says she feels compelled to speak out for what she believes, no matter the cost.

"From time immemorial, I have not said anything that would command universal acceptance," she noted. "But I believe so long as I do what I believe is right, so long as I say what I believe is right for our country, then I will just accept whatever flack, whatever ugly things they will say about me."

But even if Mrs. Aquino does not have the same kind of influence she once had over Philippine political life, Mr. Rocamora says she still wields significant clout, and should not be underestimated.

"Her magic has always been with a specific segment of the population," said Mr. Rocamora. "That is the upper-middle class to upper class, and I think in that segment of the population she's still seen as a moral leader."

For the moment, Mrs. Arroyo seems to have beaten the move to force her out. But analysts say the tide could again turn against her, in which case Corazon Aquino would be seen to have chosen the right side after all.

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