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Two Towers

Juan L. MercadoMANILA – “Some leaders are born women.”. Two towered in our region. Corazon Aquino was one. Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma is the other.

President Aquino toppled Marcos’ dictatorship thru bloodless “People Power”. Edsa span off to Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Revolution”, Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolt” to Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” and the “Rose Revolt ” in Georgia.

Ms Suu Kyi led non-violent resistance by winning Burma’s 1989 elections. For that, she’s spent 14 of the past 20 years in detention. Come August 11, a kangaroo court may sentence her to a five-year prison term for – of all things – “subversion”.

The lives of these two widows reveal remarkable similarities. They throw light on the region’s grubby rulers – and how people here “yearn to breathe free.

“For the Burmese, Ms Suu Kyi represents their best and perhaps sole hope that one day there’ll be an end to the country’s military repression,” says a recent BBC profile. The Filipinos’ “best and perhaps sole hope”, in 1986, to end the Marcos dictatorship emerged in the woman fondly called: “Cory”.:

Ms. Suu Kyi is the daughter of Burma’s independence hero: General Aung San. Aquino’s parents came from a Tarlac political clan. Cory studied languages in New York; Ms Suu Kyi earned a PhD from University of London.

Both never planned political roles. Ms. Suu Kyi married Michael Aris, an Oxford scholar on Tibetan culture. She settled, in the UK, to raise their two sons: Alexander and Kim. Cory married journalist Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino. She focused on rearing their five children: Benigno III, Maria Elena, Aurora, Victoria and Kristina.
Ninoy plunged into politics. In their Boston exile from martial law, former AP chief Arnold Zeitlin found Cory serving coffee. Ninoy was typing and handling a phone. “How do you put up with all this?”, Zeitlin asked. “Somebody in this family has to be normal,” she replied.

Events overtook both women. Ms Suu Kyi returned to Rangoon to look after an ill mother. Turmoil rocked Burma then as people battled then-dictator General Ne Win. They pressed Ms Suu Kyi to led the campaign which propelled her National League of Democracy to victory. The junta imposed martial law and imprisoned her.

Cory returned to Manila to bury Ninoy. Government hoods killed him as he returned from US exile. Aquino’s arrest and assassination thrust Cory into an unsought political role:
Marcos secretly choppered Aquino and Senator Jose Diokono to secret detention facilities in Fort Magsaysay. They were half starved there. Enquiries by Cory and Mrs Diokno were brushed aside.
After Ninoy smuggled, to Bangkok :P ost, a challenge to martial law, visiting privileges for Cory were suspended for 41 days – without explanations..

“ Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile couldn’t be bothered by wives of political prisoners. To visit Ninoy, Cory and Dona Aurora, Ninoy’s mother, would wait, outside Defense Undersecretary Carmelo Barbero’s office, to get permits to visit.

“Exposure to the glare of the media – and regular strip searches when she visited the jail – had a immense effect on a woman who had, until then, been an intensely private person,”, BBC added.
Rangoon denied Ms Suu Kyi’s husband entry visas even after Michael was diagnosed for terminal prostate cancer. The junta scrapped appeals from Pope John Paul II, UN Secretary General and others for the entry..Instead, they urged Ms Suu Kyi to leave the country without permit to return.. Aris died in 1999, .She remains separated from her sons in the UK.

The dictatorships tried to cow people from even mentioning these two leaders. Nonetheless, Burmese used the deferential title “the Lady” for t Ms Suu Kyi, Filipinos called her “Tita Cory.

Censored media pummeled both through censorship and mockery…”Light of Myanmmar”, systematically blots out any mention of Ms Suu Kyi.

Daily Express, Bulletin Today, etc. used Marcos’ derisive comment _walang alam (clueless) – to slash Cory.
Both were recognized globally for dedication to non-violence for liberty. Ms Suu Kyi received the Nobel Peace Prize and Sahkarov Award. She was barred from receiving both. The Nobel Committee called her: “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless”.

Cory won the Magsaysay Award for International Understanding and Fullbright prize, among others “A brave woman in a yellow dress, Corzaon Aquino was a radiant moral force for democracy and the world,” the Foundation said.

The crucial difference has been in the military. “Here in Burma, we are born afraid”, a Buddhist monk said. In 2007, Burmese tatmadaw brutally smashed the “Saffron Revolution” The death toll, disappearances, arrests ran into the thousands.

The military seeks to ensure “ratification” of a constitution rigged to embed the junta further in power..”The tatmadaw is a tough, self-contained institution cemented by fear and privilege,” New York Times notes Marcos subverted the military. But as his rule collapsed, majority of soldiers opted to join the people. This made possible a Cory Aquino – and today’s democracy. That argues for adherence to Cory’s ideals as well as renewed.adovacy for Suu Kyi’s release and restoration of Burmese freedoms.

We owe Cory. We also owe it to an equally brave women: Aung Sun Suu Kyi.

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