Aquino Wows Capitol, Vows Not to Flinch : She Tells Congress of Plans to Seek Peace With Rebels

Associated Press

Philippine President Corazon Aquino, given a rousing reception, told a joint meeting of Congress today that if she fails to negotiate peace with communist guerrillas threatening her government she will not flinch from "taking up the sword of war."

"I will not stand by and allow an insurgent leadership to spurn our offer of peace and kill our young soldiers and threaten our new freedom," Aquino said.

Aquino was greeted in the House chamber by enthusiastic applause and cheers from the members of Congress, many of whom sported yellow flowers in their lapels. Aquino wore her trademark yellow suit, like the ones she wore so often during her campaign for the presidency earlier this year.

Many visitors in the gallery, and several members as well, chanted "Cory, Cory, Cory" for half a minute as she entered the chamber.

Several members later said her speech had been so well received that it could mean more U.S. aid for her nation. Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill said it was the best he had ever heard on Capitol Hill.

'Hit a Home Run'

Senate Republican leader Bob Dole said he told Aquino she had "hit a home run" with Congress, and said she replied: "I hope the bases were loaded." Impressed senators and House members called her speech "brilliant," "eloquent," "magnificent" and "moving."

She opened her speech with a tribute to her husband, Benigno S. Aquino Jr., a human rights activist whose murder in Manila in 1983 after years of exile in the United States swelled the widespread disenchantment with the government of Ferdinand E. Marcos and eventually led to his downfall.

Her husband's death "was my country's resurrection in the courage and faith by which alone they could be free again," she said. "And so began the revolution that has brought me to democracy's most famous home, the United States."

Aquino's speech underscored her policy of negotiating with the communist New People's Army guerrilla movement and, if the talks fail, waging a vigorous war against the insurgents.

"I must explore the path of peace to the utmost, for at its end, whatever disappointment I meet there, is the moral basis for laying down the olive branch of peace and taking up the sword of war," she said.

"Still, should it come to that, I will not waver from the course laid down by your great liberator," a reference to Abraham Lincoln and his determination to fight the Civil War.

'Whatever It Takes'

"Like Lincoln, I understand that force may be necessary before mercy," she said. "Like Lincoln, I don't relish it, yet I will do whatever it takes to defend the integrity and freedom of my country."

She said the aim of the negotiations is "to bring the insurgents down from the hills and, by economic progress and justice, show them that for which the best intentioned among them fight." Persuading the guerrillas to stop fighting will be accomplished by "political initiatives and local reintegration programs."

She said her predecessor, Marcos, set aside democratic rights to wage a war against "a communist insurgency that numbered less than 500.

"Unhampered by respect for human rights, he went at it with hammer and tongs. By the time he fled, that insurgency had grown to more than 16,000.

"I think there is a lesson here to be learned about trying to stifle a thing with the means by which it grows."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World