slice of life

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2007, 12:00am

From the pages of the South China Morning Post this week in 1986

The destiny of the Philippines and its people was left in the hands of a 53-year-old housewife when, after 20 years of autocratic rule, Ferdinand Marcos abandoned the presidency and the country and flew into exile from a United States military base.

He threw in the towel following mounting domestic and diplomatic pressure and the desertion of his military leaders and political cronies. Before taking over, the claim to fame of the reluctant new president, Corazon Aquino, was as the widow of assassinated opposition leader Benigno Aquino, whose murder in 1983 was the trigger for Marcos' eventual downfall.

The almost bloodless revolution that overthrew the president and his ambitious ex-beauty queen wife, Imelda - known to Filipinos as the Iron Butterfly - stemmed from elections called by Marcos on February 7 under US pressure.

Inevitably, he was declared winner, but the opposition, supported by foreign observer groups, accused the president of winning the election by fraud.

US president Ronald Reagan distanced himself from Marcos and general Fidel Ramos and defence minister Juan Ponce Enrile led a revolution against their former boss. The end came hours after rival swearing-in ceremonies installing both candidates as president.

American secretary of state George Shultz announced that the US officially recognised the new government and pledged economic support for the Aquino government.

Hong Kong's Kai Tak airport was put on full alert when a private plane flew in unexpectedly from Manila, carrying a woman, her two young daughters and a sizeable amount of cash and valuables.

The plane - a twin-propeller Metropolitan - arrived at Kai Tak without making prior landing arrangements. The passengers were said to be the family of a wealthy Manila businessman.

A number of private planes left Manila airport about the same time as the one that touched down in Hong Kong, headed for different destinations.

All flights to and from the Philippines were cancelled, stranding about 700 Manila-bound passengers in Hong Kong and delaying the return of local tourists.

Corazon Aquino started her political career as a reluctant candidate but became a determined campaigner who rallied millions of her countrymen behind a drive to end Marcos' 20 years as president.

The petite widow surprised Filipinos and foreigners alike when she managed to channel widespread dissatisfaction with Marcos into a powerful stream that swept him from power.

She became well known only after her husband's assassination.

When she swore an oath of office as provisional president, she said she was 'taking power in the name of the Filipino people'.

'Run like hell' was the only advice retiring financial secretary Sir John Bremridge had for his successor, Piers Jacobs. Sir John was speaking of collapsing banks, collapsing dollars - and his own near collapse during his time in charge of Hong Kong's purse strings.

Spelling out the biggest worries he experienced, he zeroed in on one thing that was 'really frightening' and which he would never want to go through again - the collapse of the Hong Kong dollar at the height of the British negotiations with China on Hong Kong's future.

'People really didn't like holding money,' he went on.

They were converting cash into assets - of any sort - and they simply didn't care what they were buying.

Another major problem for Sir John was the collapse of banks. 'I woke up at three o'clock in the morning and worried about the banks.'

And he wasn't joking. Commenting on his proposed budget package, he said it would be silly to cut the direct tax that year. 'I'll wait for another year to see how the picture develops,' said the man who seemed to have forgotten he'd just delivered his swansong budget and was due to - and did - leave Hong Kong that very year.