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Mayor, Governor, Cardinal Pay Tribute : N.Y. Leaders Join to Praise Aquino

September 20, 1986|MARK FINEMAN | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Philippine President Corazon Aquino entered the political battleground of New York on Friday, and for an hour or so brought together in support of her mission the toughest and most powerful forces in one of America's toughest cities.

The mayor, the governor and a Roman Catholic cardinal, whose political and moral disagreements have pitted one against the other over the years, all paid homage to Aquino in remarks in the City Council chambers.

A crowd of supporters, many with yellow balloons, listened in on loudspeakers outside City Hall as Cardinal John J. O'Connor, the archbishop of New York, called on the 7 million people of New York to pray "for the gift of this woman who has electrified and inspired us all."

New York Gov. Mario Cuomo said, "As long as there is a Cory Aquino, I'm sure there will be an eagerness on the part of this nation to do more for you and your people."

Compliment by Koch

Mayor Edward I. Koch delivered what Aquino said she felt was the highest compliment she could have received. "The pages of history are filled with leaders who came quickly upon the scene, and who left just as quickly," the mayor said. "This will not be the case with President Corazon Aquino. Each day has made her stronger."

Aquino has said that her purpose in coming to the United States was to expand the friendship and understanding between the two countries. On Friday, halfway through the eight-day visit that also will take her on to Boston and San Francisco, it was already clear that she had made many friends.

Koch said she had "taken the U.S. Congress by storm" with Thursday's appeal to a joint session for additional support. The House responded a few hours later by approving $200 million in additional aid. "They have never done that since the world was created," Koch said Friday.

On Wednesday, Aquino had "snowed" President Reagan, as a State Department official put it. A scheduled 15-minute chat in the Oval Office stretched on for 45 minutes. According to the State Department official, the President was disarmed by his visitor.

Ouster Role Praised

At cocktail parties, luncheon banquets, coffee klatches and congressional caucuses, the elite of Washington and then of New York praised her for her part in overthrowing former President Ferdinand E. Marcos last February.

Feminists, corporate executives, media magnates, senators and bellboys sang her praises and practically knocked over Secret Service agents to be photographed with her.

Quoting Ernest Hemingway, the feminist leader Phyllis Kaminsky told the guests at a reception Thursday night that Aquino is the epitome of "grace under pressure" and "a shining light for women the world over."

"She's a doll," said Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill), one of the harshest congressional critics of the Aquino administration's talk-then-fight approach to solving the Communist insurgency in the Philippines.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an Aquino supporter almost from the start, described Aquino's performance in Washington as "awesome."

According to Lugar, Koch and others, Aquino's success has been largely attributable to her personality, and the fact that people in the United States were already familiar with the story of her rise to power after the uprising against Marcos.

Aquino has written most of the speeches and public statements she has delivered in this country, taking pains, according to her aides, to strike a balance between personal references and strong statements on the outstanding issues in the Philippines--the Communist insurgency, the battered economy and the stability of her government.

Her speech Friday at City Hall was typical. She began by saying that the last time she was in New York she was a tourist, along with her children and her late husband, former Philippine Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr., who was shot to death in Manila in 1983. She said her love for New York dates back to her college days at Mount St. Vincent College in the Bronx.

Then she shifted from the personal to the political. Noting that her visit comes two months after the city's Fourth of July celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, she said:

"Your lady holds the torch in her hand and scans the horizon for refugees. We hold a torch that shines just as bright."

She thanked Koch, Cuomo, the cardinal and the audience for their support during the coup that brought her to power, and added, to a standing ovation, "I love you all. God bless you."

Not once in her series of speeches, statements and panel discussions has Aquino said simply what her audiences wanted to hear.

To a gathering of corporate executives at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, she appealed for massive private investment. But she quickly cautioned that no investors would be welcome who want to exploit cheap Filipino labor.

To the feminists, she said: "I am not a feminist in the usual sense. A great deal of my life was spent as a housewife." And she reminded them that despite the lavish affair they put on for her, two-thirds of the women outside America are illiterate, the last to be hired and first to be fired, and in countries like the Philippines "the poorest of the poor."

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