Spotlight: A Different Kind of Opposition


Philippine politicians by the score are posturing to inherit the posthumous influence of opposition leader Benigno Aquino, assassinated in late 1983 when he returned to the country. Often, those who would replace "President for Life" Ferdinand Marcos are philosophically indistinguishable from him. But one reluctant leader, Aurora Pijuan-Manotoc (Pee-won Man-OH-tock), is different.

A successful model, she won the Miss International contest in 1970, after which she began a career starring in films and television. In 1971 she married Tommy Manotoc, a celebrated professional athlete. The jet-set couple seemed to fit in well in Manila. Their circle of friends included the powerful and the children of the powerful, among them the daughters of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.

Even then, Pijuan-Manotoc seemed incapable of political discretion. She spoke freely about her dissatisfaction with general government corruption and intervention. In addition she spoke out against the censorship of films. Summing up her views, she says, "No one has the right or the ability to tell an adult what is good or bad for him or her."

Pijuan-Manotoc eventually turned her attention to business and continued her education, studying math, business, computer programming, and law. She started several successful restaurants, a real-estate brokerage firm, and a labor recruitment agency that supplied workers to companies in the Middle East.

The public saw her as a glamorous figure, not a political power. That all changed in 1981 when her husband obtained a Dominican Republic divorce and married Imee Marcos, the daughter of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. To comprehend the profound implications of the event, it is necessary to understand that the Philippines is a most Catholic country. There is no legal divorce. To make their daughter's marriage legal, the Marcoses declared a Philippine annulment of Pijuan-Manotoc's 10-year marriage.

Her reaction sparked further controversy. First, the press quoted her saying that she did not require monogamy of her husband and that she would take him back. Then she fought for a divorce so her children would not be legally illegitimate. Though the struggle was doomed, her articulate criticism of legal hypocrisy brought her serious attention.

According to Pijuan-Manotoc, the Philippine Rotary Club asked her to address an important meeting, "almost as a joke." If they were expecting entertainment, they were disappointed. She delivered a brutally honest assessment of the Marcos government, in an address that could have been given by one of her heroes from Ayn Rand's individualist novels.

Pijuan-Manotoc's simple, individualist analysis was received by millions of Filipinos as that speech and others of hers were reprinted over and over. Still, she probably would have gone quietly back to her businesses if the Aquino assassination had not polarized the nation and brought journalists from all over the world to the Philippines.

Pijuan-Manotoc was sought out by the press for the candid statements she is famous for. Without seeking it, she had become an opposition leader. She founded and then resigned from a national women's organization when the group abandoned its goal of fostering concern among Philippine women for justice and liberty and began to endorse candidates.

Only months before last year's national elections, she had not decided whether she should condone the election process by voting. But a crucial assembly race in Manila's business district—Makati—was still uncontested. In frustration and anger, she declared her candidacy.

First Lady Imelda Marcos was outraged. She interpreted Pijuan-Manotoc's candidacy as a personal insult and condemned her repeatedly. Few businesses were willing to donate to her campaign fund, fearing retribution from the incumbent, a long-time and trusted ally of President Marcos. The Christian Science Monitor characterized the election as he one race that the government "could not afford to lose."

Pijuan-Manotoc expected ballot fraud on the part of the ruling party but was warned not to monitor the election. In fact, early results showed her winning by a clear and impressive margin. But in the last minutes before the polls closed, her top aide was killed by a bullet between the eyes while monitoring an important precinct, and the government-backed candidate surged ahead to win.

Within days, Pijuan-Manotoc moved to the San Francisco area, purportedly for the sake of her children. She is speaking to Americans now, telling them things like, "Why don't you just keep your money. Americans are taxed to death to kill Filipinos. The Philippine Islands could be another Hong Kong if people were free to pursue their own interests. Please invest in my country, but stop supporting the government with foreign aid."

Pijuan-Manotoc would like to start an institute to educate Filipinos and Americans about the effects of government intervention. "Many Americans have an offensive, condescending attitude that the people of the Philippines cannot run their own affairs," she notes. "The result has been an intervention that has made many enemies for America. When capitalism means that the government uses laws to protect special-interest groups and its friends at the expense of everyone else, many look for alternatives to capitalism and the American alliance." Yet Pijuan-Manotoc believes this is unfortunate, because the Philippines needs a free-market system to prosper.

To date, she has been unable to start an institute, because Philippine government policies make it virtually impossible for her to export dollars from her investments. She is biding her time, working in a San Francisco-area gas station.

Patrick Cox is a free-lance writer.