“Tie a Yellow Ribbon…”

A tribute to Mrs. Corazon Aquino, President of the Philippines (1986-92)

coryaquinoIn many conversations with Filipinos younger than 40 years old, I realized that most of them only have a vague idea of the turbulent 1970s and 1980s in the Philippines. And the death of Mrs. Cory Aquino accentuated that little knowledge of Philippine history.

One of the curiosities surrounding the Aquinos is why the yellow ribbon?

When then President Ferdinand Marcos installed himself as the military dictator in 1972, he jailed opposition leader Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino. The charismatic senator was given the death sentence, but was later allowed to go in exile to the United States to undergo coronary bypass surgery. For three years, he lived in the Boston area where he taught International Law at Harvard University, wrote, and lectured all over the country.

In 1983, sensing the deteriorating political situation in the Philippines coupled with Marcos’ ill health, Aquino decided to return to the Philippines to help the country transition back into democracy. But his return turned into a bloody welcome. On August 21, after he landed at the Manila International Airport (later renamed Ninoy Aquino International Airport), he was shot to death while being escorted down from the plane by military personnel. To this day, the mastermind of his murder has never been determined.

Tony Orlando and DawnHis murder sparked massive nationwide outrage and street protests. During the next 2-1/2 years, Aquino’s widow, Mrs. Corazon Aquino, united the opposition against the Marcos dictatorship to eventually topple the powerful dictator in February 1986. Mrs. Aquino served as transition president of the Philippines from 1986-92.

Mrs. Aquino used the yellow motif as the symbol of the democratic aspirations of her husband, whose return from exile to his beloved country echoed the opening verse and refrain of the 1973 hit by Tony Orlando and Dawn, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”:

I’m comin’ home, I’ve done my time,
Now I’ve got to know what is and isn’t mine.
If you received my letter tellin’ you I’d soon be free,
Then you’ll know just what to do if you still want me.

Refrain: Tie a yellow ribbon ’round the old oak tree,
It’s been three long years,
Do you still want me?

Senator Aquino “did his time,” seven years in a Philippine prison and three years of exile (how prophetic for him!) in the United States, but when he came home, the Marcos regime answered his question, “Do you still want me?” with a “shot heard around the world.” Subsequently, the Philippines’ “People Power” revolution became a model for peaceful uprisings against the Communist dictatorships in the Soviet bloc of Eastern Europe in 1989.

But the Filipino people welcomed Ninoy Aquino and his wife Cory Aquino:

Now the whole darn bus is cheering
And I can’t believe I see
A hundred yellow ribbons ’round the old oak tree.

Not with “a hundred yellow ribbons ’round the old oak tree,” but with a deluge of yellow ribbons and confetti ’round the whole country.

This song has also been widely popular in the Philippines during early and mid-80s, particularly at the time when opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” S. Aquino, Jr. expressed his intentions in 1983 to go back to his country from a 3-year exile in the United States and face President Ferdinand Marcos. After Ninoy was assassinated at then Manila International Airport, the song and yellow motif became synonymous with Ninoy and was very much visible during anti-Marcos protests. In 1986, his widow Corazon Aquino used the yellow motif to her advantage and the opposition’s during the 1986 snap elections, which swept her to the presidency after the EDSA People Power Revolution. Everytime the Philippines celebrate Ninoy Aquino Day (August 21), yellow ribbons can be seen tied at many trees in Metro Manila along with yellow streamers of the late senator. A parody of the song was also made by Larry Henares in memory of the slain senator.

About Nollie

Associate Pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church in Walnut Creek, CA. Assigned as missionary to the Philippines. Lives just outside Metro Manila with wife and daughter. Three older boys live and work in CA.
Irma Crow says:

I will not hesitate to praise Cory’s bravery and sacrificial love for Ninoy and the principle he stood for, and for the Filipino people .  But I would not go as far as to give the assurance that she is really in heaven.  I really hope so, just because she believed in Jesus Christ.  But the fact that she also believed, prayed and worshiped Mary prevents me from assuring anybody that she was really a Christian.  Salvation is by Christ alone, through Christ alone, and to Christ’s own glory alone (“I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father but by Me.”).  Only God can see the heart, so only God knows the real Cory, minus her good works.  We’ll see if she is in heaven when we get there.

erwin says:

I was only twelve when NInoy died. If i’m not mistaken, on the day that Ninoy arrived, the opposition (and if I recall correctly it was Sen Eva Estrada Kalaw) really did put yellow ribbons around Metro Manila to welcome Ninoy back (and  the symbolism was connected to the song). But of course Ninoy didn’t get to see it.

Norman Richardson says:

In 1987 I wrote a letter to President Aquino and encouraged her with words from the scripture and assurances that we were praying for her. I received back a letter from her that said the following: ” I thank you most sincerely for sharing some verses of the Bible with me. May I ask you to continue praying for me, that I be spiritually guided in every decision that I make . I request that you pray for our government, that we do not become an organization of men for the control of men; that we do not act like kings but rather as servants of the people and the one true King. So that once more, there might be peace and prosperity in our land”.

Corazon Aquino was a courageous, humble servant and one of the GREAT leaders of the Philippines. It was a sad day when she left the earth but it is a great day in heaven where she will meet the one true King face to face.

Irma Crow says:

Those were the days when the Filipinos’ hearts beat together for freedom and democracy.
At EDSA where we (Kuya Opong, Leah, Ella and myself) spent the night lying on the highway in front of  Camp Crame beside the tanks, together with thousands and thousands of people,  I witnessed the unity of hearts and minds.  Filipinos from different religious backgrounds, from different status in life, from different parts of the Phil. were all united as one voice.  I saw Christians from different parts of the country praying, singing, reading their Bibles, sharing food and water, as well as sentiments, with others.   Jesus was glorified (although men gave the tribute to Mary).

abby says:

how inspiring! i’ve never heard about this piece of filipino history, thanks for sharing. i applaud “ninoy” aquino’s bravery to return to the PI when he knew he wouldn’t receive a very friendly welcome back. he was prepared to be shot at to restore peace in his country!!!! and cory aquino’s response to his murder is nothing short of amazing. go Philippines, go!

Leah Barin says:

I guess the Filipinos are so hungry for moral leadership thats why such adorations is given to Cory.

Nollie says:

Marcos’ grip on the Philippine society was such that my brother didn’t hear about Ninoy Aquino’s murder until I called him from San Francisco. The news spread like wildfire only through word of mouth as Filipinos overseas started calling their family and friends in the Philippines about the tragic event.

Tim says:

Even though I was only 4, I vividly remember the family around the TV watching coverage of the assassination, and the re-enactments.
I also vividly remember being around the TV again and you and mom jumping out of your seat with cries for joy when the news reported that Marcos had left the Philippines.
I didn’t understand at the time what was going on, but it has been interesting to learn more about the whole Macros dictatorship, Cory Aquino, and “people power” over the years as I got older.