Archives: British Prime Minister Thatcher approved Cory's asylum request in 1986

Former President Corazon Aquino/photo courtesy of GMA Network

According to newly declassified files released on Tuesday, December 31, the British prime Minister Margaret Thatcher granted Corazon Aquino’s request for asylum at the height of the uprising that swept her to power in the Philippines.

Aquino headed the four-day 1986 People Power Revolution that ended the 21-year rule of totalitarian president Ferdinand Marcos.

Marcos had declared victory in a snap election smeared by fraud allegations.

During the unrest, Aquino feared for her safety and asked for sanctuary in the British embassy or the ambassador’s residence in Manila, files released by Britain’s National Archives indicated.
However, Britain’s protection was ultimately not needed as Marcos stepped down the following day and the Aquino government was officially recognized.

The said asylum request was in a Downing Street file on Britain’s relations with the Philippines spanning from 1981 to 1995.

An urgent request
On the evening of February 24, 1986, an urgent request written by Foreign Office diplomat Len Appleyard to Charles Powell, Thatcher’s private secretary for foreign affairs.
He said Mrs. Aquino had asked whether Britain would be prepared to offer sanctuary in the British embassy or residence at 8:00 am local time the following morning — midnight in Britain.

Appleyard said Aquino had rejected sanctuary with the Americans and the Japanese but turned to the British “because they are ‘friendly and reliable'”.
It was thought the request was a contingency in case the situation turned ugly.
Appleyard said Aquino had widespread support and was “almost certainly deprived of the presidency by fraud”, while the move would ensure warm relations with the likely next government.

However, Britain worried it could not effectively guarantee Aquino’s safety and the ambassador’s residence would be “impossible to defend” against government forces.
The residence would become the target for “massive demonstrations of support” by her supporters and opponents at the same time, with the risk of armed clashes, Appleyard wrote.
Aquino in effect would conduct a provisional government from the residence and so  Britain would be involved in the country’s internal politics.

But for Geoffrey Howe, Britain’s foreign minister at the time considered any offer of sanctuary as an “illusory gesture” which could drag Britain into Philippine internal affairs.

With Thatcher's approval 
Still, Powell swiftly replied later that evening, with Thatcher’s approval “to offer such refuge as we have”, but warned: “For obvious reasons we cannot guarantee Mrs. Aquino’s safety.
“But we would not deny her what the refuge we can offer if, on reflection, she maintains her request,” Powell said

Ultimately, Marcos quit at around 9:00 pm on February 25. Since then, relations between Aquino and Thatcher appeared to be warm in the following years.
The files contained a September 25, 1987 letter from the president to the prime minister thanking her for the “thoughtful gift” of a book on the history of Downing Street.

Thatcher, who left power in 1990, died in 2013 aged 87. While Aquino remained as president until 1992, she died aged 76 in 2009.

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