The world has lost another icon…
Maria Corazón Cojuangco vda. de Aquino (popularly known as President Cory or, affectionately, Tita Cory), the icon of democracy in the Philippines and its first woman president, peacefully passed away a few hours ago (3:18 AM, Manila time) at the age of 76.
She has been battling colon cancer since last year and was confined to the Makati Medical Center early last month.
Aquino is survived by her five children. All of them were reportedly at her bedside. They were praying the Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary when Tita Cory gave up the ghost.
It was a shock to all Filipinos who witnessed the now legendary People Power of 1986.
Although she comes from a family of politicians, she never really pursued it. But in an incredible twist of fate, she found herself in a maelström of unavoidable circumstances. In 1983, the year her controversial husband Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino was traitorously assassinated, Tita Cory was compelled to fight the two-decade dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and inevitably lead the opposition. And so in 1986, the whole world watched as the Filipinos (backed by a renegade military) marched through EDSA to peacefully destroy the Marcos dictatorship and catapult Aquino to the highest seat of the land, the presidency.
But to write about her life, achievements, even controversy, would already be superfluous. Much has already been written about her. For sure, hundreds of thousands of newspapers, journals, magazines, and online print media (not excluding the blogging community, of course) all the world over would be writing about her in the next couple of hours, days, weeks, months.
I’ll write about her in a much different light. Briefly but concise.
I am not a fan of Tita Cory. Nor do I dislike her. But I’m not really a big fan. As a student of Philippine history, I’m even aghast when I discovered the controversy behind her family’s unbelievable wealth and the blood-stained connection between her ancestors and General Antonio Luna. But that’s for another story.
Later in life, as my hispanismo grew and developed, I harbored another ill feeling against her. This is because it was under her regime when her government totally discarded the Spanish language, a patrimony and part of the Philippine soul and being. It was a great blow and even an act of disrespect against the global Spanish community. How unfortunate and ironic as well because her father (the late assemblyman José Cojuangco) and her maternal grandfather (Juan Sumulong, himself another politician) were Spanish speakers.
She had made political blunders left and right. However, it is forgivable. Nobody’s perfect, especially for a person who had no political training before: she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in French language (with a minor in Mathematics) in the US. She did study law at the Far Eastern University upon her return to the Philippines, but it was for a brief period; she got married to Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino who was also from a Spanish-speaking family. Undoubtedly, her husband had become her “political teacher” of sorts. But she remained as a plain husband during their stay together, even when Ninoy was put to jail by Marcos.
Through the years after her presidency, she remained in the limelight. But only to share commentaries regarding major national issues at hand. She became inactive in politics, but she did surface in political rallies later on particularly in EDSA 2 and in anti-Arroyo protest rallies.
EDSA 2 was but a mere copycat of People Power. The massive throng of people, especially the youth, was fuelled more by a much powerful, technologically advanced (and sometimes partial) media: ABS-CBN and GMA 7, SMS or text messaging, aggressive journalism, etc. The youth, who were mostly youngsters during the original EDSA/People Power, were only able to study the event in textbooks. Thus, their adrenaline, their excitement, skyrocketed to the highest heavens upon cognizance that they are actually reliving what they only used to read and discuss in classrooms. Emotions were running high, and almost every one was dragged into a publicity trial, believing allegations first before the facts. President Aquino was among those who were made to believe the hasty and careless allegations (sadly, I was one of the believers). But through the years, I’ve learned the errors of my immature belief and began to understood that throughout most of Philippine history, the “bad guys” were always given the image of the bayani while the “good guys” are either put behind bars, executed, or their characters maligned.
But during her later years, Tita Cory gained my respect. Little by little, she too began to realize that she was somehow “duped” by those she thought had good intentions for the country. She then began criticizing the errors and corrupt regime of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (the accidental “heroine” of EDSA 2). Reminicent of her calls for a civil disobedience during the last days of the Marcos dictatorship, a much older Aquino once more took the road of militancy. But this time, it was of her own accord (and not of those people who urged her to continue her murdered husband’s fight). At the height of the “Hello Garci” political scandal (proving that presidential candidate and Arroyo opponent Fernando Poe, Jr. was indeed cheated upon), Mrs. Arroyo’s infamous and pathetic “I am sorry” speech, and the resignation of the principled Hyatt 10 Aquino took the matter into her own hands and surprised the nation when she publicly called for the resignation –and even possible impeachment– of her ex-ally, Gloria Arroyo.
Even at her old age, she joined protest and prayer rallies against the Arroyo regime, something that she never did during her younger years. I could never forget the image of her walking side by side screen legend Susan Roces (the widow of Fernando Poe, Jr., who died of cerebral thrombosis a few days before Christmas 2004) in a protest march towards the Batasang Pambansâ. They had wanted to urge Congress to impeach a very impeachable Arroyo (unfortunately, the so-called people’s representatives chose to stick to their “pork”). The two young widows even confronted the military when the latter blocked their path. This is a scene which angered countless Filipinos — the military, in blocking the icon of Asian democracy path, was the most disrespectful thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life. They were respectful towards the iconic widows. But that was never enough; both Aquino and Roces were not marching towards Batasan to maul or physically assault Congress in the first place.
“I plead guilty to the fact that I thought [Arroyo] would be a better alternative to Estrada,” Tita Cory later said.
And so last year, she made perhaps the bravest AND laudable act since challenging Marcos — she publicly apologized to President Joseph “Erap” Estrada for having been on the other side of the fence. She admitted, finally, that EDSA 2 was a mistake. Many were saddened, aghast, surprised, disappointed. And quite desperately, some even treated the apology as a joke. But I trust a much calmer elderly President’s judgment who still stood with dignity after all the bad presses she received with that apology.
There was no lapse of judgment on her part. The apology was sincere and true. It’s just that Cory Aquino simply learned from history. From recent Philippine history. She didn’t make qualms at all. After realizing that she’s been supporting a wrong leader all these years, she didn’t hesitate to turn the tables for the sake of justice and righteousness.
That is the Cory Aquino that I’m truly proud of. Her humility shone brighter than it ever did during her last days on earth. She is an emblem of an upright Christian. That is all she had ever wanted — to live happily with the truth, to side with the truth, to live with what is right. She has always been on a journey for self-modification. I even strongly believe that if she ever had the time to do some research, she would also regret having had a hand in removing Spanish as one of the official languages of the Philippines during her presidency…
Today, the downpour in Metro Manila is heavy, as if there is a storm. The heavens must be crying, too.
President Aquino is in a much better place now. Sleep with the angels, Tita Cory. And thank you for being an INCREDIBLE example on how it is to live right and to decide what is right. Requiescat In Pace.