(above: Philippines Free Press editorial circa Cory’s return from her US visit in 1987)
The Philippine Daily Inquirer marked Cory Aquino’s passing with the editorial Our eternal flame, and marks her burial today with the editorial, ‘Paalam’; today’s entry is this initial survey of some of the most important -because, to my mind, meaningful- commentaries to emerge in the wake of Cory Aquino’s passing, interspersed with some initial thoughts on what these summations represent. In addition to those linked below, among the essential readings to emerge over the past days are entries in Torn & Frayed in Manila and in village idiot savant; a humorous vignette from Ambeth Ocampo; and finally, Cory herself, by means of the transcript of Cory Aquino’s last interview with Jessica Soho.
I have fallen in love
with the same woman three times;
In a day spanning 19 years
of tearful joys and joyful tears.
-Ninoy Aquino, “I Have Fallen In Love”
IF Ninoy fell in love with Cory three times, the country fell in love with her thrice: as a widow in 1983, as a candidate for president in 1986, as an icon of democracy in 2009 – so said Fr. Manoling Francisco, the Jesuit, during the necrological rites the evening before Cory Aquino was finally laid to rest.
Of that love affair, it must be said in addition that all three times involved Cory as conscience of a country: and that the love affair was stormy in its own way and that there were periods of separation.
Writing twenty-three years apart, the late Teodoro M. Locsin Sr. and Eric Gamalinda both saw the same thing. A castrated country that needed Cory to restore its manhood.
Locsin had written of Cory, in a Philippines Free Press editorial dated February 7, 1986,
There has never been anything like it in Philippine history: – a woman telling the machos of business and industry to do what she is doing, to stand up to the injustices against which they have been content merely to complain. That the economy is being ruined, has been ruined, from which they happily drew so much profit in the past; that the system under which they prospered is in dire danger of total collapse and eventual replacement by one that would have no place for them is evident to them. Free enterprise, that holy of holiest in their minds, is doomed by crony capitalism. And one with any sense of morality, of human right and dignity, can only recoil from government by, for, and of one man clearly determined to maintain his rule at whatever cost to the nation. But it took a woman to do what a man, or men, should have been doing: Fight! Being a man was sadly inadequate. One had to be something else. Be a woman – like her! Like Cory.
Eric Gamalinda, writing in his eponymous blog on August 1, made a similar observation of Cory’s doing the machos one better:
“We wanted Cory Aquino to be strong so we could remain passive. We wanted her to save us so we could refuse to save ourselves. She was there so we could continue the infantile neurosis that has always sustained the Philippines’ need for a ‘guiding’ power – God or a dictator, choose your daddy – and has always justified its corruption and poverty. She was, as so many predicted during the heyday of the people power revolution, our Joan of Arc. We knew we would burn her for allowing us to corrupt the vision we wanted her to sustain. We forgot so soon that she had achieved what no man in our supremely machismo-obsessed country had done – to get rid of the Marcoses. For that alone, we should be grateful. If the Philippines never rose from the ‘long nightmare’ after she took over the presidency, we have no one to blame but ourselves.”
If Locsin, at the time Cory Aquino was on the threshold of power, and Gamalinda, at a point when people began penning summations of her life, could look at Cory from the perspective of a nation that had lost its manhood, castrated, so to speak, by the dictatorship, in contrast to their perhaps hypermasculine approach three women’s observations – indeed, their own struggles, at the end of Cory’s life, to attempt to sum up the meaning of her public life from her becoming a widow to her passing- make for a composite that accurately gauges the public reaction to Cory’s death.
Sheila Coronel, writing for the online news magazine The Asia Sentinel, tried to evoke the country’s – and Cory’s- commingled suffering in 1983 and the resulting common cause in 1986. Recalling Cory’s decision to run for president against the dictator, Coronel recounted Cory,
In a voice that betrayed no emotion; told the large crowds that had gathered to see her [in 1985] that [in 1983] she had asked to be left alone with her husband’s body. ‘Ninoy,’ she told him, ‘itutuloy ko ang laban mo (I will continue your fight).
Those who did not live through the 1980s will find all this too melodramatic. But the Philippines was a different place then. We were a country ruled by a dying dictator being kept alive by frantic doctors and dialysis machines behind the walls of the highly fortified presidential palace. As Ferdinand Marcos lay on the throes of death, palace factions conspired, the army was restive in the barracks and the air was rife with rumor and intrigue.
Indeed it had been the distinct possibility Marcos was either dying or was in a terminal condition conducive to eyeing his ultimate standing in the history books, that had led Ninoy Aquino to come home in his Quixotic quest to reason with the dictator. The response to Ninoy’s reasonableness was bullets.
And so, as Coronel puts it,
Into this twilight came Cory Aquino. She was the grieving widow of Marcos’s martyr. She had been purified by suffering, her agony mirroring the nation’s. In 1986, she told the crowds that gathered in rapt attention, ‘I am just like you, a victim of Marcos.’ How could any Filipino not be moved?
Though Coronel points out that there would be some, like her, who subsequently remained unconvinced of the miraculous aspect of the national deliverance – and redemption- at Edsa.
Churchill had cautioned his people in the aftermath of the “Miracle of Dunkirk,” that “wars are not won by evacuation”. The agnosticism of those attempting to sum up Cory’s life and determine its ultimate meaning must therefore ultimately stand mute and abashed before Cory’s unshakeable belief in the miraculous aspect of Edsa resulting in national deliverance because peaceful – and made possible, as a victory, by an evacuation – not of brave soldiers from an entrapment seemingly impossible to escape, as the British in Dunkirk, but of am ailing, drug-addled dictator and his family from their antiseptic palace to embittered exile in Hawaii.
The difficulty with Edsa as National Deliverance extends not merely to the agnostic who acknowledge incomprehension in the face of miracles, but outright skepticism and hostility from those whose faith is of the incongruous kind anchored in historical materialism. For as columnist Manuel Buencamino, writing on the day Cory was buried wrote in The Business Mirror, what the Filipino people gathered at Edsa did was not just to “snatch victory from the jaws of defeat,” as Cory herself put it in her famous speech to the US Congress. What Filipinos did was slay dogma:
In 1986, the Filipino people, inspired and emboldened by the sincerity and courage of Corazon Aquino, took back the democracy that was taken away from them in 1972. Armed only with their faith and a firm belief in their capability to decide their own future, they faced down tanks.?
Their valor and audacity proved that Mao’s famous adage on power was just another lie foisted by oppressors. Edsa established, once and for all, that power comes not from the barrel of a gun but from the hearts of the people.
Dissent to this and similar verdicts, of non-violence as the dominant political discourse since Ninoy’s martyrdom, was registered with some vehemence at first, until it became obvious that the country had once more united in defense of Cory and was quite prepared to stare down any rumblings of either Marcosian machismo or Agitprop from the other extremity of the political spectrum – at which point it became more muted. At the heart of the big push that end up faltering, was the re-assertion of Cory as irredeemable Class Enemy, and of what was put in place at Edsa as “mere” restoration and indeed, betrayal.
In other words, at the end of Cory’s life came a renewed effort to dismiss her along either that of Marcos’ false bravado or according to the doctrines of a movement that would have preferred Cory a martyr because, like Ninoy, it would have saved the cost of bullets for liquidating two more class enemies.
But as journalist Malou Mangahas wrote in the blog of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism,
The Cory years launched a whole new regime of good programs that by quality and quantity surpass the combined achievements of her three successors.
The three post-EDSA presidents after Cory – Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph E. Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – practically just had to breeze through the presidency all because Cory had done most of the work for them. And yet, by all accounts, they built less and destroyed more of what Cory had set out to do for the nation. And yes, they probably did more bad than all the good and not-so-good things that Cory did.
Mangahas briskly recounts what these achievements were:
Apart from a new Constitution, Cory gave the nation groundbreaking policies and reforms, notably the Presidential Commission on Good Government, the Commission on Human Rights, the Local Government Code, the Family Code, the Administrative Code, the Expanded Value-Added Tax, the Generics Act, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, the National Youth Commission, and a bounty of laws for mothers, children, rebel-returnees, and indigenous communities.
As well, Cory freed political prisoners, forged peace with rebels, and nursed to life the communities struck down by the biggest disasters in recent Philippine history (the 1990 earthquake and the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in1991).
And it is from Carla Montemayor, in a commentary published online for the GMA Network’s online news outfit, that the closing summation comes. Fr. Francisco discreetly didn’t mention that the Cory in between her 1986 incarnation as challenger, and vanquisher, of the dictator, and her apotheosis, after her passing, as a kind of mediatrix and patroness of democracy in 2009 – was a Cory whose popularity ebbed and more often than not, waned, so that, as she ended up calling each one of her successors to task, with varying (and decreasing) levels of success, her intrinsic worth came increasingly into question, particularly by the political class.
Montemayor, looking at Cory – whether idolized or contemptuously referred to as a has-been- pointed out that
In Cory we saw how each decision had a moral quality to it; that she tried, even in the most ambiguous of predicaments, to determine what was right and wrong, what was just and unjust. It says a lot about the state of our society that one has to be heroic just to stay decent.
And it is this that is the uncontestable verdict: of a woman who personified heroic virtues – much to the chagrin of enemies old and new; and in contrast to a country that, in paying final tribute to her redeemed itself once more, purging itself of cynicism at least for the five days between Cory’s passing and her burial.