The Long View
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:41:00 08/06/2009
For five days, the country remembered what it was like not to be cynical. It was like the real-life story of “Awakenings,” written by Oliver Sachs. In his book, Sachs recounted how patients unconscious for decades ever since they contracted a mysterious sleeping sickness in the 1920s awakened for a brief period of time in 1969, due to a drug therapy he administered. They were themselves again, shocked over how they had gone to sleep as young people and awakened as elderly people. And then, suddenly, they went back to sleep.
We were ourselves again, for five brilliant, beautiful, gut-wrenching because soul-searching, days. One young alumna of St. Scholastica’s, Cory’s alma mater, recounted in her blog “Bookmarked!” something Cory had told her and other student leaders back in 2005, “Never stop dreaming for the country, and never stop working towards those dreams.” But those dreams had faded – or worse, dreaming had become equated with being delusional – by the time Cory died.
A friend quipped that cynics are just disillusioned idealists, and to a great extent this is true and explains the awakening that has taken place. To be sure, that disillusionment remains in some quarters but it was, at least temporarily, displaced by a strange, because so long absent, feeling of unity by means of little acts of solidarity.
To be sure, it wasn’t perfect all around. A foreign observer, blogger Torn & Frayed in Manila, trenchantly observed, “Sadly, the wake was much like Cory’s presidency; despite all the talk about ‘the Filipino people’ the people had to stand still while a parade of the entitled ones waltzed past with their newly coiffed hair.” The blogger, “after moving about 50 yards in an hour,” gave up – which was a pity. But then perhaps understandable, because the compulsion to remain in line to see Cory for the last time could only be a Filipino’s to feel.
When I lined up on the first day, ahead of me was a small group who had come straight from work at the Department of Education, and they shared stories of how they lined up for a similarly lengthy period to pay their respects to Ninoy in 1983. They did so with the knowledge that they were putting their jobs on the line. They were standing in line again, not because they had anything to lose, but because of what they had gained.
I am sure all who lined up have similar stories, and even among those who didn’t have to line up, there are other stories. One struck me in particular: As a large throng of VIPs complained that they had to wait on the second night in La Salle Green Hills because access had to be limited due to concerns over the structural load the gym could carry, Susan Roces was whisked to the elevator, only to encounter a disabled mother being brought by her daughter. None of the VIPs seemed inclined to give way, so she exited the elevator and quietly climbed the stairs.
A young married couple, having difficulties making ends meet because the husband had lost his job, went in the early dawn hours. The wife did so with the intention of making “pabilin,” she said.
And what did she ask Cory by way of intercession? “For the country, of course,” she said, “but also, for my husband – that he will find work.” And she proceeded to unburden herself of her resentments over a society in which her husband, only in his mid-thirties, could no longer find work because of employers’ bias for the young. “It’s as if he’s now worthless, because he’s no longer in his twenties,” the wife indignantly said of her husband, who hung back, abashed at how vocal his wife was. “And you know what’s worse, so many are experiencing this same problem and it is forcing them to forge papers and bribe agencies simply to get a job by pretending to be younger than they actually are.”
So she had come to entrust her petition to Cory, to whisper an entreaty, since those left behind seemed indifferent to the couple’s plight.
In Intramuros, there was an even greater commingling outside the Manila Cathedral of Filipinos from all walks of life, standing in line together. As in La Salle, upper and middle class Filipinos tended to depart as soon as they paid their respects; the poor tended to linger to keep vigil. Everywhere you could see those of a certain age were heavy with memories, and the young were avidly accumulating new ones. What brought both old and young together was the unfamiliar sense of unity, the idea that in public and political life goodness can and did exist.
There are those who insist that the past few days were strictly a revisiting of 1986 and nothing more – certainly not that despicable thing known as politics. As if 1986 weren’t about politics, in its purer, proper sense. Along the same lines are the exhortations for unity, by which its proponents mean a papering-over of the political divide since 2005.
Surely there were many who have pursued different political paths since 1986, or even none, putting them on opposite sides to Cory, particularly as she, in many ways, in her last years returned to where she had been during martial law – denigrated, dismissed, even despised. But I think the public saw with fresh eyes once more that while Cory studiously avoided personal acrimony, she was prepared to be shunned by friends and family on fixed points of principle.
Fr. Manoling Francisco, SJ taking a cue from Ninoy’s poem, said the country fell in love with Cory thrice: in 1983, 1986, and 2009. If so, then surely it must have fallen, this last time around, in love with the complete Cory of 1933-2009 who proved unity comes from a country ultimately respecting those who maintain fidelity to principle while others surrender to cynicism, hopelessly seeking nuances, or cold-hearted pragmatism.