Archibald Macleish had said that democracy must be defended by arms when it is attacked by arms and by truth when it is attacked by lies. He failed to say how it shall be won.
I held fast to Ninoy’s conviction that it must be by ways of democracy. I held out for participation in the 1984 election the dictatorship called, even if I knew it would be rigged. I was warned by the lawyers of the opposition that I ran the grave risk of legitimizing the foregone results of elections that were clearly going to be fraudulent. But I was not fighting for lawyers but for the people in whose intelligence I had implicit faith. By the exercise of democracy, even in a dictatorship, they would be prepared for democracy when it came, and then, also, it was the only way I knew by which we could measure our power even in the terms dictated by the dictatorship.
That was an excerpt from Cory Aquino’s famous address to a joint session of the US Congress.
In 1988, Jennifer Corey and Kathleen German said of this famous speech, that the romantic mythos of hero meeting and defeating villain after a prolonged struggle occurred on three distinct levels in Cory Aquino’s adress. First, there was the physical confrontation between Ferdinand Marcos and Benigno Aquino. Second, came democracy waging war against the evils of oppression, as the Filipino people rallied to the cause of freedom; and finally, there was the global confrontation of democracy and its enemies.
Tonight, as a nation bows its head in grief over the passing of Cory Aquino, a Special Episode of The Explainer, on Cory the romantic hero of our hearts.
By the time the illness of Cory Aquino made headlines, she had received a rare gift among leaders: the knowledge of where, precisely, she stood in terms of her people’s trust and affections.
Writing in his column, Mahar Mangahas pointed this out.
That sixty percent of the population expressed Much Trust in her, with only 21 percent of the public saying they had little trust in her.
To my mind, despite all the ups and downs in between, Cory’s trust ratings mere months before she passed away, leap out because they’re so similar to this:
This shows the relative percentages the two candidates in the Snap Elections achieved; though Mangahas reports Cory’s majority, based on the Namfrel Count, at sixty percent –making it only the third landslide in our entire presidential history.
But of course her public standing had its ups and downs, particularly during her time in power.
It’s a rule of thumb in politics that for presidents, they start out enjoying a honeymoon period but then, the public mood eventually sours. Cory was no exception to this.
But this chart, which compares the net satisfaction ratings of presidents during their terms shows, two things about Cory during her presidency in comparison to the presidencies of her successors stand out.
First, when she was popular, she was the most popular president, ever, since national surveys began looking at satisfaction ratings.
Second, and even at her most unpopular, she was never, ever, as unpopular as any of her successors.
So imagine that –twenty three years after the snap election andEdsa, seventeen years after leaving the presidency, Cory Aquino pretty much stood at the end of her public life, where she’d stood at its beginning –standing tall with a landslide standing in public opinion.
Tonight, as we take stock of Cory Aquino’s life, we have to ask ourselves why this was so.
The answer lies in the three stages of Cory’s life: as wife, as widow turned President, and finally as foster Mother of the Nation.
María Corazón Sumulong Cojuangco Aquino was born on January 25, 1933 at 4 o’clock in the morning in Paniqui, Tarlac.
Much has been made of her having been born to wealth and privilege as a Cojuango.
Too little attention has been paid to her heritage as the granddaughter of the dedicated oppositionist Juan Sumulong: if she inherited status and comfort, so, too, did she become heir to a stubborn streak of political rectitude.
She had wanted to be a become a math teacher and language interpreter; at one point, she decided to study law, but gave it up when she married Benigno Simeon Aquino, Jr. in 1954.
He was a man in a hurry, obsessed with vindicating his father’s memory-
And with achieving high political office.
He was, as friends and foe alike recognized, a charmer, a charismatic speaker; he adored crowds; but Cory, we’re told, preferred to stand at the back rather than go on stage when her husband mesmerized the public.
He was the coming man, and as this Free Press editorial cartoon shows, idolized in his time.
At first it was a battle of the wills, between Ninoy, the future President, and Ferdinand Marcos, the President who didn’t want to go.
Time, it seemed, was on Ninoy’s side with the expiration of Marcos’ final term in December, 1973. But Marcos had other ideas –and that included putting Ninoy in jail.
We all know the Martial Law story; but perhaps out of lingering guilt or embarrassment, we forget the moral of that story.
Ninoy quickly he found himself abandoned by the public, and virtually alone, as he and a few others rotted in jail. For Cory, this was accompanied by the painful discovery those who’d formerly hailed her husband, now pretended they didn’t know him –or her.
Husband and wife could have simply consoled themselves by saying that people are cowardly, or that power and wealth are fleeting –although these were, in truth, sobering lessons from the era- but instead, adversity led neither Ninoy nor Cory to throw in the towel or became bitter and cynical about their countrymen.
For husband and wife this was a time of purification in which Ninoy learned to set aside ambition, and Cory learned to set aside comfort; he read up on Mahatma Gandhi; she got on her knees and scrubbed the toilet of his cell.
Released from jail, they went into exile; and yet, deprived of everything, they found, instead, happiness.
These closing years of Cory’s life as a wife, were truly years of being together for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in imprisonment or exile, and it was only with death did they part.
And it was with her becoming a widow that the second stage of Cory’s life began –now a widow, she would discover, reluctantly, she was being called to be president.
Shortly before he came back home to die, Ninoy had a conversation with his friend, the journalist Teodoro M. Locsin, and told him this:
“When we start to feel the pain of those who have been victimized by tyranny,” Ninoy said, “it’s only then we can liberate ourselves… The feeling right now is ‘Fred was tortured, thank God it’s Fred, not me.’ That’s the tragic part. Society is atomized. Until the Filipino nation can feel the loss of one life as if it was their own, we’ll never liberate ourselves.”
Ninoy’s assassination suddenly led to an epidemic of courage in a country dismissed by an American politician as composed of forty million cowards and one sonofabitch.
In 1983, bravery was attending Ninoy’s wake in Santo Domingo Church. Courage was marching in the funeral cortege. Patriotism was to wear ribbons of mourning and shirts of yellow.
The public made Cory’s loss their own; and the first steps having been made, a simple, human, effort to show solidarity with a widow who had been wronged became the determination to stand up for a nation that had been wronged. At last.
If we’re to understand Cory Aquino’s role as a widow and a leader, a simple concept is required: she never said, I told you so. She never told us we were bad; she told us precisely who was bad –and that we, the people, were good.
Furthermore, as her husband decided to face death, so would she face the dictator –squarely, uncompromisingly, stubbornly.
Cory Aquino never pointed out those crying over Ninoy’s death today had shunned him –and her- yesterday; when people suggested she was the cause of this newfound courage in the face of dictatorship; she’d say, no, if anyone deserves credit, it’s Ninoy; but really, the credit, as Ninoy himself always said, belongs to the people.
When we return, Cory as President and icon of our newly restored democracy.
Last year, in an excess of arrogance, the dictatorship called for its doom in a snap election. The people obliged. With over a million signatures, they drafted me to challenge the dictatorship. And I obliged them. The rest is the history that dramatically unfolded on your television screens and across the front pages of your newspapers.
You saw a nation, armed with courage and integrity, stand fast by democracy against threats and corruption. You saw woman poll watchers break out in tears as armed goons crashed the polling places to steal the ballots but, just the same, they tied themselves to the ballot boxes. You saw a people so committed to the ways of democracy that they were prepared to give their lives for its pale imitation. At the end of the day, before another wave of fraud could distort the results, I announced the people’s victory.
That was another excerpt from Cory Aquino’s address to the US Congress, where she summarized in a few eloquent sentences, the showdown that was the snap election.
What did Cory do, from 1984 to 1986? The public, instead of receiving a sermon from her on where were you during martial law, instead got a practical education from Cory –who became as she’d once hoped to be, a teacher- in setting aside our differences and focusing on the real priority of the country.
What was that priority?
Writing on February 2, 1986, Teodoro M. Locsin boiled it down as follows:
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!
But what, exactly, was she fighting for? This question became increasingly important as rumors swirled that Ferdinand Marcos might die, and then, when Marcos suddenly decreed a snap election to prove he could cheat his way to another term in office.
A group of citizens came together to find a worthy candidate to contest the presidency, and put forward a simple contract for whoever would be that candidate to follow:
- To accomplish the transition from dictatorship to democracy;
- To replace the dictator’s perpetually amended constitution with one properly ratified by the people; and,
- To stay in office only as long, and not a minute longer, than the new constitution would provide.
In the end, the various leaders decided Cory was the woman to beat Marcos. A million signatures gathered by Chino Roces convinced her; and in one of the greatest demonstrations of statesmanship in our history, Salvador H. Laurel set aside his own ambitions and agreed to a unified opposition ticket.
But the dictator wasn’t about to be evicted; he had himself proclaimed the duly-elected president; and Cory threw herself into a new campaign.
At five feet three inches tall, the same height as Mahatma Gandhi, she announced she’d lead a movement in the mold of Gandhi –of non-violent civil disobedience until and unless Marcos, the Batasan, the Comelec, and the Courts, acknowledged the true verdict of the snap election.
In the end, the end came in an unexpected way, on Edsa; to some, it was the Miracle of Edsa; to others, the beginning of a long road of unfulfilled expectations.
Cory herself never pretended that the Edsa Revolution was anything more than what she precisely told the world it was: a limited revolution, because its aims, were, precisely, limited. Remember the Convenor’s Group Agreement?
What the people were promised, and what they got, was a chance to direct, once more, their national destiny –not to have it determined by the whims of one, all-powerful, president.
A simple chart suffices, to digest the challenges and the ultimate achievement, the real meaning of Cory’s’ presidency. This graph of our countrys’ quarterly GDP growth, prepared by a De La Salle University’s economics professor, shows the valley of economic collapse of the Marcos years, here-
And the peaks –in 1986, after the fall of Marcos- in 1987, before and after Gringo Honasan’s coup, and again, in 1989 before Honasan’s second and even more destructive coup- that have never been matched since. The lesson’s a simple one: with enough stability, and enough freedom, we, ourselves, can do it.
As for Cory, she managed to survive in office when even her husband had speculated whoever would be Marcos’ successor would have to resort to martial law. The lineup of those opposed to her was varied, and determined.
To all, she held out the olive branch of peace, regardless of their provocations –but never to the extent of surrendering or sacrificing her three-point commitment to the electorate.
This meant that many would be disappointed; and undoubtedly, she made mistakes as president, but in the end, she held fast to her commitment to step down when her term expired, all the institutions, for better or worse, of democratic government having been restored: a presidency that recognizied its limits; an independent judiciary, a Congress freely elected; and elections that were, once more, credible.
June 30, 1992 marked the end of Cory’s presidency; and the first peaceful, constitutional, transfer of power since 1965.
Cory went home; coming out of retirement only when, in her view, the country needed to be reminded that presidents are the first servants of the people, and not their masters, and certainly not above the law.
There is no better summation of Cory Aquino’s life than her own words announcing the people’s victory on February 8, 1986.
…The Marcos spell is broken. The myth of his invincible machine has been shattered. Against his guns, against his goons, and against his gold, the Filipino people have prevailed. They have made their cry of freedom and justice heard above the torrent of lies and threats.
A painful price has been paid. Many have been hurt… and some have died. Let us hope and pray that the tragic reports we have heard are the final price our people must pay for freedom. They have well earned it.
…Nothing can take our victory from us. No power can pry from our hands the freedom we have won this day.
In 1972, our country was taken from us by force in the dead of night and kept from us by deception. We became exiles in our own land. Now we have our country back. And it is fitting that, as we lost it in darkness, we have regained it in the night.
We are home again, in a country we can once more call our own. We have won back our country and won it with bravery, sacrifice, honor, and distinction. This night marks our true independence. We owe no one for our freedom but ourselves.
She concluded, typically because modestly, that “It is not for me to thank the Filipino people; it is for all of us to welcome ourselves home.”
She has gone now, to an imperishable home; and it is for us to continue what we’d once done, with her: to maintain that home, our national home, as a democratic one.