Initial summations


(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).

Coronel mused,

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.

Mangahas continued,

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.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

13 thoughts on “Initial summations

  1. Participatory representative democracy is truly not for the meek and mild in spirit. In that respect the plain housewife was as tough and resolute as a diamond.

  2. That a country of eunuchs would need a Cory Aquino to find its manhood, that is a real tragedy. You’ve either got it or you don’t. Seeking virility from beyond our own capabilities is contemptible. So is Cory also our national Viagra?

  3. kung sinasabi ng mga politikong yan na mahal nila ang ating bansa, sana bumaba sila sa kanilang mga airconditioned buses at makilakad kasama ang mga ordinaryong tao na mula Manila Cathedral hanggang Manila Memorial ay nagbigay pugay kay President COry kahit na malakas ang ulan at masama ang panahon.Mabuhay ka Butch Abad, balita ko isa ka sa mga iilan na lumalakad.

  4. correction on Guy Sacerdoti. I worked with him and the group of foreign journalists/photographers who published the book BAYAN KO not People Power.

  5. A Lesson for Arroyo from Apolinario Mabini

    President Cory Aquino’s funeral cortege is still crawling on Quirino Avenue as I write this.

    A lot of us are making comparisons between Nanay Cory and what’s her name. However, instead of giving my own analysis on why Cory is so loved and the Resident Evil is so loved to be hated, I’d rather share two paragraphs from Apolinario Mabini’s unpublished book, La Revolucion Filipina.

    Mabini’s friends published it for him after his death in 1903. It’s a post-mortem on the failure of the Philippine Revolution in 1896 and in 1898. You’d feel that Mabini wrote it for today’s Filipinos.

    Our nation’s founders didn’t have the benefit of history to guide them because they were making history. We, however, have that benefit. It is our responsibility now to learn from it.

    Make a mistake, it’s human. Make the same mistake twice, it’s stupid. Make the same mistake again and again, it’s criminal.

    The following is from chapter 10, titled “End and Fall of the Revolution”:

    “To sum it up, the Revolution failed because it was badly led; because its leader won his post by reprehensible rather than meritorious acts; because instead of supporting the men most useful to the people, he made them useless out of jealousy.

    “Identifying the aggrandizement of the people with his own, he judged the worth of men not by their ability, character and patriotism but rather by their degree of friendship and kinship with him; and anxious to secure the readiness of his favorites to sacrifice themselves for him, he was tolerant even of their transgressions.

    “Because he thus neglected the people forsook him; and forsaken by the people, he was bound to fall like a waxen idol melting in the heat of adversity. God grant we do not forget such a terrible lesson, learnt at the cost of untold suffering.”

    The following is from the last chapter, titled “Conclusion”:

    “Mr. Aguinaldo believed that one can serve his country with honour and glory only from high office, and this is an error which is very dangerous to the common welfare; it is the principal cause of the civil wars which impoverish and exhaust many states and contributed greatly to the failure of the Revolution.

    “Only he is truly a patriot who, whatever his post, high or low, tries to do the greatest possible good to his countrymen. A little good done in an humble position is a title to honour and glory, while it is a sign of negligence or incompetence when done in high office.

    “True honour can be discerned in the simple manifestatio ns of an upright and honest soul, not in brilliant pomp and ornament which scarcely serve to mask the deformities of the body. True honour is attained by teaching our minds to recognize truth, and training our hearts to love it.

    “The recognition of truth shall lead us to the recognition of our duties and Of justice, and by Performing Our duties and doing justice we shall be respected and honoured, whatever our station in life. Let us never forget that we are on the first rung of our national life, and that we are called upon to rise, and can go upward only on the ladder of virtue and heroism.

    “Above all let us not forget that, if we do not grow, we shall have died without ever having been great, unable to reach maturity, which is proper of a degenerate race.”

    Originally published on La Nueva Liga Filipina
    August 5, 2009

  6. What “Marcos restoration” were you talking about some time ago?

    There’s no “Marcos restoration” except for those who may never have risked their younger years in fighting the dictatorship, whether now regretting the choice not made or because there was, in being sheltered in old money’s comfort, no opportunity for that activism. That would perhaps explain the ease with which a pundit might declare a ‘restoration’ based on Imelda’s public prattling — a tempting thing to do for someone who may never have valued what was taken away by the Marcoses or the fierce fighting it took to get it back. I don’t know; perhaps I am just cynical towards cynics who conflate the impunity the Marcoses still enjoy with acceptance by those they abused.

  7. The best way to honour fallen heroes is to build upon their sacrifices and deliver real and measurable RESULTS.

    Look around. Lots of yellow ribbons, “L” hand gestures, and crowds standing around — just as in 1986.

    But the question remains:

    Where are the results?

    We can wear yellow til we turn blue and wave “L” gestures ’til our hands turn white, but the TRUTH is a bit more demanding:

    It is ONLY when we are able to answer the above question CONVINCINGLY can we TRULY claim to have HONOURED the sacrifices of Cory and Ninoy.

    It’s simple, reallyâ„¢.

  8. Leon, the victory at Edsa was reaffirmed yesterday but also I don’t think their rehabilitation in some sense has been reversed. I never said those who lived through the dictatorship and fought them have rehabilitated them; but that a majority that never knew them as anything more than celebrities will be hard-put to think them anything but precisely that.

  9. It’s amazing today’s technology in comparison with the one in 1986. Today i practically felt like I physically attended the ceremonies in the comfort of my couch some 10 thousand miles away. Back in ’86 it was a minute of CNN at the most repeated over and over the rest of the day. Big difference.
    I shed some tears I have to admit. And while doing so there was this revolting feeling inside me that was somehow suggesting that this kind of drama is having a hint of obsolescence. Is this the way we should be doing our politics in the 21st century?

  10. Cory restored freedom of speech. To speak freely of the ills of government is fundamental to living prosperous. But take it to the next level-abolish some of our other “freedoms”, like bank secrecy.

    Corrupt elites are using this “freedom” to mask theft. And their prescription to solving poverty is to keep this kind of “freedom” while abolishing others, like freedom of speech, via a dictator.

    People who support dictators and diss Cory are idiots in my opinion.

  11. The agnostics and the cynics will have difficulty comprehending the renewed popularity of Mrs. Aquino long after death, for some of them tend to think more of her negative attributes. Well, they are still disappointed.

    However in the aftermath, we’ll have to confront a mass of politicos whose pretentiousness can be easily detected at the mere gesture or the look on their faces.

    Fortunately, apart from renewed activism, Cory’s burial tells us another thing for next year’s elections, and it’s to vote the right men for the job, not political opportunists or sycophants or egomaniacs.

    As the ol’ slogan says, “Tama na, Sobra na, Palitan na!”

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