This piece maybe too late to mourn for Cory Aquino, she died 01 August 2009 after a long battle with cancer, but at the least she will be remembered by multitudes of Filipinos, including me. She was the first female president of the Philippines and the first female president of any country in Asia. She and I never have personally met or talked, but if circumstances were different, I know that I could have kissed her hand to thank her, if she would have let me.
TIME (1987) chose Corazón Cojuangco-Aquino as its Woman of the Year for 1986, recognizing her central role in one of the most compelling dramas in recent history — the widowed housewife who avenges her husband’s death by overthrowing the regime widely blamed for his murder. She was the first woman to be designated TIME’s Person of the Year since Queen Elizabeth II for 1952. When the January issue of TIME hit the streets, every Filipino was smiling like they have each won a million-dollar sweepstakes. That was a time when every Filipino was truly proud of being a Filipino.
After a popular uprising, People Power, that forced Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos from power, Cory Aquino was sworn in as the 11th President of the Third Philippine Republic on 25 February 1986, the same month and year when I was scheduled to graduate with the Sinagtala Class of 1986 from the Philippine Military Academy, Baguio City. Two years before that, however, I together with five other third-class cadets were charged with maltreating a plebe, a fourth-class man—a first year student. By the time Cory was being installed to the presidency, I was already back in my home city trying to complete my Electrical Engineering degree. This was one of the times when people could clearly remember the small details what they were doing then. When it was telecast live on TV, Cory Aquino took her oath, administered by Supreme Court Associate Justice Claudio Teehankee, in the morning of that day at the Club Filipino in San Juan, I was stepping out of my parents’ front door going to my engineering class. I had to back track my steps and sat down to watch and listen to her inauguration speech and first proclamations. In our family of five eligible voters, except our youngest sister who was only 16 then, we all voted her into office.
Months in her Presidency, one mistah, a PMA classmate, wrote to her about our 1984 serious physical injuries or hazing case and throwing in conspiracy by a military tribunal, which meted out three to six years incarceration with hard labor for the six of us, the infamous “Lords of Discipline” of PMA. The letter was a re-written version of our earlier plea for help, having been incarcerated with a number of the officers and men of the Armed Forces of the Philippines implicated with the Ninoy Aquino-Rolando Galman Murder Case in Camp Aguinaldo. This latter tidbit was incorporated in the revised version. Our first letter of plea for help was brought to her attention in December 1985 and we received an immediate reply promising a look-see from her private secretary, Maria Elena (“Ballsy”) Cruz, once Cory was elected into the presidency. Cory announced earlier in October 1985, while delivering a lecture on “My Role as Wife, Mother and Single Parent” at a University of the Philippines sorority, that she would stand for the presidency — provided that Marcos called a snap election and that 1 million people petitioned her (Time, 1987). Marcos called a snap election held on 07 February 1986. Four of my PMA colleagues, who remained in Manila, actively campaigned for her presidential bid. The six of us were among the 1 million, as my mistah claimed that they added by proxy two of us who went back to the province, me included. One of my mistahs even joined the force which raided Malacañang, hoping somewhere in the debris of shoes and chaos our acquittal papers were signed before the Marcoses fled for Hawaii.
The six of us were acquitted and was offered to go back to PMA. I begged off because going back would be repeating the second year in a four-year stint; meanwhile, I only had one year to finish my Electrical Engineering degree, which I did on 04 April 1988. All of us six never went back to PMA to become cadets again. Three became engineers—chemical, electrical and civil. One remained a military operative, one is now in the trucking business; one is presumed dead.
Only three are in constant touch. One even visited me in my home city one night, while I was still a graduating student; and we drank gin (never a drinker, but he wanted a taste) and reminisced the days (when everything was bars around us) till the wee hours the next morning. He was then connected with Fuller Paints, a chemical engineer, overseeing a boat paint job. He is now assigned in Singapore, married with two kids. The trucker became an NSC employee, too, but based in Makati, while I was Iligan based. When I went for an official business there, I was surprised when somebody called me mistah and found out that he had been with the NSC’s marketing department after graduation and a short stint at another firm. He and his wife visited my family during the feast of St. Michael Archangel in 2006. As usual, we re-told stories we never thought we would be telling again. The civil engineer is assumed to have been working abroad.
With Cory Aquino on our side, we knew then that life would be all right, our supposed serious crimes were demoted into misdemeanors, with already served jail time as punishment. The hard labor part was excised. Our case became a showcase because of the waning popular support for Marcos then. Every major television news and even local radio broadcasted our hazing case. My father even asked for the transcript of the radio report from the local news anchor, his friend.
When Cory Aquino died, I felt like my second mother died. Not only did she helped vindicate us; she became the “Mother of Democracy” not only of the Philippines; but she served as a shining beacon for similarly oppressed people all over the world. Says Congressman Stephen Solarz, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs (Time, 1987): “I have found that from Poland to Pakistan and from South Korea to South Africa, those who are committed to democracy see in Aquino a sense of enduring inspiration.”
One Cory quote I always bear in mind, even today: “One must be frank to be relevant.” I hope I am living up to her requirement. Cory Aquino not only deserve to be recognized as a national hero (Salaverria, 2009) as Congress and various city councils across Metro Manila filed resolutions to that effect. A modern Gabriela Silang. Maybe, we—Catholic Filipinos—should appeal to the Pope to have her as a candidate for sainthood. All the qualities of saints: devotion to God, tenacity, determination, humility, honesty, sincerity, patience, courage, determination, moral leadership, advocacy to peace and good governance, among several others are personified by Cory Aquino. A patron saint of presidents?
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