Updated August 1, 2009: I wrote this piece a little over a month ago, when Cory Aquino was confined at the hospital for cancer treatment. Just this morning, the former President of the Philippines, Corazon Aquino, died at the age of 76.
For the past few hours, I tried to write a fitting tribute to President Aquino, but I keep missing the point, unable to write a eulogy for the former President. Then again, I figure that this entry could be the sobering eulogy that I was trying to write in the first place. I bring you this apology to Cory Aquino, and I dedicate it to her memory. – Marocharim
The year was 1985. My parents tell me my name took after Ferdinand Marcos. In the Solid North, “Apo” loomed like a monumental presence, both metaphorically and literally. There was the veneration passed on to the Ilocano President, and there were the statues and highways named after him. Not to mention the children named after Lakay Marcos.
It was a name with its own sense of irony. Marcos was going to fall at that time, and that little frail-looking housewife with an iron will – Corazon Aquino – was going to be President.
I was born and raised in a time other than Cory’s.
Years after the 1986 People Power movement, the inspiring woman became a source of derision for many, not just for Marcos’ old supporters, loyalists, and admirers. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of political science and public administration would have made – and did make – a laundry list of everything wrong with Cory’s Presidency. “Buti pa noong panahon ni Marcos,” my elders would lament, and start telling stories of the “good old days.” Somehow, Cory became relegated to the backdrop; despised, denied, derided. Cory took the blame for everything from military coups, the permanent crisis for honoring all our debts, brownouts, and a new take on the aristocracy.
Years later, I took to the vacant classrooms of the university, and taught schoolmates what I knew from the books, and tackled Cory’s history with contempt. Cory wasn’t the “frail housewife in yellow” as much as she became the figurehead for massacres in Mendiola. Cory wasn’t a “simple woman,” as much as she was the scion of the sugar lords in Tarlac. The “educational discussion” turned into oratory dripping with disdain for the darling of the world in 1986. Had there been no Ninoy, there would not have been a Cory. Had there been no Salvador Laurel, there would not have been a Cory. The same denial that came with Marcos was accorded to Cory – at least in the discussions of my heyday – where the name “Cory” was just like any other four-letter word.
I deliberately and purposefully forgot the 1987 Constitution. I deliberately and purposefully forgot that it was during her term that the US military bases were booted out of sovereign territory. I deliberately and purposefully forgot that Cory Aquino was the face, the image, and the presence behind the spirit of EDSA.
I’ve had time to reflect and to think about that, and I figured that the only reason why I could freely bash and lambaste the former President back then was that I never really got to experience the situation she was in. The worst part of being that outsider was the arrogant comfort of second-hand knowledge. At the time when Cory was President, I was playing with blocks and watching anthropomorphic trains on TV. When her Presidency ended, I was all but seven years old, perfecting my ABC’s and 123’s. Armchair commentary or the homily from the pew took place years later, and never in the position Cory was in some two decades ago: the ability to take Corazon Aquino’s milestone, her achievement that none of us will probably equal in our lifetime, for granted.
The year is 2009. Here I am, 24 years older, 24 years wiser. I write this as a fitting apology, perhaps, to former President Corazon Aquino, who is on the road to recovery from cancer. While there will be things that I’ll definitely disagree with, it is, was, and forever will be from the sight of a bystander. At the very least, an entire generation – mine – owes Tita Cory the biggest debt of gratitude of all.
Lo siento, Corazon.
* – Photo courtesy of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism