Fr. Leo Pabayo .
THANKS to the various media outlets, the national dailies, some TV stations and others for reminding us of the death anniversary of Cory Aquino.
Among the many heroes we have had, I personally consider Ninoy Aquino and Cory Aquino as among the great heroes we have had along with Jose Rizal and the others who are well known in our history.
Since it is Cory Aquino’s death anniversary that we are remembering, allow me to focus on the greatness of Cory.
First, I consider Cory as really the mother of the rebirth of our democracy. We were already beginning to lose our democracy with the growing corruption and rebellion, even long before Marcos finally robbed us of it with his almost interminable dictatorial rule.
Our remembering of the death anniversary of Cory is a good occasion to remember and regain many of the characteristics of a true Filipino that she had as well as the characteristics of a real democracy that she regained for us.
Of her many qualities as a person, a wife, mother and president she had one quality that stood out which makes her a most relevant hero for our time when corruption has become again more rampant.
This quality was cited by a Korean archbishop who admired Cory from afar.
During her presidency, the Korean archbishop, during a conference of the Asian Archbishops in the Philippines, went out of his way to meet Cory. Presumably, he had gotten to know her through the media during and after the People Power Revolution. After this visit to Cory, he remarked that Cory was a person outstanding in the virtue of purity.
“Purity” is a very familiar word in Catholic spirituality. This is one of the first virtues taught in the houses of formation for priests and the various Religious Congregations and Orders of Women and Men, who are then given the mission to share this with the Catholic Laity who have families and those who are referred to as having the vocation to a life of “blessed singleness.”
This virtue of “purity” mainly refers to a person’s singleness of purpose in the service of God and people. It means that her or his service is not tainted by any ulterior motive or agenda. The sole intention of the service is that of love of God and neighbor (which includes love of country in government service). From all indications, that was how Cory served the country.
While serving as President, her word to her children and grandchildren was that they should avoid the temptation that many political leaders fall for which is to dip their hands in the people’s coffer. She taught them to distinguish between what belongs to the family and what belongs to the country. Happily, her own son who eventually also became president, with his “Daang Matuwid” lived up to her teaching not to steal from the people’s coffer. His cabinet members, in spite of some of their failings in governance followed suit, in general, as no distinct acts of corruption in their ranks have been known for.
Cory’s entry into politics was purely in response to the clamor of the people and not in pursuit of a political ambition. One might call Cory as an accidental President. When her name came up as possible standard bearer of the opposition in the 1986 snap election, she was unwilling. As the wife of Ninoy Aquino who in his political life was always in the limelight, Cory was hardly known or heard of. She was basically a wife who looked after the personal needs of her husband and the needs of her children.
After the People Power Revolution, when the clamor of the opposition for her to be the standard bearer of the political party of her martyred husband Ninoy, she probably initially thought that it was enough for her to play a supporting role to whoever would be the standard bearer. The leading figure then of the opposition was Salvador Laurel. But many in the opposition felt that Laurel did not have the name or the charisma that could rekindle or fan the flame of love of country of Ninoy and the cause that he was murdered for. But hearing the clamor of the people who had long suffered from the dictatorial regime of Marcos, she came to realize that she was the only truly significant figure in the opposition who could galvanize the people to thwart what the opposition believed would be a wholesale cheating that was being devised by the party in power.
The opposition had little resources to mount a campaign while Marcos had the money that he had raked up during his incumbency and at the same time had the machinery of the government working for him. Although the political tide was turning against Marcos, he still had a good grip on power with Congress and the judiciary eating out of his hands, and the Comelec too, not to mention the US government’s support of the Marcos dictatorial regime borne of its fear of communism.
Comelec would not dare to look into the rigging of election that was in the offing. So the only big asset that the opposition had was the name of Ninoy whose assassination was still fresh in the minds and hearts of the people. Cory carried the name of Ninoy and shared his martyrdom in her own way. She had the name that could fan the flame of love for Ninoy and inspire people to work double to offset the advantage of Marcos. The leaders of the opposition therefore wanted her badly to be the standard bearer. To his credit, Laurel conceded and supported Cory.
Considering Cory’s temperament and her hidden life as convent bred student, a wife and mother who was always at the background of the very public Ninoy, this challenge to take up the torch from Ninoy must have felt like a heavy cross on her shoulder. But she eventually said yes and found new meaning and joy to this new challenge in her life. She proved herself up to the challenge and eventually found joy in giving new birth to our democracy.
(Fr. Leo Pabayo is a member of the Society of Jesus.)