When news first came out about the battle Former Pres. Cory Aquino was having with colon cancer, I had mixed feelings. And this reaction, which continues even to today as I monitor the activities and commentaries accompanying her death, is certainly… odd.
Context is such a very important thing, to someone with my type of training in analysis. One of the first things you ask inevitably is, “where is this person coming from?” Context places everything in what I think is the proper light, for, in my view, knowing where something comes from, or was taken from, explains a great deal why actions and thoughts by individuals are what they are.
And the context of my reactions to the long battle of Cory with Cancer, and her recent death, is in the role she was said to have played in the LP Civil War, as well as her apology to Joseph Estrada for his ouster in 2001. Both hit home hard for me because those were two very important things to me, the Party I cherished, and the cause I fought for. The… adversarial role she played greatly colored my reactions to the news of her ailment and her death.
It is also the reason I have not gone to any of the wakes for her. Much as I would like to offer her my final respects, there are so many people there, I know, who might… question my presence. What is another “defender of Gloria” doing there, sullying the wake for Cory? The Marcoses can be forgiven, but not Gloria and her people.
And respect for Cory, despite the context of my issues with her, must be given, indeed. Growing up in a household where the Matriarch (my lola) is a Blue Lady can color your early perception of People Power I and the Aquinos. Spending your early adolescence with the power out for half the day (and thus being unable to enjoy your PC XT) can further that. And then, many years later, you hear Jovy Salonga’s and the Party’s side of the story about the US Bases issue.
Yet as my father pointed out, all that Cory ever promised was a restoration of our democracy and the rebuilding of its institutions. Everything else – the failure to dissolve the ancient regime of feudalism in our democracy, the dead on Mendiola, the power outages, the seven coups, the US Bases – is just peripheral details. Today, you can say, on air, that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is a bitch that should be brought out and shot, and all you’d probably get is snarling responses from Cerge Remonde or some Palace official, or (at worst) a libel suit from somebody. As Rep. Teddy Locsin pointed out recently, its nice to know that you wake the next day without your government having done anything bad to you in the night. For that alone, Cory should at least be given the highest honors.
I’ve also seen the plaudits, and this is only over at the Inquirer; God knows what else is being said out there. I find it particularly… amusing that the Radical Left said all of those things, even to Joma calling the Aquinos “famly friends.” Lets leave my comment at that: I find it amusing. And I’ll leave these people to deify Cory.
Perhaps there really is something about this job that shears off that “protective film” that covers the eyes, ears and other senses of the public. You know too much, have seen these leaders in moments when there is no camera, no significant number of “civilians.” The “spin” their meisters and apologists foist on an unsuspecting public works not for you because you have… experienced these paragons in a different context. And it gets worse when its actually your job to make this “spin.” Sometimes, I think we PR professionals for national leaders are the saddest creatures because we cannot have the blissful safety of ignorance.
But then, I remember a different Cory. Very different from the seeming-demigod being rained plaudits and praises over national media, each paean trying to outdo the other. Like I said, you spend time with the “big people” as often as I do, you get… jaded. You’ve seen it all. You probably even shared laughs and drinks with some of them.
I’ve seen her before that day in 2004, of course; I was there, after all, on EDSA that second time around. But this was the first time I got to not only be that close and personal with her, but to see her in a context away from the glare of the cameras.
That day, the person regarded as the Icon of Democracy, the woman who defeated Ferdinand Marcos, who faced down seven coup attempts, whose face appeared on Time Magazine as Person of the Year, smilingly took a seat at the head of a cluster of tables while the eager faces of more than a dozen student leaders from the Catholic schools looked on.
I can’t remember exactly what Cory talked about that day, but I do remember the initial hesitance among these boisterous, articulate and headstrong kids when she opened the floor for questions. I guess the thing that went on in their minds was, “what the hell do I ask Pres. Cory? And most importantly, how do I do so without looking quite the, well, noob?” But after the initial forays of the more courageous getting good responses from her, and a little coaxing from the former President, the questions kept coming and it became an interesting, light-hearted, but (if I recall my impressions of what were asked right) very weighty discussion. The kids knew who was before them, after all, and to ask silly questions was not only considered a waste, but bordering on the faux pas. You had Cory before you: ask important questions only.
As lively as the Q & A was (and I do believe Cory enjoyed her exchange with the UCSC kids), she asked us if we had been to the Museum. We were, after all, holding our Congress at the Ninoy Aquino Center in Tarlac. And given our hectic schedule, we hadn’t really gotten around to checking out the Museum that was right across the conference area. Mildly surprised that we were missing the opportunity, Cory had her aide ring up the Museum admin and ushered us all in.
And I think it was while in the middle of it that I realized that, here was Cory Aquino. THE Cory Aquino. You know, Person of the Year in 1986? Icon of Democracy? Nevermind the other titles.
And she was our tour guide.
Holy shit. Pres. Aquino herself was giving us a tour of the Ninoy Aquino Museum and telling us the little tidbits and anecdotes that came with the stuff inside.
I’ve often wondered how it was to have lived with people you only read in history books. I’ve written at least once of how I envy my grandmother for having seen Pres. Manuel Quezon and Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the flesh, to have experienced World War II in all its tragedy and glory.
Yet there we were, going around the Aquino Center with one of the legendary persons of our time.
I’ve always said that one of the things I hated about the LP Civil War and those that both perpetrated it and perpetuate it – Mar Roxas, I’m looking at YOU – was the… shattering of bonds with people you hold dear. I mourn, always, my rift with Butch and Dina Abad; I loved those two and considered them my parents in the Liberal Party. Deep inside, my hatred for Mar most likely stems from having your hero turn out to be less than a zero.
And perhaps, this is one of the most painful, too: to have your admiration and awe for Cory Aquino tarnished so much because of the vicious political battle that started that dreary day of 8 July 2005, the role she played in the aggravation of what was a leadership issue of her husband’s political party, that would become a full-blown civil war. If, as I was told, she had not made that call to the Chief Justice and gotten that TRO (considering the CJ was on the other side of the world), would the LP be the broken mess it is today? Or would that knock-down-drag-out, COMELEC-supervised election of new Party officers have settled the issue between Atienza and Drilon once and for all?
So maybe I’ll just choose to focus instead on the Cory that shared with us that amazing day at the Ninoy Center in Tarlac. I will just cherish the thought that, for a while, a legend had taken the time from her uber-busy schedule to sit down with a couple of crazy kids and even show them around her place.
Perhaps that, with the fondness of memory, makes you realize why you were at awe at her then: that given all that she was, Cory Aquino treated you and your colleagues – total strangers to her, really, as of that morning – as if you were her children’s (or, in our case, grandchildren’s) classmates.