Cory Aquino 1933-2009
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez () - August 2, 2009 - 12:10pm

MANILA, Philippines - The icon of Philippine democracy is gone.

Corazon Aquino, the country’s first woman president, died yesterday at 3:18 a.m. at the Makati Medical Center after an 18-month battle with colon cancer. She was 76.

 She had fulfilled her mission to lead her people from the oppression of a dictatorship toward democracy. And, once there, she never let her guard down. The world honored – and continues to honor – her for this.

“Our mother peacefully passed away at 3:18 a.m., Aug. 1, 2009, of cardio-respiratory arrest,” Mrs. Aquino’s only son Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III announced from the

lobby of the Makati Medical Center around 6 a.m. yesterday. Even as Senator Aquino spoke, thousands of yellow ribbons fluttered on the streets around the hospital, the avenues winding through the metropolis, the thoroughfares crisscrossing country. Yellow was the color of protest against the Marcos dictatorship and Mrs. Aquino ascended to the presidency clad in fighting yellow.

Last night, she lay in state in a yellow gown at the De La Salle Greenhills Gymnasium, even in death, a symbol of the continuing struggle to safeguard democracy. Her son said his mother would have a private funeral, not a state funeral, as she had preferred to be a private citizen after her presidency. The former president will also not lie in state in Malacañang.

She would be buried beside her husband at the Manila Memorial Park in Sucat, Parañaque City on Wednesday, after a two-day wake at La Salle, and another two-day wake at the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros.

Although the wake would be a private ceremony, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police will provide honor guards hourly before her casket. Canon shots will be fired from all major military camps every half hour in deference to the late commander-in-chief.

Senator Aquino said the La Salle gym was chosen because of its capacity and La Salle’s significance in the safeguarding of votes during the snap elections of 1986.

“It was her wish for all of us to pray for one another and for our country,” Senator Aquino said, adding that he and his siblings were drawing strength from each other.

News of Mrs. Aquino’s death was met with deep sadness by many, with hundreds of thousands crying, “like we had lost a member of our family,” said a US Embassy employee who found herself in tears the whole day.

“A part of all of us died with President Aquino. In darkness, she was our strength. In despair she was our inspiration. In her dying moments, she united the nation in prayer,” a lawyer-CEO, who was among the thousands who trooped to the La Salle gym yesterday to pay his last respects to Mrs. Aquino, told The STAR.

“Let our people go!” the housewife and mother of five declared in 1986 when she accepted the challenge to lead the opposition out of the dictatorship and into the Promised Land of democracy. Twenty-three years later, before she passed away surrounded by her daughters Ballsy Cruz, Pinky Abellada, Viel Dee, Kris Yap, sons-in-law and grandchildren, Mrs. Aquino was all too aware that she was amidst a robust democracy, an active political opposition, a free press, and a citizenry jealous of the freedoms they won in a bloodless revolt in 1986.

Mrs. Aquino fought hard to vanquish her cancer, the disease that claimed her mother Demetria Sumulong Cojuangco, and even underwent laparascopic colectomy and radiation in May this year. Relatives said the former president was in “excruciating” pain during her last days, and was being given morphine.

Senator Aquino said his mother would sometimes grimace in pain, but never complained. In an interview after she discovered her cancer in March 2008, Mrs. Aquino told The STAR, “We all have to suffer in life. Jesus Christ did not commit any sin, and yet he suffered greatly.”

She had once told her children she did not wish to see them in tears, but yesterday they lovingly bid their mother a tearful goodbye. It was the one wish they couldn’t grant her.

“I have led a full life. I cannot complain,” Mrs. Aquino said in March 2008 when she was told that she had stage 4 cancer of the colon. “I cannot ask for more.”

Family friend Boy Abunda, who was with the family in the hospital room, said the family was praying the rosary, and was precisely on the fifth decade of the sorrowful mystery, when Mrs. Aquino breathed her last.

In one of her last interviews with The STAR, a chemotherapy bag slung over her shoulder and a smile on her face, Mrs. Aquino had said she was prepared. “If this is the end of the road for me, so be it.”

Also hailed as the “guiding light of Philippine democracy,” Mrs. Aquino burned brightest in adversity, and fought the last battle of her life with the same courage that sustained her through her life’s many trials. She suffered through her husband’s seven-year incarceration and his assassination. She bravely went against a well-entrenched dictatorship in 1986, wrote “housewife” in her form for candidacy. She said she had indeed no experience in “lying, cheating and assassinating political opponents.”

The first woman commander-in-chief, she repelled seven attempts to topple her administration in the six years she was in office. There were times in her presidency that Mrs. Aquino stared death in the eye – when rebel soldiers stormed the gates of her home near Malacañang in 1987 and 1989. She didn’t blink each time.

But yesterday, Mrs. Aquino surrendered to the will of God, as she had always done in her life. She had kept the faith, unbowed by the pain she underwent.

During a visit to the shrine of St. Francis of Assisi shortly after her presidency, she was told that St. Francis had always prayed to God for more suffering. When she got back to her hotel room, Mrs. Aquino said she went down on her knees and told God, “I will not ask you for more suffering. But if more suffering comes my way, I will not complain.”

She had won virtually all her life’s battles and liked to say she also won the final contest in her presidency, when the man she endorsed to take her place, retired Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, trumped his opponents. She proudly handed him the reins of government in a shining moment for democracy in June 1992 – the first peaceful turnover of power in two decades.

And she saw how the people power revolution she inspired created a tsunami for democracy that saw dictatorships tumble around the world. She became the first Asian woman and only the third woman to be hailed Time magazine’s “Woman of the Year.” In August 1999, she was again recognized by Time as one of the 20 Most Influential Asians of the Century. She also was conferred the Martin Luther King Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize and the 1998 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding.

Former Sen. Franklin Drilon, who served as Mrs. Aquino’s justice secretary, said the “restoration of democracy was a legacy Cory wanted to leave the Filipino people. And she succeeded because of her strong moral leadership.”

In the cover story written by Pico Iyer in 1986 announcing the magazine’s choice of Mrs. Aquino as “Woman of the Year,” Time said:

For her determination and courage in leading a democratic revolution that captured the world’s imagination, Corazon Aquino is TIME’s Woman of the Year for 1986.

Whatever else happens in her rule, Aquino has already given her country a bright, and inviolate, memory. More important, she has also resuscitated its sense of identity and pride. In the Philippines those luxuries are especially precious. Almost alone among the countries of Asia, it has never been steadied by an ancient culture; its sense of itself, and its potential, was further worn away by nearly four centuries of Spanish and American colonialism. The absence of a spirit of national unity has also made democracy elusive. Even Jose Rizal, a political reformer shot by the Spanish and a national hero, called the Filipinos “a people without a soul.” Yet in February, for a few extraordinary moments, the people of the Philippines proved their bravery to the world, and to themselves.

Aquino’s revolution with a human face was no less a triumph for women the world over. The person known as the “Mother of the Nation” managed to lead a revolt and rule a republic without ever relinquishing her buoyant calm or her gift for making politics and humanity companionable. In a nation dominated for decades by a militant brand of macho politics, she conquered with tranquility and grace.

A recent nationwide survey showed that she was considered by Filipinos “the least corrupt” of all the presidents mentioned in the survey. Mrs. Aquino said she would have been “horrified” if the results were any different. After her presidency ended in 1992, Mrs. Aquino went home to a modest bungalow on Times Street in Quezon City, which, to this day, people miss for its nondescript façade. Callers often knock on the more affluent homes next door.

Mrs. Aquino saw for herself, in no uncertain terms, as she watched television from her sickbed, that the Filipino people respected her and appreciated her sacrifices for the country. She responded gratefully by saying that she, unlike Ninoy, was luckier in that respect. She heard the applause. She saw the yellow ribbons. She was bathed by yellow confetti in the drought of her fight for democracy. She was never alone.

Her long-time assistant Margarita Juico said Mrs. Aquino had once confided to her that she longed to be reunited with her husband and in fact expressed a wish that one day, her bones be interred with the bones of Ninoy, who died on Aug. 21, 1983.

Mrs. Aquino once told The STAR she never questioned God about her cancer and never considered her illness the greatest trial of her life, “because it involved only me.”

Selfless even in the midst of her own pain, she said her greatest trial was Ninoy’s seven years and seven months in prison, which she said prepared her for the pain of his death. She shrugged off her own pain, saying she had told her youngest daughter Kris, “Everybody has to experience suffering.”

She said she also reminded her children Ballsy, Pinky, Noynoy, Viel and Kris that despite everything, “We are luckier than most.”

In 2004, while in the pink of health, she wrote a “Prayer for a Happy Death.”

“When the final moment does come,” she wrote, “let not my loved ones grieve for long.”

“Let them know that they made possible whatever good I offered to the world.”

The girl who would be president

According to Mrs. Aquino’s niece Marisse Reyes McMurray, “My grandfather’s family would always associate the year of Cory’s birth, 1933, with some very happy memories. The blessing of their new house, which was finally built from scratch on Agno Street, coincided with her baptism.”

When she grew up, Cory was transformed from the shy child to the school achiever. “Unnoticed as the sixth child (of Jose and Demetria Cojuangco), Auntie Cory’s mettle was strengthened by the furnace of war. Her oldest living brother Pedro had always been the star, the perennial honor student. During the war years, Auntie Cory had found a prescription for attention: ‘To be noticed in a large family, you would have to excel in your studies.’”

She majored in Math and French at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in New York, but her law studies were cut short when she met the dashing Ninoy Aquino. On their wedding day in 1954, a dove from the ceremonial bell at the reception landed on Cory’s head, and people saw it as a good sign that Ninoy would be president.

Mrs. Aquino would later confide that no one knew then the dove landing on her head would mean she, not Ninoy, would be president someday.

Thirty-two years later, that day would come to pass.

AQUINO DEMOCRACY LA SALLE MRS MRS. AQUINO NINOY SENATOR AQUINO
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