‘Boss Lady’: Woman of faith, source of strength
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - August 1, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Former President Corazon Aquino’s youngest sister Passy Cojuangco-Teopaco said recently that when they were together, they called their sons “our only.” Teopaco also has an only son, Joey, and Cory had Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

In Cory Aquino’s last passport, she listed down the name of Noynoy as the person to notify if she were in an emergency.

And during her final days, it was to her only son, then a senator, that she relayed her ultimate wish.

“She was telling Noynoy, ‘I want to go home. I just want to go home’,” Mrs. Aquino’s eldest daughter Ballsy Aquino Cruz told The STAR after her mother’s death.

A week before his mother passed away five years ago today after an 18-month battle with colon cancer, Noynoy told The STAR that his mother had left him and his siblings Ballsy, Pinky Abellada, Viel Dee and Kris with only one instruction. “Take care of each other.”

Her children believe that their mother’s admonition extended to taking care of the Filipino people, whom their mother was thinking of helping (after her presidency, it was through microfinance) till her last breath.

Noynoy, who was elected President in June 2010, 10 months after his mother succumbed to colon cancer, said he didn’t want to let his parents down. Last Monday on his fifth and penultimate State of the Nation Address (SONA), he said that if he turned his back on the Filipino people, he would be betraying his parents as well.

“Kung tinalikuran ko ang pagkakataon, parang tinalikuran ko na rin ang aking ama’t ina, at ang lahat ng inialay nila para sa atin; hindi po mangyayari iyon (If I turned my back on the opportunity to serve our people, it’s as if I turned my back on my father and mother, and all that they laid down for us all; that will never happen),” he said.

President Aquino’s emotional reference to his parents on the virtual eve of Cory’s fifth death anniversary also drew tears from his sisters.

“I remembered Mom and how hard I have been begging her to help Noy overcome all his trials and I could see her saying, ‘Just strengthen your faith and all will be well’,” Pinky said.

Ballsy, for her part, said, “So much of Mom lives on in me and around me. I feel she’s still helping me and our entire family. To this day, everything I’ve prayed for through her has been answered. She was aware of my problems before she passed on and soon after she did, those were solved. I go to the office and see her paintings, desk and computer exactly as they were when she was working there.”

“It’s her strong faith that lives on in me,” Viel revealed.

Kris, the youngest Aquino sibling, told The STAR that she is proudest of the fact that like her mother, “My two sons are my priority. Like Mom, I cook a lot for them, we travel a lot together, share a bedroom and pray together.”

The President once told this writer that he missed his mother’s counsel. “She almost always had a ready answer whenever problems arise. When she didn’t, she would provide wise counsel that always managed to make us feel better… We looked up to our mother as our leader, especially after my father passed away. She instantly became our source of strength, while becoming the face of fortitude for her countrymen.”

“I miss most my mother’s constancy as a source of unconditional love,” President Aquino added.

Asked then what piece of advice he would have asked his mother if she were around, the country’s 15th President said his mother’s life was good advice in itself.

“I believe she had prepared us well, and given the burdens that had been borne by her, I would be hard-pressed to ask for more,” he said.

World-renowned icon of democracy

Cory was hailed as the “Yellow Madonna” and Asia’s “Joan of Arc.” She was named Time’s Woman of the Year in 1986, only the third woman ever to be so honored. In 1998, she was named one of the Ramon Magsaysay awardees, Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Credited for leading the restoration of democracy in the Philippines after the 20-year Marcos dictatorship, she also devoted a significant portion of her time to helping marginalized Filipinos through micro-lending programs. Her death in 2009 saw over two million Filipinos from all walks of life spilling out into the streets to bid her a loving farewell. She was laid to rest in a simple white tomb beside her husband at the Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque.

“We were proudest of her when she went on those state visits. She really stood, walked and talked tall. She engaged them all as an equal, and they accepted her as a hero and a role model for world leaders,” retired Supreme Court Justice Adolf Azcuna, who was also her press secretary and legal counsel, wrote in an exclusive article for PeopleAsia magazine’s commemorative issue on Cory’s fifth death anniversary.

One of her closest aides, family friend Margarita Juico, who served as her appointments secretary during and after her presidency, remembers Cory as a woman who was fearless and faithful.

“I am enriched by memories of Tita Cory. During the coup attempt in December 1989 when the Tora-Toras were hovering over Malacañang, President Cory asked me, when it was safe, to fetch Father Bobby Perez from nearby San Beda so he could lead us in prayer at her Arlegui residence. After our prayers, she gave a bag of Ninoy’s writings to Father Perez. And she entrusted another bag to me for safekeeping. These were her treasures and she wanted them protected in times of danger. She then ordered me to go home and be safe. In the car, I opened the bag, found her diaries and was in tears thinking this might be a premonition that I will not see her again.”

The Aquino presidency survived the bloody coup, and Margie returned the diaries to Cory.

Cory was a devoted wife to Ninoy and accepted with no bitterness that he placed country before family. She told her daughter Viel’s best friend Ruthy before her marriage to Bobet Vera that to make a marriage last, “You love your husband, you serve him and you make a lot of sacrifices for him and the family.”

To PCSO general manager Jose Ferdinand Rojas, whose parents were close friends of both Ninoy and Cory, Cory “was strong in times of trials and was a woman of strong faith in God.”

Former Presidential Management Staff chief and now STAR columnist Elfren Cruz said he remembers how Cory was relentless in following up projects for the poor, giving him clear deadlines. He remembers how she herself was on top of a water project for a community in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, sending him a post-it with the instructions: “I want them to have water by next week. From: Boss Lady.”

The late president’s confidential assistant Odette Ong admires how Cory used her femininity to be a good leader I’d seen first-hand how many regarded her gender as a disadvantage. Instead Tita Cory used her experience as a woman to better understand the kind of suffering the nation was going through and where change was needed the most. Tita Cory showed me that women do not have to lose their femininity to be successful in a position that society often reserves for men.”


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