Remembering Cory Aquino
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - August 1, 2019 - 12:00am

Books and historians will continue to talk about how the course of Philippine history was positively and dramatically changed by the presidency of Corazon Aquino. The glory and the many successes of the Aquino period will never be tarnished in spite of the vigorous efforts to revise our history. 

In one short term, she led a nation from oppressive dictatorship to democracy. She led a change in the economy from crony capitalism to a market economy and allowed the flowering of entrepreneurship. During the immediate period prior to her term – 1983 to 1985 – there was an economic recession with a decline in GNP of -8.7 percent and -7.1 percent in 1984 and 1985, investment dropped as a percentage of GNP,  inflation surged, interest rates increased substantially. During the period 1986 to 1989, GDP grew steadily averaging around 5 percent ending the recession. Consumption and investment grew, inflation was controlled and poverty levels were reduced. 

Cory Aquino introduced personal faith and morality as a basis for governance. She restored the basic freedoms and she made human rights once again a people’s  right and not just the privilege of the elite. Unlike most politicians, she willingly gave up power twice. The first time was when she decided to restore Congress through free and honest elections. This also ended the short period when legislation was done through executive orders. The second time was when she decided not run for president in spite of all the appeals to do so. Perhaps, politicians will learn that clinging to power will eventually earn the ire of the people and the condemnation of future generations.

There were powerful forces who refused to accept their loss of power and would fight to regain their former status. This struggle led to many moments of personal courage which she continuously displayed without fanfare and publicity stunts. 

Her biographers should note that her personal decision not to abandon Malacañang at the height of the Honasan-led coup was one of the main reasons for the rebels’ failure at a quick victory.  I remember staying in Malacañang for almost one week during that period along with other Cabinet members like Catalino Macaraig, Fidel Ramos, Adolf Azcuna, Sonny Dominguez and several others.

Future generations will always remember her as the first People Power President in the world; and, for remaining as the moral conscience of her people even after her presidency. 

I was very privileged to have served as the head of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) for almost five years of the Aquino presidency. As  PMS head, I was privileged to have been either a participant or a witness to many critical and historic events. However, one of my most fulfilling  assignments  to my office was the organization and administration of the first President’s Social Fund (PSF). This may have seemed like a “minor” project;  but, this is where I personally witnessed her concern for the poor. 

Her instruction at that time was that the PSF would be channelled to projects that we would now call micro-projects. All this funding would be coursed through non-governmental organizations and must have a direct impact on the lives of ordinary Filipinos. I recall one anecdote of how she felt that bureaucracy should never stand in the way of helping those who need help the most.

The year was 1988 and President Aquino had a radio program. One of the tasks of PMS was to review all the requests for assistance and suggest how she should answer them in her program. Here was one request we received:

“I am Mr. Epefanio Cabreros, head teacher of Pagangan Elementary School, living in Pagangan, Aleosan, Cotabato. Being the head teacher of this school, our number one problem is the water system that the children are hard up bringing their water supply because our artesian supply is sometimes out of order.”  After thorough research and consultation with other departments and agencies, here is the proposed answer we sent to President Aquino: 

“ Thank you, Mr. Cabreros of the Pangangan Elementary School, Aleosan, Cotabato. Regarding your problem with your school’s artesian well, I advise you to approach your mayor or the local development council so that this project will be endorsed to the regional development council for possible inclusion in the program of the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Education, Culture and Sports.”

The following day, my proposed answer was sent back to me with a handwritten note at the bottom which said, “Elfren Cruz. Pls. take care of the artesian well. CA”

I remember showing that note to all my staff and we understood that our role was not to be part of the bureaucracy but to help those who were being burdened by the bureaucracy. President Aquino was very interested especially when it came to pro-poor projects where she would take personal action. On Oct. 19,1989, for instance, she sent me this handwritten note:

“ Elfren. CCPAP presented me with a comprehensive program for the three Samar provinces. In line with our commitment to serve the bottom 30 percent, please set aside the necessary amounts. Please coordinate with Bert Villanueva. Thanks. CAquino.”

I shall always be grateful to President Corazon Aquino whose 10th death anniversary we observe today that she gave me the opportunity to serve, in some small way, the Filipino people and to work in service to a true heroine. 

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on August 3, 17 (1:30 pm-3pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC.  For details and registration,  email writethingsph@gmail.com.

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

CORAZON AQUINO
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