Cory Aquino

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - January 28, 2021 - 12:00am

One of my proudest memories is that I was one of the few lucky ones who started working for President Cory on day one of her presidency. That was the day after Marcos fled the country and Corazon Aquino became the new head of the Philippine government.

The night Marcos fled the Philippines, several of us were in a house in Wack Wack with Cory. When the news came that the dictator had run away and the martial law regime had ended, a thanksgiving mass was held. Afterward, she announced some Cabinet appointments, including Joker Arroyo as executive secretary.

Some time that evening, Joker called and told me to report to him the following day. We started working without any title or official appointment. Malacañang was still being “debombed” and was shut down for security reasons. For the first few months, the Office of the President was in the Cojuangco Building in Makati. During those early days, the technical staff serving the president was composed of two people – Joker and me.

But it was an easy transition because during the campaign days, I had already met the people – like Margie Juico, Maria Montelibano, Teddy Boy Locsin, Rene Saguisag – who would compose her personal and media staff.

The restoration of democracy had been a long struggle. Combating the forces that were trying to topple the democratic institutions being rebuilt proved equally daunting. There were coup attempts like the “God Save the Queen” plot, which led to the dismissal of Juan Ponce Enrile as minister of defense. There were others, like the one led by Gringo Honasan, during which the near-fatal shooting of the president’s son, Noynoy, happened. During that coup attempt, many staff members and I had to live and sleep in Malacañang for a week.

There were also many high points. There were the rallies where people gathered to support her presidency in spite of threats from coup plotters. There were the accolades from the world, and the speech to the United States Congress where senior American political leaders pinned Cory dolls on their coats when they attended the joint session to listen to her.

There was the convening of the Philippine constitutional assembly and the first democratic elections, after which she voluntarily gave her legislative powers to the new Congress. I was with her as she literally toured the country meeting with different groups – from cultural minorities to business leaders to ordinary citizens. I was with her visiting areas devastated by natural calamities, from the Baguio earthquake to floods.

I witnessed her resolving policy debates and political conflicts. But my favorite stories are those times she focused on directly helping the poor. She saw the poor as individuals with different needs and not just as economic indicators or poverty rates.

She instructed me to set up a structure whereby a certain percentage of revenues of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) would be channeled directly to projects for the poor. That was why we created the President’s Social Fund.

Her instructions were that all the funds would be for projects that had a direct impact on the lives of the poor. We had to specify the final beneficiaries. The funding would also be coursed through NGOs and all the undertakings would be what we now call micro-projects. These included classrooms, potable water systems, footbridges and livelihood projects.

Cory Aquino was a Lady – always courteous and polite. I never saw her humiliate or embarrass anyone or raise her voice in anger in public. One time, when two Cabinet officials were having a vigorous policy debate in front of the whole Cabinet, she simply told them they were giving her a headache and the debate immediately ended.

But for those who worked for her, we knew when a decision was final and that she was getting upset. With me it was when her tone, in saying my name, changed to a simple, curt “Elfren.” Then there were also times when her lips would tighten and we knew she was becoming upset and it was time to move on.

That was just one of the many times when we knew the Lady was also the Boss.

I leave it to historians and future books to talk about how the course of Philippine history was dramatically changed by the presidency of Corazon Aquino.

There will be other major historical events in the future. But the drama and glory of the Cory Aquino period will never be replicated.

In one short term, she led a nation from oppressive dictatorship to democracy. She led the economy’s transition from crony capitalism to free enterprise and allowed entrepreneurship to expand. She restored freedom and made human rights once more a right and not just a privilege.

She introduced personal faith and morality as a basis of governance to a political  society which considered materialism and pragmatism as the basic rules in politics. She willingly gave up power twice. The first time was when she decided to restore Congress and  the second time was when she decided not to run for president in spite of appeals for her to do so. Perhaps, future politicians will learn that clinging to power will eventually earn the ire of people and the condemnation of future generations.

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

A hundred years from now, people will likely continue to remember her for being the first People Power president in the world; for remaining as the moral conscience of her people even after her presidency; and for her many other great deeds.

Maria Corazon “Cory” Aquino was born on Jan. 25, 1933.

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An invitation to young writers:

Young Writers’ Hangout via Zoom will be held  on Jan 30, 2-3 p.m. Contact writethingsph@gmail.com.  0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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