Former President Corazon Aquino.
Photo by Lita Puyat from PeopleAsia magazine’s commemorative issue ‘Remembering Cory’
Remembering Cory, 10 years later
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - July 30, 2019 - 12:00am

She was a housewife who found herself at 40, the wife of a political prisoner; at 50, the widow of a martyr; and at 53, the first woman President of the Philippines.

Corazon Cojuangco Aquino had won many battles in her lifetime — including at least seven coup attempts — but lost the last, and perhaps most physically bruising of all, the fight against colon cancer. Two days from now, on Aug. 1, it would have been 10 years since the “Icon of Democracy,” the Filipino “Joan of Arc” and Time “Woman of the Year” 1986, breathed her last. She was 76.

“She was a simple and humble person, satisfied to stay in the sidelines,” her grandson Kiko Aquino Dee wrote in 2009. “But when people called her, she answered. I think that is the defining trait of any good leader, to have the courage to truly answer the call and serve the people.”

Through it all, she was a woman of  sturdy faith. In his homily at her funeral Mass at the Manila Cathedral on Aug. 5, 2009, her spiritual adviser Father Catalino Arevalo, SJ, said, “And when the crosses came to you… you did not refuse to bear them…”

*   *   *

I was one of the close-in writers, then eventually the executive editor, of Cory’s Presidential Press Staff. Those were the days before Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, so we would write press bulletins about President Cory’s activities and pronouncements, and they would be photocopied and distributed, along with photo releases, at the newsroom or the press working area at Malacañang’s Kalayaan Hall.

“When Mom believed in something, she was unshakable,” says her oldest daughter Ballsy Cruz. “She would say, hindi ko gagawin kung hindi buo ang loob ko (I will not embark on anything if my will isn’t solid).”

“Buo ang loob” indeed she was when she faced the challenges of her presidency.

I accompanied her when she flew to the Mountain Province to meet with priest-turned-rebel Conrado Balweg; amid the aftershocks, she was among the first at the rubble of a school building in Nueva Ecija after the deadly 1990 earthquake, saying very sternly to the rescuers, “Who’s in charge here?”; meeting with wounded civilians, accompanied by Bea Zobel, after the infamous Lupao massacre and visiting the victims of a PMA bomb attack in Baguio. She also flew to Mindanao to meet with Nur Misuari. I remember Cory was never afraid to wade into dangerous  territory, to cross enemy lines if needed if she believed it would bring about peace.

Cory was the first Filipino and the third woman to be hailed Time’s ‘Person of the Year.

But covering Cory didn’t mean just living dangerously. It also meant basking in her limelight.

She got a standing ovation at the US Congress in 1986 after a much applauded speech that ended with these lines,   “Three years ago I said, Thank you America for the haven from oppression and the home you gave Ninoy, myself and our children and for the three happiest years of our lives together. Today I say, join us America as we build a new home for democracy; another haven for the oppressed so it may stand as a shining testament of our two nations’ commitment to freedom.”

Confetti rained inside the City Hall of Paris when she visited during France’s Bicentennial in July 1989. It was at the City Hall where she told her audience led by Mayor Jacques Chirac, “As a leader, I would rather be loved than feared.” During a state dinner given to her by then President Francois Mitterrand, she responded to his welcome speech in French.

Former Supreme Court Justice Adolf Azcuna, who was by Cory’s side in several of her state visits, recalled, “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 role model for world leaders.

“I remember the French leader praising her courage and her decision to honor our international commitments. I remember the world’s state persons one by one calling on her at the Hotel de Marigny in Paris to have their rendezvous with destiny — from Rajiv Gandhi to Brian Mulroney.”

And after her presidency, when Cory received an award from South African President Nelson Mandela, the latter whispered to her daughters Ballsy and Pinky (Abellada): “You chose the right mom.”

*   *   *

“When the final moment does come, let not my loved ones grieve for long,” Cory wrote in a prayer titled, “Prayer for a Happy Death,” which she penned in 2004 while still in the pink of health.

Ballsy recalls that one of the saddest days in her life was when Cory’s oncologist told her that chemotherapy would no longer work on the former president, as the cancer cells had spread beyond containment.

“But we could still have surgery, Mom,” Ballsy said, trying to cheer her mother up.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets of the Makati central business district to honor the late former President Cory Aquino at her funeral procession. Photo by Val Rodrig uez

It was then, according to Ballsy, that her mother told her, “How much longer do you want me to live? Handa na ako.” Cory had agreed to all the painful procedures because she felt her children were not prepared to see her die. Not yet.

But when Cory asked Ballsy that question, Ballsy realized that Cory was tired, really tired, and it was time to let her go.

With all her love, she then told her beloved mother, “Okay, Mom, you can go home now.”

On Aug. 1, Cory went home and the nation mourned like it had lost a mother.

(People now comes out on Tuesdays and Fridays. You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

CORAZON COJUANGCO AQUINO
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