Why The World Needs Cory Aquino
A mammoth crowd has gathered in a Zamboanga City plaza. It was a tension-filled snap-presidential campaign, and they are exultantly waiting for a woman in plain yellow dress to articulate their desire that freedom be returned. Suddenly, a grenade exploded in a nearby alley and chaos reigned – but Cory Aquino just sat there, unflinching, dignified and presidential.
Cory Aquino is the conscience of the Philippine nation, the embodiment of all that is good, one of the rare individuals who are worthy to be called true Christians. This is the life of that bespectacled wonder woman, from the bio Corazon Aquino: The Journey To Power by Laurie Nadel, published by New York- based Julian Messner, a division of Simon & Schuster, and additional sources.
Corazon Cojuangco Aquino was born on Jan. 25, 1933 in Manila. Her father, Jose Cojuangco, was an industrialist, sugar baron and former congressman in Tarlac, a “peace-loving man” who “never said a bad thing about anybody,” recalls her cousin Sis. Virginia Fabella. Cory’s mother, Demetria Sumulong, was the daughter of a senator who ran for vice president in 1935.
“A quality Cory’s mother instilled in her was punctuality and, along with that, self-discipline,” says Nadel. “Demetria was also strong-willed, a quality that Cory developed and learned to hide behind her good manners and soft voice.”
Cory graduated valedictorian at St. Scholastica’s, an elite German-run convent school in Manila. After finishing her freshman year at the French-run Assumption, the entire family moved to the United States because most of the schools in the Philippines were destroyed during the war, and she entered Raven Hill Academy in Philadelphia. She transferred to, and graduated from, Notre Dame in Manhattan. In college, Cory majored in French at Mount Saint Vincent on the banks of the Hudson. She took up law at Far Eastern University and, shortly after, got married to a young Manila Times reporter when they were both 21.
Benigno Aquino Jr., sent to the Korean War at 17, still holds the record as the country’s youngest war correspondent. He was also a technical assistant to President Ramon Magsaysay – and the chief negotiator in the surrender of Huk guerilla leader Luis Taruc.
His father, Benigno Sr., had served as senator, Cabinet member and Speaker of the National Assembly; and his grandfather Gen. Sevillano Aquino, a Revolutionary War hero who had fought against both the Spanish and the Americans, gave him the nickname “Ninoy.”
Ninoy’s track record remains solid: the youngest mayor (at 23, of Concepcion, Tarlac); the youngest vice-governor (25); the youngest governor (27); and the youngest Senator (34 years and 354 days old). He would have been our youngest President in 1973 but President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law on Sept. 21, 1972, and Ninoy was imprisoned with bogus charges for almost a decade – subjected mostly to the psychological torture known as solitary confinement
It was a turning point in Cory’s life. She underwent a transformation that those who have known her all her life saw her indomitable spirit for the first time. “It was then that I finally came into my own,” as she herself recalls.
Cory, a very private person, campaigned in behalf of Ninoy during the 1978 National Assembly elections together with three of her children: Ballsy, Noynoy and 7-year old Kris – and Marcos blasted her for “exploiting” them. Cory faced the dictator and boldly – and gracefully -- made okray: “My kids would be happy to stop campaigning for their father if you would just let him out of jail so he can do it himself!”
Even in the abyss of incarceration, Ninoy achieved a superhuman feat unheard of since Jesus – a 40 day hunger strike.
As a signal of protest against the evils of absolute power, it was, naturally, ignored by the government.
The worst is yet to come.
“In 1980, while his sentence was under review by the Supreme Court, a judicial body packed with Marcos cronies, Ninoy suffered a major heart attack,” reports Nadel. Marcos knew it would be an international scandal – always a bad PR – if Ninoy dies while in prison, so he decided to let him go into exile to Boston.
Those three years of “family togetherness” is the happiest moment in the lives of the Aquino family. Ninoy’s formidable brainpower made him a fellow at both Harvard and MIT, and became an even louder critic of the regime.
His homecoming on Aug. 21, 1983 remains a day of infamy in the collective memory of the Filipino people. Soldiers blocked the journalists and escorted him out of the plane – and gunshots rang out in a matter of seconds.
As the widow of the slain opposition leader, Cory was the soul of the fight against martial rule. She was the rallying figure of the massive demonstrations wrought by Ninoy’s brutal assassination. The world press was riveted by the Philippines as history unfolded before their very eyes. Under international pressure, Marcos called for a snap election in 1985. Cory became the unifying factor of the scattered opposition.
It was now a showdown between Marcos and Cory. A huge wave of national outrage was again triggered when it became clear that Marcos rigged the vote. The Minister of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile and the Vice-Chief of Staff Fidel V. Ramos of the Armed Forces withdrew their support to the regime – but they became trapped in Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo. Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin galvanized the entire nation to take to the streets and barricade the camps.
The sight of millions of men, women and children calling for peaceful change and national solidarity was spectacular and unprecedented. U.S. President Ronald Reagan called Marcos to step down to avoid bloodshed – and Cory Aquino was hailed as the true President.
Today, she remains as one of the most revered leaders in the world. Despite having retired from public office, she is still the most influential voice for freedom and moral regeneration in the Philippines.
One of her most enduring legacies is the 1987 Constitution -- with its protection of civil liberties, press freedom and political check-and-balance.
But her greatest achievement is saving the lives of generations of Filipinos: without Cory, Marcos would have died in office and the power vacuum would have been filled by extremists – Right, Left and sectarian. A power struggle of such magnitude would have plunged the country into the pits of anarchy, terrorism and genocide.
Without Cory, the Philippines today would be like a combination of Burma, North Korea and Afghanistan.
Cory photo courtesy of UPI. This story subsequently appeared in AllVoices. Your comments and links are welcome