Of Biches and Cowards

by Juan L. Mercado

“The problem with  the Philippines,”  US senator Mike Mansfield snapped, “is it  has  60  million   cowards  and  one  son-of-a-bitch”   

Ferdinand  Marcos’ dictatorship  cowed many. The  “New Society”, Imelda  would regale a lick-spittle press, was “the  most  democratic in  history”  —  until a  housewife  snapped:  Tama na.  Sobra na.

“Suddenly,  there  they  were,” Corazon  Aquino  marveled,  after  People  Power uprooted the  14-year old  autocracy  without spilling  blood. She  became   Asia’s  first-woman-ever  president. “Now, (people) were  standing  tall, like  Ninoy, as he went down the stairs to his death. Better to die (standing ) than to go on living on your knees.”              

It  was  not  always  so.

”In  the  early years of  martial  law, most  preferred to play it safe,”  she  recalled. “One could not blame them….Defenders of  democracy were broken….When did  Filipiinos decide – each one alone and without prodding — that it was now or never?”

People  Power  drew from  Mahatma  Ghandi’s  peaceful march against  the Salt Tax in the 1930s.  Edsa  triggered  Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Revolution”,  Lebanon’s  “Cedar Revolt”  and  Ukraine’s  “Orange” uprising.

“One  image  outshone  the  others: a brave woman in a yellow dress”  reads the Magsaysay Foundation citation for Aquino.“(She was a):  radiant moral force to the nonviolent movement for democracy in the Philippines and in the world.”    

These  memories  resurged  when  evening news  cameras  panned on a  frail  Corazon Aquino.   Leaning on her children’s arms  the 76-year old  widow walked painfully  into the hospital.  She  has  refused  further chemotherapy  for  colon cancer.

For ordinary citizens, like us, Cory was more than those awards and positions.

No one  dared  oppose  Marcos then. The  powerful  were  arrayed  against  any  challenger: “Rolex 12” type  generals, a  stamp-pad  Commission on Elections, cronies like Eduardo Cojuangco,  San Juan mayor Joseph  Ejercito Estrada  with local  officials, bejewelled “Blue Ladies” .

But  Benigo Aquino’s murder  thrust his wife, willy nilly,  into  the vortex of  revolt  against  abuse.   “Ninoy?   He’s   nobody,”  Marcos  sneered.  Dared  on  the  David  Brinkley show,  Marcos  called for snap elections. If anybody  could  rig the count, he could.  

“Stop this nonsense,” Cory  told  publisher  Joaquin  Roces.  “Chino” led  a move to  gather one  million  signatures  asking her to run.  He  got 1.2 million signatures in 41 days — despite harassment.

Women  should “not challenge a man” , purred  Marcos  at his condescending best. “She teaches her  husband — only in the bedroom”. “May  the  best  woman  win”,  retorted  Cory.  Did SOBs  miss that  flash  of  steel?   

To the  regime,  Cory  was  just  another political   prisoner’s  wife.  Defense  Minister Juan  Ponce  Enrile  couldn’t  be bothered by them. To visit  Ninoy,  imprisoned  at  Fort  Bonifacio,  Cory and  Dona Aurora, Ninoy’s mother,  would  wait  outside  Defense  undersecretary  Carmelo  Barbero’s  office, to get  permits.

A  lapdog   Batasang  Pambansa  declared   Marcos corralled  53.6 percent of  snap election votes.  “Cory  won in Luzon,” it was  said. “She  won  the Visayas.  And she  won in  Mindanao too. But Marcos won overall.”  By then, a line had been crossed. And protest had acquired a human face.  

In  the certificate of candidacy,  Cory wrote  her occupation as: “Wife of a political prisoner, assassinated  by government.” Courage  is  contagious.  When fake tallies  surfaced,  38 computer specialists stalked out. Cardinal Ricardo Vidal signed a stinging pastoral letter of all Catholic bishops denouncing  fraud.

As  Edsa One gathered steam.,  Carmelite  nuns  hid Cory  in  their  Cebu  monastery from Marcos agents. “What is the price of a valiant woman?” asks the Book of  Proverbs. “Her value is far beyond pearls.”

”Cory Aquino could not possibly  fulfill all the expectations she awakened,” the Magsaysay citation reads.  “No one knew this better than she.  (Nonetheless), she managed  to restore her country’s democratic  institutions and its good name in the community of nations…She  governed with integrity…  And  when her term was over, she stepped down in favor of an elected successor”.  

Today,  Cory’s  medical prognosis  is  guarded.  Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, who  refused to dispersal of Edsa crowds uses the Pilipino phrase: Utang loob. or debt of  gratitude. “The nation owes her for bringing about the freedom we enjoy today,” he told Inquirer.

That  theme  resonates around the nation.  She helped  60 million cowards  rediscover their courage,  Mabuhay  said.. “We need  to  recall how much that  IOU is.”   “Even “those who  criticize her do so under liberties she led people in restoring,” adds  Sun Star .

“The presidency is so great an honor, no one deserves to have it again,” Cory said. “To the man I supported in 1992, my friend Fidel Valdez Ramos, I say:  Marami ka nang nagawa,  kaibigan  kong  Presidente.  Marami ka nang  maaring ipagamalaki. We both know that the real savors of this country are the people, not any one of us.  Ramos  scrapped  his bid to rewrite the Constitution for a second term.

Cory may gently fade into the night.  Paradoxically, her “radiance”  shimmers even brighter.  Does  President  Arroyo see it?  Or will she, like Imelda, refuse to hear  “cowards” who found courage, said thru a simple housewife: Tama na.  Sobra na. Palitan na.

( E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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