“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.