I came from five days of mourning. I also came from five days of being a witness to a love affair between Cory Aquino and the Filipino people. From her wake at La Salle Greenhills and the Manila Cathedral, the short trip from one to the other, and the final trip to Manila Memorial, Filipinos stood in line for hours to view her, lined the streets and walked behind her hearse to honor her.
It is August 2009. After twenty-six years, a hero is followed to his grave by a heroine. He warned against martial law, she dismantled it. There are few examples in history where a spouse picks up the battle after the other spouse falls, and then raises the bar of courage.
Ninoy was a brilliant politician, a smooth and inspiring speaker, an operator and strategist. He seemed destined to become president, so obviously so that he had to be stopped. It was not another candidate that stood in Ninoy’s way, it was martial law.
Seven years in prison tempered the spirit of a politician, then converted it. But as a miracle was transforming Ninoy, it was doing much more to his wife, Cory.
From a sheltered and refined breeding, Ninoy’s imprisonment steeled the gentle spirit of a quiet and supportive wife. Cory emerged from being a wife and mother to being head of a beleaguered family with children to raise and a husband to keep strong.
When Ninoy was freed to have a heart operation in the US, and stay in exile so he can cease and desist from threatening a conjugal dictatorship. It seemed destiny changed its mind, easing the challenge to Ninoy and Cory. For a brief moment, it looked like fate would allow Ninoy and Cory a normal life.
It was, however, the calm before the storm. And when the tempest came, it hit the country and the Aquino couple with such force that it claimed one life and severely tested one another. For seven years, from 1983 when Ninoy was murdered at the tarmac to 1990 when coup de etats lost their steam, Cory transformed from simple housewife to grieving widow to Joan of Arc and to the champion of democracy.
It was a violent period with Ninoy’s blood spilled amidst thousands who suffered the same fate. In one attack against Malacanang, Cory almost lost her only son, her Noynoy. The gift that was Cory to the Filipino was not only democracy. Indeed, she led the battle to regain it from a dictatorship and defended it against seven failed coups.
Cory experienced the murder of Ninoy, the frustrated attempt on Noynoy, the pain of surviving members of so many murdered during martial law, the murdered victims of coup de etats. She had grave cause for vengeance, legal excuse for vengeance, the authority and a nation’s armed forces for vengeance. She remembered who wronged her, who wronged the people, but she did not allow vengeance to be her way. Instead, she looked to the law for justice, even when the law moved so slowly, even when the law failed.
A more aggressive Cory, a harder commander-in-chief, a firm authoritarian in a troubled period would have spilled blood in the name of justice, in the name of order. And there will be less senators today because they would have been killed as traitors to democracy, less cronies who looted the treasury and corrupted a bureaucracy. They would have been eliminated when there was an environment that allowed her, that tempted her. Indeed, a peaceful revolution to end a violent dictatorship could not have happened if a peaceful woman had not been at its helm.
What now, then? Ninoy is gone, Cory is gone, and our democracy is almost gone. Perhaps, Filipinos do not deserve democracy. Perhaps, Filipinos have not sacrificed enough for democracy.
Suffering poverty, suffering corruption, is not sacrifice. To simply accept the pain of poverty and the horror of corruption do not build a democracy; they deny it. Suffering and sacrifice are two different things. Suffering is something inflicted; sacrifice is an act of will – to accept suffering so that a greater good will be achieved. Ninoy and Cory did not just suffer, they accepted suffering so that others would suffer less.
Did Ninoy and Cory ever grace our lives, our beloved Philippines? Why are so many Filipinos so poor, and hungrier than ever? Why is there so much corruption in governance, so obviously looting and plundering the people’s money that the World Bank estimates so much is lost to thieves within it? Did the sacrifice of a hero and a heroine mean nothing after all? Where is that greater good for which the sacrifices were made?
When heroes take up the cross for us, when heroines lead the battles for us, they do so not to show their courage or nobility. It is our courage and nobility that Ninoy and Cory tried to awaken by showing us the way. There is no democracy without sacrifice, not just from heroes and heroines, but from the people themselves.
It is hard to imagine that two great lives were offered to rescue the Filipino people, to defend a fledgling democracy, and then simply fade away when the good fight is still being fought. There must be more, and we the people must discover the challenge and role we have to manifest just as Ninoy and Cory accepted and lived out their destinies.
There are worthy crusades. Most of our people are poor and in pain, and we must work to set them free from the bondage of poverty. Every Filipino who is in a position to help in small or big ways must then do it, and do it every day. There is no other way.
A struggling nation is choked and polluted by corruption, its collective soul wallowing in moral decay. Every Filipino must strive for an uncompromising intolerance for wrongdoing. There is no other way.
“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.” Albert Camus