“Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues.” St Augustine
Moved by the television coverage of the death of Cory Aquino, I visited the wake at La Salle Greenhills last night. As when I visited FPJ’s funeral four years’ ago, my intention was to play the curious foreigner and get the feel of the event, but joining the queue to see the body seemed the best way to avoid the torrential rain so that’s what I did.
Sadly, the wake was much like Cory’s presidency; despite all the talk about “the Filipino people” the people had to stand still while a parade of the entitled ones waltzed past with their newly coiffed hair. After moving about 50 yards in an hour I gave up (though not without shaking Satur Ocampo’s hand, which gave me a thrill).
Cory’s passing is a huge landmark in post-Marcos Philippines. We are no longer living in a post-EDSA world, but in a medium-sized country with king-sized problems, most of which have been either exacerbated or ignored by the four administrations since 1986.
Although Cory’s administration was reviled by contemporary critics, her presidency doesn’t look that bad now that we have the Estrada and Arroyo governments to compare it with. At least Aquino could legitimately blame the seven coup attempts for some of the lack of progress during her six years in office. Erap and GMA can blame only themselves for their failures (not that they will of course).
Aquino’s gender made her task much particularly difficult. Although in comparison with its neighbours the Philippines has an excellent record of female participation in business and government, an acceptance of female equality was not universally held in the 1980s, certainly not by the macho thorns in her side, Honasan and Enrile. To them Aquino was simply an amateur in the game of power, a “mere housewife” as Marcoss called her during the 1986 election campaign.
It is hard to see Aquino’s appointment of Juan Ponce Enrile as Defense Secretary as anything other than a disastrous mistake. On a high from the fortuitous timing of his betrayal of Marcos, Enrile spent the whole of his time in office trying to undermine Aquino and when he was finally dismissed, he was accused of masterminding the 1987 coup attempt.
At critical points in history, the character of the leader is at least as important as the achievements of his or her programs and the immediate post-Marcos period was such a time. It was Cory Aquino’s essential goodness and her humility (the hardest quality to fake) that brought the crowds to La Salle and caused former cabinet colleagues to sob yesterday as they recalled her graciousness. She was a “good boss” one of them said—a minor quality perhaps, but I wonder how many heads of state you could say that about?
For those under 35, the television coverage of Cory Aquino’s death will have brought back vivid personal memories of a now closed chapter. The endless coverage of the assassination of Ninoy, Cory giving the Laban signal with her outsized glasses and pleasant Tita’s smile, the hosing of demonstrators, Laurel, youthful versions of Teddy-Boy Locsin and Nene Pimentel … all this is now part of History.
So too is the only moment when the Philippines genuinely led the world. People Power was used as a model for peaceful uprisings from Chile to the Ukraine (in fact according to Katrina David in an interview yesterday the anti-Pinochet crowds in Santiago even chanted “Corazon, Corazon”).
What is lost above all with the death of Cory Aquino is the sense of hope that she gave the country; the possibility that just once simple goodness and a spirit of human togetherness might be enough to win out over naked self-interest. Future historians may look back on that aspiration as hopelessly naïve, yet its impracticality increases rather than diminishes the people who held it.
Here are a couple of other appreciations of Tita Cory that I liked.
Say what you will about her administration, the illusions dashed and opportunities missed, but she was decent to us. She never mocked us, made fun of our hopes, or knowingly insulted our intelligence. Born to privilege, she never acted the spoiled brat. ... In mourning for Tita Cory we’re really mourning for ourselves and what could’ve been. Jessica Zafra
I truly marvel at how, with every single challenge, Cory did her best.
She was the sheltered daughter of a wealthy clan who suddenly found herself subjected to the indignity of being strip-searched on her visits to her jailed husband.
She was a housewife with five children who was asked to unite a nation in fighting a tyrant.
She was an old woman, content in her retirement, who never faltered in her fight against corruption and made a stand against two presidents who succeeded her.