Thinking About Cory Aquino

Ms. Malay is the chair of the Museum Committee of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation. She joined the underground resistance during the Marcos dictatorship and became part of the National Democratic Front’s negotiating panel in the peace talks with the Aquino administration. This piece was published in the August 10, 2009 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 to S1/5.

We seem not to be able to stop thinking about Cory Aquino even as her mortal remains have been laid in their final resting place.

There are still many lessons indeed to be learned from her life, and from the role she has played in our nation’s history. Even more perhaps than other Filipinos, this is important for those of us who fought long and hard against the Marcos dictatorship, and who staked our very lives in the struggle for a new social order  built on justice, truth, freedom and democracy.

Permit me to share with you some of the thoughts that have occurred to me these last few days.

I’ve been thinking that perhaps Cory Aquino’s charisma derives from the way  (ironically, because she was born into an elite family) she had certain traits that ordinary people could relate to.

For one, the ordinary Filipino seeks to avoid direct political involvement, and will take a hand in it only when pushed too far.  Cory Aquino appeared to have the same attitude especially at first, and even in recent years whenever she felt strongly about an issue.

This does not mean, however, that the ordinary Filipino is basically clueless, susceptible to manipulation, and only too willing to be led down a predetermined path.  Many players in the political arena made this mistake about Cory Aquino during the tumultuous period after her husband’s assassination and well into her presidency.  They were to find out that she insisted on making up her own mind, on the basis of her core beliefs and reasoning, possibly also on her intuition as to the motives of those seeking to exert their influence on her.

Just like the ordinary Filipino, this woman whose only wish was to lead a quiet life would declare one day that enough was enough, and from then on bravely confronted the challenge posed by the oppressor. We all know what happened afterward as Cory Aquino accepted the role of symbol and embodiment of the antidictatorship struggle.

We recall the intense debates within the Left around the question of support for Cory Aquino, which would signify the Reds joining the Yellows against the Marcos dictatorship. In the end, the decision was to boycott the snap election, to go the necessary extra miles in order to achieve deep-going changes in the existing system, in the structures of power, in the relationships between classes in society.   Seeking a quick resolution to the crisis, according to this position, would only mitigate the people’s righteous anger, give new life to the decaying system, and revive the people’s reliance on foreign intervention.  In short, taking part in this method of ousting Marcos would mean turning our backs on the revolution.

I was one of those who argued for the boycott position, and when EDSA came about I could not rejoice; I only felt sadness.  It was truly disappointing to think that all our efforts – the struggle for which hundreds of thousands had offered their blood, sweat and tears – had come only to this, the restoration of what martial law had taken away.

After the death of Cory Aquino, memories and thoughts have been stirring slowly in my mind, going back to what happened more than twenty years ago.

That span of time taught me to understand and sympathize more deeply with Cory Aquino; I have grown in solidarity with her as a woman, a fellow citizen and a fellow human being.  I admire the way she stretched the limitations imposed by society upon women, upon the wives of politicians, and upon those who were born into privilege. Although I did not share all of her advocacies, I came to believe in her sincerity, the goodness of her heart, her lack of pretense.

On the other hand, I have to say that I am not ashamed to have been a “hardliner” in the past; there was, after all, nothing personal in my refusal to go along with Cory Aquino at the time. (I think that no one on the Left had a personal dislike for her, unlike certain members of her social class who concealed their true feelings by wearing yellow.)

Not a few times, in fact, have I silently blamed EDSA whenever I hear people complain that our beloved Philippines seems not to have moved forward from what it was before.

I do agree, however, that the movement made a big mistake when it tried to stop the people from asking Cory Aquino to take over from Marcos; I know now that it will always be a big mistake to go against the wishes of the sovereign people.

There are two reasons that I see. The first has to do with the physical distance separating the mass movement from a central leadership that had to rely largely on reports from within the organization and from the mass media.  I think that physical distance became political distance and therefore, there was a grave misreading of the people’s temper and actual level of political commitment especially in the urban areas.

Another reason for such a costly mistake, it seems to me, was the failure to humbly recognize, and accept, the people’s judgment in casting their lot with the peaceful option offered by Cory Aquino.  I would say that these two factors are probably related to a certain frame of mind, a certain style of leadership, that we certainly ought to be discussing — though not here and now.

In closing, I am thankful that we have the space where we are able to honor heroes and martyrs of the resistance to martial law, as well as a space where together we can continue to search for the unfolding answers to the questions that history spawns in its wake.

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