Monday, August 3, 2009

Who President Cory Was to This Martial Law Baby

Written by, and published with permission from Veronica Uy.

I could not understand my grief at the passing of President Corazon Aquino. As an arrogantly faithless youth in 1986, I and fellow organized nat-dem youths had chosen to boycott the snap presidential elections. The choice seemed clear to many, but the idea of toppling a mighty dictatorship using the ballot seemed impossible, if not foolish.

What many called the rebirth of the nation had many fathers. So her administration, as even her husband predicted in the aftermath of 20 years of one-man rule, was constantly under threat, essentially from the weight its internal contradictions.

Under her rule, I wept at the Mendiola Massacre, the still-unsolved assassinations of my personal heroes Ka Lando Olalia and Lean Alejandro. I was stunned that she allowed her education secretary to fire aggrieved public school teachers whose allowances were stuck in the graft-inducing red tape. I lent my fist and angry chants against her campaign for the retention of the US bases.

Years after she left office, when her actions (like using her political capital to help oust Erap) seemed more in tune with mine (perhaps because they didn’t lend the power of officialdom), I would grudgingly acknowledge her contributions to nation-building, admit to the enormity of her job as post-Marcos president, and applaud her for her sacrifices. My grumblings about missed opportunities grew fainter. I came to appreciate her, especially in relation to her successors, mga adik sa poder.

And as I grew older in the job of reporting history as it happens, I understood her place in it and what she has come to stand for—courage and unity, representing our potential as a people. She did not love this country any less than other self-proclaimed patriots, only different; her sense of patriotism was defined by her own set of circumstances. She was history’s special child—an accidental hero, a reluctant leader, but by many accounts, a stubborn president.

In the weeks prior to her death, as we all waited for the inevitable, I remembered family and friends and other icons whose cancer tested their threshold for pain and suffering, and the limits of their faith. I remember my cancer-stricken an-kong, who made my daddy cry because he couldn’t stand the torture that the disease brought his father. I remember a friend’s dad, who insisted on bearing the pain, saying no to painkillers. I remember my aunt whose dying wishes were for sunshine, a home-cooked meal (but she kept throwing up small pieces of bread soaked in milk), and the ability to breathe on her own (she was attached to a respirator and other life-saving machines). I also remember a friend in pain who asked, “Why me?” I remember Francis M., who called on his kababayans to be proud of their identity.

In the end, President Aquino was simply a person who adored her kids and apos, who got sick, who expressed herself through art, who suffered pain, who continued to try to shape her country, who was true to who she was and to what she believed, who was mortal.

One with fellow Filipinos, I honor her life. And the L hand sign, which has lately degenerated into a taunt for the loser, once again stands for laban. Fight on. In her death, uso na ulit ang magmahal sa bayan.

***Veronica Uy is an editor of

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