In 1985, the thought of being involved in politics was far from my mind. But after just one year, I found myself campaigning for a person that would eventually take the first steps to heal this broken country. I speak, of course, of our beloved Tita Cory Aquino. It’s her birthday today and this is my own little way of paying her tribute.
She turned out to be our Joan of Arc – an unlikely heroic figure that represents hope, dreams, deliverance from oppression, and yearning for decency in a corruption-infested government. Because of her, I took a leave of absence from my job in New York to immerse myself in a “bara bara” campaign in Iloilo and Panay Island. When I say bara bara, I mean that it was a people’s campaign. There was no money involved here. It was about the people wanting to become Cory-supporters in every sitio, barangay and town. Back then, the issue wasn’t about debt-servicing, GDP, or local industries… It was about trust. In a government that lied, cheated, and killed, here was Cory Aquino, housewife of a martyr, who said: “Enough is enough. We deserve better. And we will take our country back.”
During those days, one couldn’t help but be inspired. But even before she became Cory the President or Cory the Hero, I had the privilege of knowing her just as Tita Cory. And as many will tell you today, she wasn’t just this larger-than-life symbol on a poster. She was the kind of person who’d lead by example, who was sincere, who was credible, and who stood her ground despite the odds, imbued with a strong but humble faith. She told me once that, “people may or may not like you [for standing your ground], but they will respect you and trust you.” I’ll always remember those words.
Tita Cory was able to change the country because people respected and trusted her. She might not have been able to achieve all of her goals: partly because she stoutly refused to use her powers to the hilt, believing it was more important to give an example of restraint and propriety; and partly because healing a broken country is a work of decades, not of a few years. And it is a task for all of us… that’s why, after her term, she continued to work patiently but with a clear vision to safeguard our democracy, our values that hold society together.
She has passed on and left us this task. Today, we remember what a gift we had in her. It is a bittersweet memory for me who was privileged to know her not only as a political leader, but as a close family friend, a wise and warmhearted woman, whose death has left a painful hole in our lives. In honoring her memory, all of us are called to work for the things she held dear, to do the right thing by our conscience, our fellow human beings, and our country.
Thank you Tita Cory.