Thursday, August 6, 2009


I write this an hour or so before I proceed to the Manila Cathedral to attend the funeral mass for President Corazon C. Aquino. Over the past five days since Saturday, the first of the month, we have been in mourning, and the images I saw, the feelings I have experienced, inspire and overwhelm.

A member of the family confided that the immediate plans were to have a simple wake at the Heritage Park, and a simple funeral after five days. But they realized that the place was too inaccessible, and they were right. Cory does not just belong to her grieving family; she belongs to a grieving nation.

On Saturday afternoon, I even ventured that perhaps they could stretch the period to until eight or nine days, with burial either this coming Saturday or Sunday. I had in mind people coming from the provinces, for I watched the Cory magic during the years following Ninoy’s assassination and well into the years of her troubled presidency. Even then, the lines outside were fast forming. And I personally witnessed the public’s admiration and love in so many parts of the country. Surely, I said, many would want to travel just to pay their last respects. But it was Cory’s wish to have as simple a funeral as possible and part of that was a short wake.

On Friday, July 24, one of her internal organs had already collapsed, the inevitable result of a prolonged and debilitating cancer. A doctor-friend told me that the end should normally be a few days at most. At her age, it could even be hours, I was told. In the week when Congress opened, I was told that before her physical situation deteriorated, she expressed the desire for a very simple burial and wake, and shunned any state funeral. That was very Cory.

A close relative of mine once found herself aboard the same plane bound for Hong Kong when Cory was no longer president. She was surprised to see her in coach. She politely declined an upgrade that the flight crew willingly offered.

I was not surprised at her first person account of Cory Aquino. To those of us who have observed her closer than most, that was quintessentially Cory. Utmost simplicity and humility that one could only describe as class.

In an interview over ANC, while the flat-bed truck bringing her was yet slowly moving through Roxas Boulevard last Monday, when I was asked what I thought was the reason behind the Cory magic so vividly seen in the last few days, and more so in the loving and rousing reception shown by the people when her mortal remains were transferred to the Cathedral from De La Salle Greenhills, I said “her nobility of character”.

Many wondered why the poor and downtrodden identified with her even if she was born and bred rich. I could not explain that I have seen that in many alumnae of St. Scholastica’s College, for many would not understand the difference between one convent school and another. Closest kin have been educated there, and I have personally appreciated the social awareness inculcated upon their students.

It warmed my heart most to see how the people who survive in the urban warrens of South Superhighway and Quirino in Paco enthusiastically filled the streets, waiting for hours beneath the noonday sun just to catch a glimpse of the bier. I was sure the day before that the Makati financial center would burst into yellow fever. I was not that confident about Quirino and Paco’s urban poor. But there they were, with makeshift placards, grabbing almost anything yellow-coloured they could see in their households, and somehow fashioning these into instruments of love. The sight was too over-powering. Clearly, that was the nobility of the poor. The innate nobility of the Filipino.

Back home last Monday night after helping in the reception of visitors at the Cathedral, I recalled the Sunday night incident at De La Salle Greenhills where President Joseph Estrada and his wife, Senadora Loi, his immediate family and members of his cabinet paid their respects to Tita Cory. I met them at the corridor on their way to the hall. Here was a man in whose Edsa Dos ouster the late president herself was a leading figure, but here he was paying her homage. That too is nobility.

But such nobility in President Erap was presaged by another class act on the part of President Cory. In the aftermath of the revelations of Hello Garci, scandalized that the woman she had helped make president even at the expense of thwarting a popular sovereign mandate, had debased herself by a clear conspiracy to cheat, and lying through her teeth throughout that crisis, President Cory asked her to resign. Of course she did not, and she has buckled herself, nay, shackled herself to her illegitimate throne. Thence did Cory take the rather unexpected act of publicly apologizing to the deposed Erap for her role in Edsa Dos.

Nothing could be more noble. To accept human mistake, to acknowledge an error in judgment, and lament the result that has wrought, that was an act of humility like no other. No wonder even the masa who kept their faith in Erap were one with Tita Cory, in her pain, in her illness, and in her death. They saw in her a nobility of character unusual, atypical in many of the politicians whose heads swelled with the power they abused.

Over the past few days, we have seen how even ordinary folk would bring flowers and deposit these in front of her modest Times Street residence, the same house where she and Ninoy grew their five children at. Times Street then and still the same Times Street now, through a senator’s highly charged life, through incarceration, through the heady days of presidential power, and through retirement from power.

We have seen the ordinary folk suffering the intense heat and bursts of rain intertwined, patiently through hours and hours of queuing just to pay their respects, albeit as fleeting as a second or two, and not complaining throughout. We have seen small businessmen sending food and umbrellas to that long queue, all in a gesture of unity in mourning. Once more you feel the pride swelling into your being. Pride in the Filipino, that which we have lost in a decade of political disaster, where the democratic institutions Cory led to restoration, are now shorn of almost all credibility. In one moment of sadness, we have regained it. Would that it would last.

Would that it would continue to burn, as we face another test of what Cory Aquino called “democracy’s most solemn responsibility”, the transfer of power from one bereft of any nobility in character, to one who hopefully would yet embody it, in the tradition of the simple lady whose loss we mourn today.

I was also in the Cathedral when Bongbong and Imee went inside to pay their respects to the president whose courage and resolve led to the downfall of their father, the man who led us through an entire generation. And I saw the sincerity in the siblings, with Bongbong more composed to a visibly unnerved Imee. They were led to the pews reserved for the family of Ninoy and Cory, where Ballsy greeted them warmly and gratefully. There were hardly any words exchanged. Words were unnecessary after all. The nobility showed.

Later, asked by rather pestering but understandable media furor, Bongbong simply said, “We just came here to condole”. The siblings and Bongbong’s wife Lisa would have stayed longer had not media attention become a disturbance to the solemnity of occasion.

And Pinky Aquino Abellada, caught by inquisitive media, said of the Marcos’ visit --- “Sa amin naman talaga, they really sincerely prayed for my mother when she was sick”. When asked about the prospects of reconciliation between their two families which had been politically at odds with each other, Pinky answered, “I cannot say for now; we really cannot foresee the immediate future, pero … sana”.

Again, such nobility.

I should now hurry up, because I have duties at the Cathedral. It is the least I can do for a woman whose marvellous life touched me in more ways than one.

Paalam, Tita Cory.