‘Bawal mawalan ng pag-asa’
Hoy kayo ha! Bawal mawalan ng pag-asa. Habang buhay kayo, hindi pwedeng tumigil lumaban para sa tama (Hey you! It’s forbidden to lose hope. While you’re alive, you cannot stop fighting for what’s right)!” These were the late former President Cory Aquino’s fighting words to a group of supporters, including nephew Rapa Lopa who recalled her admonition to them in a feature article in this paper.
Indeed, the words of the woman the world had hailed as an “icon of democracy” resonate today, 10 years after her passing, as never before. It was Aquino’s devotion to democratic processes, her staunch defense of them and her abiding faith in their importance that marked her presidency and indeed her life in the public eye.
Her stay in the ultimate seat of power in the country, after all, was no picnic. It seems astounding today to recall that she, along with her loyal military and police leaders, had to face down six coup attempts, including one in which her only son (and eventual President) Noynoy almost lost his life.
And yet, despite all these serious challenges, not once did Aquino consider declaring martial law. Her stubborn adherence to the democratic process (“Archibald MacLeish had said that democracy must be defended by arms when it is attacked by arms and by truth when it is attacked by lies,” she said in her speech before the US Congress. “He failed to say how it shall be won. I held fast to Ninoy’s conviction that it must be by the ways of democracy…”) is all the more notable when one recalls that even as she was fighting off military rebels, she was also dealing with a fractious Cabinet, long-standing domestic rebellions and pernicious problems like a bankrupt economy, corruption and poverty—the shambles left behind by the Marcos regime. Then, too, there was the 1990 Luzon earthquake that left a total of 2,412 people dead, and an estimated $369 million worth of damage.
Any of these aggravations could have provoked a leader with a weaker faith in democracy to use brute force and a tyrannical hand to resolve problems. How do we know? Because the country is seeing it happening under the Duterte administration. All of Mindanao is currently under martial law; the province of Negros Oriental is said to be facing a similar fate after a spate of violent killings. The country, in fact, has had de facto martial law in its poorest areas, against mostly poor victims fatally tagged as drug users and pushers. Then there is the violence done to public values and democratic principles, especially with the President’s foul-mouthed speech, his assaults against institutions and dismaying behavior toward women and his perceived opponents. And corruption? President Duterte’s own words of surrender attest to its growth and flourishing under his watch.
Which is why today, 10 years after her passing and after the tremendous show of people turning out by the millions to escort her to her final resting place, Cory Aquino’s edifying example is much-missed and mourned.
Her administration had its ample share of failings and missed opportunities, but it is instructive to remember where she came from: the traditional spouse standing by her husband Ninoy’s side through triumph and testing; the widow stoically facing the fact of her husband’s assassination and fighting for justice on his behalf, her fight then embraced by a people that had become weary of the depredations of the Marcos dictatorship; and finally, her emergence as a political figure who brought the different factions of the anti-Marcos forces together, eventually coming into her own as a candidate against the dictator.
Thirty-three years after taking down Marcos and serving as the catalyst for the restoration of the country’s freedoms, Cory Aquino and her legacy are under assault, with the rise of fake news and historical revisionism. And yet amid the relentless trolling on social media, her place in history remains firm and unassailable. Only the willfully blind, and/or plain stupid, can deny that minutely chronicled history.
She deserves to be remembered with admiration and respect. More—with a resolve to retrieve and bring back to life the principles she championed long after she had left Malacañang: trust in the processes of democracy, exemplary behavior and values, faith in the Almighty and in the Filipino. “Faith,” she once said, “is not simply a patience that passively suffers until the storm is past. Rather, it is a spirit that bears things—with resignation, yes, but above all, with blazing, serene hope.”
Or, put another way: “Bawal mawalan ng pag-asa.”
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