When ABC TV reporter Alan Wong asked me what Filipinos lost with the death of former Pres. Corazon Aquino, my immediate response was “our moral compass, our guiding light.” I thought of Cory as Jawaharlal Nehru once said of Mahatma Gandhi, “the light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere.”
But Nehru also added that “the light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years, and a thousand years later, that light will still be seen in this country, and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts.”
What was this “light” that has gone out of our lives? The August 2, 2009 editorial of the Philippines Daily Inquirer expressed it best:
“It was the light of liberty, the unquenchable flame of democracy, the light of optimism and faith in the Filipino, snuffed out in her husband’s case by an assassin’s bullets, but which lit so many more little flames, so that it dispelled the darkness that had engulfed the country since 1972. It was a light that could not be extinguished by coups and natural disasters, by the mocking of those who saw in her merely a woman, merely a widow, merely a person trying to return power where it belonged—in the people’s hands, to do with as they chose."
When her husband, Ninoy Aquino, was assassinated in 1983, Cory took up the banner of resistance from Ninoy and stood up to the brutal dictator. When she ran for president, Marcos belittled her for being “a common housewife with no experience”. She defiantly replied: "Yes, that's right, I have no experience in stealing, in cheating and in killing political opponents." The battle was joined. In the end, the more experienced candidate fled the country when People Power redeemed the Filipino people’s dignity.
After assuming the presidency of the Philippines , Cory Aquino visited San Francisco on September 23, 1986 and spoke to 4,500 members of the Filipino community at a banquet held at the Moscone Center . As chair of the committee which hosted the largest banquet ever held for a visiting head of state in San Francisco history, I was privileged to sit close to her as she spoke of her fondness for our City:
“San Francisco has a special place in my heart. It was the cool, clear air of a free San Francisco that put the color back in my husband Ninoy Aquino’s cheeks when he arrived here after seven long years of imprisonment. It was here that Ninoy spent much of his convalescence after his triple heart bypass. This is the home of many of Ninoy’s and my most ardent supporters and friends, the home of many of the most vocal and active opponents of the dictatorship.
The Filipino-American community here constitutes one of the largest bases of support for People Power in the Philippines . Even though you are thousands of miles from the Philippines, you took to the streets, you held your own rallies, you let the world know your beliefs and contributed to the groundswell that eventually brought victory to the forces of freedom and democracy in the Philippines.”
President Aquino asked for our Filipino community to help the Philippines not just by sending money remittances and balikbayan boxes to the Philippines but in a more politically sophisticated way:
“You can help by becoming a strong political force in your adopted country and using that force to influence your adopted country’s attitudes towards your mother country. Follow the lead of the Jewish-Americans who, despite being a small minority, form an indispensable pillar of a strong and independent Israel . Surely they are no stronger, no smarter, no more imaginative or dedicated than you are. They may be more organized, more politically oriented, more helpful to each other. And certainly they work hard at keeping America ’s interest in Israel alive at all levels of society - in business, in education, in government, in the arts and sciences.
And so must you with respect to the Philippines . You must guard the image of the Filipino that the February Revolution burnished so brightly. You must guide those joining your ranks so that you enhance the image of Filipinos here. All impressions of you, American though you might be, will hark back to the Philippines .
Strive for political power in this country. Unite. Learn from the new Philippines how people, acting together, have made the difference at home. You too can make a difference here, for your own betterment and that of generations to come.”
Cory also asked us to educate ourselves and our youth about our history and our provenance, our heroes and our pride: “Be proud of your roots. Do not let your children or your grandchildren forget that they came from a land that produced Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini and yes, Ninoy – men who could stand shoulder to shoulder with the best that this country or the world has produced.”
Not only men but many women too, like Cory Aquino.