The month of August is bitter-sweet for the Aquino family. Its patriarch, former Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., was brutally assassinated on August 21, 1983, and the matriarch, Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco Aquino died on Aug. 1, 2009.
Her funeral rivaled that of her husband with the gigantic turnout of hundreds of thousands of mourners in the viewing venues at La Salle Greenhills, the Sto. Domingo Church, and the Manila Cathedral. And it took several hours to reach the Manila Memorial Park in Sucat to the gravesite where Ninoy is buried because of the people who lined the streets.
We asked their only son, former president of the republic Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III how he wants his mother remembered on her 11th death anniversary today.
“When we think of people we look up to admire them, but often think it’s difficult, if not impossible to emulate their lives,” he said.
“We tend to think that they are special and unique which enabled them to undertake their accomplishments. If we were to examine her life, we would see that she also had her moments of anxiety and doubts and intense disappointments.”
“I am sure that she never imagined the entire forces of the State would be arrayed against her and at times you really would feel totally alone. Through all of these she committed herself fully to her faith.”
“She was cognizant of her weaknesses as a human being but that God would provide that which she didn’t have. When we remember her life we see what one person was able to accomplish. More importantly it shows us what we can and should do in the present and the future.”
Eldest daughter Ballsy Aquino Cruz said: “For us siblings, Mom would always say the right things when we were troubled. She knew how to calm us, to make us feel better. When we heard that our dad had been shot, she told us: ‘Since there’s nothing we can do now, let’s pray the rosary. Dad had said if he could choose how he would die, he would give his life for his country.’ That really helped me that night and during the days I would miss him. I thought to myself – how many would get the privilege to die for one’s native land?”
Justice Adolf S. Azcuna, Cory’s presidential legal counsel and spokesman, had endearing thoughts about President Cory.
He said: “President Cory will always be the best of leaders for me. She never forgot that the first and last duty of a leader is to keep hope alive. Through all the unprecedented trials and challenges thrown her way, she never wavered in her duty to sustain our people in their hope for a better life. For this cause she gave her all and for that sacrificial willingness we will forever be grateful. The grace and love of God be upon her, forever and ever.”
Chito Sobrepena, former PMS head and cabinet secretary: “I saw her many virtues especially her genuine concern and compassion throughout the years when I served in her administration as Cabinet Secretary and Presidential Management Staff Head in the Office of the President.
Decisions on policy, disbursement of her discretionary funds clearly aimed to provide a better life for the people. I saw her genuine concerns for others translated into action that would establish artesian wells in far flung communities, provide assistance for the education of poor children, relief goods for survivors of disasters and calamities.
“I saw her humanity reach out to a stranger in an international airport abroad, who was clearly lost and confused. Mrs. Aquino made it her business to extend guidance so that the OFW could find her departure gate. She was no longer president and was travelling as a private citizen. My wife Anna and I were accompanying her as the guest of my boss, Metrobank Group Chairman George S. K. Ty. After noticing the look of helplessness of our compatriot, she asked how she could help and then arranged for assistance.
“It wasn’t always a situation of need that showed her care for others. During a cabinet meeting, she shared a box of her favorite chocolates that someone had sent as a gift. After the meeting, she called me aside and told me to bring the rest home to Anna. That she remembered that it was also my wife’s favorite chocolates was heartwarming but giving it to her, was overwhelming.
“On another occasion, during a break in our cabinet meeting, she inquired about Anna, who was about to give birth. When I mentioned that she was due any moment, she quickly dispatched me to be with my wife. Our daughter was born a few hours later and we named her Michaela Corazon, after President Cory.
“Mrs. Aquino kindly agreed to be Mica’s baptismal godmother, even after she had declared that she no longer accepted invitations to be ninang to babies. She felt it was more appropriate to have younger ninangs. But she obliged on my first request and honored us by accepting. Each year, she would send Mica a gift with a handwritten note and on different occasions, she would talk to Mica, listening and showing interest in what our daughter had to say.
“She made people feel important by giving them her personal attention and time. She honored us with her presence on different family occasions, despite her full schedule, and we remain grateful for the regard she conveyed by being there. She was personal, present and particular, and we will never forget these qualities of greatness about her.”
The first head of the Presidential Management Staff and the Metro Manila Commission, Elfren Cruz, reminisced about his years in the Cory Cabinet. He said that one of his proudest memories is that he was one of the few lucky ones who started working for President Cory on Day One of her presidency. This was the day after Marcos fled the country and Corazon Aquino became the new head of the Philippine government.
“I witnessed her resolving policy debates and political conflicts. But her main concern was directly helping the poor. She saw the poor as individuals with different needs and not just as economic indicators or poverty rates. She wanted projects that had a direct impact on their lives — classrooms, potable water systems, footbridges, livelihood projects. “Cory Aquino was a lady — always courteous and polite. I never saw her humiliate or embarrass anyone. But we knew when her lips would tighten and she was becoming upset and we knew it was time to move on.
“I would get instructions from her written on official Malacañang stationery. There were also post-its on which were printed ‘Boss Lady.’ Obviously, these were given to her and she was careful about using them. I still keep them as treasured souvenirs. The years I served President Cory Aquino will remain as the most rewarding and glorious periodof my life. I shall always be grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to serve the Filipino people and to work in service to a true heroine.”
Then there is Maria V. Montelibano, trusted media consultant and director of the revived and revitalized Radio Television Malacañang (RTVM). She had certain access privileges since she was the niece of Ninoy but discreet about them and ran a tight ship. Both government and private media knew they could count on her to project Cory and it was certainly an advantage to be her ally. But she never overstepped her authority and power and this endeared her to Madam President. “She brought out the best in people,” Maria stressed.
“Even if she was angry, you took it well because it was to improve you, not humiliate you.”
Maria served Mrs. President with her whole heart and soul. She liked the complete honesty of Cory in dealing with VIPs and her underlings.
There was nothing fake about her and it was also woe unto the inner circle where Maria belonged if something went awry. Cory could put a damper on Maria’s media plans but it was always done in her firm gentle way.
No hysterics, no cuss words; just the arching of the eyebrows and the tightening of the lips. We all understood. As everyone who worked with her administration agrees, it was an honor to have served her! I remember how proud she was that she was bowing out of government service with her reputation and record untarnished.
She had asked me if she had appointed my husband to any government-held corporation as they promised when I was asked to join her.
I answered her in the negative and that is when she said, “Deedee, you and I will leave Malacañang with our heads high! Clean!”
Today, there will be a live mass on Facebook to be officiated by Fr. Manoling Francisco, SJ, at 10:30 a.m. The family will be in attendance from their homes.