Remembering everyone’s Tita Cory

Published January 24, 2021, 8:47 AM

by Deedee Siytangco

Angel Thoughts

Reconciliation should be accompanied by justice. Otherwise, it will not last. While we hope for peace, it shouldn’t be peace at any cost, but peace based on principle, on justice. —Corazon C. Aquino

Today we reminisce with people who became close to her before, during and after her presidency, the icon of democracy, Cory Cojuangco Aquino. Tomorrow is her 88th birth anniversary. Tomorrow, the Ninoy Cory Aquino Foundation (NCAF) will have a live mass at 3 p.m. on the foundation’s site on Facebook. Friends are invited to join.

President Cory with the top columnists then, Press Secretary Adolf Azcuna, and Asec Deedee Siytangco. In the photo are Emil Jurado, Joe Guevara, Orly Aquino, Nelson Navarro, Ruther Batuigas, Jake Macasaet, Jess Bigornia, Jess Sison, Chito Villanueva, Dick Pascual, Noel Cabrera, Alex Magno, Louie Beltran, Alfredo Salanga and Art Borjal. (Val Rodriguez)

Let’s hear it from her friends.            

I remember two unforgettable events about Cory Aquino. One when she was President, and another when she was Private Citizen Cory again. My husband Popoy (Philip) and I were invited officially to my first State Dinner at the Ceremonial Hall of Malacanang Palace by virtue of my position as spouse of a cabinet secretary. Popoy had just been appointed secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform. Like a doting mom, she went to great lengths to dress me up by having a fully embroidered jusi gown made for me and, on the day of the event, she invited me to the Arlegui house and had my hair and makeup done by her regular beautician. She was so concerned about how I looked, afraid that people might accuse her of overworking me, she said in jest. After Malacanang, Tita Cory and I would go to her office at the Cojuangco Building in Makati together. At that time, we lived about five minutes away from her residence on Times Street. I was unsuccessfully doing weight control and management that I took a diuretic that day when I left the house. When we were on EDSA, I felt a strong urge to go to the bathroom that I was twisting, curling up. I told her I needed to go. She told Norie, the driver, to look for a restaurant with a clean toilet. When I got back to the car, she told me to just stop doing all of those weight control measures as they might just hurt me in the end. Tita Cory was that simple, considerate person. She never regarded herself above the rest. She treated us like her children. She was a good and caring person, a prayerful woman and a selfless individual. I miss her still. —Margie Penson Juico, President Cory’s appointments secretary

Margie Juico with President Cory

It was nearly 8 a.m. and I was in my car rushing to go to Malacañang to meet with Pres. Cory Aquino, then fly to Silang, Cavite to attend the Philippine Police Academy (PNPA) graduation ceremony. I was nearing the helicopter pod when I saw the helicopter taking off. I missed the flight with the President! Immediately, I decided to go to Silang by car.

On the way, I was worried. I missed a Presidential appointment, which could earn me the Presidential ire. She was strict about being on time and was known for arriving minutes before the scheduled hour. Furthermore, I was supposed to give the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) saber to the top graduating student of the class. My anxiety was building up.

When I arrived at the PNPA campus, I was escorted to a seat fronting the Presidential grandstand. Pres. Cory noticed my late arrival. My anxiety continued to build as I waited for how things would unfold. She then motioned me to join her. It was seamless after that. I gave the DILG’s Saber to the top graduating student and soon after, Pres Cory gave her speech. After graduation, we stayed for a while to mix with the top police officials. I could not forget that incident for it should have never happened. Pres. Cory showed her magnanimity and humanity. I would have been given the cold shoulder and Presidential admonition. Pres. Cory was not just any political leader who could have been officious and jealous of their rank. She was understanding and humble. She was a leader who was benevolent. I cannot forget her. —Cesar N, Sarino, then DILG secretary

President Cory allowed me to photograph her in her candid moments and I never abused this fantastic generosity. I always cleared the results with her before sharing it with a few colleagues and friends.

One shot I took with my Contax T2 became an iconic portrait of her that appeared on staff IDs, then later publicly on T-shirts. President Cory was an ideal subject of photography because she was so natural and transparent and her charisma shined through every image. —Adolf S. Azcuna, then presidential counsel, press secretary, spokesperson, and also volunteer photographer. He is now a retired Supreme Court associate justice and chancellor at the Philippine Judicial Academy.

President Cory with Jose Jesus on a state visit

Cory’s governing style was based on her strong moral authority. Personally, as a proud member of her cabinet this is what inspired me to do everything I could to help make her government succeed. It must be remembered that the Edsa Ortigas Interchange was one of a few other infra projects that were made possible because of her full support. The huge international goodwill generated by Pres. Cory’s restoration of democracy here gave rise to several very productive state visits, including Germany, China, the US, France, Italy, the Vatican, Belgium, and Brunei. In all these countries, she was so warmly welcomed. She ceased making state visits after the last failed coup attempt of 1989. By her honesty, integrity and moral leadership, Pres. Cory established what David Brooks calls in his bestseller book The Second Mountain. —Ping de Jesus, DPWH secretary  

Our youngest and only daughter was named after President Cory Aquino. Michaela Corazon, whose name means “heart that is like God’s,” was born when I was a member of her cabinet. During a break in one cabinet meeting, the president asked when my wife Anna was due. Beyond the professional relationship, Mrs. Aquino extended a personal concern for her official family, which I greatly appreciated. When I said Anna had already gone into labor and the baby was expected anytime, our Chief Executive’s immediate response was to send me off to be with my wife. President Aquino had said several times that she would no longer accept requests for her to be a godmother to babies because she felt that younger people would be more appropriate. When I did ask if she could be Mica’s ninang, however, she accepted! The baptism was held at Sto. Niño Church inside the PSG Compound, across the Pasig River and part of Malacanang Complex. We selected the venue for security reasons and also because it was close to the president’s official residence. During the baptismal rites, Mrs. Aquino noticed the overhead lights swaying and some guests thought there was an earthquake. The sky had turned quite dark, although it was just mid-afternoon and there was no weather advisory of a storm. After the reception, we were baffled by a layer of what looked like snow on the streets and on top of the cars. It turned out to be ash fall. Mount Pinatubo had erupted that day. The president quickly mobilized her cabinet to respond to the disaster that had made Mica’s baptismal day unforgettable. It was Mrs. Aquino’s last year as president. Every year since, Mica had received a Christmas package from her Ninang Cory. The thoughtful gifts were always accompanied by a handwritten note on a card printed with one of Mrs. Aquino’s paintings. There were a few occasions when our daughter would see her godmother and when prodded, would recite a poem that she had memorized. Her ninang was an appreciative audience. Mica will be getting married this year. It would have been wonderul if Mrs. Aquino were around. We still miss her. —Chito Sobrepeña, then cabinet secretary and head of the presidential management staff. He is now president of Metrobank Foundation.

The absence of malice, both as a person and as President, a very apt and respectful description of Tita Cory, as she is fondly referred to. While in Malacanang, I had the opportunity to ask her what all-encompassing and important virtue she was looking for and required from us, members of her cabinet as well as among those in the bureaucracy tasked with carrying on her administration’s mandate. Her answer: sincerity. When she gave me that answer, immediately my thoughts were of what her assassinated husband, Benigno S. Aquino, Jr.  (Ninoy), had said during his US exile.  Let me paraphrase it, eliminating to whom the remark was originally addressed: “If you are sincere, nothing is impossible…but if you are insincere nothing is possible.” Political rhetoric, one might quip, but I can personally attest that sincerity, with President Cory, was indeed innate and a daily mantra. For good measure, let me add “prayerfulness,” because she always sought spiritual guidance through prayer. The human and humane that she was might have had errors of judgement as President, but as perfection is not of this planet, she was completely free from pretense, deceit, and hypocrisy. She was kind, thoughtful, and generous as well. —Buddy Gomez, then press secretary