Friday, 21 August 2009

'the greatest president we never had'*

It has been twenty-six years since Ninoy Aquino was shot dead. I can still remember that day—anticipation heavy in the air; Tatay listening to Radio Veritas (a Catholic station, one of the very few media establishments that dared report on the activities of opposition leaders), visibly excited. And then the reports started coming from the airport: Ninoy had been shot. People waiting at the airport were scared, worried, distraught. The world, my little ten-year-old's world where nothing went horribly wrong, where there were no monsters, completely fell apart. My father, for the first time, openly angry at the Marcoses. He was dead certain they were behind the shooting. The sorrow, oh the sorrow. I'll never forget that day. I remember crying, realising with finality that our president was a bad man. I remember looking at a copy of the Sunday Bulletin magazine, which had a lengthy feature on Manuel L Quezon (born on 19 August), muttering, Marcos is no Quezon; he doesn't love his country. And I cried for this man I had only heard of a few weeks ago, when rumours of his return from exile surfaced, and my father, joyous and hopeful, started talking about how this man was going to change our country and set things right.

And he did. Through his death, he gave his country a new life. His statement, 'The Filipino is worth dying for', woke us up, dared us to prove him right. The fear, the resignation, the apathy—they all went on that fateful Sunday in 1983, to be replaced by anger, the righteous anger of a nation that had been treated so wrongly for so long. It was that anger that toppled a dictatorship and let democracy reign again in our country. For that, we shall always be grateful.

*Words uttered by another great man who should have been president too— Jovito Salonga.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

rest in peace, tita cory

Image courtesy of Associated Press

I woke up with a start at 4 o'clock this morning and I knew at once something was wrong. I went to bed late last night but didn't bother to check the news, so the first thing I did when I woke up was check the BBC website on my phone. And there it was, among the headlines: Cory Aquino passed away last night. I was too tired to feel really sad this morning, but now, sitting here and reading articles about and tributes to the late former president, I feel that I'm in full mourning.

Cory Aquino, or Tita Cory as we Filipinos fondly called her, embodied the hopes and dreams that our nation never thought could ever come true. Having suffered the atrocities of the Marcos dictatorship for twenty years, most of us had lost our voice and the will to fight. Many of us learned to be indifferent. The few who dared to oppose the Marcoses were either murdered in very savage ways ('salvaged' as we would call it) or sent to prison on the flimsiest of made-up charges.

It was only when Ninoy Aquino, Cory's husband, was assassinated upon coming home from an exile that all the pent-up rage of twenty years suddenly became too much to bear for the Filipinos. And we started taking to the streets. Suddenly, we weren't scared anymore. There were certain personalities we would never forget from that era of rallies and the never-ending threat of being doused with water cannons or worse, being fired at by anti-riot policemen. Chino Roces, Lorenzo Tañada, Pepe Diokno-venerable old men who lent dignity to the rallies. Younger political figures like Rene Saguisag, Joker Arroyo, Nene Pimentel. Artists, filmmakers, students, socialites and ordinary people like my father. They were all there. And in their midst, this tiny quiet figure in her plain yellow dress, Ninoy's widow, who had unwittingly become the moral center of the fight against the Marcoses. And how glad were we when she agreed to run for the presidency! The Marcoses knew they were done for, no matter how flagrantly they cheated and used guns to try and scare people into voting for them.

During her rule, despite the setbacks and the many coup attempts, Cory never wavered from the path of democracy that she set out for our nation. She never entertained the idea of changing the constitution so she could stay on as president-she never wanted to stay on as president. She was not greedy for power or money. She may have made some mistakes but she never stole, cheated or lied. Most of all, she kept our hopes and dreams alive, and allowed us to have opposing views and engage in debates without fearing for our safety. I attended many a political rally during her presidency and never had I been afraid of getting hurt or arrested for no reason.

The Philippines has been fast descending into the dark ages again, thanks to a president who seems bent on holding on to her seat and the growing apathy among Filipinos, especially the young ones. With Tita Cory's passing goes an era of democracy and optimism and faith in our ability to work our way out of the dark as a nation. But maybe, just maybe, her death will awaken us once again and help us remember that once upon a time, we did conquer the dark and it felt wonderful.