STRENGTH assumes more power when encountered unexpectedly.
It rained heavily when I woke on Saturday morning. While I was switching on the laptop, my sons, aged 10 and 15, asked me if it was true that President Cory Aquino died. A Reuters story was the first article to confirm this.
When Ninoy Aquino was shot on Aug. 21, 1983, it was a sweltering Sunday. My father broke the torpor of our siesta with this breaking story, which he first heard from the old Sony radio that he always carried around.
It was one of the few times I saw Papang agitated. He predicted “anarchy” would break out. In the days that followed, the same fear dominated the thoughts of many, specially those who lived through the turbulence before and during Ferdinand Marcos’ imposition of martial law in the country.
For my generation of Martial Law babies, the Aquino assassination sent a frisson of anticipation. Finally, it seemed that anti-Marcos sentiment was crystallizing.
The Aquino slaying, a political act unprecedented in blatancy and recklessness, coalesced an unlikely alliance: politicians that seemed just shades darker or lighter than the tyrant residing in Malacañang, the Left, human rights victims and activists opposing the involuntary disappearances, muzzling of the press and other abuses of the regime.
Our noisy but outnumbered and fragmented group was now joined by the middle class, somnolent, determinedly non-committal but powerful in its resources and influence.
All around, the blinders of non-involvement were being taken off. People who did not boycott Coke, San Miguel beer and other cronies and who could not stop reading the officially sanctioned disinformation in the Manila Bulletin, Daily Express and Times Journal were turning up in the streets. You could hear the whisper sweeping the country, becoming more than a whisper: enough’s enough.
Yet many of us still had our doubts if the nation would be galvanized long enough to end the dictatorship. The cynicism was partly induced by history. We have few rivals in being overwrought but fickle, fervid but forgetful.
And then there was that unlikely figure uniting the Opposition: Ninoy Aquino’s widow, a woman whose soft, quivering and pallid voice could make the most impassioned call for an end to the dictatorship sound like a sonorous, sleep-lulling novena.
To many anti-Marcos veterans, Cory seemed more of an incongruity than a symbol. Her demure yellow callado shifts and yellow-rimmed granny glasses were reminiscent of picnics and old classmates’ reunions, not demonstrations and street polemics.
It was her color that should have cued us. Yellow is often portrayed as the color of cowardice. At its most innocuous, yellow is the sunny hue of smileys. In the palette of protest, no person or party ever adopted that shade, with its associations of betrayal and naivete.
The housewife not only reinvented the color yellow, she changed my perception of leadership. While she repudiated social injustice in no uncertain terms, Cory also stood for dialogue, reconciliation and peace. These were not just political catchphrases either with her.
She stood for the spiritual in an arena that worshipped power and influence. She walked and prayed the rosary when protests often ended in blame-throwing and clashes, even bloodshed. She was religious long before she came into political leadership, a contrast to other leaders who court the religious for political expediency.
And she voluntarily faded into private life, a rare bloom in a jungle that dictates tampering with laws and morality to cling to power.
In keeping with a lifelong class act, Cory Aquino asked the many concerned for her when she was diagnosed with cancer to “continue praying for the nation.”
When she passed away at dawn on the first day of the month that also saw her husband’s assassination and her unforeseen initiation into our country’s history, the rains poured heavily. It was as if the heavens also paid tribute to a soul that did not live by this world’s rules.
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Aug. 2, 2009 issue of the “Matamata” column