The year of the Aquinos
By Cheryl Ravelo
One year ago, my country was in mourning when former President Corazon Aquino died. Cory, as she is known, is revered as the mother of Philippine democracy because of her role in the overthrow of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
Today, I’m at Mass in the same school gymnasium where her body was laid for the public to pay their last respects. I’m with the same media people who covered the week-long mourning period and funeral. I’m photographing the same Aquino family, whom some call the Philippines’ Kennedys. There’s a crowd of supporters, gleaming in the yellow shirts and ribbons that were Cory’s trademark.
Unlike a year ago, the gym is not jam-packed. There were no queues of people from all walks of life, just families, friends and supporters gathered to attend the memorial service. Fewer people perhaps, but I feel the same feeling of unity and hope in democracy from the crowd.
The La Salle Greenhills gymnasium has another important connection with Cory. Here in 1986, an election tally showed Aquino leading Marcos in the snap elections he had called. When it was clear that Marcos had stolen the election, some generals mutinied, sparking the People Power revolution that drove the dictator into exile and Cory to the presidency. A blackboard with that vote tally from almost 25 years ago still hangs on one wall of the gym, joined this year by a bronzed ribbon loop that became a symbol both of the country’s liberation from dictatorship and Cory herself.
There is one other difference at the memorial service. Her only son, Benigno Aquino III, was a low-profile Senator when he delivered a eulogy last year. Today, he is President, largely because of her legacy.
Aquino told the memorial service that he thought what Cory represented to many Filipinos died with her. He was proven wrong as her passing sparked an outpouring of emotion, with the memory of her integrity and courage in standing up to Marcos after the assassination of her husband transforming this year’s election.
From nowhere, Benigno, known as Noynoy, became a front-runner for the presidency, winning the May election in a landslide.
After the service ended with the hymn of Bayan Ko (My Country), the crowd flashed the “laban” (fight) sign, made by shaping the index finger and thumb into an L, and I followed the family to Cory’s grave in Manila Memorial Park.
It was supposed to be a private event but to my surprise a lot of people were there. Some stayed to attend a short prayer with the family. Some wanted to catch a glimpse of the new president and some had their pictures taken at Cory’s grave.
There were many other tributes from Filipinos. In Quirino grandstand, where Benigno took his oath of office on June 30, a massive mosaic of her made up of 3,200 photos taken during her six-year presidency was unveiled.
Cory Aquino may have gone, but she remains remembered and honored and still has the power to inspire hope in the Philippines.