Today would have been the 89th birthday of the late former President Corazon “Cory” Aquino, and though monuments in her honor are no longer unveiled on this day as in years past, she lives on in many strongholds, especially in the hearts of people who loved her and looked up to her.
“How I wish we could be together,” said her eldest child, Ballsy Cruz. Cory was only 22 years old when Ballsy was born. Ballsy was also her mother’s confidential secretary while she was President from 1986 to 1992, and beyond. It is said that after spending the whole day together at the office, one of the first things mother and daughter would do once they got home was to call each other.
“(Mom) always knew what to say to calm us. Every time I was troubled, all I had to do was tell her and she made me feel everything would be okay,” Ballsy recalled to me last week when I asked her thoughts on her mother’s 89th birth anniversary.
Cory’s second daughter Pinky Abellada, whose full name is Aurora Corazon and was called by her father Ninoy as “Double Mom” because she is named after his mother Doña Aurora Aquino, and Cory, says: “These are tough times, so many suffering from COVID, hunger, sickness, destruction from typhoons, etc. I see myself often talking to Mom. It is very comforting. I hear her saying, ‘Trust in God!’ And I am happy she is in a much better place.”
Cory’s third daughter Viel Dee, who shared her mother’s room while the latter was President, for her part, confides, “I recently printed a picture of Mom with Noy as requested by Fr. (Catalino) Arevalo. It’s good I made a copy for myself, too, because it reminds me to keep on nagging Mom to pray for us from heaven. She needs to work extra hard to help us during these trying times.”
During his mother’s 76th birthday in 2009, which unbeknownst to anyone would be her last, then Sen. Noynoy Aquino told me, “One can’t help but be amazed at all she has overcome.” Noynoy would become President in 2010, and passed away in June 2021.
I was the executive editor of Cory’s Presidential Press Staff during her term, and I remember her fierce dedication to democracy (she wouldn’t leave the Palace even when rebel soldiers were closing in) and her detachment from power.
When the end of her term was approaching, she waved off suggestions to run for a second term (as she was not elected under the Constitution that forbade re-election), and instead presided over the first peaceful and democratic transfer of power in 20 years when she handed over the reins of government to Fidel Ramos in 1992.
One of her closest friends before and after her presidency once told me that even when on Business Class, Cory would not tilt her seat so as not to inconvenience the passenger behind her. When the friend wanted to give her a magnifying mirror similar to the ones in hotels, Cory, then President, politely declined because it would mean boring a hole in her bathroom in the Arlegui Guesthouse where she was staying, “which is not my house.”
TIME Woman of the Year
In December 2010, a year after Cory passed on, she was named one of the “25 most powerful women of the past century” by TIME Magazine, which in 1986 had also named her its “Woman of the Year.”
In its “2010 Time 100 Special Issue,” TIME hailed Mrs. Aquino, along with the late Indian Prime MinisterIndira Gandhi, the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, the late Mother Teresa and media personality Oprah Winfrey, as among the 25 women who most influenced the world in the past century.
“Her sudden ascension as the first female President of the Philippines was the battered islands’ first step toward democracy,” wrote Rachelle Dragani in the accompanying article on Mrs. Aquino.
“Weathering both coup attempts and corruption charges, Aquino was unable to push through much of the social reform that her supporters had hoped for. But when she stepped down in 1992, she still stood tall as the people’s choice,” the article said.
Icon of democracy
Despite the accolades, Cory, ironically, never sought to be a political power. She majored in Math and wanted to take up Law. She was content to be a supportive wife to her husband, former mayor and governor and then senator, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. His assassination in 1983 led her to take up his crusade, saying, “I would never be able to forgive myself if I knew I could have done something for my country and didn’t.”
She became the Philippines’ “Icon of Democracy” after she carried on the struggle for the return of democratic institutions in the country—including a robust and free press and the return of regular elections, which we will again see in May this year.
While President, Cory was given a standing ovation before a joint session of the US Congress in 1986 and a confetti shower at the Paris City Hall in 1989.
When told that she had colon cancer in March 2008, Mrs. Aquino responded the way she had always faced trials in her life—with strength and faith. A close family member who was present during the doctors’ disclosure said Mrs. Aquino simply said, “I am 75. I have lived a full life. I cannot complain...”
She then told her doctor that she did not want to see people around her crying. Mrs. Aquino, in an interview for The STAR while she was battling cancer, told me, “If this is the end of the road for me, so be it.”
She always used to say that she was not a worrier and that this was her motto: “I work with all my might, pray with all my heart and leave the rest to God.”
She said she never questioned God about her cancer and never considered her illness the greatest trial of her life, “because it involved only me.”
She was selfless till the end.
Happy birthday in heaven, President Cory! You are missed.