10 August 2009

Cory Aquino: An Icon of Freedom, Democracy, and Integrity in Public Office

HOMILY of Most Rev. Lucilo B. Quiambao, D.D., Bishop-Administrator of Legazpi
Memorial Mass for former Pres. Corazon C. Aquino
3 August 2009, 5:00 P.M., St. Gregory the Great Cathedral, Legazpi City

My brothers in the priesthood, Reverend Sisters and Brothers,
Mayor Noel Rosal, former Senator Victor Ziga,
Government officals and public servants,
My dear young people, Fellow Filipinos, Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

We come here today to celebrate a Memorial Mass for our beloved Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino. She was not only a former President of this country, she was an icon of freedom, democracy, and integrity in public office. It is but fitting to come together, be in solidarity with the rest of the Filipino people, and pray for one to whom a grateful nation owe so much.

You have probably watched the media coverage of her passing away, and have been supplied with bits of information on her life and work. For the benefit of us gathered here, especially of our young people, who may have been too young or were not yet around during those tumultuous times that saw her rise to become the first woman president of our country (and in Asia), let me recount briefly the story of our beloved Cory Aquino.

The public first came to know her as the simple housewife of Ninoy Aquino, who would graciously welcome her husband’s political allies to their home and serve them coffee. Then 1972 came, Martial Law was declared by Pres. Marcos. Ninoy Aquino, one of the most prominent critics of the Marcos administration, was incarcerated together with many opposition leaders. She became the supportive wife to a jailed husband, and journeyed with him as much as she could during those painful years that saw him going on a hunger strike, running for election while in jail, being sentenced to death, and suffering a heart ailment, among other things. When Ninoy Aquino was later allowed by the Marcoses to go to the US on exile and for medical treatment, she accompanied him, with the rest of their family.

On August 21, 1983, Ninoy returned to the Philippines and was promptly assassinated while alighting from the plane. The image of his lifeless body sprawled on the tarmac of the airport will forever be etched in the memory of our people. In the eyes of the public, Cory assumed the role of a hero’s widow.

In 1985, pressured from many sides, Pres. Marcos called for a snap election. Cory emerged as an unlikely and, at first, reluctant challenger from the ranks of the united opposition. But support for her spread like wildfire and animated a nation ready to break free from dictatorship. The election was marred by widespread violence and massive cheating. In fact, 30 COMELEC computer technicians walked-out of their work alleging election-rigging in favor of Marcos. Though the election was roundly condemned by the United States and by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, the Batasang Pambansa declared Marcos the winner. In a rally in Luneta, attended by hundreds of thousands, Cory called for civil disobedience, a general strike and a boycott of business enterprises controlled by Marcos allies.

On February 22, 1986, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Armed Forces Vice-Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos called on Marcos to resign and proceeded to two military camps in Quezon City. When Cardinal Sin called on people over the radio to gather at EDSA in order to protect the small band of defectors, and the people responded, People Power Revolution broke out. Cory Aquino, who was staying in Cebu City at the Carmelite Monastery that time, returned to Manila immediately. On February 25, 1986, at the Club Filipino in San Juan, she took the presidential oath of office administered by Supreme Court Associate Justice Claudio Teehankee. Marcos himself was sworn into office at Malacañang Palace on that same day, but fled into exile to Hawaii later that night.

One month after assuming the presidency, she issued Proclamation No. 3, which proclaimed her government as a revolutionary government. She suspended the martial law era 1973 Constitution, and promulgated a provisional “Freedom Constitution”. She closed the Batasang Pambansa and reorganized the Supreme Court. She appointed a Constitutional Commission to draft a new Constitution. The 1987 Constitution was approved in a national plebiscite in February 1987.

Several landmark laws were enacted during her term: the Family Code of 1987, which reformed the civil law on family relations; the Administrative Code of 1987, which reorganized the structure of the executive branch of government; the Local Government Code, partly authored by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, which further empowered local government units; and the controversial Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law.

When her term was about to end, many people actively sought to convince her to ran for re-election, since she was not covered by the constitutional provision barring a president from serving more than one six-year term. She refused the offers and stood by her belief that the glory of democracy is the peaceful transfer of power. When she rode away from the inauguration of Pres. Ramos, her successor, she chose to go in a simple white Toyota Corona she had purchased (rather than the government-issue Mercedes Benz), to make the point that she was once again an ordinary citizen.

Today we do not just remember the passing away of Cory Aquino. We celebrate her life. We thank her for taking up the challenge, like Moses in the Old Testament, to restore freedom to her people. She is our icon of democracy. Most especially, she was a shining witness to her Catholic faith, expressed in her unquestionable integrity while serving in public office and beyond it.

To get a glimpse of the remarkable faith of Cory, I would like to quote an excerpt from her now famous “Prayer for a Happy Death”, which she composed in 2004.

“Remind me each day, most loving Father
To be the best that I can be. To be humble, to be kind,
To be patient, to be true. To embrace what is good,
To reject what is evil, To adore only You.

When the final moment does come
Let not my loved ones grieve for long.
Let them comfort each other.
And let them know how much happiness they brought into my life.
Let them pray for me, as I will continue to pray for them,
Hoping that they will always pray for each other.

Let them know that they made possible whatever good I offered to our world...”

To these lines, I would like to add a rephrasing of a poem by one Bessie A. Stanley, entitled “Success”, which is often erroneously attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and which, I think describes so much the person of Cory Aquino:

“She has achieved success
who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
who has enjoyed the trust of pure women,
the respect of intelligent men
and the love of little children;
who has filled her niche
and accomplished her task;
who has left the world better than she found it,
whether in an improved garden,
a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has always looked for the best in others
and given them the best she had;
whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.”

Cory Aquino said during her last SONA: “I hope that history will judge me as favorably as my people still perceived me.” Our beloved Cory, we do not only judge you favorably, we would like to express our profoundest gratitude for the gift of your person to the Filipino nation.

You also said: “None of the good that we do is ever lost”. We hold on to that statement of hope, even as we also hold on to your promise to pray for us, too, so that many more of us will be inspired to give more of ourselves in the service of the people so we may finally fulfill our common aspiration of lasting peace and genuine progress for this country.

Requiescat in pace, Cory Aquino. Amen. Amen.