The beloved ex president of the Philippines, Cory Aquino, has died after a long battle with cancer.

Corazon Aquino is most famous for leading the “People Power” revolution that peacefully overthrew President Marcos in 1986, but she was more than that.

The entire nation has been sending in prayers for her, with masses, vigils, and prayer services for her recovery, and her supporters have been tying yellow ribbons to trees and posts to show their love for her.

You see, Cory’s symbol was the lowly yellow ribbon.

A take-off from the 1970s musical hit “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ’round the Ole Oak Tree,” the yellow ribbon became a symbol of the opposition to the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship that was galvanized by the assassination of former Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. on Aug. 21, 1983…..
The mounting outrage later transformed Mrs. Aquino from a shy housewife to a charismatic leader who would later be propelled to power by the 1986 “People Power” revolution that ended Marcos’ reign.

People often forget that a lot of American leftists back then were insisting only a communist take over would end the abuses of the Marcos regime. They were wrong. The true “miracle” of Corazon Aquino was that she managed to reestablish a democracy here.

True, some revisionists insist that her restoration of democracy led to a weakened government, unable to cope with the reality of poverty and corruption. True, it’s still a rambunctious democracy that is manipulated by the rich families (vote buying ten bucks a vote) and too often is a cover for graft and corruption (going rate of kickbacks is 20% ).

But the miracle is that, despite abuses including political murders, that democracy does continue to be vibrant here in the Philippines.

One disappointment in the coverage is that few secular newspapers are covering the religious background on Mrs. Aquino.

One cannot understand her story, or the story of the People Power revolution, unless one knows that for Filipinos, God is real and part of one’s extended family. Often God is like a rich uncle to be brought out only for celebrations, but for many it is a deep and personal relationship associated with fiestas and the evening rosary/bible reading. But for many older Filipinos, it is identification with Christ’s passion that gives them strength to endure problems in a land that has suffered the hardships of the great depression, a brutal Japanese occupation, an active “insurgency”, a dictatorship, and political violence just in the lifetime of my husband.

Cory’s husband Ninoy, an ex newspaperman and politician, had a reputation for being a playboy, until he was jailed by Marcos and rediscovered the faith of his childhood.

Later, after Marcos released him to exile by allowing him to get medical care in the US, it was religious faith that gave him the courage to return from the US to oppose Marcos, even though he was warned of assassination threats. (which indeed were carried out on his return: he was killed at the airport that now bears his name).

Mrs. Aquino, like many Filipina matrons, was always known for her deep faith. For years she carried a rosary with her that had been made and sent to her from Lucia, one of the visionaries of Fatima. But her devotion was not a showy devotion to impress the masses, nor was it that of following local custom: it was a deep and abiding faith in God:

“You know,” she says, “when Ninoy was in prison, I used to think all of us have a quota for suffering and when Ninoy was assassinated, I supposed I’d filled up my quota of suffering. But that isn’t so, and when we think of Jesus Christ who did not do anybody any wrong, He was goodness Himself, and yet He was prepared to make all of these sacrifices and His suffering did not end until he died. So I suppose, each of us, while we are in this world, while we are here in the Philippines, must think of what it is that we can still offer to make life better for our fellow Filipinos.

So when Marcos attempted to reinforce his power by holding an election, the only one that the opposition could agree on to run against him was the widow of Ninoy Aquino.

When she registered as a candidate, she put her profession as “housewife”.

And when Marcos attempted to steal the election, she was staying at a convent where even Marcos’ thugs would hesitate to enter.

The turning point came when the military, under General Ramos (a Protestant) backed Mrs. Aquino as the winner, and Marcos sent in troops from a loyal area to arrest them. At this point, Cardinal Sin and other religious leaders urged people to oppose them without violence, and so a million Filipinos, saying rosaries and carrying a statue of Our Lady of Fatima blocked the EDSA (a major highway) to stop the arrest.

Marcos soon fled, and People Power became an example and inspiration for many bloodless revolutions that would follow.

That was of course many years ago.

But since then, Mrs. Aquino has remained quietly active to encourage good government. She backed the removal of a corrupt President Estrada in a “people power II” demonstrations. But more recently, Mrs. Aquino reconciled with “Erap” and even tried to reconcile ex President Estrada with his replacement and nemesis, President Arroyo.

Most recently, it was reported that she supported those opposing a constitutional change to a constitutional assembly (or as local wags call it “ConCon to ConAss”), a move that would allow the present president, who cannot run again due to term limitations, to remain in power if her party would control the congress.

If the shoe buying Madam Imelda is the symbol of what’s wrong with the Philippines, it is the gentle strength of Tita Cory (Auntie Cory)  that is the symbol of what is right and good about the country.

But her most enduring legacy to the country might be her gentleness, her piety, and her kindness.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician  living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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