My Tribute to Tita Cory

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I’ve been posting a lot of tributes on facebook/twitter since Cory Aquino‘s passing. I guess it was my way of processing until I could find my own words.

I kept asking myself why this even matters to me, as a person of Filipino descent born and raised in the U.S., far removed from the tumultuous and triumphant events in the Philippines since the martial law years to today. My first time to the homeland was in 1989, and although I was only 9 years old, I still remember. I remember seeing my paternal grandparents for the first time. I remember seeing the impoverished street kids, the malls, the palengkes, the shantytowns, everything my parents told me to expect. I later learned that we were able to go at that time because the Philippines was once again safe to return to, not to be fearful of a brutal dictatorship. My parents never really said so, but I would bet my money that their reasons for leaving the homeland “to provide a better life for the family” must have been driven to escape the uncertainty of that life under the Marcos dictatorship. I would hear stories of the People Power uprising and how it made the Philippines free and safe to go to again, and of Cory Aquino, who became the face of that movement after the assassination of her husband, opposition leader Ninoy Aquino.

As I grew older and made extended trips back to the Philippines in 2004 and 2006 for cultural integration and exposure trips, the more I learned of the movement against tyranny, oppression, and government corruption in the homeland. And the more individuals like Ninoy and Cory became inspirations to me, standing up against a brutal and oppressive dictatorship. Under Tita Cory’s leadership which ousted dictator Marcos through a bloodless uprising, the road to restoring democracy in the Philippines began. One of the first steps she took in restoring democracy was having all political prisoners who were imprisoned by Marcos freed, such as political activist Professor Jose Maria Sison,

Cory Aquino and Prof. Jose Maria Sison after his release from fascist prison in 1986.

Cory Aquino and Prof. Jose Maria Sison after his release from fascist prison in 1986.

as well as beginning peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, led at the time by current Bayan Muna leader Satur Ocampo.

Satur Ocampo, right of Cory Aquino, in 1986

Satur Ocampo, right of Cory Aquino, in 1986

Although reluctantly, she became a source of hope and courage when the people were afraid to stand up against Marcos. She became the face of restoring democracy in the Philippines. And she did it with strong conviction in her morals and faith in God.

While her strong conviction in her morals was her greatest strength, it also proved to be her greatest weakness. Although her presidency restored democracy to an extent in the Philippines, as well as restore much of what Marcos had brutally taken away from the people, it was also plagued by many failures. I, like many other progressives, are among her harshest critics. Her morals and conviction in her faith just made her too damn nice, as she always tried to see the good in all people. Such a person carries the threat of being taken advantage of, and the failures of her presidency can’t totally fall on her, but the people she had to work with as well, mostly those carried over from the Marcos dictatorship. Her administration failed to implement land reform that benefitted the peasants who rightfully own the land they live and work on, leading to the Mendiola Massacre of indignant farmers in 1987 at the hands of the Philippine Military, the same military that served Marcos, a psyche the military carried over into her administration. Instead of having Marcos’s cronies jailed and face trial for their crimes of graft and corruption, many of them still held their positions in government. Her maiden name being Cojuangco, for generations her family owned Hacienda Luisita, a vast and fertile land in Tarlac, whose residents include hundred of peasants tilling the land, who are among the most exploited and abused. This land is infamous for the Hacienda Luisita Massacre in 2004, in which the Philippine National Police sprayed the protesting farmers, fighting for their basic rights, with bullets and tear gas, leaving 14 dead and 200 wounded. As far as I know, Cory has not made a statement on her family’s behalf on this injustice.

Her shortcomings notwithstanding, which pale in comparison to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, she no doubt took up the challenge of leading the people when they needed a leader the most. Despite her reluctance, she did so because she felt the responsibility to continue the fight her husband Ninoy help lead against the dictatorship that placed democracy seemingly out of reach. Even after her presidency, she continued to stand against tyranny, government corruption, and undemocratic abuse of power, when presidents after her sought to extend their terms by trying to undo the 1987 Constitution, a constitution established under her presidency that set the road to restoring democracy. She was and continues to be a symbol of democracy. To the very end, she fought against tyranny by urging the current President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to “make the ultimate sacrifice” by stepping down from the presidency, given her horrendous track record of human rights violations, graft, and corruption, a horrendous track record that surpasses Marcos, whose dictatorship Arroyo is seemingly trying to emulate.

Watching the memorials for the past few days, I come to realize that as progressives, we tend to be so harshly critical that sometimes, it can dehumanize. Despite the imperfections of her presidency, we must not forget that she is also a human being who believed and fought for the same things we want, democracy and social justice. Though we did not always agree with the ways to go about restoring democracy in the homeland, one can not deny her sincere love for the Filipin@ people, and our fight for true democracy and against tyranny and corruption continues on. I was glad to see progressives like Satur Ocampo, Bayan-Philippines, Gabriela, and Migrante present at the funeral giving their sincere respects. One said that the best way to honor Tita Cory is to continue the fight for true democracy, especially now against the brutal, corrupt, and oppressive Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime, whom Cory strongly opposed until her last breath.

Perhaps I’m emotional right now also because just a couple days ago, I along with my fellow progressives under Bayan-USA, Gabriela-USA, and National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, staged an emergency protest at Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s last stop in her recent U.S. visit. As her motorcade drove by us, we shouted and expressed our indignation at her through her untinted window. That is probably the closest we’ll ever get to the fascist leader responsible for graft, corruption, and human rights violations against our own people. I got so angry that I started tearing up. I let out all my anger and love for our people as I screamed my lungs out into my bullhorn pointed directly at her window, well worth the 5 seconds her motorcade drove past us. The look on her face was priceless. It was an emotionally overwhelming experience to be one of the spearheads of the collective action, and watching Tita Cory’s funeral afterwards, I finally allowed myself to cry. Cry for Tita Cory is no longer physically with us, cry for all victims of human rights violations, and cry at the overwhelming task of continuing the fight.

With Tita Cory’s passing, along with the recent passing of many cultural workers and activists, I feel their torch in leading the fight for democracy and justice has now fallen into our hands. We will carry on their love for the people and commitment to social justice. The fight is not over. People Power did not end in 1986, it did not end in 2001, and certainly will not end until we see the day true democracy is restored in our beloved homeland. With a country as unstable and fractured as our beloved Philippines is, one must wonder if there is hope for us. But as Ninoy and Cory proved, and the masses prove daily in giving their lives for the people, the Philippines, and the Filipin@s, “are worth fighting for.”

Maraming salamat, at paalam, Tita Cory.

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One Response to “My Tribute to Tita Cory”

  1. […] with my duties as a community organizer with SanDiwa, Bayan-USA, and PEP, coupled with the passing of Pres. Cory Aquino. Nevertheless, I truly felt the motherland was calling me to come […]

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