I now break a rule involving a self-imposed moratorium from composing blog entries during the bar review to pay tribute to a public figure that I hold in high esteem.
I was one of the kids of the 80’s who sang and danced to Michael Jackson’s music. I am very much, and still am growing to be a fan, and am also still mourning his passing. Yet, I would say that his music, although significant in a sense that it still brings to fore some scenes from my childhood, is not what has defined my formative years. Instead, there were two events that that gave birth to the vision that has propelled me to make some of the more decisive choices in pursuit of a calling, which though yet unclear, will soon materialize.
In August of 1983, when I was 4, I remember watching the evening news with my mom when a report was shown on a man clad in white, who was later on sprawled on the floor facedown beside the plane from which he emerged. The man, my mom told me, was Ninoy Aquino, a senator who fought against President Marcos. He was a hero, she said, and true enough, a couple of years later, he was declared as one. Being the inquisitive child that I was, I asked a lot of questions (e.g. "what is a senator? Why did he die?” etc). I remember watching the news footage of his funeral – perhaps where I first got a glimpse of his widow. Again I asked more questions…why were there a lot of people?…etc. It was early as then, thanks to my mom’s candid answers, that the seeds of nationalism were first planted in my young mind.
A couple of years passed. I was then in kindergarten, and again, thanks to the television and inquisitiveness, my little self became aware of goings-on…that there was going to be an election, and that the goal was to replace the bad man with the good woman. As early as then, I took the side of the yellow front, headed by the widow of the man whose death I watched on TV a couple of years back. I probably did not understand it all, probably it was more of I sympathized with Cory Aquino not only because she was female but more so because the image of her husband lying face down beside the plane, was still (and still is) very vivid in my mind. I remember wanting to exercise the right to suffrage myself (of course, I couldn’t and then, I didn’t know that it was a right and was named accordingly) and engaging in little debates with my maternal grandfather, who was contemplating on voting for Marcos, as to why he ought to vote for Cory. I also vaguely remember asking my classmates then (I don’t know if they would though) if Cory ba sila or Marcos…and yes, because I was for Cory (even before pink became my favorite color) I loved yellow, and constantly wore a yellow jacket for years (hence, I got teased “yellow giraffe” when I grew too tall for my age…remember this, JR?).
Days later, again on TV, there was news of an uncertain scenario, a possibly chaotic one. My dad, who had very much imbibed the concept of a "good father of a family" decided to bring me to his hometown, San Pablo City, for a couple of days – just in case anything happened in the Metro. We passed by EDSA, where people were already starting to assemble. It turns out that he wanted to join the assembly, as well. Of course, I, too, wanted to join him. As spoiled as I was then, he did not give in to my cajoling and instead told me, "Hindi pambata ‘yon, anak." "Bakit, Daddy," I asked, "ang bata ba, hindi pwedeng maging makabayan?" (Actually, I could no longer remember the exact conversation, but an aunt tells me about what I said to my dad whenever she shares stories about how precocious I was as a child).
History took its course as my paternal grandfather, aunts, cousin and I watched from the boob tube. Democracy eventually won over dictatorial forces, and Ninoy’s widow became the first woman President of the country. When my dad finally fetched me to go home anew to QC, a song entitled "Magkaisa" was already playing on the car stereo. That night, my mom called overseas from Australia (where she was finishing her graduate studies) that night to ask how we all were, and that she, along with her Filipino dorm mates watched on tv the events that took place and were praying for the country…and so I learned that such events had a worldwide impact.
Years passed. President Cory finished her term despite coup attempts and ensured a smooth transition to another Filipino president whom I liked. During the last year of her term, I was privileged to have been part of a children’s choir that performed for her and some guests in an Earth Day celebration held in Malacanang in 1991. I still recall her in one of her yellow dresses, obliging our request to have a photo taken with her. I remember, as well, that I wrote in my 6th grade diary, how I was more than happy and honored to have seen the President of the Philippines in the flesh. (MSI choir mates, do you still have a copy of that photo? Sadly, I think I lost mine)
More years passed. President Cory continued to do good works behind the scenes while occasionally taking centerstage in other significant episodes of this country’s history, to remind Filipinos to pursue the quest for democracy that once united this country. As for me, I finished my education, matured from a little girl to a young woman by the grace of our Lord and grieved for the loss of my father (also a public servant with integrity, and from whom I also draw inspiration). In my final year in college, when I encountered a difficult leadership situation, I drew a lot of inspiration from how President Cory conducted herself during her presidency, amidst criticisms. Just as she did, I did my best to finish my term with dignity, the best that I could.
Soon, I ventured yonder in the corporate world. Yet there still remained inside me, the same precocious little girl, who wanted to pursue a calling larger than myself, thanks to tugs at my heart whenever I would pray and listen to the messages in church and still inspired by those two pivotal events in my childhood. I was soon thereafter exposed to inefficiencies in government (especially in the LTO then, since I was a frequent visitor…palaging nahuhuli at nakukunan ng driver’s license) and economic ills, against which my employer set sales growth targets. I figured that I wanted to be part of the solution, rather than just rant about it all. Wanting to participate in the nation’s affairs, eventually, the desire grew so much that I decided to leave my comfort zone. I believed that if I were to be in a certain place 20, 25 or even more years down the road, I ought to start proceeding towards such direction then.
I went to law school, where amidst a roller-coaster journey, I experienced some of the most fulfilling moments in my life as I found myself somehow taking part, in small ways that I could, in matters that are beyond myself, such as those concerning the nation and some other advocacies. In the leadership roles that I played therein, I tried to emulate President Cory’s principled style of leadership. I also accepted an invitation to join the Liberal Party’s youth arm, largely due to inspiration, still from the Aquino couple. After 5 yrs in law school, I finally graduated and proceeded to review for the bar, motivated to press on by the notion that the bar, although an important exam is not the end-all-and-be-all, but is merely a means towards an end – specializing and attaining skills which would complement a heart of integrity that is after God’s heart. This, in pursuit of a calling bigger than myself, which, honestly, I still cannot clearly make out. (Yet I leave to the Lord to reveal the directions to me step by step…and of course the good work that He has begun in me, He is faithful to complete – hence I will not be afraid though the bar’s only barely a month away, and I still have a lot of catching up to do…please, please, please pray for me).
It is during this bar review period, also in the month of August in 2009, that the passing on of the last of the two iconic figures during whose lifetimes I was fortunate to have lived, took place. In my own silent way, more than I was saddened by MJ’s passing, I mourn the passing on of President Cory, a great woman, who was instrumental in giving birth to the penchant of nationalism within me and whose leadership influenced the way I took on the responsibilities given to me. Amidst the sadness, I smile and wistfully remember her legacy to this nation, which created such an impact to a then-little-girl such as me, whom she never really became acquainted with.
Sadly, I have been unable to witness any of the events as she is brought to her final resting places (I have been cooped up in my dorm, where there’s no TV nor internet, trying to catch up on the backlogs I was able to incur due to a two-week sickness…anyway, I’m temporarily back at home now). During the breaks I took these past couple of days, I tried to commemorate her life in my own way by reflecting on the qualities that made (make) her so admirable. True, inasmuch as she is the icon of Philippine democracy, in her humanity, she was not perfect. Some of her policies may have been flawed; those tilling the Cojuangco estate still have to acquire what has been promised them…still, she did the best that she could. Notwithstanding these, fact remains that she was (still is) a pivotal figure in this country’s history. Beyond remembering her and what she symbolized, as a Filipino who looked up to her, I desire to emulate her much-admired simplicity, sincerity, humility, selflessness, integrity, bravery, love for country and unique brand of leadership (which her to rebuild institutions as she refused to take advantage of all the power she had back then). Beyond these, I also admire how she submitted and stood by her husband through perhaps one of the most difficult trials that husband and wife could ever encounter, and how, in spite of their flaws, she loved her children no matter how they may have erred, patiently instilling in them good values. Finally, there was her tenacity and unwavering faith in the Lord, which had strengthened her amidst trials and also for that final battle which eventually took away her temporal life. These virtues, uncommon to many personalities who are in the public eye, are what I desire to imbibe so as to enable her legacy to live even through me, a complete stranger to her. If each and every Filipino were to espouse these virtues as well, surely, President Cory’s legacy would live on. (Right after I wrote this, I spoke, over the phone [thank you, sun!], with Lee, one of my good friends, who asked, “Who else is like Cory these days?” I told him…”Gee, I really don’t know. But come to think of it, if all of us who feel her loss imbibe the qualities that she stood for, then there would be many Filipinos who would be like Cory Aquino”).
This piece may be interspersed with a lot of personal notes — which goes to show how a public figure who is seemingly distant to me, such as Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, has inspired me, an ordinary Filipino. Yet, I am just one of the many, nay millions, whose lives she has touched without her knowing it. I thank God for her life and for the privilege to have lived during her lifetime (and to have seen her in the flesh once). Thank you President Cory for reminding all of us that the Filipino is not only worth dying for, but also living for…and yes, even worth pursuing a calling / purpose for. May you rest in peace as you join our Maker and your beloved; and may the Lord comfort your children and loved ones too. If we, who have not personally interacted with you are grieving, I could just imagine how much more your family feels your loss. In my books, and I’m sure in others’ as well, you have lived a life well-lived for, and well-appreciated by, the nation that you have served.