Sunday, July 31, 2011

Remembering Cory today

Today is Pres. Cory Aquino's 2nd death anniversary. I am still moved with emotion every time I think of Cory, EDSA and those turbulent days. Am sharing thoughts I wrote two years ago while watching Cory's funeral cortege:


We bid farewell to our Icon of Democracy. As I watch her funeral cortege on TV I write this from my Marinduque house in tears now and then. I never got the chance to shake Cory’s hand. But I remember...

I was a Marcos and Imelda fan before Ninoy Aquino was shot dead at the airport tarmac that hot Sunday in August 1983. It was probably the result of constantly following for over a decade, on government-television, all his speeches, all her affairs and all the glitter that went with them.

But then before Ninoy’s arrival reports were already abuzz that he’d be assassinated upon arrival. Which was why Salvador Laurel organized a sizeable crowd to meet Ninoy at the airport to surround the returning Marcos nemesis. When the flash reports came out that Aquino had been killed at the airport, I remember that the streets of Manila were practically deserted, with people glued to TV-sets wanting to know more details.

I didn’t join the long kilometric line of people at Ninoy’s wake in Sto. Domingo Church although most of my friends did. I had mixed feelings watching the unending stream of humanity go by during the long funeral cortege to Manila Memorial. Something in me still rejected the notion that the Marcoses had anything to do with the crime committed...

But not too long after that, a diplomatic official of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Manila, where I was working then as office manager, asked me what I thought of the assassination. I replied coldly: How could someone like Galman who was supposedly with the Left have entered the tarmac and have previous knowledge that Ninoy would not be allowed to pass through the passenger exit like the rest of the passengers, but be brought down by the security forces to the runway? It reeked with conspiracy.

Then I found myself part of the regular Friday rallies at Ayala and Paseo de Roxas, that eventually led to the snap elections, that led to the Tagumpay ng Bayan rally at the Luneta where a million people converged and remained oh so deafeningly quiet listening to every word that came forth from Cory’s mouth. At another rally in Liwasang Bonifacio, my mother, she was 66 then, wanted to see Cory in person and joined me. We both never got the chance to even touch Cory’s hand.

When Marcos and family fled in the evening of the fourth day of the people power revolution in February 1986, the jubilation, shouting and happy faces at EDSA could only be described as that of a people’s collective realization that there was freedom at last. Someone around remarked that the final Liberation of Manila in 1945, must have been like it. A bonfire was lit near the gate of Camp Crame and I, together with some close friends, joined the people dancing around it. Some of Cory’s close supporters were there including Tingting Cojuangco who also joined that ‘liberation dance’.

With Cory’s installation as the revolutionary president there was more euphoria. Weeks later the local papers bannered news stories that a Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded to the Filipino people for that peaceful revolution. “Smilets Revolusjon”, the smiling revolution, was the first book co-written about EDSA only within a few weeks after the victory by Bjorn Egil Eide and Terje Svaboe, the authors, well-known Norwegian correspondents had made Manila their base to follow the events as they unfolded. But the peace would be besieged with coup threats that Cory, clearly serving singularly to restore democracy and the democratic institutions, survived only because of her unwavering faith that we all knew.

But I wondered what I, an anonymous soul among the old Cory crowd, could do somehow in my own way to help her regime survive. I checked the PLDT directory and traced the address of Raul Manglapus, a former exile who I knew did propaganda work in the U.S. against the regime of Marcos, and known close friend of Ninoy. I came up with a proposal to pursue the Nobel Peace Prize angle.

The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by a committee created by the Storting, Norwegian Parliament and could only be given to individuals (not to a people), who’ve made exemplary political achievements the year following its announcement. I wrote to Manglapus about the need for somebody to work quietly for the nomination of Cory for the Nobel Prize and not assume that someone else is doing the work. He immediately responded with a phone call and invited me to his house in San Lorenzo village. To make a long story shorter, to fulfil the nomination requirement, he eventually made representations with the U.P. president, Jose Abueva to make a formal nomination and I was given a copy. Later, Manglapus confirmed to me that separate nominations were also made for Cory by Nobel laureates, Lech Walesa and Desmond Tutu whom he had some earlier political association with during his exile as a human rights activist and Christian democrat.

Then on my part, when the opportunity came, I was able to arrange through Manglapus an exclusive interview with Cory in Malacanang by Eide and Svaboe to be telecast, for several installments, on the Norwegian government television, NRK (Norsk Rikringskasting). Soon, Aftenposten and Arbeiderbladet, Norway’s biggest newspapers were featuring Cory as the number one favorite from among a shortlist of other nominees for the peace prize, with full page color features on her. There were many phone exchanges between Manglapus and me following those developments, and I sent him clippings from the Norwegian dailies that were sent by diplomatic pouch to the Embassy.

A couple of days before the announcement by the Nobel committee in October 1987, Reuters picked up the alarming news (not played up locally), that Cory was set to declare martial law following another failed coup attempt. Finally, it was not Cory... The Nobel Peace Prize that year went to relatively unknown Oscar Arias Sanchez of Costa Rica. The embassy diplomats told me on the day of the announcement that Sanchez was way below the shortlist of nominees but the Nobel committee apparently opted for a “safe” winner. They couldn’t afford to give the award to someone who might indeed declare martial law later.

I thought how wrong they were, because a Nobel would precisely discourage what Cory described as “dambuhala” from staging more coups.

A few more days after the announcement Larry Henares wrote on his Inquirer column “Make My Day”, details on how the coup plotters robbed Cory of her peace prize; how her enemies intercepted phone calls and used the foreign media to alarm the Nobel committee that she was set to declare martial law - precisely to thwart the awarding of the world’s most prestigious and most coveted award to Cory.

I would have been the happiest person on that day in October 1987. But too bad, there were no cellphones yet that could have prevented buggers and interceptors from doing further disservice and evil deeds against those on the side of truth and freedom. I just wonder now if ever they regretted that, or remain pleased that they had the power to destroy an idea that could only be good for the country including themselves.

But in the final analysis, who needs a Nobel Peace Prize, our democracy has been restored and it is up to us, Filipinos, to protect it and keep it going. And Cory who fought for it with resolve is resting now in blissful peace in the company of her solitary hero, Ninoy. A whole nation is in deep gratitude to the woman who awarded us with Peace, Democracy and Love. Goodbye Cory!