Cory Aquino will always be indelible in my memories of my years in college, as I was a sophomore in U.P. Diliman when People Power made the unassuming widow the 11th President of the Republic of the Philippines. Since I live right next to Camp Aguinaldo, I had the inglorious task to stay behind, alone, while the entire clan left for safer grounds. On the final day of the EDSA revolution, I was awakened at dawn by a phone call from a very panicked uncle, whose frenetic voice grew even shriller when his greatest fear was realized when I answered the phone. He said he was hoping no one would answer because that would mean the house was already vacant. He said that he heard on the radio that Malacañang ordered the tanks to open fire any minute now and that I should run as far away from the area as my then 19-year-old feet could carry me.
I was shaking like a leaf. I never thought that my death would be served in such a dramatic manner. But soon, fear gave way to curiosity, and I thought, if I was going to die, I might as well be with people, and not alone, like those bodies in Pompei, curled up alone in their beds. So against all better judgment, I locked up the house, and walked to EDSA. When I got there, all fear left me and what I saw was not a revolution, but practically a fiesta. People were singing and dancing and praying and everything else that you could imagine. I saw a Fiera that was distributing sandwiches, a car that had free drinks, and people giving away rosaries. And besides, I was just so flipped out at the thought that there I was, in the middle of EDSA, partying! I decided to go where the tanks were and my timing couldn’t have been more perfect. As I got to where the former Tropical Hut was on the intersection of EDSA and Ortigas, they announced that someone just arrived to lead everyone there in prayer. And who should it be: Cory Aquino. I had goosebumps seeing her there, as she lead everyone in praying the Our Father. At the time, it was like seeing a spiritual leader. Being born in 1967, I had never known any other president except Ferdinand Marcos. And there she was, mere meters away from us, the one person who could offer deliverance.
In the succeeding years, Cory Aquino’s popularity waxed and waned, sometimes hailed as a hero, and in the next breath, a huge disappointment. But for people like me who were quite young and naive at the time that she rose to prominence, she will always have a special place in our hearts. She wasn’t just a politician, she was a liberator. Of course many would gladly shatter my rose-colored version of what happened in February 1986, and offer a more realistic and less romantic analysis, and maybe they will prove right. Maybe they can correct my history, but they will never take away the impact she had on a nation thirsting for change. Maybe I’m romanticizing the days of my youth, but what happened during the EDSA revolution was special. I felt history unfolding beneath my very feet. And at the very heart of it, was Cory Aquino. Without her, none of that would have happened, at least not the way it played out.
Few people at the dusk of their lives can look back at what they’ve done with their lives and see what Cory Aquino saw. It’s ironic that despite of all the accomplishments in her life, she considers the 3 years in exile they quietly spent in Boston as her happiest. She never wanted the kind of life that eventually defined the rest of her life. Yet she lived it, for better or for worse, out of a sense of obligation to her husband and her people. This is a well-deserved rest, for someone who just wanted a quiet life, but had everything but. Rest in peace, Madame President.