My generation can sing "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" from memory. We can boast that we were able to enter Malacanang to gawk at Imelda's shoe and perfume collection; that we joined the authentic People Power Revolution; that our parents voted for Ninoy Aquino's widow, Mrs. Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, during the 1986 snap Presidential elections; and that we attended mass at Sto. Domingo celebrated by Cardinal Sin just to get a glimpse of her privileged daughter, Kris Aquino. Probably the latter is not something to boast about, really.
My generation is in mourning today, for former President Cory Aquino, Tita Cory to all of us, has passed away.
After 20 years of Marcos dictatorship, Mrs. Aquino represented at the time all of our hopes and dreams as a people. She was the David pitted against Goliath, and willingly sacrificed her private life to become a revolutionary President, Time's Woman of the Year, the Mother of Philippine Democracy, and now, the Saint of People Power.
She was not perfect. She had a family to take care of, controversial properties and unsatisfied employees just like everyone else. She had a daughter who broke her heart several times, a product of recessive genes probably, for I wonder how a heroic father and a saintly mother could produce such a character. But this is not about Kris.
Mrs. Aquino united the Philippines and brought out the best in each of us. Her actual resume, which the Shoe Lady mistakenly summarized into one word, "housewife", awed everyone, me included. She studied French and Math in college, and was a brilliant student. She willingly sold some of her inherited properties to finance her husband Ninoy's campaigns. She was the widow everyone tried to emulate. From pate-making to flower-painting, her skills went beyond leading bloodless revolutions and impressing the U.S. Congress.
I was in grade school when the EDSA Revolution happened, the event that saw Hollywood stars using the "L" sign, that stood for "Laban" ("Fight!) rather than "Loser" during our time, and swathed the country in yellow. I watched her much-applauded (live, not canned) speech before the U.S. Congress, barely a few months into her presidency. Mrs. Aquino had a natural rapport with her audience. She knew what to emphasize to whatever crowd she was addressing, and her sincerity and wit shone through. She could inject humor even in the most ironic situations. I always applauded her speeches, even when she was already retired and just making her appearances to lead the country against her erring predecessors.
When I was a senior in high school, one of my batchmates appeared on a TV show with her, and she was impressed by him. She asked him where he went to school, and he said, Manila Science High School. Then she, President, Heroine, Mother, visited our little school! Oh, how we shined the floors and rehearsed our songs. It was our single most important high school memory, even eclipsing the J-S Prom. She went even further to invite all 318 of us, including our teachers, to Malacanang Palace, for lunch. We walked slowly on the carpeted floors, stared at the chandeliers, and marveled at the food. We even got a souvenir each - a yellow mug that simply said, "I Had Coffee with Cory". Most of us have kept that mug.
"Write to me", Tita Cory told our batch. "Even after my term ends, I want to hear from you, I want to know what you have become, and what you are doing for our country," she said, although not exactly in those words. So I did write to her, and asked one of my uncles, her Times Street neighbor, to give it to her. I told her that I had become a lawyer and that she had inspired me to love my country and to put others first above my personal comfort. She did not reply, but it was enough for me that I had written it.
What has the country become after those golden days of Philippine democracy? What has become of that batch from Manila Science High School? What has become of me, whose ideas of freedom, democracy, and service were shaped by the legacy left behind by former Sen. Ninoy Aquino and his widow, former Pres. Cory Aquino?
The years have not been all that kind to us. We Filipinos have kept on repeating EDSA, as if its formula could again transform us into the world's bastion of democracy. Our high school batch has gone our different ways (although this year, efforts to support our alma mater have materialized). And I, I have become more jaded as the years have gone by.
Just as in life she had inspired us to do our best, Mrs. Aquino in her death reminds us to safeguard our freedom, to speak the truth, to live in faith, and to love unconditionally.
What will happen to the Philippines after she's gone? I end this tribute with some words from "As Time Goes By", allegedly one of her favorite songs, which we performed in Malacanang Palace (I was part of the Senior Choir) during our historic Coffee with Cory:
It's still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by.
Rest in peace, Tita Cory, President. Mother. Hero.