Cory Aquino’s life proved that one woman’s heroic response to adversity can transform a tribulation into a national triumph.
In assessing every notable figure of history, a vexing question arises: to what extent did greatness inhere in the person, and to what degree was it a product of the situation?
If great persons have their starts, as Gandhi said he did, it is often because a national or world crisis favors greatness.
Corazon Aquino’s rise to historical fame was much like John Kennedy’s ascension to soldierly bravery. “They sank my boat,” said Kennedy responding to the question of how he became a wartime hero.
“They killed my husband,” one imagines Cory Aquino would have said had she been asked how a homemaker became the first female President of the Republic of the Philippines.
If her husband Benigno Aquino personified Filipino courage in the face of oppression, as Jamie Cardinal Sin famously eulogized Ninoy at his funeral, Cory Aquino exemplified every surviving victim’s desire for redemption of a cause momentarily ground into dust by brute force.
Against what she felicitously described as the “guns, goons and gold” of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Cory Aquino rallied the forces to change the seemingly hopeless destiny of the Filipino masses under the initially bright but soon-to-be blighted Marcos presidency.
Just as her husband could have preferred the sterile comforts of exile to the savage threats to his physical safety upon his return home, likewise Cory could have retired from her slain husband’s cause and let the cup of destiny pass into the hands of another presumptive leader.
She didn’t let the cup pass. Instead she raised her murdered husband’s fallen banner, and after a two-and-a-half year struggle, hoisted it victoriously at the Malacanang Palace.
Thus she earned the undying gratitude of the Filipino people for returning their country to the ideals of its founding liberator, Jose Rizal, whom history recognizes as Asia’s first fighter for constitutional government by consent of the governed.
Cory Aquino’s struggle for and success at fortifying constitutional democracy in the Philippines was one of the signal battles in the last quarter of the 20th century. Oppressed masses in Asia, nay the world, touched their forelocks in gratitude to her for the inspiring example of her courage in the face of adversity.
The Malaysian people have a special reason to view her as an iconic figure. Their striving for a return of their country to the dispensation entrusted to it by its founding constitution mirrors hers and Ninoy’s successful struggle to return the Filipino nation to the promise of Rizal’s legacy.
My family, especially my wife Azizah, has a more intimate reason to be grateful to her for the generosity of her support during the years of my incarceration. Cory treated my wife and children as family, exemplifying the solidarity of all hearts that thirst for justice.
Azizah will convey in person the grief felt by Malaysians, particularly members of the party she leads, Keadilan, for the inspiration of her life’s achievement and the solicitude she showed us in our hour of acute need.
Our gratitude for her support knows no bounds; likewise our grief at her passing.