TITA CORY: IN HER OWN WORDS
I want to believe that my enthusiasm for history was due to the fact that my parents saw the passing of Ninoy Aquino’s funeral cortege near Monumento while I was still in my mother’s womb. But it’s more believable to think that it is because I grew up during the time of the downfall of the dictatorship and the so-called “new democracy.” This period in our history was embedded in my consciousness because the important events of People Power always played on television. Because of this, I became a great fan of the president of People Power, carrying her photograph and shouting her name, “Coree! Coree!”.
And then, as a second year student at the University of the Philippines Diliman, I finally got a chance to meet and interview Former Pres. Corazon C. Aquino for our Communication III under Prof. Melanie Moraga-Leaño. With Henderson Gercio, Bryan Clark Hernandez and Emmalyn Sagum, we interviewed Mrs. Aquino on 12 March 2009 in her office at 7 Floor Jose Cojuangco and Sons Bldg., Dela Rosa St., Makati City. Excerpts:
Life as Former President
I come to the office everyday. And meet with people and do my letters here. …Then I also looked into the other letters and I have to answer, I do my letters myself.
I have been chairperson [of the Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. Foundation] from the very beginning since 1983 and I continue to be that. We had put up the Aquino Center in Tarlac. …So the idea first of all was to make sure that people will not forget Ninoy and our very concern, especially after his assassination, that people would get to the truth. Because in the beginning, the Marcos dictatorship was saying that it was Galman who shot Ninoy, so we want to have everything documented and also the role of People Power in the restoration of democracy…
…Then, after my presidency…well, exactly a year after my presidency, I said that we would like to put up an Aquino Center, so that was in 1993 when I first launched the campaign. And we’re finally able to inaugurate in 2001, so it took me eight years to go around, to solicit funding and…anyway I’m very happy that I’ve been able to do this, not only for Ninoy’s sake and my sake, but more importantly for our young people to know about our history. And also, I always tell them that Ninoy was ready to offer his all for the country and it was just not a matter of…of words but he did it, I mean he came back, even though there was much risk to his life, and in fact, he was killed. But, then for my part I vowed that I would continue his work. And so, I hope that all of us Filipinos will try to look within ourselves and find out what it is that we are asked to do or we feel we can do for our country. In other words, I want people to know…nobody’s excused, if you are Filipino, you do something for your country. You don’t have to die for the country but there are so many things that you can do and you don’t wait for the country. Kamukha nung kay John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Learning How To Paint
Well, I started painting in 1996. I like paintings except I know my limitations. Anyway, I visited a friend of mine, si Marites Lopez, and she invited me to have a look-see at their painting lesson in her house. And at that time, they were already two years into painting so, of course, I was saying, “Oh, no way can I join this group…” They really seem to me as having so much talent but then she said, “No, no. Our teacher is very patient and he’ll be able to teach you.” And she was telling me, “Everybody can paint.” Of course, I wasn’t sure about that. But anyway, it was my oldest daughter Ballsy who told me, “Mom, go ahead, anyway, with your name your painting will amount to something.” So I did, and I organized a group …we’re about ten in the beginning. We’ll have lessons every Wednesdays, 3 hours each time, and we had a young teacher, Jeffrey Consumo, who didn’t even take formal lessons but he was so patient and I think that helped, and very encouraging. And for my first lesson, I was able to finish a painting in three hours, and I was just so amazed and I was happy. And so I took lessons from him for three years but since that time, I’ve been doing it on my own and I tried different things. As I said, I’m lucky I have a name. But normally, it’s the other way around. Artists really struggle hard in order to have a name. So I’m doing it backwards. Start with the name, and then do the paintings.
…There are days when everything comes easy, and it comes on the way you’d like it too. But, there are days when you’re not too happy. But anyway, I’m really grateful to my teacher that because of him, I’ve been able to do these paintings and I give them as gifts, well…first, to the donors of the Aquino Foundation, and then, to people who have everything, like when Pres. Kim Dae Jung was, for his inauguration as president I gave him a painting. George Schultz who used to be Secretary of State, because he was so good to me when I was president, I gave him a painting when he got married for the second time. To the Sultan of Brunei, I told him, I know you have everything, you manage a state. And then he said, “But I don’t have a Cory Aquino painting, yaaah….” So that made me feel good. Then, when I’m ninang for weddings, so that’s what I give. And one of my inaanaks was joking and said, “Can this be retroactive for the time that you have…you were ninang but you didn’t know how to paint yet. So I said, I have to think about that.
…I like paintings and it’s something that I thought I could never do. But, apparently, all of us can paint. Who cares whether it’s a masterpiece or not!
Childhood Dream and Being Private
I wanted to be a teacher. …It’s just when I got married I knew Ninoy, you know, was aiming for that (the presidency) and that he really loved politics and he was a public person. I’m really a private person. I value my privacy, in fact, I still value my privacy. Once, first, when Ninoy was imprisoned it was a incumbent for me to have a more public stance.
Cory As A Wife
Well, I always say that Ninoy and I were able to bring the best in each other. And I think that’s all that’s necessary for a married couple: To try to bring out the best in each other.
Cory As A Mother
Well, you ask my children, I think they’re very happy with the way I brought them. I certainly spent much time with them and I was a fulltime wife and mother. Of course there were times that it was boring pero that was my commitment when I got married: That I vowed that I would be a good wife and mother.
Well anyway, people ask when we first met. Ok, the earliest I remember was we were both nine years old. You must remember Ninoy and I both came from Tarlac, both the Aquinos and Cojuangcos were and are in politics. My father was congressman on the first district of Tarlac and Ninoy’s father was congressman of the second district. It was inevitable that we would meet, in fact, my first cousin, married the older brother of Ninoy, and my father was the Godfather of Lupita Aquino (Kashiwahara). So, inevitable yon. We met, I remember it’s the birthday of Ninoy’s father and nung araw fami-familia kung magpunta sa…so my parents took all of us there. …And that was it, and I didn’t see him again until, because I went to the United States to study when I was 13. So I didn’t get to see him until I was 16, when we came back for a vacation.
…I have to say before Martial Law, Ninoy’s world was all politics and I really, well, that was the style then, na bahala ang mother. But Ninoy, I would insist that at least we would go to mass together every Sunday and that we would go out for lunch or dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. Nung araw wala pa itong mga classy Chinese restaurants. And then we go to a movie with the..with the children. And then once a year, or twice a year, we go to Hongkong. So that would be the treat na Ninoy would take all of us and that would be the time that it, would at least have time for each other.
…We enjoyed yung Moonlight Serenade…. It was a Glenn Miller thing, …Miller had an orchestra or a band and it was more for the music rather that for the lyrics that we liked it. And at that time, nung hindi pa kami kasal and it’s very popular in the Philippines with the Glenn Midler Story had been shown and everytime they play that we really danced to the tune….
Incident With Young Ninoy
Actually, we had come from a movie and, you know, at that time I got my chaperone, so my chaperone was my older sister Josephine. So we were driving on EDSA, which was Highway 54 before, and this had happened parang two or three months, or maybe a month, after Ninoy had worked for the surrender of Luis Taruc. So we were on Highway 54 and suddenly there was a jeep coming from the ricefields, on both sides nung araw may ricefields dyan sa Highway 54, just bumped us. So the car door flew open, my sister was thrown out first and the second, when I fell out. And my sister, at that time was in fact three months pregnant, she lost her baby. And so we were taken to the hospital, sa Lourdes Hospital, by an American who had played golf. Kasi I couldn’t get up and because you know, you’re thrown out and then you just land flat on your back. Ninoy was not hurt because he was holding on to the wheel. And so I stayed overnight in the hospital. Luckily there were no injuries, I mean, no major injuries, but I was black and blue all over and my older brother said, “Cory you have to go to Baguio tomorrow” because, I was really expected by my parents to go to Baguio but I ask if we could go the following day because my younger sister and I will go to a party. And, of course with Ninoy I wanted to stay behind for that but of course we’d still to go to the movies before going to the party. So inspite of my feeling…whooo! Really bad and the long ride from Manila to Baguio I went and when we got there my mother was really furious and she was telling Ninoy, “From now on Cory will not ride in your car, she’ll just ride in our car! And that was the first time I saw Ninoy really scared and yeah, because he knew while it wasn’t directly his fault but the fact that we were in his car.
Her US Congress Speech After People Power Cited As One Of The Best Speeches Ever Heard On That August Chamber
Actually, the speaker who said that, Speaker Tip O’Neill. But, I’m sorry I may sound like I’m bragging but, anyway, it doesn’t happen often that after I finished my speech, Senator Dole said, “Mrs. President, you’ve hit the home run…” So I said, “I hope the bases were loaded!” And he was so surprised and he mentioned this to the media, people there, so it was written about and they said I’m knowledgeable on baseball! And that afternoon after my speech, the House of Representatives voted to give $ 200 Million to the Philippines as assistance. It took some time for the Senate to approve of it but they did. So again Senator Dole was quoted as having said, “This is the biggest honorarium ever.” But anyway, I was happy that I could do that and that really the wonderful part was I was never…I was never nervous, and I was saying, “My God! This is the first time I’m doing this and why wasn’t I nervous. It helped that the Speaker was from Massachusetts and parang he considered me siguro a constituent, or what cause we’ve lived in Boston. Plus the fact that two years before I became president, we were both given honorary doctorates in Stonehill College which is in Massachusetts. So parang…we’re friends, ok! But I was really happy I could do this for our country.
Well, I don’t know. Alam mo matanda na tayo, and then for the little kids, you know. This is what, I guess, reminds me to be humble, because when I see them, you know, anywhere, shopping or whatever, then the moms always say, “Siya ang mommy ni Kris Aquino and sabi ko, ok! Oo, so I just say na what for the little kids how they know me. Oo. Until they go to school…. Like let me tell you this, my youngest grandchild, she’s almost seven. She goes to school in Poveda and one day, every Sunday, they come to my house for lunch and then she said, “Lola, you know, my classmate her grandfather is Sen. Flavier!” And parang she was so impressed ano. Sabi ko, teka muna. Sabihin mo…sabihin mo dun sa kaklase mo that your grandmother…” But then, my daughter was explainin’, “Mom, kasi because she was old enough to repeat…” Hindi ba yung there was a song about and you repeat all the names of the senatorial candidates and she has memorized them. So, Flavier stucked in her head and to meet the granddaughter parang, “Wow!” So I had to tell her, “Sabihin mo…”
Why Did Cory Continuously Serve the Country After The Presidency
Well, so many things. Well, first I’m so glad that I pray, and so many people pray for me and with me and I know that I could not have done any of these things, if it were not for prayer. So when people ask me na parang you seem to be happy, sabi ko, “I think, I hope I’ll continue to have that inner peace,” na I’ve come to this stage na and I hope that I would be able to continue doing things for our country, and hopefully, to be a source of inspiration not only for women but also for men that all of us can do something like I was just a housewife before and I left all of these public acts to Ninoy, but the time came when he could not do that because he’s imprisoned. So it was incumbent upon me to at least do my share.
How She Wanted People To Remember Ninoy
Well first, I’m glad that in school, even in grade school, the students read about Ninoy and they know about Ninoy. But more than just that, I want them to know that Ninoy, first of all, so proud to be a Filipino. And when we were living in the States people were just amazed that we never applied for permanent residence and that when we went there we knew it was temporary and that we would come back here. But more importantly, I think Ninoy was ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of his country. So I hope this is what people will remember about him and will try to maybe even do better than what he did.
How She Wanted To Be Remembered By History
Well, first of all I’d like to be remembered for having helped in the restoration for our democracy. For you young people who didn’t know what it was like living under Martial Law, maybe it will not mean as much. But when you see other countries still not, you know, enjoying freedom, then you would have an idea or a sense of what it was like here before. Where anybody would just be arrested without any charges, put into prison and some would be tortured, and some were never seen again. I mean people as young as you.
Tita Cory’s Challenge To All Young People
What I would like from you is that you would try your best to find out what it is that our country needs of you. I mean, all of us will have different things…to do but each one of us can do something to better life in our country.
I hope that the great lessons and legacies of the life and words of the former president continue to live in our hearts long after she’s gone. Let’s bring and accompany her to her rest as a people, as she joined with our struggle when we needed a leader who would lead us back to freedom and democracy.
Unang nailathala sa pahayagang Mabuhay: Lingguhang Pilipino Mula Pa Noong 1980, 31 Hulyo-6 Agosto 2009, 1, 9.