On Wednesday night when I got home, I turned on the TV for some late night viewing. At the witching hour, surfing through the endless channels of crap that is Philippines television, I was mesmerized by the tributes to Corazon Aquino that took up every commercial break. Slow-mo montages accompanied by Michael Buble music thanked the Mother of Democracy. For sure the tributes were corn-syrup but I had a cynicism bypass; I was genuinely moved by the legend of Cory, the self described "simple housewife" who, through a mixture of surprising moxy, timing and the assassination of her husband, became a potent symbol of people power that still has global resonance today.
They had buried her that day - declared a national holiday - and it rained endlessly as the tail end of a typhoon blew itself out. But still, the streets were lined ten deep with people holding anything yellow - balloons, banners, teddies, flowers. Yellow confetti stuck to sodden mourners. (Yellow is the color of Cory's People Power movement). Those not blessed with being able to absent themselves from work huddled around huge screens in their offices, watching the scenes of devotion on the streets and then crying as the eulogies were read. Every TV station devoted the day to Cory's service.
Since Saturday, when Corazon Aquino died from colon cancer aged 76, the middle class neighbourhood in Manila where I live has been awash with yellow ribbons and banners. People wearing yellow shirts queued for her biography at the book store across the road. At my local 7/11, I asked about the yellow ribbons tied to the door and the cashier burst into tears.
"The people's reactions are at once a nostalgic look at a time when change seemed imminent, a critique of the current administration, as well as the celebration of a person who was truly kind and well-meaning to the core," prominent Filipino social commentator Carlos Celdran told the Huffington Post. "In the Philippines, intentions matter a lot, and Cory had the best of them in mind."
That being said, people have been remarkably open about the President that Corazon Aquino was. Editorials have assessed her legacy with honesty but sympathy, pointing out that whatever her failings in policy and achievements, she made up for with unquestionable, incorruptible moral integrity. And after the Marcos years that was almost enough.
"In the eyes of Catholic Philippines, she will always resonate as being selfless, pious, and a symbol of purity in public service," says Celdran. "Remember, this is a woman who did not want to become president, but did so and stuck to it until the bitter end. And being selfless, pious, and pure in public service are values that Filipinos want to see in their leaders today (whether it be effective an attribute or not)."
As it rained on Wednesday, it was a moment for a nation to relive the reality, the myth and the magic of what one "simple housewife" could achieve and what devotion to justice can realize.
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