Cory C. Aquino vs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – it’s a political collision that was inevitable. Cory represented freedom, a return to democracy and its institutions. Gloria represented the annihilation of these revered institutions and values Cory had restored through People Power in 1986. Cory dismantled the instruments of martial law. Gloria is well on the way to governing under a de facto state of martial law, a situation even her own administration allies admit. Cory led us to our greatest, most shining moment when we became the world’s quintessence of non-violent revolt. Gloria has shown the world the ugly face of political accommodation and the havoc it can wreak on an already impoverished people.
Cory championed the good values that were inherently Filipino. She upheld the value of nationalism, respect for the law, fair play, loyalty, consistency and sincerity in fighting for causes. Gloria declared she was all that but did the opposite. Cory believed in transparency and being truthful. Gloria lied, denied she lied and then went on to lie some more. She vowed to the nation that she will not run as president in 2004 – then she barefacedly announced her candidacy when the time to announce candidacies came. She vowed to abide by democratic processes in dealing with the impeachment issue against her – then she so skillfully and so brazenly used all resources and tricks of the trade to quash the course of justice.
Cory regarded the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) as an important component of the democratic process and the preserver of the sanctity of the voice of the electorate. She manifested this in her choices of officials in the COMELEC – Ramon Felipe, Remedios Fernando, Christian Monsod and Haydee Yorac, people who were revered for their probity. In contrast, Gloria handpicked Virgilio (Garci) Garcillano despite, or perhaps because of, his reputation for electoral fraud, as in previous dagdag-bawas and other vote-count manipulation schemes. In the aftermath of the revelations and conclusions derived from the Gloria-Garci tapes, it becomes even more apparent that the criminal intent to cheat in the 2004 elections found form and structure the day Garcillano was named.
Cory distrusted traditional politicians and she reflected this in her choice of Cabinet members. Traditional politicians who did manage to hold positions did so only very briefly – until they ran for office during the 1987 congressional elections. Thereafter, Cory filled the vacancies with professionals. In her later years as president, the only major department that was headed by a politician in the Cory government was the local government department, which is really a political institution in itself. But for Gloria – for all her sophisticated educational credentials and much-touted-about professional background, she displayed little respect for professional talent. After the 2004 elections, she quickly repaid political patrons with premium seats to the nation’s fortune train by naming them heads of Cabinet posts even if the incumbent secretary or agency head was more qualified.
In 1996, I was one of those who supported the presidential bid of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for the 1998 elections. Many of us who collaborated in this effort did this for only one reason: to prevent Joseph (Erap) Estrada from becoming president, and hence, abort a reversal of the positive momentum achieved by EDSA. Our campaign team had approached various groups and key political players to promote the candidacy of Macapagal-Arroyo. Having directed the Cory Media Bureau during the 1986 Snap Election Campaign and having served in her administration from 1987 to 1988, I went to see Cory in her Makati office to have a feel of her thinking about Gloria’s candidacy.
At that time, there were several presidential candidates who were either close to Cory or had served with her and who therefore enjoyed an inside track to her endorsement. Rene de Villa, then seeking the Lakas-NUCD nomination, was said to get her likely endorsement. Raul Roco, a close associate of Ninoy Aquino, was another possibility. But since de Villa belonged to the ruling party, winning the Lakas-NUCD nomination would have given him the upper hand as Cory’s choice. Gloria was never close to Cory and was at a disadvantage when compared to de Villa or Roco. But Gloria’s predominance of votes in the senatorial race of 1995 showed what was generally believed then as a promising antidote to the toxic prospect of an Erap win.
Cory did agree on the importance of having a president that would see through the continuity of the achievement of EDSA from 1998. But convincing her that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was it was another matter altogether. While she was cautious about not giving away her preference as to whether it was de Villa or Roco – her comments on Gloria were downright revealing. Cory said: “I find her too pragmatic.”
Having worked with Cory long enough to know when to press and not press a point, I left the issue at that. I immediately sensed that the dice was loaded against me. I remembered the dictum that when one is met by mush – one must advance – but when one is met by steel – retreat. I sensed steeled resistance behind our former president’s words.
Sometime later, three of our campaign team members, the late Teddy Benigno, former Rep. Peping Cojuangco (Cory’s brother) and Pastor “Boy” Saycon, called on Cory for the same purpose of obtaining her endorsement for Gloria. Right off the bat, she doused cold water on their sales pitch and told them: “If you came here to seek my endorsement, I’m sorry but I cannot endorse Gloria. I find her too pragmatic and she is the type of a person who will do anything just to achieve her ambitions.” Teddy later wrote about this meeting in his column.
When our campaign team also approached Cardinal Sin for his endorsement, his response was: “Gloria is too young. She is the type of a person who cannot stand up to a crisis. Unlike Cory, she will cry like a small girl. You tell her to follow the footsteps of her father and run first as vice president.” We all knew that the late Cardinal’s words packed more meaning than what was apparent. Cory and Cardinal Sin ended up endorsing Fred Lim in 1998, validating their doubts about Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Without the endorsement of Cory and the Cardinal, Gloria opted to run for vice president in 1998.
Thus, I know that the motivation behind Cory’s and Cardinal Sin’s role in EDSA II had been only to remove and punish the growing national scourge that was President Joseph Estrada. Gloria became president not by merit but by virtue of default, being VP and therefore the constitutional successor.
Cory Aquino was always ready to fight for the cause that her husband Ninoy died for. Contrary to what her critics claim, Cory neither missed nor craved being in the limelight. I cannot say the same for Eddie Ramos. Cory could hardly wait to leave Malacanang in 1992. In fact, early on in her term, she chose to rent a house near Malacanang Palace (in Arlegui Street, where Ninoy used to live) rather than live in the Palace. This decision to live outside Malacanang sent shivers down the spines of the officers and soldiers of the Presidential Security Group who found the place most vulnerable, particularly in the face of coup threats.
Since Cory became president in 1986 under revolutionary conditions, she was not covered by the 1987 constitution and its re-election ban. Cory was eligible to run for president in 1992. The groups behind Ramon Mitra and Fidel Ramos would not have dared go against her. Considering Eddie Ramos’ victory with just 24% of the 1992 vote, Cory would have easily won in 1992 by chalking up 30% or more. Before that time, no incumbent president who ran for re-election failed to obtain lower than 40% of the vote. When Gloria broke her promise not to run in 2004, she also employed extraordinary ways and means to commandeer government resources to achieve ‘victory’ – one that has been adjudged by the general public as invalid and illegitimate.
Cory was never afraid to face danger. And most certainly, she never hid under the bed at the height of the 1987 coup attempt which is why she promptly sued Louie Beltran of the STAR for alleging that. Unlike Cory, Gloria had been conspicuously inaccessible during times of unrest, and most certainly when trouble did erupt (like when people stormed Malacanang on May 1, 2001 and during the Oakwood Siege in 2003). We saw a lot of these presidential seclusions from the public during the recent events that followed the revelations of the Gloria-Garci tape.
Not many people are aware of Cory Aquino’s instincts and keen sense of discernment. During the campaign for the Snap Elections, we marveled how someone so lacking in political experience could take on a supposedly wily and seasoned political shark like Marcos with such aplomb and adeptness. Instead, Marcos could hardly do anything right while Cory could do nothing wrong. Other than the workings of Divine guidance, many of us knew that much of the Cory magic was due to plain and simple good and reliable instincts.
On hindsight, I know that her instincts about Gloria had been accurate. It’s a pity that she had chosen to take the constitutional path during EDSA II in picking Estrada’s successor rather than follow her instincts about Gloria. But all that is water under the bridge. What I’m happy about is that Cory is now four square with the rest of the 80% of the nation who want a change in the highest office of the land. The contrasting character study between Cory and Gloria should now allow the nation to perceive and understand the real issues.
Cory vs. Gloria – should we choose the one who never failed our trust? Or one who we can hardly trust? Do we side with the one who has no selfish agenda other than to protect and promote democracy? Or do we choose the other one whose personal agenda has overwritten national interest? Doesn’t the contrast become even more pronounced when we realize that Cory had never, ever willfully told us a lie?
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org