When Korina Sanchez of ABS-CBN broke the news that former President Cory C. Aquino had been diagnosed with colon cancer, I was one of many who felt as though this was happening to a very close kin.
Few leaders have been favored with that level of empathy. Only Ramon Magsaysay enjoyed the same kind of warmth and sympathy from Filipinos.
As the nation becomes even more cynical of its leaders, it seems almost impossible to expect people to ever have that same respect and trust for any leader in the near future.
Unlike Ferdinand Marcos who painted himself as a superhero, Cory never tried to be larger than herself. She earned our trust and respect by simply being human, sincere and unembellished.
Cory would gently object delivering any statement drafted for her by her staff when this does not conform with her own perspectives or style. “I don’t think this is me,” Cory would politely say.
We all wondered who would replace Ninoy Aquino after his assassination on August 21, 1983. In one of our many coffee sessions in my office, I told Nap Rama, a former cellmate of Ninoy and now retired Bulletin publisher, that: “Every crisis will produce a hero. So, let’s watch who emerges the hero from this crisis.”
Thus, when Cory spoke during Ninoy’s Requiem Mass at the Santo Domingo Church, I somehow knew that the leader had emerged. This was a high point in the aftermath of the crisis that followed the assassination and it was Cory who captured our imagination, heart and mind.
Admittedly, the press secretary of former President Diosdado Macapagal, Leo Parungao, played a role in influencing my conclusion. Leo then had gained quite a reputation for relaying predictions that came to fruition — which Leo attributed to dwarf friends.
Leo caught my attention when he predicted in early 1978 that there will be three Popes that year and that the third Pope will have the name of a woman. By October of that year, that prediction came to pass and the third Pope, who became Pope John Paul II, had the first name Karol!
Over lunch at the MOPC, Leo confided to me that the dwarfs told him who will succeed Dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Leo said that the successor of Marcos will be marked by three things — first is that she is a woman, second is that she is not any of the woman politicians known at that time, and third is that she is deeply religious. For security reasons, Leo did not give me the name of the anointed leader.
I finally got to meet Cory in late 1983 when prayer partner Betty Go Belmonte took me along when she interviewed Cory at the Times Street Aquino residence. Betty and Cory were so closely bonded by their deep faith. Betty would send Cory many of her daily Bible readings that turned out to be prophetic about the rise of Cory and the fall of Marcos.
Cory has to be truly guided. It was unimaginable for a neophyte politician like her not to commit a major blunder throughout the Snap Election Campaign. In contrast, her political genius of an opponent was stumbling all over the place. The series of events showed a Cory that could do no wrong fighting a Marcos that could do nothing right. It’s quite amazing and inexplicable under normal circumstances.
During the evening of February 25, 1986, I was there with Cory at her Wack Wack Subdivision safehouse, the residence of her sister Josephine. Marcos had already transferred from Malacañang to Clark Air Base and was negotiating to be allowed to stay in Paoay, Ilocos Norte. Cory made the right decision and prescribed a US exile for Marcos. If she did not, if she allowed pity to rule that evening, the country could have been plunged into a civil war.
I was her PIA Director-General, when I was stricken with a rare strain of empyema (different from emphysema) in February 1988. For three months — three weeks in the ICU — I had to suffer purgatory at the Makati Medical Center.
The infected right lung was generating pus externally and fluids internally. I felt that I was drowning every half hour as fluids accumulated in the infected lung which had to be regularly suctioned off.
Unable to arrest the infection, my illness deteriorated into complications — my organs started shutting down. My life was on the brink. One of my doctors advised my family that I was expected to die in two days.
On hearing this, Cory rushed to my bedside at the ICU. She did this despite the pleadings of then PSG Chief Volt Gazmin not to leave Malacañang because coup plotter Gringo Honasan had just escaped from detention in a naval vessel off Manila Bay.
It must either be that Cory magic or her pipeline to the Almighty, but her visit reinvigorated my will to live. Having my morale boosted by the courageous lady who brought down a dictator strengthened my resolve to live and fight another day. With tubes on my mouth, I could only manage a grateful salute to Cory.
With God’s grace, no doubt in answer to the prayers of kin and friends, I rallied and lived through that episode.
I weighed more than 400 pounds when I entered the hospital. Almost half of me disappeared on the day I left confinement, with my weight dropping to 275 pounds. After having been bedridden for three months, I could not even manage to walk.
It is not surprising that many now fondly look up to Cory as their mother. Cory saw us through our most trying period and even after her term she still sees us through our Diaspora — the search for our Promised Land.
When we organized the COPA (Council on Philippine Affairs) in 1999 with the late Jaime Cardinal Sin as our Sponsor and Spiritual Guide, I can never forget what Cardinal Sin told us during one meeting at the Archbishop’s Palace in Mandaluyong.
Cardinal Sin said: “Always support and listen to Cory. She is God’s gift to the Filipino people.”
Cory Aquino, a good president and a godly person has always prayed for us. It is now our turn to pray for Cory.