ICON. HERO. SAINT. Every possible tribute has been paid to Corazon Aquino, now touted, and rightfully so, as the most loved Filipino of all time.
Still, allow me to give mine. After all, I have always been a Cory fan long before today, when it has become fashionable to be one. Dennis Estacio, my grade school seatmate at the old Divine Word College of Laoag, would attest to this. To the consternation of our teachers whose lectures we occasionally disrupted, albeit unintentionally, Dennis and I, then only in Grade 1, often had impassioned debates on politics. As with almost all Ilocanos, Dennis was maka-Marcos. I was maka-Cory.
In 1986, I accompanied my dad to the voting booth, and bent his hand into voting for Cory. That was the second best thing to voting for her, which I could not do yet because I was just seven. The teachers did not mind that I accompanied my dad. To them, I was just a child.
But then I was not your typical boy. Even as a toddler, I preferred watching news and public affairs shows over cartoons on television. I had a pretty good grasp of the national condition. Very clear to me was the divide between tyranny and democracy, truth and deceit, good and evil. Even then, I knew Cory was goodness personified, and that it was the duty of self-respecting Filipinos to support her.
Sure, she had her own share of shortcomings. I remember the dim economy made even dimmer by the daily power outages during her term. But that her intentions were pure and that she tried her best are beyond doubt. Remember, too, that she was taking over the presidency of a nation which, for two decades, was robbed, molested, and chained by a megalomaniac. The nation was in disarray, and rebuilding it was more difficult than we expected.
In 1992, Cory supported Fidel Ramos. I was then a teenager actively campaigning for Miriam Defensor Santiago whom we looked up to with so much hope and respect. Looking at the pesky, self-centered, ridiculous human being Miriam has become today, I concede that Cory’s choice was right. I was wrong.
In 2001, Cory threw her support to Edsa II, a decision she would later publicly regret. I was in Edsa II, too, and I thank Cory for having lessened my guilt. I am now able to forgive myself for joining that madness which catapulted the most oppressive and annoying Philippine president this nation has seen.
When I was still teaching in Manila, I would always bring my students to the Ramon Magsaysay Awards ceremonies held annually at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Herself a recipient of the Magsaysay, Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize, Tita Cory was present at the affair almost every year. Some of my students had the opportunity of meeting the former president, and I’m sure my they value that experience even more today.
And how can I forget the many times Tita Cory was with us in the long and winding struggle for truth, justice, and freedom, be it in church or in the streets? Despite her age, she was so undaunted and untiring that it was shameful for the youth not to follow her lead. She was mother of this nation, a title no other mortal can rightfully claim.
Upon learning of Tita Cory’s death, I immediately looked for a yellow ribbon to tie on my motorcycle. Because I was so busy and did not have the time to go to a store, I settled for a golden yellow garter which I found in my mom’s cabinet. Boy, I needed to grieve my loss, our loss.
Ironically, this loss leads us to appreciate better the gains we had because of one woman (“Just a woman, just a housewife,” Ferdinand Marcos quipped) who helped the Filipino people find the greatness inherent in them.
Among Tita Cory’s many gifts to the nation is our free press, a salient ingredient of a vibrant democracy.
Shockingly, four hours before Tita Cory took her last breath, Steve Barreiro, a fellow columnist in this publication, was the target of an assassination attempt conducted right in his backyard.
A grenade was hurled at Steve’s garage as he was about to enter his house in Laoag City after he had parked his vehicle around 11 p.m. of July 31.
According to Steve, the grenade apparently landed inside a water-filled jar (burnay), thus diffusing the blast and sparing his life, although his houseboy, Michael Diza, was wounded in the eye by shrapnel.
Speculations are rife that Dingras Mayor Marynette R. Gamboa may be a suspect in the incident. In his column, Steve wondered whether the Dingras mayor is the same Marynetter R. Gamboa who is conisderd a fugitive by the United States government.
Interviewed by TV Patrol Ilocos, Gamboa denied that she had a hand in the incident. “Malas na lang a ta napasamak kenkuana daydiay, (It’s bad luck that it happened to him),” Gamboa casually said. But anyone who has an iota of reason would know realize that assassination attempts happen not because of whimsical winds of fate, but are carried out rather willfully by criminal minds.
Note that I am not making judgments on Mayor Gamboa. I am just reacting to her statements on Steve’s assassination. In the same TV Patrol interview, Gamboa said, “Haan nga deta’t rason tapnon pumatay kami ti tao. (That is not the reason we would kill a person.)” Would it not have been more reassuring if she simply said that she would never have any person killed for any reason? Look more closely at her statement, dear karikna, and you’d realize that the mayor shot herself in the foot. It could be interpreted that they could indeed kill people, but for another reason. Scary.
I hope this is just a slip-up. Even then, instead of just denying involvement in the attempt on a journalist’s life, it would do well for Mayor Gamboa, as with any well-meaning politician, to denounce any attack against members of media.
The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) has already issued a statement condemning the attempt on Steve’s life.
Part of NUJP’s statement reads:
“This latest assault on a member of the media is clear proof that the enemies of press freedom continue to operate with impunity.
“And it is clear that this remains so because of a government that has failed to send a clear signal to the enemies of press freedom by acting forcefully to stop the attacks, solve the killings and ensure that the perpetrators and, most importantly, the masterminds, are caught, prosecuted, convicted and jailed.”
But Steve remains undaunted, even managing to look at the lighter side of things. He texted me to say that if the assassination attempt on him proved anything, it is that Ilocos pottery are very durable.
Having grown up in Manila, he spoke in struggling Iluko, “Masapul nga isuratmi iti kinapudno tapnon maamoan dagiti sangaili.” (By ‘sangaili’, Steve did not mean guests, but the nation.)
Doing serious journalism in the Philippines is really a constant tango with death. A writer’s foot is buried on the ground even as his hands pound the keyboard. God knows how many times my mom has asked me to stop writing or, at least, just to write about safe stuff.
The question really is, “Is it worth it?” Journalist Marlene Esperat exposed the fertilizer fund scam, and was brutally killed at her own home in Sultan Kudarat in 2005. To this day, her killers remain unpunished, and so are the manipulators of the fertilizer fund. We don’t need to look too far. Whatever happened to our own Roger Mariano’s case?
But worry nor fret not. Truth will inevitably shine soon, maybe sooner. We don’t know when. We don’t know how. We just have to hold on to faith, as Cory Aquino did, that one little candle can illuminate a sea of darkness, and that, after all, the Filipino is worth living and dying for.
“Your pen stings like a venom,” Bishop Sergio Utleg told me on one occasion. The good bishop, who has had his own share of flak in this column, asked me to be careful because I might be exposing myself to harm. While I was thankful of the bishop’s concern, I would have been more appreciative had he simply stressed on me what the Holy Scriptures reminds the Christian faithful to do 365 times over, and which I now tell my dear friend Steve: BE NOT AFRAID.