Friday, September 25, 2009

Goodbye and farewell

Published last August 3, 2009 at the op ed section of the Manila Standard Today. 

I didn’t go out of my way to listen to the President’s State-of-the-Nation Address live this year although I did catch a late night replay a day after. I had work. The cellular phone that I use as a radio when at the office or while traveling was busted. But over and above all the excuses, none of which is really valid, I simply didn’t feel like it. The reason: I didn’t feel I needed to watch a beautifully crafted multi-media presentation to be aware of the real state of the nation.

The real state of the nation is this: Everyone has his senses focused on the 2010 election already. The President’s Sona this year was a mere formality; a bookmark in the nation’s history that needed to be observed. This was pretty evident in the spirit and mood that hung in the air at the House of Representatives last Monday—it seemed like a despedida party. People seemed more obliging than usual, ready to applaud and cheer on the President at each recitation of whatever achievement the government bureaucracy made last year. Why, they even dressed up a little more ostentatiously than usual. They were clearly saying goodbye to the President.

People expected the President to use the occasion to officially bid everyone farewell the way President Corazon Aquino did in her last Sona. Whether President Arroyo categorically said goodbye or not is debatable. My gut feel is that that was it—that was her last Sona, whether she likes it or not. Like I said, everyone in this country is now focused on 2010. Everyone is now seriously considering the choices available.

Proof that everyone is now focused on 2010 is that even Senator Jajajajamby Madrigal, one of the harshest and most cynical critics of this administration, chose not to nitpick on the Sona and instead announced her availability for the Presidency.

The Sona occupied the front pages of the newspapers and television airtime for a grand total of 24 hours. After that, media coverage shifted to other seemingly more urgent and more newsworthy events.

To be fair, the President herself was instrumental in deflecting attention from the Sona by meeting up with US President Barack Obama barely a few days after.

There were also two rather unfortunate gaffes from the Palace—the highly politicized and anomalous selection of the latest batch of National Artists and the rejection of the list of nominees submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council for the replacements of Supreme Court Justices Dante Tinga and Alicia Austria-Martines. Why, oh why does this administration like to shoot itself on the foot?

But if there was something that has taken everyone’s mind off the Sona or everything else for that matter, it was the passing of former President Corazon Aquino last Saturday. It was something that people were resigned to—anyone who is familiar with the way cancer works could surmise from the medical bulletins that were being issued that it was just a matter of time—but it still came as a shock when it happened. Some people I know were still contemplating on offering healing masses for the former president as of Friday evening.

Media organizations over the weekend have been offering various tributes to the former president. People are coming to terms with the grief and the loss by trying to label what Tita Cory meant to the Filipinos, or what her most significant contribution to the nation was, or by trying to define her character. I sense that people are trying to situate Tita Cory within their lives, as if in an effort to try to make sense of why her passing on has produced such a profound effect on most of us. As can be expected, people are grappling with emotions and words.

It’s difficult to put into words what Cory Aquino represented. She has been described as the mother of Philippine democracy, an icon, a hero, etc. All of these seem inadequate and don’t do justice to what the woman represented, particularly to those who were part of the struggle to topple the dictatorship in the eighties.

I was in college when Ninoy Aquino was slain at the tarmac. Like many other student activists associated with the leftist movement, I was initially cynical of the housewife who was being touted as the most effective counterfoil to the deviousness of the dictator. But when she decided to run for president and Doy Laurel consented to be her running mate, many among us chose to ditch the hard-line stance of the movement to openly campaign for Cory and Doy.

We witnessed the transformation of Cory Aquino. She was initially reticent, shy and soft spoken. She roused people during rallies by asking them to join hands and by leading in the singing of The Lord’s Prayer. We saw her on top of trucks, drenched in heavy rain, in ill-fitting frocks and in her trademark round spectacles brandishing the Laban sign with her fingers. Eventually, her steely resolve came to the surface particularly when military adventurists threatened her presidency.

After her term, Cory Aquino solidified her stature in the country by getting involved politically only during critical times, preferring to stay in the background most of the time. But she was nevertheless a commanding presence in the life of the nation.

There was always something about Cory Aquino that I was drawn to—a certain stillness, an aura of peace and tranquility. Even in the most trying times such as when she had to testify in court and suffer the indignity of a really brutal cross-examination conducted by then legal luminary Dakila Castro or when she had to provide solace to her daughter at the height of the Joey Marquez-Kris Aquino gun-toting incident, she exuded peace and quiet dignity. This is what I will miss most about Cory Aquino.

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