A Woman of Simplicity

A daughter’s love for her mother cannot be expressed much more than how Cris Aquino did in her response in behalf of the Aquino family.

In the same way, we saw the outpouring love from Filipinos to our country’s mother figure former President Cory.

In Tita Cory, we witnessed a simple housewife who reluctantly accepted her destiny to lead this nation from dictatorship to democracy. For many of us, who spent our youth during the Marcos years participating as volunteers of NAMFREL and joining the EDSA revolution, Tita Cory’s memorial service brings back many personal thoughts of struggle towards democracy. The songs “Bayan Ko” and “Magkaisa” continue to resonate with us a truly inspiring musical score to our lives. There are millions of people who witnessed the passing of a simple woman, whose earnest interest was to give HOPE to Filipinos, that we do have a future.

For me, I will always remember Tita Cory for the virtue of her simplicity. I remember when she became president; she had minimal security back-ups and her car would stop for red traffic lights. She also did not want to leave her old home. I also remember the way she would dress conservatively. And later on, when she passed on the torch to President Ramos, she went out quietly and continued to stay in their old home. If there would be something that people, especially those in government, must learn and take inspiration from her, it would be her value of simplicity.

We have to convert our love for our country into positive action. Hopefully, the outpouring of grief we have will sink into our conscience and urge us to do our share in bringing positive change.

Times like these remind us of how dictatorship turned to democracy. But this should not just end there. For what is democracy, if we are not able to help our Filipino brothers and sisters rise from poverty?

I take inspiration from my father for having founded NAMFREL, which lit that first candle of hope. I take inspiration from Ninoy and Tita Cory, who fulfilled God’s mission and made their own sacrifices.

The rest is now up to us, to do our part.

Let me share with your my father Joecon’s letter entitled “It All Began with Ninoy”.

”Perhaps like many people, I first came to know of Cory through her husband, Senator Ninoy Aquino, whom I had always admired.

Earlier on, Ninoy had written to me, and in that letter he had posed a question that would later change my life: of what good is devoting my time to business, if it would not bring about the change we needed in the country?

His message hit home first when we in RFM encountered the strong arm tactics of the Marcos government. Without any due process, the flour millers were ordered by a Marcos cabinet member to appropriate and to distribute among themselves the wheat importation allocated for RFM. This would have meant RFM going out of business.

Although the flour millers refused to carry out this order, I felt I had become a liability to the business and offered my resignation to our Board of Directors if that would bring back RFM to the good graces of the government. But to the credit of our Board of Directors, they voted unanimously not to accept my resignation. I remember one of the board members, Mr. Chick Parsons, declaring that while money and business were important, and that while my offer to resign was an act of courage at great financial sacrifice, they would not allow RFM to be subjugated. They would be prepared to support and uphold me in my position. Of course, I was truly appreciative of their concern, but I began to see what Ninoy Aquino had meant in his letter.

Then shortly after Martial Law was declared, I was arrested for the crime of insurrection, subversion and rebellion together with twelve other delegates in the ongoing Constitutional Convention (Con-Con). While there was of course no basis for the charges, I was deeply saddened when my youngest daughter asked me “But why you are in jail, isn’t it only bad persons go to jail?” It struck me deeply about what kind of legacy we would be leaving our youth if this was how the state continued to conduct itself.

The assassination of Ninoy Aquino on Aug. 21, 1983 galvanized many peace-loving Filipinos to take action, to commit themselves to the crusade to bring about the change in the country. In my case, with the seed planted by his letter to me, it was what moved me to organize the National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel).

In so doing, I would find myself on the path of destiny that would soon intersect with that of Cory Aquino.

When the growing unrest of the citizenry had forced President Marcos to call for snap elections in 1986, the stage was set. I recall that our first task if we were to have a meaningful election was to unify the various opposition factions, and to get them to agree on a common candidate against President Marcos.

That was when I realized that the most credible candidate against President Marcos would be the one who was most reluctant to run: Cory Aquino. But after a long series of meetings at Villa San Miguel and the residence of Doy Laurel, and with the help of Cardinal Sin, we finally succeeded in convicting Cory to run for president.

The rest is history. The People Power revolution that eventually installed Cory as President was precipitated by citizen action during the snap elections, when it became clear that President Marcos was not going to allow the ballot to determine the national leadership.

After the Edsa I Revolution, the newly-inducted President Cory called me up to be a member of her Cabinet. I told her I really could not, since my role was to serve among the ranks of the citizenry and the private sector. But Cory could be quietly persistent; she threw back at me the same statement we had used to convince her to run for the presidency: “It’s really time you served the government.”

I told her that I would call her after I thought further about it. My whole family objected to the idea because they foresaw what I would undergo. Then I got a call from cardinal Sin. He said “Joe, you’ve long been fighting for good causes. Now here’s your chance to involve yourself in government, where you can accomplish more by serving the entire country.”

In the end, I found myself unable to refuse, since it was practically the same scenario that had led to our convincing Cory to run for president.

Eventually I called up Cory and said I would be willing to assume the position of Secretary of Trade and Industry, because I believed it would be the key to addressing the basic problem of poverty in the country. As we talked, what flashed in my mind was the first letter sent to me by her husband, Ninoy. And it also connected with what I could sense was the strong determination of President Cory to bring about an economic revolution in the country, and to re-affirm our shared belief that Yes the Filipino Can!

With President Aquino’s confidence, strong support and leadership, we were able to achieve many landmark programs in the department. For those of us who served closely with her, she will always be a great President of the Republic. She faced adversity with courage and directness. And she will occupy a unique place in Philippine history as the unifying figure who brought about the downfall of a dictator, restored the institutions of democracy, and began the long process of healing and economic recovery in our country.”