Woman of the Year: Cory Aquino, A Christmas Conversation
Throughout Malacanang Palace there was a festive air. In the hall below the President's office, a large Christmas tree stood festooned with white ribbons and ornaments. The weeks of coup rumors were over now, and the presidential staff was visibly relaxed. The 60-day cease-fire with the Communist insurgents was under way, despite some violations, bringing the promise of the first peaceful Christmas in the Philippines in 17 years. Dressed in a navy blue dress with red piping, President Aquino was in a holiday mood as she greeted Hong Kong Bureau Chief William Stewart and Manila Reporter Nelly Sindayen. At the end of the hour-long conversation, however, there was a moment of great poignancy. As she spoke about her memories of her husband and her obligations to her country, the President's eyes filled with tears. It was, by all accounts, the first time she has cried in public since becoming Chief Executive.
Excerpts from the talk:
Q. How do you feel after ten months as President?
A. Well, much better, of course. Ten months of experience is definitely very helpful. It's helped my self-confidence. It's still not an enjoyable task. I don't think it ever will be, but certainly it is most fulfilling. I think that's the rewarding aspect of the job.
Q. Why do you think that you have become such a worldwide phenomenon?
A. Well, both my parents influenced me a lot. While it is true we were very comfortable, we never had too much. My mother saw to it that we would appreciate everything that we had. As she put it, it was not good to have anything in excess. It was also impressed upon us that we should respect our elders. I remember when I was little, they said I asked a lot of questions. It wasn't the thing to do at the time. But it was a very happy childhood. Because we had such a close-knit family, I was determined that I should also be very attentive to my children.
Q. People often comment on your remarkable composure. Does some of this come from your family?
A. I think from my father. He was very calm. I don't remember him getting angry very often. In fact, in my whole childhood, he scolded me only once. He was so quick to forgive that it was difficult to understand. My mother was not so forgiving. She was more the fighter. This is where I must get it from. Normally I'm a peaceful person, but if I am threatened, I fight back. I'm not about to take everything that comes to me.
Q. Did your husband have great influence on you?
A. From the beginning. There were many things I didn't have to do when I was single that I had to do once I was married. During his campaign for mayor of Concepcion, I was very shy. When I felt that people were looking at me, I just wanted to hide. So my husband really forced me to come out in public. I would have done anything but that. I had to ride in a carabao ((water buffalo)) cart so that people could say, "Look, Ninoy's wife may have studied in New York and she may come from a wealthy family, but she can ride in a carabao cart." This was not my idea. We walked in the rice fields, and once we had to cross a stream. It was thigh deep. I looked at that water and thought, Am I supposed to wade in there? So I called to Ninoy, and I was expecting him to help since we had been married only a year. But he called to one of his security men and said, "Carry her." (groaning and laughing) I would have gladly waded in, but here I was in the arms of one of his security men. I was so angry and thought, Gosh, the least he could have done was carry me. We slept that night in one of the barrio homes that didn't have a bathroom, and I said, "Ninoy, you know I really have to go to the bathroom." And he said, "There's a pineapple can." (great laughter) I said, "Oh, no! There's nothing else in the house?" And he said, "No." Later, he said it was my baptism by fire. And I thought to myself, What did I do to marry somebody like this?
Q. Did things change after your husband was elected mayor?
A. No. We lived for two years in the little town of Concepcion, where we had electricity only from 6 in the evening to 6 in the morning. I would think to myself, This is getting to be too much. Then I got to be a soap-opera addict. It was the only thing to keep me company, so I'd listen to the radio. Thank God for transistor radios! I also learned how to knit, things I wasn't particularly attracted to before. Suddenly I became such a homebody, knitting while listening to soap operas. Then trying to cook. It was really a very boring existence. If I hadn't had my religion and made my vows to stick with this man for better or worse, maybe I would have had second thoughts.
Manila was only 2 1/2 hours away, and I used any excuse I could think of to get to Manila. First I decided I was not going to get a pediatrician from the provinces. I told Ninoy, "Look, this is our first child, and let's have the best pediatrician for her." So, naturally, once a month, I had to bring her to the doctor in Manila.
Sometimes I used to think, What's happening to me? For a time I thought I couldn't speak English anymore because I had nobody to talk to. I really deteriorated. Nobody wore shoes there because it was so dusty. We wore "step- ins." We went to the local movie, but there were fleas and bedbugs galore, so we'd have to bring our raincoats to put on the chairs. (more laughter) I guess I must really have been in love with my husband to have put up with all of this. He used to tease me later that those were the happiest years of my life, and I would say, "Oh, definitely not!" Then it occurred to me that maybe he had thought all this out so that I would be prepared for everything else.
Q. Were you interested in politics?
A. Oh, yes. It was just that . . . well, I marveled at my mother-in-law ((Dona Aurora Aquino)) and how she could campaign. She was perfect at it; she could give speeches. And I thought, Thank God she can do this for me! She was the type who could kiss babies. As the wife of the mayor in Concepcion, I was expected to go to every wake. Initially, the corpses would be in a bed with just a sheet or curtain over them. My mother-in-law could handle all this, but it was all I could do to look at them. Many nights I could not sleep. And sometimes Ninoy promised the widow that we would look after the children. And I would say, "Oh, Ninoy, did you really say that? We already have a child." Talk of culture shock! After spending seven years of my life in New York, to come to this small town where everybody wanted to know how we lived, what we ate! As I said, it must have been because I loved my husband so much.
Q. Was your husband religious then?
A. That came with jail. His incarceration certainly improved him. And improved me. And also our children. In the past, I had figured that so long as I didn't do any mean things, I'd be O.K. In other words, it was a negative thing rather than something positive. But once he was in prison, it brought out a whole new ( set of values for both of us. In the past, he had concentrated on how to get to the presidency, and everything was just concentrated on that goal. For my part, I had followed the path of least resistance: O.K., if I have to show myself, I'll do it. But I didn't go beyond that. I didn't go beyond people I knew. I just didn't reach out. Then, all of a sudden, with my husband in prison, he was suffering, I was suffering. Yet we knew that others were worse off. We didn't have to worry about where our next meal was coming from or whether our children could go to school. So then, I guess, I started to worry about other people. I guess I identified myself with the victims of Marcos' injustice.
Q. Do you believe God has a plan for you?
A. God has a plan for all of us, and it is for each of us to find out what that plan is. I can tell you that I never thought the plan was for me to be President. But it seems it is. During these past ten months, I really believe it has been necessary to have a woman in this position. Women are less liable to resort to violence than men, and at this time in my country's history, what is really needed is a man or woman of peace.
Q. Do you think the cease-fire with the Communists will work?
A. I always believe in trying.
Q. Have you had special troubles because you are a woman?
A. At one point last year, when my opposition colleagues told me not to go to the UNIDO convention, I made it clear to them, "Look, you people are probably all smarter than I am. You may even be right 95% of the time. But I think that maybe 5% of the time I may have some of the right answers. And I am not going to allow myself to be coerced into not doing something I believe I should do. You always say I am very important to you. If I'm so important, why can't I do what I want to do?" So I made it very clear to them that either I do what I believe I should do, or else let's call it quits. That was a turning point for me.
Q. What do you hope for most for the Philippines, and what do you think, realistically, is possible?
A. What I hope for most, what I believe people really want, is a chance to live in peace and the opportunity for a decent life. I always say that my first priority is to generate enough jobs for the unemployed. If I can just come closer to that goal, I think maybe I will have done my job. People really ask for so little. During the floods and typhoons, when I go out and deliver ; relief goods, there is so much appreciation and gratitude in their faces that I think to myself, Gosh, what are we really doing? It's only a little rice, a little food. Yet they are so appreciative. They're not asking me for big things, so if I can just give them the basics . . . They're not even asking for homes. All they're asking for is a job.
. . . . .
Sunday, August 02, 2009
Remembering Cory Aquino (1933-2009)
Like many Filipinos, I haven't had the opportunity to personally meet Pres. Cory Aquino but I do cherish her memory. The following article was published by Time magazine on Jan. 5, 1987: