Footage of her husband’s assassination made the rounds of local TV stations on August 1983 and, subsequently, her ascendency from wife of the slain senator to Presidential candidate and, eventually, President of the Republic of the Philippines. To a junior high school student then, the events unfolding were mind-boggling much as a classmate’s haughty remarks about how the late Ferdinand Marcos was the true leader of the archipelago and absolutely innocent of accusations leveled at him. Like all the staunch supporters of the Marcoses, she proceeded to vilify her – in turn, the rest of the women in the world – saying she wasn’t fit to be a President simply because of her gender.

That classmate continued haranguing Cory Aquino but I ignored her brushing her off as another raving lunatic in my midst. Looking back on her argument, I wondered if she knew that she denigrated herself too unless she thought she wasn’t part of the equation. Whether that thought crossed her weak mind or not, the lady in yellow, called Tita (Auntie) Cory by compatriots and Cory by the entire world, pushed the gender issue –  binary opposites in Jacques Lacan’s parlance – to the forefront of everyday events in during my time in high school.

Unfortunately, feminism in high school circa late 1980s was entangled in a gallimaufry of irrational arguments by, sadly, the very mentors that we, one way or the other, looked up to. One event that highlighted their prejudiced perspective was prom, which had me chafing at the collar particularly on two issues – food to be served and dates. This young teacher who taught Filipino language and literature – one of the class advisers – envisioned the girls helping out with the décor and slaving away at the stoves in school then dashing home to change. The boys, on the other hand, were not to lift a finger in preparing the food, as he maintained smugly, that women generally did the cooking. Cory seemed to have stoked the fire of rebellion in the hearts of the girls who eventually opposed the ludicrous idea and voila! The era of engaging a caterer for the prom came to fruition.

Issue number two was dates to the prom. Prom dates were far from the romantic-ask-the-boy-or-girl-you-like because juniors and seniors were paired together by the teachers. Their rationale: students they considered square pegs wouldn’t get asked to the prom. Attending prom without a date was not allowed either. The same teacher who believed that women solely belonged to the kitchen further put his foot in his mouth when he said it wasn’t right for girls/women to arrive at the prom without a date, but it was perfectly fine for boys/men to attend the party alone.

Against the backdrop of the first women President in Asia or the world being elected, a teacher with a myopic view of genders was molding the minds of young, impressionable students. He wasn’t alone. Another teacher – alas, a woman – threw in her lot with him when she suddenly launched into a tirade of feminism in class, eschewing its tenets and branding feminists as inane people. She never made clear her stand against feminism, which was a pity. Everyone has a right to hold beliefs that run counter to the tenets of another’s ideology, but it’s unpardonable if one is unable to argue his/her position intelligently.

Cory as a feminist was a concept I grappled with in my mind, but she was certainly awe-inspiring because I looked at her from a different angle. What I saw then was a woman pushed to the center of a political maelstrom, the tranquility of her life in Boston shattered to pieces. What I saw was a grieving widow who didn’t have time to mourn her husband’s sudden and violent passing in private. She had to put aside her personal pain, square her shoulders and soldier on an entire nation fighting for democracy and, later, face the intense acrimony of the people who vehemently opposed her administration. What I saw was her family bereft of a father with a pull of a trigger. What I saw was a mother-widow who had to help others heal while her own healing process took a backseat. What I saw was a mother having to fulfill dual roles to her children especially the youngest daughter who wasn’t off putting then. And under that smile of hers was the weight of pain and sadness buried deep within her soul.

Cory has moved on, succumbing to colon cancer that ravaged her body for 16 months. In my mind’s eye now, she has finally found peace.


One response to this post.

  1. RIP Mrs Aquino. You defined strength and leadership in your own terms. As we all must. Thank you.


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