It’s time to be our own heroes

Sunday Life

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 09, 2009 12:00 AM
Cory Aquino after Ninoy’s death at Times Street, 1983.

The first time I saw Cory Aquino was on TV. She had just arrived from the United States and looked every bit like the grieving widow. On TV, she expressed her grief over her husband’s death, put the responsibility of Ninoy’s assassination on the Marcos regime and demanded the release of all political prisoners.

The last point particularly impressed me since my mother and stepfather were political prisoners in Bicutan at that time. I just had a feeling then that there was more to the soft monotone and the non-political body language that spelled “housewife” more than “politician.”

I saw her once in Bicutan when I was visiting my parents. She came bearing rubber slippers for the detainees and to talk with and console them. At the time, the detainees were composed of two factions, the social democrats and the national democrats who were constantly trying to discredit each other. Cory reached out to both, perhaps realizing that they were all in jail because they loved their country, and she could certainly identify with that.

Cory was a calming presence. She could sit with hardcore communists and hardnosed politicians and melt their intransigence by simply knowing how to listen to them. She was almost non-threatening with her soft voice and kind demeanor, which were assets during those highly polarized times. And yet behind it was a woman of steel who must have decided earlier on, during Ninoy’s incarceration, that the way to peace was not more of the macho posturing that invariably brought violence but through a commitment to listen in a healing way.

The death of Ninoy had a profound effect on me. It forced me to confront my artistic identity and authenticity. Sure, I knew the craft of a songwriter-performer, but was I a true artist who dared express myself freely? If so, why was I reluctant to express my outrage at what was happening? From small tentative steps APO taken after Ninoy’s death, we became emboldened artists who took up the cause of ending the dictatorship and promoting democracy in the way we knew best — though songs and humor. One might say, we walked on the edge and even jumped a few times. Lucky for us, the net always appeared.

I remember listening to a lot of speeches, reading a lot of opposition materials, attending countless rallies and even as I did a lot of the latter, I must admit I often wrestled with my own fears of the martial law forces. But I did it anyway because each time I saw Cory Aquino stand on a makeshift podium and confront the regime head on, it inspired me to do my share in the struggle for democracy.

There was something riveting about an unlikely candidate, a widowed housewife standing up to a dictator who held all the cards. Her courage was simply contagious. It was like seeing the story of David versus Goliath playing out in real life.

Cory’s term as president was tumultuous, largely because of the disloyalty and lust for power shown by elements of the armed forces and her former defense chief Juan Ponce Enrile. It was beset with endless coups and natural calamities.

I bristled at the fact that the soldiers always got away scot-free only to stage the next destabilization effort, even if they failed miserably each time. And yet, I wonder now if a less forgiving, more “macho” leader would have succeeded in preserving the democracy that we fought hard for in EDSA. We could have easily gone back to another dictatorship, given the temptation to use a strong hand to deal with the many crises. Perhaps we did need the kind, maternal symbol that was Cory Aquino to help heal the rifts among her fighting children.

In truth, there were very few moments that I was in Cory’s presence where we actually talked. I blush when I remember how speechless I always became in her presence. But each time we did meet, she made sure I felt her appreciation for my participation in the cause.

In the last few years of her life, there were times when Cory’s magic seemed like a spent force. The rallies she called people to attend were miniscule compared to the magnificence of the People Power shows of force of earlier days. People seemed to have lost interest in her singular message of preserving the legacy of Ninoy and his belief that the Filipino is worth dying for. But she plodded on. It did not seem to matter to her how many showed up. It was always about the message.

And yet, the news of her death, though expected, came as a shock. It was like a pall of gloom had suddenly descended on us all. We realized that we were orphaned. We had lost an icon, a mother, a leader, a friend, a decent human being. She was a benign shining spirit whom we presumed would always be there. Especially in these days of quiet desperation, her maternal mien was a comfort zone. At the wake, not a few people asked in all sincerity, “Who will be the symbol of democracy now that she is gone?” Indeed.

Cory’s death has surfaced a lot of feelings aside from grief. Some of it is probably plain nostalgia for those who walked with her in the journey to EDSA, but I suspect there is a lot more to it. People know integrity when they see it and respond accordingly.

It was heartwarming to see throngs of people in avenues break into wild applause as her casket passed by. It was an affirmation of the good she had done, a recognition of her decency and integrity as a person and her untiring efforts in expressing tangibly her love for our country.

To me, the people’s spontaneous reaction is proof that we are rediscovering what it’s like not to be cynical. The tears shed, the huge crowds, the compassion and intense interest manifested everywhere has rekindled for some the candle of idealism which everyone thought had long melted away.

Even aging EDSA warriors like myself were starting to believe that the ideals of EDSA belonged to a bright but short era that had already passed. But what is shaping up seems to suggest that reports about the death of EDSA 1’s meaning may have been premature and exaggerated.

Even if I have a good feeling about it, I prefer to be cautious and say that it remains to be seen if indeed the spirit of EDSA has been rekindled. The coming days will tell us for sure. But speaking for myself, Cory’s death has reawakened my idealism. I want to help get this country back on the road to fulfilling its manifest destiny of greatness.

Joseph Campbell once said that doors closed to others will open to you when you respond to the call of your life’s mission. Cory was “just a housewife,” as Marcos once sneered. And he was right. But what he did not count on was this housewife’s admirable courage that brought him to his knees. The stars aligned for her because she did not flinch once she decided to take up the challenges of her time.

When I visited President Cory’s remains in La Salle Greenhills, I saw old friends and fellow street warriors weeping. Since I was one of the first in line, I had the privilege of blessing her remains with holy water. As I bade farewell to my leader, my muse and my inspiration, I tried to hold back my tears but I was unsuccessful.

Death can make a person larger than when he/she was alive. The symbolic is always more potent than the literal. It’s probably because symbols have a built-in open-endedness that grows more and more as people engage them and imbue them with powers greater than what they had in life.

And so Cory and Ninoy’s heroic tale will be counted among the noble stories that will continue to inspire us as a people for generations to come.

Ninoy’s funeral was the way it was largely because of the way he died. Cory’s was the way it was because of how she lived.

Today we are again at a crossroads as a people. We either awaken and resume our march to the Promised Land or continue adrift wandering aimlessly in the desert. EDSA 1’s work remains unfinished business. Just as Ninoy passed the torch to the reluctant Cory, she has now passed the torch to us. Like Cory, we only need to say “yes” to rise to the occasion and rekindle the candle of idealism that was lit in ESDA 1.

It’s time to be our own heroes.

13 thoughts on “It’s time to be our own heroes”

  1. Thanks sir jim.i was waiting for this post! And ur right its really time to be our own heroes. Its just so sad lang na we thought edsa 1 was the end of it all but para may dapat pang ayusin.. Just thinking out loud. Thanks again!

  2. A powerful post Jim. I certainly never met her but I admired Cory, her resolve and her dignity. Her loss was certainly felt in my home. She has left a great legacy that Individuals CAN make a difference. The Philippines is a much better place for the commitment and love you, and many others have for her. Remember though the journey for Moses and the children of Israel to the promised land took almost 40 years. Your Idealism and passion is admired, respected and understood. The torch is certainly there for whomever might rise to the occasion, remember though that the road is fraught with opposition and fractured support. Whilst the time IS now, change of any real worth in anything will take time. Just walk tall, walk straight and look the world right in the eye. I am proud to know you Jim.

  3. Tita Cory was such a selfless woman. Above all, it’s as if she was completely egoless. During the last few years, she stood steadfast in her belief, supporting in what she believed was right, with or without supporters, even when her kababayans got immuned to the non-ending dramas.
    As seen, many of the mourners were either children during Ninoy’s death or they were not even born yet. Let this be a wake up call. Maybe it is time to pass the torch to the next generation to see to it that the sacrifices of the older generation will not be in vain.

  4. I definitely have to agree with you.
    Ang nakikita ko kasing problema sa ating mga Pilipino, masyadong mataas ang inaasahan nating magagawa ng mga pinuno natin kung minsan. I am sure poor Tita Cory had been overwhelmed by our expectations even as she tried her best. Still, though, history has been very kind to her because she tried her best to do what she could considering what little she had to work with. Plus, she stuck to her decision not to be swayed by the authority accorded to her by the people. Like a friend of mine says, the best people to wield power are those who do not want it at all.

  5. Beautifully moving Mr. Jim. Bravo!

    I had the privilege of meeting Tita Cory in person just once, but I believe that’s all it takes to confirm my belief that she indeed is a decent, humble, selfless person and an honest, inspiring servant leader who really loves this country and the Filipinos. Now, she belongs to the ages.

    Although I was too young then when EDSA 1 took place, many of my relatives did go with her during those critical moments. And they would go home telling us wonderful stories of EDSA 1 that still resonate in me today. Tita Cory is their “idol” and with Ninoy, she became mine too. After a few years when I was already old enough to really understand what happened, I remember breaking down crying in our school library one day after finding a coffeetable book containing stories and pictures during the EDSA 1 revolution. For some powerful reason, everything about EDSA, including your songs, just couldn’t fail to move me. It’s a really beautiful part of our history. I have always been proud to be a Filipino, until these past years.

    I remember Danny Javier speaking to us, young leaders, a few days after Tita Cory did and he told us about an encounter with his daughter in connection with his plan of emigrating to Canada for good with his family. I believe he said, in effect, that he only wants a better life for her and his family and he does not have so much hope already that the situation of our country will still improve. His daughter replied soemthing like: “Dad are you tired already? If you’re tired, then it’s our turn.” I remember many of us being moved to tears by the story.

    I really hope that the end of her journey here on earth that has been selflessly offered, time and again, at the altar of national unity, freedom, and progress becomes the beginning of our own collective journey towards the same purpose and aspiration.

    You’re right on track; it’s time to be our own heroes.

  6. Sir Jim, thank you for this moving post… I wish I also had the privilege of seeing my muse, my hero and my inspiration for the very last time. I envy the throng of people who were in the streets of Manila waving their last goodbye to the woman whom we mainly owe along with others like you the freedom to walk freely in the streets of this country…

    Indeed the torch has been passed on and the battleground has moved. I believe now that the greatest enemy of our dream for our country’s great destiny is the cynicism that has gripped the hearts of many Filipinos… Seeing young people in the streets clapping, crying, shouting and raising their hands with the LABAN sign has shown tell-tale signs that hope glimmers anew…

    Indeed, it’s time to be our own heroes….

  7. Lourd de Veyra, poet and frontman of Radioactive Sago Project, said that Cory should be the new standard for leaders — they should aim to earn the same kind of farewell from the people.

    Hear, hear.

    I wonder if Arroyo’s ever panicked for that, considering she’s only got a few months left on her term para bumawi (unless she actually twists the rules to remain there…) or if Erap is feeling any shame at all. Shame shame shame on these people.

  8. “Ninoy’s funeral was the way it was largely because of the way he died. Cory’s was the way it was because of how she lived.”

    so true… so true…

    i still feel so sad when i remember tita cory right now. there’s still an empty space in my heart. para akong nawalan ng nanay.

  9. Great thoughts Jim, I enjoyed reading this very much.

    I hope Cory now gets to spend the time with Ninoy that was stolen from her.


  10. “Death can make a person larger than when he/she was alive.”

    Her death brought a deeper to my being a Filipino. We are enjoying our freedom because she fought and stood for it. And for this and her great example of humility and leadership, I will forever be grateful.

    I’m also grieving along with the rest of the nation kasi para akong nawalan ng nanay in every sense of the word. At the same time, I’m challenged to live and follow her example. I guess this is the challenge for each and everyone of us – that if we live just a little like her, our country will be a better place to live in.

  11. The days when people were looked up to as heroes as passed. It’s time we start regarding concrete achievement as the true hero of our people.

    The only REAL way we can honour our heroes is to build upon their sacrifices by delivering REAL RESULTS instead of patting ourselves on the back for making mere token symbollic gestures.

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