Saturday, August 8, 2009

‘Aquino made it look easy to be good’

UCAN Commentary by Denis Murphy

August 7, 2009

MANILA (UCAN) -- Calling Corazon Aquino a “female Saint Thomas More” and the “Joan of Arc of the Philippines,” Catholics here have publicly thrown their support behind a suggestion to work for the late Philippine president’s canonization.

For Denis Murphy, coordinator of the NGO, Urban Poor Associates, this is understandable. He says her cause for canonization is being discussed as she was "very religious."

Though the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines has publicly cautioned that the Church imposes strict conditions in the canonization process, Murphy, in a commentary for UCA News, makes clear the case for Aquino has merits.

The former Jesuit priest and longtime social worker in the Philippines recalls experiences with Aquino that showed she cared for people and tried to help them as much as she could. She led the 1986 "people power" revolt that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

During her presidential campaign, Murphy was serving as editor of a Church news agency. Later in her presidency, which lasted 1986-1992, he devoted his time to working for the rights of city dwellers to decent housing.

Following are his reflections on Aquino’s life:

Aquino died in hospital on Aug. 1 after battling colon cancer.

Thick crowds, 30 meters deep in places, lined the roads leading from Manila Cathedral to the burial site 22 kilometers away in Paranaque. Most people cried as the giant float, with Mrs. Aquino’s casket on top of a huge bed of yellow flowers passed by.

Women shrieked in sorrow as if their own mothers were dead. The rains poured down through the journey, but the crowds got bigger. At one point, firemen saluted the former president by shooting streams of water in the air. The water fell, of course, on the people at the roadside, but no one seemed to notice.

As late as 4 a.m. the night before, near riots threatened outside the cathedral as people pressed to get in to see her one more time.

People had stood in line for up to 10 hours. Along the road to the cemetery there was a man who sat on a wall for 12 hours straight waving a flag, waiting for the cortege to pass by.

It is almost impossible to exaggerate the hold Mrs. Aquino has on the Filipino people and it is natural that people are abuzz with the idea that this former Philippine president should be made a saint.

Perhaps the explanation is that, since all national heroes and heroines reflect the better characteristics of their people, Filipinos see their better selves reflected in the former president more than in anyone else.

What have they seen in Cory Aquino? What is it they wish to see in themselves?

At the necrological service the night before the burial, 19 Filipino men and women, some well known, some not, told a packed cathedral what struck them most about her.

The quality mentioned most often by her close women friends was her never ending thoughtfulness. She never forgot a friend’s birthday or a friend’s problem. She would show up unexpectedly at wakes and stay an hour or so. She had a kind word for everyone. She treated everyone with respect, including her bodyguards, drivers, maids and cooks. It might be hard to believe anyone was so nice but the stories told were so many it seems she really was that good and thoughtful.

She was thoroughly honest. No one in this back biting, overly critical country has ever said she took a single centavo from the Philippine treasury that she hadn’t earned. When she promised something, she kept her word and she never gave up. A sister-in-law told of Cory and herself waiting hours to see rude Marcos officials, sometimes waiting in the rain to ask a small favor for Aquino’s husband who was in jail. She never complained.

She was queenly. This was the aspect of Cory seen by some of the very macho men who worked with her. Former President Fidel Ramos, Mayor Alfredo Lim of Manila, Mayor Jejomar Binay of Makati, Congressman Teddy Locsin, Jr., journalist and former Aquino spokesperson, among them. Locsin put it in words at the necrological service, “She was my queen,” he said, “and I was her knight, her servant. She made me better just by being good herself.”

The poor loved her too. It wasn’t that she did great things for them, but rather that they thought she cared for them. It is the poor women who called out in sorrow along the roadside of her final journey. When things were not going well during Cory’s years in office, the poor always said, “Give her a chance, give her a chance.”

I remember one meeting that the urban poor had with her. They came to complain of several cruel evictions. In one, the police had released vicious dogs into the slum area in the early morning hours. Women told Cory how terrified they were when the dogs broke into their homes. The women cried. Cory cried. Everyone cried, even her military attache. Cory apologized and said it would never happen again.

The dogs were never repeated, but evictions went on. Possibly she could have done more if she had been more experienced in handling a huge bureaucracy.

Cory loved gossip as much as anyone. I remember watching her with a group of friends at a wedding anniversary. She would lean into the circle to make sure she heard every detail, then burst out laughing, then add her own comment on the person they were talking about, then they all laughed again and started over. You would never guess this was a woman who overthrew a dictator, rescued a people from despair, wowed a joint session of the U.S. Congress, inspired a generation and became “the beacon of democracy in Asia.”

Her cause for canonization is now being discussed. Is it possible a saint could enjoy gentle gossip?

Archbishop Ramon Arguelles (of Lipa) likened her to Thomas More and someone during the wake called her the Joan of Arc of the Philippines. I can understand it. I’ve never heard people talk so unanimously about a person’s thoughtfulness, generosity and all those virtues. She was president of the Philippines. She did not have to be all that.

She made it look easy to be good, her friends said. And she was good in the ways her people valued. She was thoughtful, kind, loyal, honest, very religious, just as everyone here wants to be. Loving her, they were loving the ideals their parents had put in them when they were children.

She was so good to others, so confident and buoyant, it was easy to forget she was a widow who had loved her husband dearly and always felt a deep emptiness in her heart because he was gone.

I interviewed her once for UCAN back in 1987. It was the end of the day and she was very tired. At the end, I asked if she could pose with my wife and me for a picture. “I sent the photographer home early, but wait,” she said. Soon she had her staff people running all over for a camera, while she talked about her days in Boston when Ninoy (her husband) was released from jail and allowed to go to the United States for a heart operation. In the end the staff couldn’t find a camera and she was very apologetic. “Next time we meet,” she said. I wish I had that picture now.

Paalam (good bye), Cory.

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