THE MOTHER of our hearts has left us.

Twenty three years ago, yellow confetti rained on Edsa as tens of thousands of people marched for peace, democracy, and freedom. Leading them against a phalanx of soldiers and tanks was a woman, who had been consigned to a plain life not until her husband died a tragic death and she was forced to accept the call of duty and destiny. She was simple and soft-spoken, yet she was all the Filipinos depended on in the face of a repressive and corrupt dictatorship.

Now, Edsa and other places are again filled with the same color— not as a symbol of celebration, but as a way of thanksgiving for Corazon “Cory” Aquino, the darling of the Filipino nation and a global icon of democracy.

Cory, who had been diagnosed with colon cancer in March 2008, surrendered to the complications brought about by her disease last August 1 in the middle of praying the Sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. It was a quiet and solemn end to the highly dramatic life of the woman who made the Philippines what it is today: free.

CBS broadcaster Bob Simon said in national television while reporting on the People Power Revolution in 1986: “We Americans like to think that we taught Philippines democracy; well, tonight they are teaching the world.” Yet few of the youth today are aware of Cory’s true relevance. They only know her as the widow of Ninoy Aquino, or as the first woman president of the Republic of the Philippines, or as the mother of television personality Kris Aquino. They do not know her much as a champion of democracy and a woman of courage.

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The courage was first manifested when she returned as the grieving wife of Ninoy after he was assassinated on August 21, 1983. Despite a firmly entrenched and nearly invincible dictatorship, Cory listened to the clamor of the people and ran for president in a highly-contested snap election marred by fraud and terrorism. When Marcos stole the election of February 7, 1986, Cory led a civil disobedience campaign that was cut short by the defection of Marcos’s defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Constabulary head Fidel Ramos. When Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin called on the people to shield the rebellion on February 22, people responded and hundreds of thousands went to Edsa. They went there not only to prevent violence, but also to press for what Ninoy, Cory and the Cardinal stood for–liberty, freedom and democracy. The incident resulted in the People Power revolution of 1986: Marcos was toppled on February 26 and the Philippines became the model for non-violent change and ushered in the pro-democracy wave that toppled repressive regimes in South Korea, Poland and elsewhere.

Aquino’s presidency labored to restore democracy, introduce economic reforms, and empower the people. She worked her way to the people’s hearts through hardship and dedication to her work, giving them a chance to be heard, and herself to be reached. She released political prisoners and gave amnesty to rebels as a first step to peacemaking. She came up with a more democratic constitution and held popular elections shorn of the guns, goons and gold of old. In exchange, people gave her their trust and confidence, making her arguably the most popular president the country ever had. Throughout her term, she remained faithful to her declared goal of restoring democracy.

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She might have committed mistakes, but there was no gainsaying her integrity. Democracy and integrity are perhaps her best legacies. As she was a mother, she was also a teacher. Cory’s example should instruct the next generations how best to deal with Filipinos and the problems they face: listen to them, ask for counsels to come up with practical solutions, and implement them in the best manner and with always the people in mind.

Now that there are politicians pushing for charter change to extend themselves in power, we now realize the lesson taught and practiced by the President. A year before her term ended in 1992, in her last state of the nation address in 1991, Cory delivered her valedictory and the following year, handed over the presidency to her successor, Fidel Ramos, the first peaceful and orderly transition of power since 1965.

Out of Malacanang and as an ordinary citizen, Cory continued to be a shining beacon of democracy. Together with Cardinal Sin, she led protests against “Cha-cha” in 1997 which could have enabled President Fidel Ramos to stay in power beyond 1998. They succeeded and Ramos backed off. In 2000, the tandem called for the resignation of President Joseph Estrada over corruption. Early the next year, Estrada stepped down from power.

It is a reflection on Cory’s integrity that Ramos and Estrada, despite the 1997 and 2001 episodes, did not hold any rancor against her. They went to her wake and paid their last respects.

Cory also took part in civic work and volunteerism. She led a foundation to boost the livelihood of poor women. She also painted bright flowers and beautiful landscapes that reflected the tranquility of her soul. She was a very productive citizen, a model for the elderly. She also doted on Kris Aquino, whose private life was by turns a shambles and an embarassment. When Cory wept over Kris’s private affairs, mothers across the nation wept along with her, and even young girls berated Kris for making her mother cry.

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In public and in private, Cory Aquino was a real person of integrity and decency. A woman of faith and an advocate of prayer, she could have lapsed to quietism and passivism if not for the fact that she was a real person of decisive action. She was a dynamic soul in both faith and life, in both prayer and action. And we will always remember her as that. Corazon, you will always be in our hearts.

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