SHE DID not study in UST, but by virtue of an honorary degree, the late former president Corazon “Cory” Aquino became a Thomasian and lived up to being one.

Aquino was conferred Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, by UST back in 1987, a year after she led the popular uprising in Edsa that overthrew hardcore dictator Ferdinand Marcos. She was also awarded the UST Golden Cross, the highest recognition given by the University to people who excel in the promotion of arts, humanities and the sciences, or who have distinguished themselves by their total commitment to the service of mankind.

Yet her relationship with UST transcends names and titles—it’s a life-long relationship where the University’s name is scribbled all over.

Ninoy’s widow

Perhaps there can be no better proof of Aquino’s close connection to UST than the fact that her husband Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino’s remains were laid in wake at the Santo Domingo Church for several days after Ninoy was assassinated in August 21, 1983. It was an unprecedented wake because it allowed public outpouring of grief over the slain senator—whose remains were exposed in blood and gore so that, as Cory said, “The people could see what they did to my husband.” The Dominicans had bravely allowed the Aquino family the use of Santo Domingo for the wake, despite real or perceived threats from the dictatorship.

Along with the rest of the nation, UST joined rallies demanding justice for Ninoy, transforming Thomasians from mere “passive spectators” to active citizens of the country.

On August 31, 1983, Thomasians participated in the funeral march from the Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City to the Manila Memorial Park to bury Ninoy Aquino. The funeral remains the biggest of its kind in history.

UST students and faculty also joined the march from Santo Domingo Church to Quirino Grandstand in commemorating the first death anniversary of Ninoy the following year.

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“As each speaker tried to outdo the other enumerating and condemning the ills of the present regime in blazing rhetoric, it was a relief to hear widowed Cory Aquino speak in warm and understated terms. Her tone was touching, making her fellow speakers realize that even in grief, a person can be calm and forgiving,” the Varsitarian reported.

On December 5, 1985, Cory Aquino first set foot in the University when the Institute of Religion invited her as guest speaker in a symposium on “faith, justice, and human suffering” at the Albertus Magnus Auditorium. She was then the presidential candidate of the United Democratic Opposition and Laban for the February 7, 1986 snap election.

“Good leadership must be coupled with a deep concern for the sufferings of the people, thus, the leaders of the nation should be one with the sufferings of their constituents,” Aquino said.

She also encouraged students to fight for the restoration of rights and freedoms in the country.

The ‘Laban’ sign

Her call was heeded by the Thomasian community, especially during the election and the People Power Revolution.

Through the support of the Roman Catholic Church, Aquino’s call for a “program of active non-violent revolution” in Luneta to protest the fraud-marred election gained momentum. Thousands of people clad in yellow shirts swarmed Luneta and launched a civil disobedience campaign to force Marcos out.

A Varsitarian report described the campaign as a “peaceful war” when people sang nationalistic songs like “Bayan Ko,” flashing their hands in the air with the “Laban” sign.

The movement appeared to have peaked on February 22 when defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Armed Forces vice chief of staff Lt. Gen. Fidel withdrew support for Marcos. When Marcos tried to quell the rebellion, Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin then made his famous Radio Veritas broadcast urging the people to protect Enrile and Ramos in Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. Hundreds of thousands responded and stopped Marcos’ tanks and troops.

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On February 25, Aquino took her oath of office at the Club Filipino in San Juan as the first woman president in the Philippines and Asia. That night, Marcos fled.

The non-violent People Power revolution triggered a pro-democracy wave around the world.

The Return

In 1987, Aquino returned to the University as president.

Her homecoming “had all the trimmings of a state visit,” the Varsitarian reported. Golden flags adorned a bamboo and wooden arch near the España gate with the greeting, “Welcome Pres. Corazon C. Aquino.”

Highlighting its 376th founding anniversary, UST conferred on Aquino the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, for “her strong adherence to the principle of democracy and her faith in the capacity of the Filipino people to defend their rights and individual freedom.”

She was the 22nd recipient of the degree and the fourth president, following Sergio Osmeña, Sr. in 1934, Manuel Quezon in 1936, and Manuel Roxas in 1948.

UST Rector Fr. Norberto Castillo, O.P. also awarded Cory the Golden Cross. Among those who had received the award were King Juan Carlos of Spain in 1974, and Antonio Carillo Flores of Mexico in 1969.

During her 10-minute speech, which also served as that year’s St. Thomas More Lecture of the Faculty of Arts and Letters, Aquino reminded everyone that despite the revival of democracy in the country, liberation is “only half-won…[because of] poverty, social injustice, and underdevelopment.”

In 1996, four years after she had stepped down as president, Aquino returned to UST to talk about her presidency. The restoration of democracy, she said, cannot be measured by statistics.

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“The true measure of my government’s performance would have to be in terms of actual, concrete, and enduring impact on our people’s lives, particularly the poor,” Aquino said.

Prayer powers

Citizen-Cory also attended prayer rallies in UST.

In March 2001, she led several multi-sectoral groups in a rosary rally to support the Catholic Church’s stand against pornography at the UST Grandstand.

December of the following year, Cory, who was chairperson of the Prayer Power Campaign, chose the UST Grandstand as the final site for the event because it was “centrally located.” President Macapagal-Arroyo attended.

“Prayer Power is really people power. If we hadn’t prayed, God wouldn’t have come to our aid,” Aquino said.

Recently, Aquino supported the Mass for Truth pilgrimage of Thomasian whistle blower Rodolfo Noel “Jun” Lozada. The pilgrimage masses, one of which was held at the Santisimo Rosario Chapel, were supposed to draw support for Lozada who had exposed anomalies in the National Broadband Network project of the Philippine government with Chinese firm ZTE. A UST contingent also attended the prayer rally that Cory organized for Lozada at the De La Salle Green Hills on Feb. 17, 2008.

In March 2008, Cory was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. Prayers and masses were held for her quick recovery.

But the devout Catholic as she was, Aquino said she was living it all up to God. Up to her last breath, she lived up to being a Thomasian.

A 1987 Varsitarian report seemed to have summed up in advance the life and legacy of Cory Aquino: “For it is she and persons like her that breathe life to the very principles on which the University of Santo Tomas is founded – the virtues of faith in God and love of neighbor and the universal principles of democracy, non-violence and freedom.”

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