by Michael Morco
In one photo, a woman presses a towel to her nose as tears roll down her face. Dangling from her index finger is a keychain with Corazon Aquino’s photo on it. She is an ordinary woman; we don’t know her name.
In another, a man bends over a coffin. To his right, there’s a tomb bearing the name “Ninoy” and beside it, a tombstone as yet unattached, bearing the name “Cory.” The man is Senator Noynoy Aquino, about to bury his mother. In a few days, he will embark on a journey his mother had gone through more than two decades before, but he does not know this yet.
These images were part of a photo exhibit at the Powerplant Mall in Makati honoring the late President Corazon Aquino. Titled “Cory… Isang Pagpupugay,” the exhibit features more than 60 photographs taken during Mrs. Aquino’s wake and funeral procession.
While the intimate photos offered depth of feeling and resonance, the panoramic photos instructed in scale and testified to the wide and enduring popularity that Mrs. Aquino enjoyed. There were images of the jam-packed Manila Cathedral, where her remains lay in state for three days. There were pictures of the streets of Manila where her hearse passed, all lined with thousands of people, wearing her signature yellow, holding Mrs. Aquino’s photos and banners of thanks and farewell or throwing yellow confetti from buildings and overpasses.
“We were overwhelmed with the outpouring of emotions and support of the people and took inspiration from this,” said Bullit Marquez, chief photographer from Associated Press who contributed to and edited the exhibit. “The late president was a symbol of democracy and will leave us a lasting legacy. It was simply impossible to ignore that.”
At the simple opening ceremony for the photo exhibit last October 26, Mrs. Aquino’s family was represented by her daughter, Pinky Aquino-Abellada, who led the ribbon-cutting. Atty Alex Lacson of Tuloy Pnoy, the advocacy group that sponsored the event, quoted moving passages from Teodoro Benigno on Mrs. Aquino’s legacy as restorer of democracy in the Philippines.
Family and friends of Mrs. Aquino who attended the opening included nieces Jackie Aquino and Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski, some nuns, members of civil society who came dressed in yellow, and the whistleblower Jun Lozada, whose cause Mrs. Aquino supported even while she was ailing. Composer Ryan Cayabyab accompanied the Ryan Cayabyab Singers in rendering songs with a nationalistic theme.
The story of Mrs. Aquino’s transformation from self-proclaimed plain housewife to political figure and icon of democracy is well known, beginning from the day in 1983 when her husband, Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. was assassinated at the airport on his return to the Philippines after years of exile.
Mrs. Aquino became the putative leader of the opposition against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and she rallied the Filipino people in protest actions against the strongman’s rule. When Mr. Marcos called for snap elections in 1985, she was thrust into the political arena after one million signatures urging her to run for president were presented to her.
When Mr. Marcos was declared winner by a congress dominated by his allies amidst evidence of massive fraud, Mrs. Aquino called for civil disobedience and was sworn in as true president of the Philippines. A series of events culminated in the EDSA People Power Revolution, where millions of Filipinos trooped to the streets in support of Mrs Aquino and her allies, to protect defecting military, and ultimately forced Mr. Marcos to flee the country.
The unique nature of the revolution, its nonviolence and the use of prayer as its most powerful weapon, subsequently inspired a series of similar pro-democracy upheavals in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, as well as in Asia. The “yellow” movement later gave way to other colored revolts, including Georgia’s Rose Revolution, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, and more recently, the green revolution in Iran and the yellow revolutions in Thailand.
“I covered several ‘revolutions’ over the following years. The Berlin Wall, Czechoslovakia and Romania to name just three. The joy I saw on the streets of Manila that week was matched only in Berlin when the Wall came down,” says Andy Stevenson, a CBS News cameraman who covered Manila in 1986. “Revolutions are not normally pleasant experiences, but Manila was different.”
More than 20 years later, from his home in London, former CNN cameraman Brian Robbins tells this story:
We were filming demonstrators at the Batasang Pambansa, they were stabbing each other, there was violence and intimidation. The bravery astounded me though. At the COMELEC vote counting center one night, workers walked out with evidence of tampering right in front of us, protected by only a couple of TV crews and photographers. Security forces swarmed around us trying to stop them, it turned ugly. More press joined in, we walked with them, TV lights on to keep us all together, until we reached a church where they exposed the vote fraud to the press.
Later we hustled to see Enrile, Ramos, Honasan as they marched out of Camp Aguinaldo to Camp Crame. I ran alongside them filming, through the surging, clapping crowds. EDSA was full of people, it was all very emotional and overwhelming, totally amazing to see. I was 26 years old.
He adds, “The people of the Philippines impressed me greatly. Cory Aquino defined this determination for me, she led the country through all this trouble. A truly amazing individual. I still feel very concerned for what happens in the Philippines, it left that strong a mark on me.”
The reactions to Mrs. Aquino’s death have shown resonances of EDSA as people affirmed their shared beliefs with the late president. “Hindi ka nag-iisa,” posters and banners proclaimed. You are not alone.
After, or perhaps while mourning, there was increasing clamor for the things she stood for—honesty, simplicity and integrity—amidst a scandal-ridden administration that enjoys record-low trust from the public.
For some, her son Sen. Noynoy Aquino fits the bill. As Mr. Robbins says, “Cory Aquino’s son being seen as a contender is only natural.”
Sen. Noynoy Aquino is thrust into a situation familiar to his mother: as candidate in next year’s presidential elections. While the senator has since accepted the challenge, his success remains to be seen. The journey, however, is promising.
Photos from “Cory, Isang Pagpupugay” will continue to be displayed at the ground floor of Rockwell’s Power Plant Mall until November 4th.