Corazon Aquino, an Intimate Portrait and Motrher of Democracy

History isn’t just penned by researchers, scholars and professional biographers. Often, the best accounts of history are told by those who witnessed it as they were having coffee, shuffling papers at a desk, or on a leisurely stroll. These people who were on the same orbit as the future historical figure don’t have to go to a library to do research or interview a source to write their story.

But too often, those who have had a ringside view of history don’t have their story on paper. Their stories are simply locked up in their memory, which inevitably fades.

So Margie Penson-Juico did the right thing by asking those who had a ringside view of the historic presidency of Cory Aquino to get their slices of history down in paper.

Without a doubt, Cory will go down in history for our future grandchildren and great grandchildren to read about. What was she really like? How did she govern? How did she stare down seven coup attempts? Whose version of Cory will future generations read?

It is best that they read about the many facets of Cory from those who saw and worked with her up close — in the midst of triumph, tragedy, laughter and hard work.

That is what sets the book Cory, An Intimate Portrait (edited by Margie, Cory’s appointments secretary when she was president and still her assistant at the Benigno Aquino Foundation, and published by Anvil Publishing, Inc.) apart. The book is not just a collection of tributes and anecdotes about the country’s first woman president written by those who know her well (though in varying degrees of closeness). It is prism, a kaleidoscope — for no one person’s account of Cory dominates.

In his foreword to the book, STAR columnist and Margie’s husband Popoy Juico writes: “The book’s strength and charm lie in its very form; firsthand stories by friends of President Cory’s for many years, by men and women who served in government, and by others whose lives she touched in countless ways.”

Among those in the powerhouse list of contributors are Sen. Ed Angara, Sen. Joker Arroyo, Rep. Joe and Gina de Venecia, Sen. Loren Legarda, Rep. Teddy Locsin Jr., Miguel Perez Rubio (who would like to point out that the cancer-stricken sister-in-law he was referring to in his piece is Lily Matute, not Mercy Tuason, who does not have cancer!), former President Fidel Ramos, Lovely Romulo, Rene Saguisag (who, though still emotionally scarred from the death of his beloved wife Dulce over a year ago, bravely attended the book launching the other night), Deedee Siytangco, Sen. Manny Villar and Bea Zobel.

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I myself particularly enjoyed the piece in the book written by Gen. (then Colonel) Voltaire “Volts” Gazmin, who was the chief of the Presidential Security Group during the Aquino administration. I read somewhere that Gazmin started out as one of the jailers of Ninoy. But he was so fair and humane to his prisoner (one account goes that he even fed sugared water to Ninoy during his hunger strike) that after EDSA, Cory had ordered her generals to find Gazmin because she wanted to entrust the security of her presidency, her very life, to him.

While covering Cory for the Office of the Press Secretary, I, together with the MalacaƱang Press Corps, encountered a PSG chief who didn’t smile, didn’t eat, didn’t talk. Gazmin always seemed to be on duty, on red-alert status. Unbeknownst to us then, he had every reason to be praning. He protected Cory through seven coup attempts, and once, I remember my boss, the late Press Secretary Teddyman Benigno telling me, “Magpapakamatay talaga si Volts para kay Cory.”

Typical of the man of few words that he was during our Palace days, Gazmin’s piece on Cory, the calmest soul around, is short, one of the shortest in the book — but it hits the bullseye. Excerpts:

I vividly remember the coup attempt of August 1987.

I was out supervising the placement of armor around the palace when bursts of gunfire rang out. I rushed to the president’s official residence in Arlegui St., across from MalacaƱang, and found the president and her family upstairs. I asked them to go downstairs and turn off all lights, and instructed my guards to stand mattresses against the windows,

I then made a head count and found one missing. I went back upstairs and noticed light coming through the open bathroom door. It was the president combing her hair.

“Ma’am,” I begged, “please go to the ground floor, it’s not safe here,” to which she calmly replied she needed to look presidentially presentable when she met the media.

As her life hung in the balance and gunfire surrounded her home, Cory Aquino, in Gazmin’s own words, “was the calmest soul around.”

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A funny, but also revealing vignette about Cory Aquino is told by her friend Bea Zobel. Bea Zobel’s family is one of the richest in Asia, but when Cory asked her to go on humanitarian missions on her behalf (as Cory had no first lady) Bea was a real trouper. I covered Bea on two such humanitarian missions: one to Lupao, Nueva Ecija, where she was asked to give comfort to a family caught in the crossfire between soldiers and alleged rebels. I saw her cradle in the helicopter a baby (I remember the baby’s surname was “Gante”) that had no right hand. A handkerchief covered the stump that was left of her hand. But Bea carried the baby like she was her own apo. And at the Tala leprosarium, Bea would visit the different pavilions with no trace of “diri” on her face. She had no rubbing alcohol-toting alalay, either. Later on, we had lunch with the nuns in Tala, who were not expecting us, and we all feasted on a combo of rice and tuna spread.

Her piece on Cory, “Shoeless in Paris,” shows how much of a trouper Bea really is and what a disciplined person Cory is.

One of the things I admired most of Cory was her discipline when attending functions — her punctuality. For those of us who were accompanying her, it was always a bit of an ordeal to try to anticipate when she would be at our door checking if we were ready to go, because usually this happened too early for us.

On this particular occasion, we were in Paris with her on the eve of our departure to London. We were to leave the hotel very early in the morning. Mercy Tuason and I, who were sharing a room, chatted till the wee hours, but did not forget to do as told: before retiring, we put our luggage outside the door. When we woke up to dress, I realized I had put in my suitcase more things that I would have wanted — for one thing, all my underwear and the shoes I had intended to wear on the trip. In fact, I only had my hotel slippers, and at that hour, no shop was open.

I went down and offered to any of the ladies at the front desk who wore size 29 enough money to buy a brand-new pair of Ferragamos. You can imagine the look I got, but upon frantic insistence, I was taken seriously. One lady disappeared and came back with the ugliest and dirtiest pair of rain shoes, wet yet since it had been pouring all night. They were a bit big for me, but I was desperate. So, floating in them, off I followed Cory to the airport.

In London, all eyes from the group of Filipino ladies who met us were on my shoes and between two of them the following exchange supposedly transpired.

“What’s with Bea’s shoes?”

“I have no clue... it must be the latest in Paris.”

Cory herself was quite amused at how I had solved the problem.

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