Cory Aquino




The Ninoy/Cory Leadership, Its Spirituality

Fr. Catalino Arevalo, SJ
November 25, 2004

Let me be very honest about what this paper hopes to say on “the spirituality of the Ninoy-and Cory leadership” – the topic assigned. I must confess that I am largely ignorant of the vast amount of literature that has developed of late on the theme of leadership. It will have to be somebody knowledgeable this area who can take my remarks and put them in proper focus, in the precise context of leadership.

What I can contribute is something on the spiritual vision which I believe underlies the Ninoy/Cory leadership, as it has impacted on the history of the last three decades in our country. That vision, of course, has a design for the society and nation it tries to bring to realization in our land. But that vision also includes what we might call incarnate embodiment of what leadership must be offered so that that society can be authentically realized. More concretely, what we must do, what is asked of us, if that society, so conceived and so constructed, can arise and endure.


Mrs. Cory Aquino was the first Asian and the first woman, to receive the prestigious honorary doctorate in Political Sciences from the University of the Sacred Heart in Milan (Italy) In October 1995, when she had delivered her doctoral address, one of the authorities of the university commented,

The event was an unusual one, standing out among occasions of a similar nature. Mrs. Aquino’s address was not a mere academic dissertation, of solemn and elevated discourse. It was first of all an authentic testimony of faith, a deeply moving one. Mrs. Aquino touched all by being an authentic witness. Even in a Catholic University like ours, rarely do we hear such an impressive personal profession of both ethical and religious commitment.

The Italian press gave marked attention to the same awarding rites and one national daily, Avvenire, gave the event almost an entire page with the heading, “CORY, GOD’S REVOLUTIONARY”. The paper said:

“Faith is courage.” That is, Corazon Aquino. Meeting a person, one rarely has the perception of coming face-to-face with an embodiment of incarnate values, but this happened yesterday . . . at Milan, with those who were able to see and listen to the former Philippine President.

Perhaps this spontaneous response to Mrs. Aquino’s person, her presence, her words, give us some sort of lead as to what the “spiritual dimensions” of Ninoy’s and her leadership have been, above all. Let us be fortright about this, even if this may not sound politically correct here at a seminar of this sort. We are speaking of the FAITH DIMENSION in her, and Ninoy’s leadership. She has been quite unambiguous on this point, and even the most hurried reading of the two books of speeches which she herself has selected, IN THE NAME OF DEMOCRACY AND PRAYER, and INSPIRATION AND IMAGES, makes this wholly evident. Most revealing, doubtless, of all, is what in a way is her most personal book, NINOY AND CORY, put together for the inauguration of the Aquino Center in Tarlac: pictures and texts are personally chosen (she says), and her introduction asks readers to “take time to explain to your young relatives and friends the meaning of Ninoy’s ultimate sacrifice” The pictures intend “to impress upon you the importance of prayer in our lives specially in times of trial and adversity.”

In “Honor and Pain, Courage and Faith,” the address she delivered on receiving her first honorary doctoral degree (19 May 1984) from Mt St Vincent College in New York, she focused on faith and prayer, and the courage that derives from them. Ninoy and she were empowered not only to weather the storms which encompassed their lives, to endure them with resignation; they were given a “blazing and serene hope” in the midst of darkness. “For me (she said) “this blazing and serene hope is founded on Faith in the One who died for love and rose again and who has always been a part of my life.” “This afternoon you honor me for courage that is accompanied by and founded on faith.” Ninoy was a son of his people, and she its daughter. “We are what we have been able to become because we were nurtured in a Faith that begets courage blazing with hope among a people so often tested by tribulation. And how often I have seen courage and hope blazing out of the Faith of my people especially in our darkest hours. . . . Even as I accept this honor, I think of my people struggling once again with courage and blazing with hope in their hour of tribulation.”

These words were spoken two years before EDSA Uno. Without the least ambiguity she attributes to Faith and Prayer the Courage and Hope that have shaped them to “what we have been able to become.” Her husband – many times – spoke of the process which “created” the Ninoy who led our people to freedom – the process: imprisonment, suffering and loneliness, brokenness and even despair, the total powerlessness and privation to which he had been reduced and in which and through which he was given the “poverty and purity of spirit”, the entrustment of self to God’s will, the committing of self to God’s purposes, – and the peace, the clarity and courage which came from that. This was his formation to leadership – and when Cory’s time came to lead, the same process (if somewhat differently realized in her and experienced by her) empowered her to walk before her people as they struggled to win redemption for themselves. Their leadership, in a true sense, was given to Ninoy and Cory. For Ninoy, what was given him was a different kind of leadership from that which he himself first sought. For Cory, leadership was really thrust upon her, but there had been the process which enabled her to move into it. When we speak of the “spiritual dimensions” of Ninoy/Cory leadership, we must make sure the “formation to leadership” which their histories, and – in their own belief – God worked out for them, is seen as necessary and essential preludes.


It may not be generally known that in 1986, when Mrs. Aquino was already at Malacañang, Mr. David Puttnam, its producer, and Mr. Roland Joffe, its director, brought the epic movie, THE MISSION, to Manila, so they could show it to her, and so that she might allow the two of them to make a film based on Ninoy’s life, on the Ninoy story as an amazing “living out again” of the Jesus story. The story of a calling, in Ninoy’s case, from the ways of the world, to the ultimate sacrifice. Puttnam saw the Ninoy story as a renewed revelation of the very core of Christian spirituality. A man who (if we may use the words of Ignatius of Loyola, whose Spiritual Exercises and its “Two Standards” Puttnam had, surprisingly enough, never read) . . . a man who, at the seeming height of his political career, “with every diligence seeks honors, power and the credit of a great name upon the earth”, is brought down instead, and through the humiliation, torture and despair of captivity in the hands of an enemy, and then through prayer in the midst of seeming perdition and defeat, finds Jesus and what for him is the message of Jesus. In human brokenness he lays aside his search for worldly glory, and places himself within God’s will and purpose, seeking now only to further God’s leading of his people, discovering Jesus’ personal love for him, uniting his suffering with Christ’s suffering and learning that life’s deepest meaning is found in self-giving, in self-sacrificing love, love even unto suffering, love even unto death – that his people might live. In doing this, later he will bring forth an awakening of hope in his people, create in their hearts new purpose and new resolve, instill a new courage. And through his death, in them and with them, new life will come for them.

This story, in fact, draws its meaning from the life, death and victory of Jesus. “God’s power in human weakness: that weakness of God which is stronger than all the might of man.” Puttnam -- from whom I heard this – saw in Ninoy Aquino’s suffering, death and ultimate triumph an amazing re-living of “the Christ paradigm.” Puttnam wanted to contrast this with the Marcos story and its reverse dynamic: from power to perdition.
Those of you who are familiar with the Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola will see here the meditation on the Two Standards, and the climactic “Third Way of Being Humble” given in more Pauline terms. A witness perhaps that Ignatius’ point is faithfully that of the Gospel itself. -- Theologians see in this story-line the very heart of the redemptive labor of Jesus -- the “law of the Cross”, lived out in the lives of Jesus’ followers: the baseline of the Christian mystery itself.

This thesis, if you will, of how in the Christian scheme-of-things, a person is shaped to be God’s instrument for his purposes, is not something one reads into the Ninoy/Cory story through some pious hermeneutic. There are at least two addresses of Mrs. Aquino which take this thesis up as their main focus, the first, “Ninoy’s Friend,” which in some ways is my favorite President Cory speech, given at Sto Domingo church on 21 August 1988, and the second, perhaps the most “theological” of her major talks, “Remembering Ninoy: our Freedom founded on his sacrifice,” given also at Santo Domingo Church, in 1993 on the tenth anniversary of Ninoy’s death, when she was no longer President.

Mrs. Aquino – following some of Ninoy’s own texts - takes the pauline perspective, even the pauline language, to argue that Ninoy’s sacrifice was an exercise of “power-in-weakness”, of God’s power operative within human weakness, within non-violent struggle, -- a power which is, she said, “the greatest power on the face of the earth.”

Principle without power has moved mankind further in four years – from EDSA to the Soviet coup – than power of any other kind had advanced the interests of mankind in 4,000 years, making democracy the only acceptable form of political organization, and people power the most promising form of action in the political field.

And it is not surprising, when you consider where it all started. For principle without power hung on a cross on a hill in Jerusalem, but in dying gave life to the dead and rising destroyed the dominion of darkness.

God chose the simple to confound the wise, the weak to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world, the despised things – the things that are not – to nullify the things that are so that no one may boast before him . . . His power is made perfect in weakness. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

These are quotations from Mrs. Aquino, but Ninoy says the same thing more than once. Both of them find this principle a basic conviction.


In the time given to me this morning, I must try now to sum up some key points of the vision which the Ninoy/Cory leadership holds before us – for when we speak of the spirituality of this leadership, it is the vision which is foremost, and (as I said at the beginning) that vision is not a merely intellectual one, but the laying down of a way to follow which their own life-stories embody.

At Milan Mrs. Aquino herself summed up her vision under seven headings, and “one last word,” – what we might call her spirituality of political leadership, and I might be allowed here simply to touch on some points she made.

 There must be a conviction, in faith, that God as Lord of history, pursues within history a divine design and purpose. We are invited to enter within that design, and that divine action in the world. We do that by faith and prayer; we do this by deeds. Christians who engage in politics must see that invitation to involvement as a vocation, a vocation from God, to be fulfilled in freedom, amid ambiguity and uncertainty. As a vocation, it must be constantly responded to.

I believe that the vocation of politics must be accepted by those who take up the service of leadership as a vocation in its noblest meaning: it demands all of life. For the life of one who would lead his or her people, in our time as never before, must strive for coherence with the vision aspired to, else the vision itself and its realization are betrayed. That vision must itself be present, in some authentic way, in those who seek to realize it: in the witness of their example; in a purity of heart vis-à-vis the exercise and usages of power; in an ultimate fidelity to principle, and a dedication that is ready to count the cost in terms of “nothing less than everything.” It is Cardinal Newman, I believe, who said that in this world we do good only in the measure that we pay for it in the currency of our own lives.

Jesus Christ, by his life, his passion, death and resurrection, has entered into human history “as partner in the human enterprise.” He has released what Paul calls “the power of his resurrection” into human history: the power of his Spirit. That power can in truth enter into our hearts, our lives and our endeavors; from that power come “the light and courage” which make it possible for us to fulfill the vocation of politics as an authentic participation in God’s own work in the world. We can recall the much-quoted last line in John F Kennedy’s inaugural address as President: “Let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking his blessing and his help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

In her Milan address Mrs. Aquino herself adds, “You will tell me that these are ancient verities which may even seem to our contemporaries as pious and irrelevant. Yet in our secularization of spirit we have in practise ceased to believe them. We have failed, even as Christians, to make them operative principles in our political action.”

Earlier in that same address she had said; drawing on this conviction’s consequence:

Often I had said that the rule I lived and worked by, was this: “Pray with all my heart, Work with all my might. And the rest I leave to God.” All else flowed from that truth . . . Six years of governance . . . [with] constantly, that faith at the center; faith as compass needle, on the long and uncertain journey towards the just society which was the vision on our horizon. The Psalmist says, “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who would raise it up. Unless the Lord guard the city, in vain does the watchman wake.” (Psalm 127, 1) I believed through those years . . . and I believe now, that the words of the psalm are not guidelines for spirituality only, but for the pursuance of policy and action in the most realistic politics.


The baseline pattern, the profoundest paradigm, of the life and work of the Christ, is what theologians after St Paul have called “the law of the Cross.” That law has a two-fold realization in life:

(1) In personal lives: life-stories as a process of conversion and of self-transcendence on which we have already reflected. In Ninoy’s case, and (in a somewhat different way with President Cory) it was a process of brutal insertion, if you will, into the walking of the truest Christian way, “He who shall lose his life, shall find it.” Or, “When I am weak, then I am strong, for the weakness of God is stronger than the might of men.”

(2) The second realization of the “law of the Cross” is commitment to, and the living-out of the way of non-violence. Mrs. Aquino developed that with a different language, “principle without power”, and she was looking at Jesus, at Gandhi, at Ninoy, at EDSA Uno, at the fall of the Berlin wall, at Praha with Vaclav Havel and Poland with Lech Walesa. “If the recent history of mankind teaches us anything, it is the irresistible power of principle without anything more.”

The “law of the Cross” has to be realized in this two-fold manner, for it to be truly understood, and for it to “work” at least in the eyes of faith. “We speak of God’s secret wisdom; (I am citing Mrs. Aquino again) [it] is not for the rulers, of this age – not for yesterday’s men when they think of the ways of yesterday.” “Today [21 August 1993] we commemorate not just the death of a hero. We mark the rebirth of a nation and the discovery of a form of power inspired by a hero’s life and death.”

This is the way she expressed this, “In a special way I believe that the movement for non-violence is an idea which has found its time. This was the growing conviction my husband held; in a way he gave his life for it.”

It too is part of my creed. That human conflicts may be resolved through shared reverence for the truth; that faith in, and respect for, the humanity of “the other” must underlie every effort to dissolve enmity; that reconciliation can come only from mutual conversion of heart, -- these seem to me principles to be found at the heart of every religion, especially that of the Gospel. So many events in the past decade show us, if with varying success, that non-violence really “works” and that we in this post-Cold-War world, where so much strife has already raged, must learn the ways of non-violence, or descend into yet more rabid hatreds and ethnic cleansings which have unleashed the bloodshed and barbarism these latter years have seen.


There are two more words from the Ninoy/Cory vocabulary which we must touch on: one is LOVE, the other is HOPE.

Again, the Milan address ends with “one last word, the word of LOVE.” The university which conferred the award is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, final symbol of that love which (Dante’s epic says) “moves the sun and the other stars”. She refers to the presence of that word in the 1987 Philippine Constitution drafted, accepted and adopted during her Presidency: one of the purposes of political life in our land is there said to be, “to bring into being a commonwealth of love.” Objections were raised against its inclusion in a document of law. Yet fortunately it remained. Perhaps no other supreme law of state includes it in all the world. Yet before the United Nations, Pope John Paul used the almost identical language, echoing his own Centesimus annus: we today must “build more just and fraternal structures in the world for a new civilization, a civilization of solidarity and love.” Mrs. Aquino cites the poet W. H. Auden, “We must love one another, or die.” And she adds, “Perhaps the turning point in human history to which we feel we have come, will bring at last the coming-to-age of love, in a civilization of love. Perhaps even this is the deepest meaning of the women’s movement in our age: that love’s hour has been sounded, that love’s hour has begun.”

The last-last word, however, is HOPE. At the very beginning of this paper I cited Mrs. Aquino’s first address, in DEMOCRACY AND PRAYER, on receiving her first honorary degree: Four times in one paragraph she speaks of “blazing hope – of the serene but blazing hope which comes from faith and prayer”. Better than any other word it sums up what I believe she is trying hardest now to do: to renew, to rekindle in our country today, HOPE – a hope rooted in faith and prayer. We are not to forget that the final, enduring legacy of Jesus himself, is HOPE. It has been truly said that the Christian faith, the Christ-event, is ultimately about hope. The bottom-line meaning of the Christian message to humankind is that God, in his love for us, has raised up Jesus from death, and thus the last word for human history, and for our lives, is hope.

If I may cite one of the greatest theologians of our time, Bernard Lonergan:

The death and resurrection of Christ express the victory of truth and goodness inspite of every kind of suffering: physical, in reputation, and in every other way. The example of Christ, and the grace of God that comes to us through Christ, constitute a historical force that, in Christ’s own words, amounts really to this: ‘Take courage; I have overcome the world’. Christ himself overcame the world by resisting the powers of evil in suffering everything they would inflict upon him. And he rose again the third day. It is this Christian hope that is the supreme force in history. It is a fundamental and unchangeable ground that enables ordinary mortals to stand by the truth, and stand by what is right, no matter what the consequences.

In the most recent projects she has initiated in her name and Ninoy’s name, whether they be campaigns for prayer, or support for NGO’s and cooperatives, in redefining PEOPLE POWER for this moment of our history, Mrs. Aquino’s objective has been finally the renewal of hope. This was what Ninoy created, surprisingly enough, by his final sacrifice: hope in the heart of our people, hope which blazed first at that history-making funeral, then later within the hearts of hundreds of thousands, of millions, at EDSA Uno, in those four fateful days when Ninoy’s “faith in the Filipino, and faith in God” set that hope ablaze which brought freedom back to our country. We are come again upon dark hours, above all for those millions of our brothers and sisters, who have never known anything but misery and the hopelessness it breeds. I quote Mrs Aquino again. “Truly what we all have greatest need of, in this hour of history, is HOPE.”

I said, at the beginning of this paper, that someone better-equipped than myself, has to re-cast these reflections, in the more specific categories and language of leadership studies. Mine has been, from a more theological perspective, to address myself often by direct quotations to the great words of Ninoy/Cory leadership: FAITH, PRAYER, CONVERSION (or SELF-TRANSCENDENCE), GOD’S POWER IN HUMAN WEAKNESS, NON-VIOLENCE, SELF-GIVING, SELF-SACRIFICING LOVE, SUFFERING LOVE, and finally, HOPE.

Let HOPE be our last word too, this morning. There is no better word to leave you with, in all that I have tried to say. And no better word sums up what the Ninoy/Cory leadership has given us, and what it will continue to give us in the difficult years ahead for our people and our beloved land.

The season of Advent, by a happy coincidence, begins tomorrow. A season whose meaning is hope. May today’s event bring to each and all of you, for your own lives and the life of our country, a new beginning of hope.



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