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Cory: Grace Under Pressure

by Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr.

“You will be the one who will suffer,” she said when Ninoy asked her what she thought of his going home. Mrs. Marcos had warned him against it, saying that there were those loyal to her and her husband they could not control and who might kill him, according to Ninoy. She offered him money to stay away. A comfortable existence in America would be assured. Should he still go back? But how could he be comfortable while the people at home suffered? How could he live with himself if he did nothing to relieve that suffering? He was of no use to them in America. Reagan was so committed to Marcos that he would not touch him, Ninoy, with a ten-foot pole. What did Cory think about his going home? His friends, Filipino and American, advised against it. What did she, his wife, think?

“You will be the one who will suffer,” she said. “You should be the one to make the decision.”

He had suffered some eight years of solitary confinement in Marcos’s prison, the desolation broken only by visits of his wife and children which depended entirely on Marcos’s will. She had suffered with him. When he was brought to trial before a military tribunal that was certain to find him guilty and sentence him to death, she suffered with him. What else but wrenching pain could she have felt when she saw her husband, pale and emaciated from a hunger strike that was bringing him to death’s door ahead of the regime’s firing squad, half-carried to the stage to face the cold prosecutor and ranting government witnesses against him? And when his suffering brought him down with a heart attack, what did she feel then? It was not only Ninoy who had suffered; she had suffered with him. But now, it was he who would suffer whatever going home would bring him, so it should be he who should decide whether to go or stay. She did not say she would suffer, too. That was to be assumed. But he should decide.

And suffer she surely did, but little or no sign of it showed in her public face. To see her on U.S. television being questioned about her husband’s murder was to marvel at her composure. There was no break in a calm comparable only to that which prevails in the midst of emotional storm in classic tragedy. No misting of the eye, no quaver in the voice, no glower of rage in the face—rage at those she held responsible for what was done to Ninoy. (She pronounced the name as she always did, with the accent on the second syllable—Ninoy – perhaps from a sojourn in France; it gave a hint not only of wifely but also motherly feeling, as if Ninoy was not only her husband but also her child whom she had seen through all the years of turbulence.) Her calm was absolute.

She had not yet seen his face in death. And when she finally did, she finally broke down, it is said. But calm returned. And it was a Cory tearless and composed that led the demonstrations over her husband’s murder in the custody of the Marcos military. No angry word issued from her lips as she addressed the multitude of sympathizers, matching their passion with the dignity of her bearing. With measured contempt she dismissed the commission Marcos had set up in response to the world-wide demand for an honest investigation of the assassination and justice to the killers. Water cannot rise above its level, nor the regime above its record, it was her considered view, and the truth about Ninoy’s murder could not come out of any investigation held by the regime. When the commission did finally find the military guilty of the savage deed, she dismissed the finding since it did not include the one she held to have been the prime mover. Nor did she express any surprise when a court of justice, if that is the term for it, found all the accused not guilty, in utter disregard of the commission’s finding.

When a “snap” presidential election was called by the regime, she showed no desire for the office. She would not be a candidate; she would just support whoever the Opposition chose to lead the campaign against Marcos. Even when the Opposition seemed hopelessly divided by the ambitions of its leaders other than Cory, and it became increasingly clear that the Opposition could be united only if she ran, she still maintained her distance from the contest. Only when more than a million signed a petition for her to be a candidate did she finally yield. And she did only because if she did not, if she did not do all she could to bring an end to the regime, making possible justice for Ninoy and the Filipino people, as she said, she would not be able to live with herself thereafter. Her husband had said that in explanation of his decision to risk death at the hands of the regime by his return. Now, the words of Ninoy came back from the lips of the survivor.

And now—let those who pleaded with her to be a candidate despite her objection reflect—she has become a target. The No. 1. As Ninoy was.

And she smiles.

Maria Clara, the heroine in Rizal’s novel, has been presented as the ideal Filipino woman by the unthinking. Consider her terrible fate. Her lover in flight from the authorities, rather than enter a safe marriage with a Spaniard, she sought the embrace of nunnery life, not knowing what it would be like. She is last seen on the roof of the convent during a storm, standing there like a ghost in the midst of wind, rain and lightning. God, in His mercy, has sent her madness. With this tragic figure of fiction the Filipino woman was expected to identify herself and her life, accepting suffering passively while waiting for death.

Not Cory. No withdrawal from life for her as a final resort in the face of overwhelming power.

“Grace under pressure”—that was how Hemingway described the conduct of a great bullfighter before a raging bull. No fear as he brings the lethal horn of the bull as close to his body as possible, brushing it even, tearing the cloth but just grazing the flesh, not slashing it. Playing safe is disgraceful. Without fear and, above all, without awkwardness. Like a ballet dancer on his toes as that black mountain with its twin swords rushes toward him. Thus is the emotion brought to its peak before a matchless spectacle of “grace under pressure.” A moment of truth. A moment, as death is dominated, of immortality.

Thus, Cory.

- taken from Free Press, February 1986 issue


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