A Call for Transformation, Courage and Selflessness
15th Death Anniversary of Ninoy, EDSA Shrine
August 21, 1998
Good afternoon! Thank you very much for joining me and my family in commemorating the 15th death anniversary of Ninoy. After fifteen years I feel I am finally able to share with you, without tears, Ninoy's last letter to me, written on August 21, 1983, in his room at the Grand Hotel in Taipei.
Let me read to you parts of that letter:
My dearest Cory,
In a few hours I shall be embarking on an uncertain fate which may well be the end of a long struggle. I slept well last night for the first time since I left Boston – maybe because I'm just plain tired or I'm really at peace with myself. I want to tell you many things but time is running out and I do not have my machine. After a few more paragraphs, my penmanship will be illegible.
All the things I want to tell you may be capsulized in one line – I love you! You've stood by me in my most trying moments and there were times I was very hard on you. But if anyone will ever understand me, it is you and I know you will always find it in your heart to forgive – and unfair and ironic as it is – it is because of this thought and belief that I often took you for granted.
Early on I knew I was not meant to make money – so I won't be able to leave anything to the children. I did what I thought I could do best which is public service and I hope our people in time will appreciate my sacrifices. This would be my legacy to the children. I may not bequeath them material wealth but I leave them a tradition which can be priceless.
I realize I've been very stingy with my praise and appreciation for all your efforts — but though unsaid — you know that as far as I'm concerned you are the best. That's why we've lasted this long. There will only be one thing in the world I will never accept — that you love me more than I love you — because my love though unarticulated for you will never be equalled.
If all goes well I should be back in my cell before sundown. Should I be detained do not rush to get home. Take your time and enjoy a side trip to Europe with the girls.
I'll try to call you tonight if the authorities will allow me. Otherwise just remember me in your dreams.
P.S. I offered a special rosary for Papa and I asked for his intercession. You know he never failed me. (Ninoy here is referring to my father, Jose Cojuangco, who died on August 21, 1976.)
Ninoy gave that letter together with five other letters, for each of our five children, to his travelling companion, Noy Brizuela, to mail to us in Boston. As it turned out, Noy Brizuela flew to Tokyo from Taipei to personally hand over the letters to us at Narita airport on August 24, 1983 on the last leg of our journey back to Manila. My children and I cried as we read Ninoy's last letters to us, but his words gave us the necessary strength and courage, despite our grief, to face what awaited us in Manila.
Ninoy was ready to face the unknown, to endure possible imprisonment and death, because he was, as he said in his last letter, at peace with himself – and with God. This faith in our Lord's plan for him and for the nation allowed Ninoy to give up the comfort of his family, the security of a life abroad, the earthly riches and recognition which a man of his abilities and connections could easily accrue.
And because Ninoy could selflessly give up these things, I somehow found the courage to entrust my husband to God. After his bypass operation in 1980, Ninoy told me that after his recovery he intended to return to the Philippines. I prayed that he be granted at least one year together as a family in Boston. As it is, God blessed us with three happy years together, before calling him to his final sacrifice.
What happened to us after Ninoy's death was completely unexpected. There were no assurances that if he went home, our people will rally around him and together continue the struggle against the evil ways of the Dictator.
I personally, had become a little cynical during Ninoy's imprisonment and I thought then that very few people really cared about our predicament.
However, as events unfolded, I became more and more convinced that Ninoy did not die in vain!
While I was still in Boston, my sister, Josephine, had called me from Manila informing me that many people had come and kept coming to our house to pay their last respects to Ninoy.
Yet, it was still a surprise for me and my children to see for ourselves on the night of our arrival the crowds that had lined up outside our house. And to think it was even raining that night.
In the days to follow, thousands of people continued coming to Santo Domingo Church. Men, women and children were patiently lining up for hours on end just for a very quick glimpse of Ninoy.
Seeing the people lining up Mac Arthur highway from Tarlac to Pampanga to Bulacan and then witnessing the sea of humanity around the Bonifacio monument, I knew that a great change was taking place.
It took us more than ten hours from Tarlac to Santo Domingo, because eager crowds would stop us, as they wanted to touch the hearse carrying Ninoy's body.
And as you probably know, it took us eleven hours to reach Manila Memorial Park from Santo Domingo Church. (I must remind you that in 1983 traffic was still okay in Metro Manila.)
I have asked many people – most of whom never knew Ninoy – why they came to the wake. Some said they were ashamed of themselves for being so fearful of the dictator, and were sorry they had not found the courage to stand up and be counted earlier. They felt that if they had shown more courage, maybe Ninoy need not have died. Others said they were outraged and had had enough. Still, many came simply to pray and grieve quietly with me and my family. Rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless, they kept coming in endless lines to pay tribute to Ninoy, convincing me that “Hindi ako nag-iisa.”
At that point, I believe that Ninoy's death triggered a long-awaited transformation in many Filipinos. We finally found our collective courage to rise against a dictatorship after years of shameful and fearful stupor.
No longer were we going to be lulled by the clever machinations of a regime bent on staying in power forever and plundering the nation. The protests started. Telephone directories and yellow fabrics were suddenly in short supply. It was a non-violent protest movement run through photocopiers, betamax tapes, confetti rallies and noise barrages in Makati, and the alternative press. Some thought the, protests would not last. But as Filipinos have done many times in the past, we proved the skeptics wrong.
Courage like cowardice was infectious and the Filipino People rose in defiance.
This same courage carried us all through 1986.
When rampant cheating and violence marred the snap election of February 7, 1986, we as a people again demonstrated our collective courage.
After the rubber stamp parliament proclaimed Marcos the winner, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines declared that "the polls were unparalleled in the fraudulence of their conduct." The Bishops further said: "According to moral principles, a government that assumes or retains power through fraudulent means has no moral basis. For such an access to power is tantamount to a forcible seizure and cannot command the allegiance of the citizenry… If such a government does not of itself freely correct the evil it has inflicted on the people, then it is our serious moral obligation as a people to make them do so.”
Hundreds of thousands joined me in a rally proclaiming the People's Victory, Tagumpay ng Bayan on February 16, 1986 at the Luneta where I launched a non-violent protest movement, calling on the people to boycott newspapers, banks and beverages owned by Marcos and his cronies.
And during those four critical days in February of 1986, we stood up to be counted.
It was also in those same four days that our collective courage was complemented by selflessness. For we not only marched, we also linked arms, we cared and we prayed for each other.
Like Ninoy, we risked all – and by doing so regained our freedom. The dictator fled after the peaceful EDSA People Power Revolution of 1986.
Indeed, it was our courage and selflessness which brought me to the presidency and I have never allowed myself to forget that. With your strong popular support, my administration was able to restore a constitutional democracy. Despite seven coup attempts, we managed to keep this democracy alive. And it was one of my proudest moments to turn over the presidency in a peaceful and orderly manner to my distinguished successor, President Fidel V. Ramos. And last June 30 we witnessed a second peaceful and orderly transfer of power, from President Ramos to President Joseph Ejercito Estrada.
Our country is currently experiencing grave problems, caused in part by the financial crisis affecting the Asia-Pacific region. People are disturbed and asking what should be done. There are no easy prescriptions for what both the new administration and the people can do.
The first step is to ask ourselves what we have become since EDSA. Have we as a people and as individuals grown complacent, too successful and comfortable, or maybe just too tired and cynical? Worse, have some of us lost the ability to tell right from wrong?
I believe, we as a people must consciously and deliberately find our inner peace. For it is in that inner peace that I feel we can be transformed to be more courageous, persevering and selfless. Now more than ever, we must do this amidst a fragile economy and a political context that is not as clear as in 1986, where the forces of good and evil were clearly arrayed against each other.
Remember that Ninoy's personal transformation took place in the most difficult moments of his imprisonment. In a letter to his good friend Soc Rodrigo, dated June 19, 1973, he wrote that during long hours of meditation in solitary confinement, “I found my inner peace. [God] stood me face to face with myself and forced me to look at my emptiness and nothingness, and then helped me discover Him Who has really never left my side; but because pride shielded my eyes and the lust for earthly and temporal power, honor and joys drugged my mind, I failed to notice Him."
Fifteen years after Ninoy's death, we are faced with a complex and difficult situation. I certainly do not pretend to know all the answers. But what I do know is that we need to re-awaken the spirit of the days, not too long ago, when, we put personal interests aside and gave of ourselves. God did not leave our side in 1986, and He will not leave our side now. It is perhaps we who have turned away, distracted – as Ninoy once was – by "earthly and temporal power, honor and joys."
Maybe we can start right after this Holy Mass. Many of you here are veterans of the days when we transformed ourselves and felt really good about ourselves. Please consider getting organized to talk about the present crisis. I would like to, hear what you have to say and what you propose to do. Maybe I can meet with your groups in the days ahead after you have had a chance to talk things over.
Aside from the veterans, I believe it is now time to develop and support new and young leaders, especially those who remain untainted by the politics of patronage and corruption. On this 15th anniversary of Ninoy's death, the sad reality is I am already 65 years old. So I call on the veterans out there, join me in this personal crusade to develop and support a new generation of leaders.
Less than eight weeks ago, a new administration took up the reins of the government. Across the country, from the smallest barangays to the highest agencies. Officials are still adjusting to the demands of their new jobs as public, servants. I recall too well the turbulent early days of my own presidency, when we had to dismantle the repressive structures of the previous regime while scrambling to protect our fragile democracy.
I wish these new officials well and pray for their continual enlightenment as guardians of the public trust. Theirs is not an easy task, and I applaud those who will truly devote themselves to the nation's good.
Both as citizens and as officials, let us keep that tradition of selfless public service alive.
To His Excellency, President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, let me again offer you my prayers and good wishes. I sincerely hope that you will succeed in your presidency. For your success will redound to the benefit of all our people, especially the poor and under-privileged. You can count on my support in all your endeavors that will further strengthen our democracy and our economy.
Finally, let us continue to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us, to help us find our inner peace, so that we may discover the responses asked of us and the courage to make them. And let us of course ask Our Lady of EDSA to always intercede for us with Her Divine Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.