By Carolina S. Ruiz Austria

The word "Heresy"

was used by Irenaeus in Contra Haereses to discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. It has no purely objective meaning without an authoritative system of dogma.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Mourning Cory's Passing: Confessions of a 'Leftie' with a Soft Spot for Corazon Aquino

"The greatest paradox of our existence consists in this: that, in order to understand, we must first encumber ourselves with all the intellectual and emotional baggage which is an impediment to understanding." Aldous Huxley, 1956

On Thursday this week, while a brilliant colleague of mine (a law professor) spoke about the Constitution, I was struck about what he said about (in essence) coming from a generation that does not have any sort of ties, involvement, let alone affective historical links with the flawed 1987 Constitution. He's a young man and still is and I guess his point was - why should the flawed 1987 Constitution bind him as if its dogma when clearly it no longer remains relevant nor effective in framing the socio-economic and political consciousness of the current generation and the present time? Of course when it comes to the issue of charter change, his views do not necesarrily differ from the rest of the Faculty of the College of Law who recognize the current incessant charter change lobby in Congress supported by the President and her minions as nothing but bare-faced and brazen power grabbing. So like many of us, he thinks charter change under the present administration is pointless.

Nonetheless, his provocative point about his lack of ties with the 1987 Constitution reminded me of a comment by Aldous Huxley where he affirmed Simone Weil's essay, "Need for Roots" while at the same time emphasized that there is an equally urgent need, on occasion, for total rootlesness.

I'm a little bit older than my colleague. I'm not old enough to remember when Martial Law was declared on black and white TV (although I have seen the grainy footage dozens of times) but I do remember growing up around my parents' fear of the military and the police. My parents were not even political in any sense of the word - except that my mother marched with thousands of Filipinos when Ninoy Aquino was assasinated. My father started out as a clerk for an airline company and my mother was a public school teacher who taught English and Arts. I was young then but old enough to remember how my mom watched the clock nearing midnight, looking out the window crouched in fear while waiting for my father to get home from doing overtime. There was a national curfew and anybody caught outside after midnight could get in trouble with the "Metrocom," the military police. They never told us anything of course but I remember those moments well.

When I was a 5th grader, I remember asking my parents at the dinner table what "LABAN" meant and how they went silent and looked at each other. I swear - it was a classic "where did she get that idea" moment for my parents and I can still remember how my question stopped the conversation. I was totally intrigued. LABAN in Filipino is literally "fight" but it in the social movement, it also connotes "struggle." In the late seventies and early 80s, it was also the political party of Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, the late Senator and husband of our former President, the late Corazon Aquino.

I asked because on the way to school that morning, I noticed that posters bearing the word in black letters(not a lot of them) were all over the length of Pedro Gil in Paco, the street where my school, Colegio de la Imaculada Concepcion de la Concordia was. Later that day, they were all gone and you could even see how some of them looked like they might have been quickly ripped off the posts and walls where they were glued on earlier. This made me curious although I was surprised none of my classmates knew (or seemed to care about) what I was talking about when I told them. So I had to ask you see. Not surprisingly my parents spoke to me in hushed tones and simply told me never to say the word again. This made me even more curious. Who did they think could listen in on us at the dinner table? The only other people around were my 8 year old sister and my brothers, aged 5 and 3 and in all probablity, at that time, slobbering their way through dinner. All they told me was that the word was "BAWAL" or prohibited/outlawed and they made me promise never to say it. I found that confusing of course. How could a word be outlawed? I knew it was inappropriate to swear, for instance, but my parents (like many others) did it at times in anger or frustration. I knew the sisters at my school would never tolerate it but there still seemed for me, a totally different reason for not tolerating swearing among children and saying a verb like "Laban" out loud.

By the time I was a freshman in college at the University of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos was still in power. At that time, he had been in power for almost twenty years. The social unrest and political opposition to Marcos was also twenty years in the making. On the other hand, the assasination of Senator Benigno Aquino three years earlier literally stoked the fire of social unrest and the otherwise unpolitical middle class, white collar professionals and even the old elites politically and economically marginalized by Marcos and his cronies were starting to mobilize. Makati, the business and financial district (particularly Ugarte field) literally became the "haven" for huge political rallies.

Unlike the throng of working class, peasant and urban poor marchers that the military and police would normally disperse with tear gas, water canons, truncheons and sometimes, bullets without a moment's notice or much second thought, these rallies included motorcades awash with yellow ribbons and yellow confetti (so much of it made out of PLDT* yellow pages)cascading like a torrent of yellow snow and rain from the top floors of the tallest buildings in Makati. It also started including groups of popular musicians, actors, artists and Catholic clergy in full battle gear - that is, in their clerical garb. Tear gas, water canons and truncehons - while still very much in use were becoming less and less of a viable option as the rallies grew to resemble prayer rallies and concerts.

On hindsight that singular event - the assasination of an oppositionist, who despite his committment to social justice was essentially an upper middle class intellectual married to a member of the landed class was not exactly the stuff of the perhaps preferably Marxist-Leninist proletarian-led prophecy nor even the peasant-led revolution of Maoist lore. The grassroots social movement and resistance to military rule was certainly very actively "being fought" in the countrysides but even the aging (the then fifteen year old) left-led "armed resistance" was growing worn and weary. Cadres and sympathizers were still being killed off by the military and para-military units but even within the underground movement, questions were already being raised about the primacy of armed struggle. (Asking this question by the late eighties became even more dangerous when the party leaders initiated a purge but I digress. Maybe another post?)

The phenomenon which was more visible because it was in the city, was not a proletarian revolution (while it certainly included them), nor was it a peasant-led revolution from the countrysides.

Ninoy Aquino's assasination brought an erstwhile quiet housewife and mother, Corazon C. Aquino, into the spotlight. Cory Aquino of the landed Cojuancos of Tarlac, convent bred with backgrounds in Math, Arts and one year in law school, was placed at the center of the mounting popular resistance to dictatorship. You can see why it was in some respects a nightmare for many of the self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist and Maoist sections of the local social movement.

By the time I joined the Kabataang Makabayan (KM), the "underground" student organization in 1987, the Aquino government was already battling criticism for its proclaimed "total war" against the communist insugency. I was one of many students recuited to join the "militant" League of Filipino Students (LFS) on the day pesants and farmers were shot and killed in Mendiola by police and militia as they conducted a rally asking for Land Reform.

Earlier that day I sat on the asphalt speaking with some of the farmers outside the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) before their march to Mendiola, that street leading to Malacanang which has seen many a bloody and violent dispersal. I had decided that I missed too many classes and could not afford to attend this particular rally. We exchanged pleasantries. They said they were very impressed with my background since locally, state university students are usually referred to as "Iskolar ng Bayan." (Scholars of the People)I felt conflicted about not going. At this point of my student activist life, missing major rallies always gave me a sense of missing out. Many undergrads attend parties (no doubt) but I was into rallies, dodging tear gas and water canons. That was my crowd. I was all of sixteen years old.

Its always hard to describe things as they were in the past to the current generation. Many of my students were not yet even born during the famed EDSA people power uprising. While we all color our narratives of past events with our own subjectivities, some of those biases and sympathies are often shared and can resonate with others' sense of history and recollection of past events.

I remember how my kasamas (comrades) student activists cringed whenever I waxed lyrical about what I suspected was Cory Aquino's good intentions as well as the continuing significance of the popularly backed people power uprising. Those were times I felt, I was not only very unpopular, but also derided. It was as if one could not be properly cynical with and critical of the administration's politics (Congress was still dominated - as it is to this day- with the landed elite) without likewise denouncing the people and personalities in government in their totality. In other words, the only way to oppose the state (with a capital "S") was to hate it and all its members totally and to the core. I don't exactly know how I remained in the movement but like many others, I grew sick and tired of it. It was so much like my Roman Catholic background. I got over it - well some ot it. (I'm still into GUILT)

While I still find myself politically left-leaning, I don't blindly support any old self-proclaimed "left" parties or candidates. I don't even know how a lot of them justify their electoral politics (legally or ethically) given what I know about the background of left politics and continuing support for and funding of armed resistance. I have also come to terms with my Roman Catholic background and maintain my respect for many individual Catholics (many of them from the clergy but one of them of course, Corazon Aquino), who despite our clear political differences, have always been decent and compassionate human beings.

A few years ago one of President Aquino's former cabinet appointees disclosed that when Maria Theresa Carlson (the popular 80s actress, a battered wife, who leapt to her death in 2003) once wrote to her, asking for the President's intervention in her marriage. She was married to a long-time traditional politician from the north and she had, in the past, attempted to sever her ties with her husband. Like many battered women, she often found her way back to him and reconciled. According to this former cabinet member, Cory referred her to the bishop of the province. He promptly told her to return to her husband.

Yet we also know how Cory often came to the defense of her daughter, the media superstar, Kris Aquino, despite her very obviously different beliefs about love, life and relationships. Her first openly non-traditional love affair was with a married older actor but the former President doted over her grandson (like she did her other grand children). She was also the protective mother to Kris when she opted to make a very public accusation of violence against another long-time partner, another married former basketball player. To be sure, one can argue its a double standard - Kris is her daughter after all. And maybe it is but I find it a comfort that Cory, no matter how devout a Catholic she was could always make room for uncatholic behavior, even if it was her own daughter.

Relative to the current President, Cory was more respectful of the separation of church and state. Unlike GMA, Cory never went as far as outlawing nor banning contraceptives as the Catholic lobby would have had her done in 1987 after the RC lobby felt it did not get everything it wanted (a total ban on contraception as abortion) in the 1987 Constitution.

Cory Aquino didn't solve the problems of the Philippines after her six-year term. Many argue we were worse off after her term. At the height of Cory's term, globalization was on the rise and the pressure was high to open up the erstwhile protectionist and "nationalist" economies.

I was never a political detainee. I did not have relatives or close freinds kidnapped, jailed, tortured or "salvaged."** But I know a handful of survivors who have allowed me to listen and have shared their experiences. But I still remember the feeling of breathing in freedom for the first time. It was silly really, my memory as a sixteen year-old and realizing that the dictatorship had ended. I even kept a journal (which I no longer have) in which I am sure I blathered incoherently (like I still do now? )

My mum was in the hospital having a gallbladder operation and I was watching over her so I never quite made it to the EDSA uprising. On the third day when my mother told me she was giving me permission to go and join the historic march/rally, we all heard the announcement on the suddenly "free" media: Marcos had fled and we were no longer under a dictatorship. While my hopes to be part of "history" were dashed, I was also elated after all by this time, the revolution was already being televised. BBC in its coverage of Cory's death said it well - "For three days, the world watched as the Filipino people toppled a dictator..."

While the 1987 Constitution is not perfect and while the motley crew of Constitutional commissioners we ended up having may have not been the ideal band of experts, (some of them were truly bigoted and I'm not even complaining about the clergy members) the fact that the Constitution was amended during such a high point in Philippine history and in the overall state of the Filipino people's consciousness, one could argue that the conditions had a huge impact on the character of the provisions, which perhaps even to the then eagerly waiting market economists, was not nearly liberal enough.

One can only hope that when the time comes for us to amend the Constitution, we will not only have better qualified people in the Commission (or Congress in case of a Constituent Assembly), but also compassionate people who are able to respect difference (especially religious ones).
*Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co.
**"Salvaging" is the term used to describe political killings and executions.


Blogger eilr said...

Hi Carol! What a revelation this post was. I was always a little (no, okay a lot) scared of people in Kule then thinking I was too burgis to be trusted. But reading this helped me sort through a lot of the discomfort. I suppose in the end, we really are accountable for what we commit to individually. Nakakakalma lang malaman na marami ding nangangapa noon, pinatatahimik lang. Wala pa ring mga cut and dried na sagot pero ang mahalaga, nagtatanong pa rin tayo.
as I write this, the 7-hour march to Cory's final resting place is coming to a close. Here's praying the questions we ask get carried over to your daughter's generation and beyond...

8:02 PM  
Blogger Carolina S. Ruiz Austria said...

Its interesting you should mention the label "burgis" because that is exactly what the "KM" overlords (LOL) used to call us at Collegian because we were writers and we asked a lot of questions. I had two "units" and for a while had to make a decision where to be based. I chose Kule because believe it or not, I felt there I had room to debate and disagree even if I felt derision on ocassion. (To tell you frankly I always found the sexism worse than the intellectual snobbery! But often they were rolled into one!) The other choice I had was "LFS" ('nuf said). I agree with what you said about "nangangapa." Heck we were young and on hindsight, even if she was not a perfect President, it amazes me to find out a lot of others continue to judge her harshly even in the context of the kinds of Presidents and leaders we have had since then! I don't think she was a saint but the fact that she was not power hungry/corrupt should be a big deal.

5:54 PM  

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