Yellow Ribbon

It all started with tying a yellow ribbon for her husband as he made that final trip back to his native land.

And then the rest was history.


The world came to know this exceptional woman, Corazon Aquino. A wife, mother, friend, leader, devout Catholic and more. She reminds me of a Proverbs 31 woman.

I am sharing with you a beautiful article from the San Francisco Chronicle:

HOUSEWIFE TO PEOPLE POWER, AQUINO KEPT FAITH
by Phil Bronstein, Chronicle Editor at Large
August 1, 2009

In August 1984, a middle-age woman who had been a full-time housewife and mother walked tentatively at the head of a parade of demonstrators through the drenched streets of old Manila. She called for justice in a society where there had been none for decades.

Corazon Cojuangco Aquino still looked half-dazed from the murder of her politician husband, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr., the year before. In becoming a public figure herself, she was unsure and reluctant, not used to public protest, a grieving widow with large, owlish glasses and perpetual squint. Neither her convent and private school education nor her serving coffee to political heavyweights who planned strategies with her spouse had prepared her for her improbable future.

A few days before, she had greeted us at a modest, makeshift museum dedicated to the assassinated Ninoy. She was polite, even deferential, her voice small, high and soft. Her kids were gathered around her, the shadow of the family's loss still reflected in their young faces. They seemed isolated, and no one was sure where all this would lead.

Crowd of 1 million

Less than two years later, in 1986, she stood center stage at the capital's massive Luneta grandstand days before the national election that would make her president, confident and smiling, draped in her signature luminescent canary yellow dress and surrounded by powerful supporters as a million frenzied Filipinos shouted the opening stanza to her presidency. Only the visit of Pope John Paul II to the predominantly Catholic country could draw a crowd to match this one.

She was exactly the right person at precisely the right time in history to defeat the shrewd and tenacious totalitarian ruler, Ferdinand Marcos.

"Though unarmed," she said from the podium, in scripted language meant to invoke the religious fervor of her campaign, "I feel like the young boy David about to face the giant Goliath. If Goliath refuses to yield, we will dig into our nonviolent bag of weapons. God is with us. May God stay on our side in what we are about to do."

Privately, revealing the high-society side of her personal history, she marveled at the ailing Marcos' "fantastic will power." And, she said of his flamboyant wife, Imelda, "Let her say what she wants about me."

But some saw vanity where others saw poise. "Did she mention me by name?" she asked of Imelda. "Because (Marcos) won't." As president, she banned photos of herself eating.

'So much to do'

In office only days after elections corrupted by Marcos and a nearly inconceivable popular and military uprising, she said to me in her new quarters at the presidential compound, "I tell my family there is so much to do. I was the only one who could have made it possible for the country to do it."

President Aquino had a deep well of self-righteousness based in her Catholic piety and an internal discipline that helped her face the threat of violence and seemingly insurmountable odds. She also had strong ties to the community of nearly 400,000 Bay Area Filipinos - including her husband's family - where she enjoyed ardent support and visited as president and private citizen.

Cory - which everyone called her despite her own sense of reserve and formality - would go on to be a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and the founding figurehead of "people power" uprisings in Burma and Seoul, Tiananmen Square and Tehran. But it was her personal transformation in the lead-up to the 1986 Philippine presidential elections that informed her place in history.

Her family - the Cojuangcos - was among the nation's most elite and privileged. But her love for her high-octane husband, Ninoy, gave her a taste of the street fight that was Philippine politics. In 1972, opposing Marcos, Ninoy, then a senator, was jailed and sentenced to death along with other opposition leaders.

'Tremendous handicaps'

"I'm not that fazed," she said as she began her campaign 14 years later. "After all, this is how my life has been since martial law was declared (in '72). Ninoy and I have always lived under tremendous handicaps."

But she was still unused to the spotlight role, and uncomfortable in it. "I psyched myself into thinking I will manage very well," she said then. "I'm going to see this through." President Aquino, however, nursed grave doubts and admitted she began "on the defensive." She only shook those doubts when a godson, Jeremias de Jesus, and a campaign worker were murdered in the family province of Tarlac.

"When they killed Jerry," she told me soon after, "that had such an impact on me I went on the offensive."

She began giving speeches, calling Marcos "a coward, a liar and a thief."

"Normally I don't like attacking people," she said. "It's not my nature."

But she relished it and so did the growing crowds.

Politically timid businessmen showed up at rallies, along with priests and nuns. People touched her feet as they did the statues of saints. In Cavite Province, farmers and their families pounded on her van, squealing like movie fans catching a glimpse of their favorite star. Bands played. Confetti poured down from rooftops. She came back from these events "a completely new Cory."

She was a little naive at times, saying once that Jesse Jackson had told her he "was praying for me and said he'd talk with the Reagan administration" about her cause. Ronald Reagan backed Marcos until the Philippine strongman's bald attempt to steal the election and the subsequent "people power" rebellion.

She stood firm

But she still stood firm in the face of Marcos' bristling power. During four days of rebellion, when government tanks and soldiers faced off against citizens and uniformed insurgents, she calmly took refuge in a convent in the central Philippines, where the United States offered her a boat to return to Manila. She refused and flew back, despite warnings about her safety.

The uprising she sparked turned out to be about political change more than social change. After taking office, she fended off a series of coup attempts and catty charges that she was more interested in mahjong and designer clothing than she was in land reform or justice. More than 70 percent of Filipinos remain below the poverty level and corruption never seriously diminished.

"Campaigning was a breeze" compared with the presidency, she said as she faced the daily challenges. She liked the "cordon sanitaire" around her. "Definitely I'm not a saint, but at the same time I'd like some respect given to me. I believe in being friendly but I also believe in a certain amount of distance," she said.

She remained active

But she remained devoted to her children and active in the political life of her country, headlining People Power anniversaries and helping to unseat a presidential successor accused of corruption.

In the end, forever infused with the great sadness of her husband's bloody death, Cory Aquino was a towering representation of hope and faith.

"My philosophy of life is not to worry about things I have no control over," she once told me. "I just do what I can and leave the rest to God."

Editor's note

Phil Bronstein, then a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, covered the fall of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and the rise of Corazon Aquino.

Today, the entire Philippines (and possibly the world) mourns her death. I have so much respect for her. She has sincerity and integrity which today's leaders/politicians clearly lack. Filipinos are celebrating her life and expressing their gratitude through the color yellow or wearing a yellow ribbon which started it all.
And it ends with a yellow ribbon.

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