A Filipino-American friend, who works for an American high-tech firm and is now based in China, writes about the reaction to Corazon Aquino's death inside the Philippines. So much about this note brings up the powerful and opposing feelings that I have had on every experience in the country: admiration for the heart and passion of so many individual Filipinos, and pretty much outright despair at the predicament in which they all seem trapped.
I'm in Cebu, visiting my mom and dad for the weekend. I was here the morning Corazon Aquino passed away. The outpouring of emotion and respect across the country has been tremendous. Coverage has been literally nonstop on [the main news channel] ANC (they're actually showing a live shot now of her body being prepped for transfer from La Salle Greenhills after the public viewing) and they've been replaying and reliving memories of her rise to power and the EDSA revolution....
I was just a little kid in 1986 (I was 10), and for me, it is a very powerful reminder of how passionate the Filipino people can be and how this became such an iconic moment of democracy for the rest of the world.
A few things struck me as quite interesting about "Tita Cory's" passing:...I thought Hu Jintao's statement of condolences was also gracious and obligatory, but colored by the idea that People Power didn't go so well in Tiananmen Square in 1989. (Media here is even citing people in Beijing shouting "Cory! Cory!" during the TS protests, but I've never heard that before).
The fact that she will not receive a state burial befitting a former president is also fascinating. The idea that, even in death, she and her family opted to continue her life as a private citizen is a strong statement for leaders everywhere. As her family has stated (starting with Ninoy), public service is just that: Service. "After that, you're done. You're nothing," said Ninoy. [Ninoy = her assassinated husband, senator Benigno Aquino.]
And finally, after taking my father to an afternoon of sabong (cockfighting) here in Mandaue City, we talked about the state of the country in his eyes since EDSA. He came to the U.S. in May of 1972, just four months before Marcos' declared martial law. He is a former priest who was in seminary since the age of 15 and witnessed the US routing of Japan from Sorsogon as a small boy at the end of WWII. Now he and my mother are back to live the rest of their lives in their home country. What's changed?
"A lot has changed. Nothing has gotten better." And he's right.
While the financial and metro centers have burst with commerce and flash, there's still such an incredible disparity here between the rich and poor, moreso than I've seen in China, or any other place I've been, for sure. The government is still dealing in graft and corruption (something my father is actually working against here, via the Catholic diocese) on GMA's watch. There are still scores of young girls prostituting themselves. And there is still violence in Mindinao and elsewhere stemming from New People's Army factions and Muslim extremists.
What's really changed?
"Here is a land in which few are spectacularly rich, while the masses remain abjectly poor..." It's 2009! [The quote is from Ninoy Aquino about the Philippines under Marcos.]
The cockfighting is still the same. There are still "villages" with high walls and razor wire. But now there are SuperMalls settled in next to tin-and-cardboard squats and internet cafes littering even the most destitute parts of town, with some barrios even siphoning power from the local mainlines.
From my perspective (and my father's) Filipinos are very much about symbolism, less about concreteness. There's this idea, as you mention in your Cory Aquino article, that while a regime change in 1986 may have been a monumental symbol for the country, it has still struggled to make concrete, fundamental cultural changes for the overwhelming better ever since. As you mention, it might be a nationalized codependency issue. My father thinks it's actually a mix of that cultural "neutering" and an overdependence on the Catholic faith to carry people through. The churches are standing-room only, yet there is still a sense of self-protection and insularity that seems to dam the notion of brotherly love and supporting one another, at least in my observation. People will still cheat the meter, officials still take bribes and see prostitutes, and people feel like that's just the way it's done. My dad thinks he even got scammed at the cockpits yesterday.
However, the pomp and circumstance of this weekend's coverage has been inspiring to me, personally. I'd like to see how it might affect my outlook or my art. I do admire Ninoy and Corazon Aquino for their integrity and heroics to promote what was right about democracy. I'd like to see how their legacy of determined nationalism affects the Filipino people from here on out. Or is this just another symbol to savor, but then move on with life?
As I write this, thousands of people are gathered on Ayala Ave. now, the sky filled with a blizzard of yellow confetti as Tita Cory's body arrives in Makati. "They say that People Power is dead," said a correspondent. "But haven't seen anything like this since 1986."