Yaya Juling was the one who took this photo showing me and my sister standing side by side in identical shirts and short shorts. I remember our shirts were very new then, thus the photo session. We sneakily did it mid-afternoon while everyone else was taking a siesta. We, too, were expected to be deep in an afternoon nap, but Yaya Juling, always the ringleader, allowed us to break the rules. This faded photograph is one of few from that batch that survived the great big flood.
Yes, our shirts were new then. Everyone had one, it was all the rage. Ninoy, a man I never heard of, had been murdered. And then suddenly, there was a woman named Cory. She was the hero’s wife. I was very young then and what little I understood, I grasped as a whole picture. Details, timelines — they all blurred together into the haze. All I knew was it was a story of triumph — of the good, the right, and the necessary. And that this war was wrought by peace. “It is the hand of God,” I would hear my dad and mom proclaim over meals, in gatherings in front of the TV set. In school, we drew and flashed the Laban sign. Yellow had become more than just a color.
One summer spent in Manila shortly after, we trooped to Malacañang. Cory was already president and she had opened its doors to the public in organized tours. We were excited — me, my sister Caren, Johanna, Karo and Tessa, Tita Liclic. Malacañang was the first palace we would set foot in, we were curious to know if it was swathed in silk and held up by columns of gold, as most palaces are illustrated in our book of fairy tales. It was not, but it did not disappoint. There were many, many grand rooms, but for some reason, I only vividly remember a bathroom done in lapis lazuli. Maybe that stands out in my memory because I remember thinking that while Lola Carmen had lapis lazuli earrings, here I was standing in a whole bathroom of it. I told that to my cousin Johanna and she looked down the floor and wondered out loud if there was a chipped piece or two that we could take home to give as pasalubong to Lola. The thought amuses me to this day.
But before that grand tour, we had to wait in a very, very long line that thankfully moved fast enough. Midway through our turn, a car had moved up the driveway, passing right beside where we stood in line as everyone broke into claps and cheers. It was President Cory. Her window was rolled down and she waved at the crowd and smiled a smile that reached her eyes. We were very excited: She was the first celebrity we had seen in the flesh and a very fresh Philippine president at that.
Ihad my second celebrity encounter during a trip to Manila when Richard and I were already engaged to be married. It was the birthday party of Willie Revillame at Tektite Tower and the room was full of celebrities I had only seen on TV and in the movies. Before I knew it, I was in front of Kris Aquino and Martin Nievera, and while they started talking to me I was too star-struck to mumble anything more than just “yes” or “okay.” A few months later, after my first guest appearance on her morning show as a very new bride, she sent me a huge basket of Body Shop products with a handwritten note. She knew I had yet to make friends of my own and she graciously told me to feel free to call her if I needed/wanted some female company. Shy as I was, I never quite got around to doing that, but somewhere between then and now, we managed to strike a friendship. Kris has been nothing but kind and wonderful to me, always looking out for me like a big sister especially when I started hosting my own shows. For that, I will always be grateful and thankful.
In Christmas of 2008, when I asked for Kris’ advice on something, she asked me to include her mom in our nightly prayers. Cory suddenly felt ill while at the dinner table. Kris was worried because her mom seemed to have lost weight and her appetite had dipped. Around March of last year, Richard and I were having dinner in Inagiku when Kris called to ask about my own parents’ bout with cancer (both Mommy and Daddy are cancer survivors, they were diagnosed a year apart, but in the very early stages of the disease. They have both been cancer-free for over eight years now). Their family had just gotten the results of their mother’s tests — it was cancer, already in an advanced stage. I remember Kris saying that it was something her maternal grandmother also had. Her voice was breaking while we talked. She worried out loud about how her siblings were taking it, especially one of them (I think it was her Ate Ballsy) whom she said just fell apart at the news. But through it all, it was easy to see they were all coping with it as well as could be expected, their faith in God all intact and perhaps even stronger than ever. After all, this is one family who’s no stranger to pain, and the comfort of God’s faithful mercy in dealing with it.
Iremember how happy Kris was when her mom exhibited a healthy appetite at the dinner table. She sounded excited telling me she had asked their cook to prepare a meal that her mom specifically requested for. When Baby James celebrated his birthday last year, she threw a party for him with all the trimmings — balloons, a mascot, and food carts — in the new home she shared with James and Josh. She said she did it mainly to make her mom happy because in a conversation they had shortly after her diagnosis, President Cory had mentioned that although she was ready to go anytime she felt she still had so much love to give Josh and Baby James.
Her simplicity was inspiring. Kris would tell me her mom did not care for luxury. She had attempted several times to give President Cory a fancy car, but all her mom wanted was a van. Once, when the price of the Hermes Birkin bag was brought up, President Cory said she hoped Kris was not thinking of getting one for herself. Kris assured her she had a price ceiling for any one bag she would buy and that it was well under the price of that fancier-than-fancy Birkin bag. That really pleased her mom.
When I ask people who have dined with President Cory what she was like in person, they all say she is very proper, every inch a lady, but with a warmth and innate kindness that is not put on. In the next breath, they’d also say Cory was quite talkative, with a good sense of humor and can easily keep a conversation going. “Parang Kris,” they would say. And here we all thought she only got her gift of gab from her father.
It was amusing to hear Kris relate how her mom obediently ate her fruits facing a certain spot in the house. Somehow, Kris believes in feng shui and she would relentlessly nag her mom about how it might be good for her. Finally, President Cory gave in, just so Kris would let up on her and give her some peace.
I would see President Cory in assorted functions, especially at Kris’s house, and she always smiled at anyone. It was easy to see she was a gentle soul. The one time I was able to carry a short conversation with her was when Juliana and I went to visit Kris at her home. We were set to watch the movie When I Met You (with Richard and KC Concepcion) and we still could not decide where to watch. They were also finishing a basketball game on TV. She asked me and Juliana a few questions about Juliana’s school and her sports, and then prodded Kris to hurry up and change because we might miss our movie. I was dying to have our picture taken with her, but I did not have the nerve to ask. I had my camera in my bag, but I was shy because all her children were present and she was nursing a cold. Had I been brave enough then, I’m pretty sure that being the kind and no-fuss person she was, she wouldn’t have said no. It is regrettably too late now.
About a week before President Cory passed away, Kris said in a text message sent to me at around 3 a.m. that she was always weepy and sad. She said to a certain degree she was willing to let her mother go because she could not bear to see her in so much pain. She said I should be thankful that Tito Dougs was spared from so much unnecessary pain. I told her I felt it was such a blessing still that their mother was around to feel the outpouring of love. The good in a person is always extolled and magnified when he is gone, but almost never enough while he is still around to hear and appreciate it. I asked her why she was still up at such an ungodly hour and she said she wanted to keep her mom company, even if that meant just reading quietly by her bedside, in the still of the night.
When President Cory finally breathed her last, Kris texted to say that her mom had slipped away peacefully in her sleep and that they were all doing okay. The entire nation wept with them, embracing each one of them in their grief. How beautiful is that?
We all feel for the children. Senator Noynoy Aquino just looks so broken and devastated, I want to ask him to please cry if only to let it all out. And the girls, oh the girls, once they start weeping, it is just heartbreaking.
What an extraordinary life President Aquino led, what an extraordinary woman she was! Even her dying has allowed this nation to somehow start picking up and putting back together fragmented bits of its dignity. Now, I understand more clearly what the yellow shirt I wore when I was less than 10 years old stood for.
They are a magical couple, Ninoy and Cory, and in an attempt to cheer Kris up I said it was actually kind of romantic how Ninoy was probably in the hospital room every single night, just waiting for the appointed time to finally escort her to a place where they will feel none of the sorrows they felt so much as mortals. During the wake, seeing the deep sadness in her eyes, I repeated that to her. She said in jest that she really hopes God would do something about the fact that her dad died when he was in his 40s, while her mom died in her mid 70s. She worries that Ninoy will find Cory too old for him now. I assured her that my mom once told me that she read somewhere that in heaven, everyone exists at their prime, no matter how old they were when they died. That made us laugh, filling the huge La Salle gym that overflowed with love and compassion.