MANILA, MARCH 29, 2008
(STAR) PEOPLE By Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - When told that she had colon cancer, former President Cory Aquino responded the way she had always faced trials in her life — with strength and faith.

A close family member who was present during the moment of truth said Mrs. Aquino simply said, “I am 75. I have lived a full life. I cannot complain...”

She then told her doctor that she did not want to see people crying.

The late STAR columnist Teddy Benigno, a close friend of the Aquinos and Cory’s former Press Secretary once told me, “For the Aquinos, courage is the highest virtue. That’s why President Cory was deeply hurt when it was written that she hid under the bed during one coup attempt.”

Teddyman said Ninoy and Cory never turned their back on a good fight and always faced danger with courage. When the rebel soldiers were closing in on her Arlegui residence during the 1989 coup attempt and death stared her in the eye, Cory refused to leave the Palace. Instead, she turned over her most valuable possessions, including Ninoy’s prison diaries, to her trusted Appointments Secretary Margie Juico. She told Margie, who had young children then, to leave the Palace because it was getting dangerous for Margie. Cory would survive that trial, and many more after.

In the six years I covered her at Malacañang, and in the 16 years after the presidency, I have seen how she lived her life — fully trusting in God but never negating the power of hard work.

She always used to say that she was not a worrier. She told me this was her motto: “I work with all my might, pray with all my heart and leave the rest to God.”

She once told me how she almost gave up the struggle after seeing Ninoy in a military stockade in Laur, Nueva Ecija, after days of not knowing whether he was still alive. But somehow Marcos would never dangle an offer for Ninoy’s freedom when she was at her weakest and always, always Cory would regain her strength and resolve to continue the struggle for democracy.

Stricken with cancer now, the same disease her late mother Doña Demetria Sumulong Cojuangco suffered from, Cory, praying with all her heart, will not give up easily. So wouldn’t those who care for her — whose outpouring for support is said to have energized the former President.

“Mrs. Aquino is happy and grateful that so many people are praying for her,” said her former Press Undersecretary Deedee Siytangco.

* * *

I asked Margie, one of the few non-relatives in Cory’s confidence, what her prayer is for her boss.

“My prayer for her is for God to grant her, her heart’s desire. I pray at this time that she be spared from pain and discomfort that usually accompany this illness... and that this, too, shall pass!” Margie said.

I asked Margie if this is the most difficult trial yet for Cory, whom everybody knows is no stranger for suffering. (Once, Cory told me that a nun had told her that suffering is a manifestation of God’s love. In one of her most trying moments, Cory said she jokingly asked God not to love her too much.)

“Physically, this may be the most painful trial yet of her life although I cannot say this is the most difficult for her,” believes Margie. “What she may find difficult is the inconvenience she may be imposing on people due to this ailment. For the 20 or more years I have worked with her, I have not seen her dwell much on her difficulties nor complain about her predicament. Tita Cory has managed to forget herself and be others-centered, focusing on the country, its people and her family.

“For others, I am sure this illness can somehow make the afflicted bitter, thinking that he or she does not deserve this suffering. With Tita Cory, she has managed to accept with humility whatever trial God has given her. And in faith, she is able to transcend. I hope this will not be any different.”

Margie said that after learning of her beloved boss’ illness, she sometimes feels like asking God, “When will you be through with her? She has suffered enough, spare her this time and lift the heavy load off her back...”

Margie says that though grateful for the outpouring of support, Cory’s children are very protective of their mother and her privacy.

“The children only want their mother to rest. Sana well-meaning friends will honor the request. This is not a walk in the park!”

* * *

When I asked Cory on the eve of her 75th birthday how it felt to be 75, she laughed, “In fact I never thought I’d really live to be this old. I never thought of myself as, you know, doing well... for such a long time.”

Even 75 is old for you, I asked her.

“I think so. Maybe because Ninoy went at 50. And... what else is there for me to do?”

Cory Aquino has given up a lot for this country, before, during and after her presidency. She need not do anything more for the country and should rightfully just enjoy her retirement. But as to what is there for her to do, I would say, “Ma’am, you are a moral force that inspires many Filipinos to do what is right, courageous and honorable. Just be around us longer, for fewer people these days are motivated by what they believe is right. You show that even when you risk being unpopular, you do what you think is right.”

Democracy-loving Filipinos may not always agree with Cory Aquino. But they will always need her.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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