The Barefoot Baklesa's tribute to Tita Cory [a memory of my youth]
The past few days, this archipelago has been grieving the loss of a remarkable woman of faith, a mother not just to her children but to a nation, and perhaps the greatest Filipina that ever graced these emerald isles: President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, the Mother of Philippine Democracy.
With all the online tributes that are pouring in via the internet, up to the minute news coverage, and the many mentions of her in blogs and networking sites, I have but a simple story to share.
It was around 6:30 in the morning in February of 1999 when I was standing by the entrance of the Rizal Study Foyer fronting Xavier Hall at the Ateneo de Manila, waiting for a delivery of flowers to be used at a conference of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines [CEAP] that would begin around 8:00am that day.
There I was, a wide-eyed Freshman, who was just happy to hang on to my scholarship in a premier Jesuit university by filling in the hours of service required of us. The only thing I knew that day was that I was supposed to decorate the venue and help out with the conference proper. This was the first time someone had entrusted me with designing public venue in the campus, perhaps the very first of my career as a set designer.
But like many things that Ate Ces of the Student Affairs office planned at the last minute, we were understaffed… And I found myself at the Front of House receiving guests, then later at the tech booth helping manage the cues of the program, and even in trouble for not knowing how to operate the switchboard that controlled the lights of the Rizal Mini Theater. It was one insane experience.
During an intermission, Ate Ces pulls me out of the booth and asked me to accompany her at the foyer entrance. She asked me to help welcome the guest speaker who had just entered campus. And as we waited outside, a car pulls in at the driveway fronting the foyer, and stepping out of it was former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino. There were only four of us who welcomed her: Rene Salvador San Andres [Associate Dean for Student Affairs], Some nun from the Order of -Pera- I meant Preachers, Ate Ces, and me.
And there I was wondering, “Why only this? Where’s the proper ceremony afforded a former head of state? Why am I here?” I suddenly found myself bowing as do the Japanese, which was really funny, now that I look back at it. And Ate Ces goes, “Help her while she’s waiting before her speech. I‘m going to get her bouquet of flowers. I left it inside the office.”
As I led her to where she was to wait, she sensed my nerves on overdrive and uttered, “Huwag na kayong mag-abala.” [roughly “Don’t make a fuss over it.”] with that gentle tone we all know so well. And my good manners getting ahead of me, I asked, “Madam, How do I address you?”
She answers, “Tita na lang.” which felt so endearing when I heard it. And with that I was just smiling the rest of the afternoon. I never could remember her speech about the value of a good Catholic education in the new millennium. Just those three words that have been very Pinoy and very Tita Cory.
Right now, a nation grieves with a little regret. Because no matter how much we love her, there are some things in this nation that haven’t changed , and some in worse shape that it was before. I think we do not grieve for her as much as we do for ourselves.