Since she came into power in 1986, I’ve always felt a special kinship with former President Cory Aquino, whom I fondly call my Tita Cory. Maybe because being the first woman President of this country, it gratifies me that she’s a fellow Assumptionista, who may have gone through the same school life experiences as I had and have walked along the same corridors as I did. Outwardly, Tita Cory seems to give an aura of frailty or delicateness but surely, her strength of character and uprightness never cease to enthrall me ever since I came to know her up-close in 1992 when we found ourselves on the same boat as I and my husband, former Speaker Joe de Venecia, of the so-called Pangasinan express, pushed for the presidency and eventual victory of President Fidel V. Ramos.
Now that our commonality went beyond our school, I began to notice how low-keyed she was despite her remarkable role in our country’s history. My great impression and admiration of her grew, when during the Ramos Administration, there was never an incident that she tried to exert influence on matters concerning her personal interest. Instead, she remained on the sidelight, an oblivious yet very strong presence, never interfering but one who would always be at hand just in case she’d be needed.
Because of this, I developed genuine fondness to the unassuming, yet resilient leader that is Tita Cory. So much so, that I would solicit her advices in matters that required sensitive handling. I even requested her amiable and dear daughter, Kris Aquino, who is also close to my heart, to be the godmother of my dearest daughter, KC.
Since then, being with Tita Cory became a big thrill for me. In September of 1997, Tita Cory and I were entrusted by President Ramos to attend and represent our country in the funeral of Mother Teresa in Calcutta. Here, I felt blessed and humbled to witness kings and head of states pay tribute to a modest and selfless nun whose life demonstrated God’s great love especially for the sick and the hungry. That experience was made even more profound by the fact that I shared it with Tita Cory — our country’s symbol of social justice and humility.
Then came the presidential elections of 1998. I would often hear people say that a person’s truthfulness and sincerity is measured when one is at his/her grimmest. After Joe’s defeat in that year’s presidential elections, our pain was aggravated with the stillness in our home in Magnolia Street that was usually teemed with followers. Just days after the election, it was transformed into a sad vacuum of space. To make matters worse, people whom we thought were friends have refused to even take our calls. Many of our ‘fair-weathered’ friends had change of hearts, but not my Tita Cory.
She was my first guest when I celebrated my birthday in February of 1999. She came ahead of everybody and left just before the next guest arrived, just to make sure we could spend quality time. Her words still echoed in my mind up to this day. She said, “Gina, when you were on top, I wasn’t always there but now that you need a friend, I want you to know that I’m here.” Little did she know that her words and her very presence renewed my faith in human kindness.
On the eve of December 16, 2004, Joe and I experienced the most agonizing and unimaginable pain that parents could ever have ---the lost of a dear, dear child. It happened on the eve of the first simbang gabi just when the country was eagerly awaiting Christmas and was surrounded with the joyous spirit of the season.
Almost everyday, during our deep mourning, Tita Cory was there, attending the daily masses offered for our dearest KC. And on Christmas day, instead of spending this special moment with her family, Tita Cory was communing with us, as we commemorated KC’s ninth day. She was there in silent prayer, comforting us with her presence and making us feel that we have a sincere friend even during our darkest hours.
In 2007, when some officials of the Lakas party were persuading me to run for a seat in the Senate, I decided to consult someone who, I know, can be truly trusted, a person who would give me the best advice for my own good and our country’s interest. My Tita Cory.
I remembered exactly how she described her own discernment process, when she ran as President. She said that she prayed hard for guidance and wisdom. And when she was enlightened to make a go for the presidency, she said she cried as she realized the gravity of the task she would pursue. Yet, she embraced the challenge unquestioningly as a true servant of the Lord would do.
Heeding the counsel of Tita Cory, I requested Sister Herminigildes of the Pink Sisters to help me with my own discernment process. On the ninth day of my discernment process ( which included fasting, abstinence and attending daily masses), after I cut the bible asking the Lord to give me an answer, I found myself staring at the Book of Esther, which chronicled the life of a patriotic queen who was raised as an instrument of God to avert the destruction of the Jewish people.
Following her example, I submitted myself to promote Joe’s interest and devoted my attention in his congressional bid in Pangasinan. True enough, Joe was faced by an opponent made formidable by forces from the GMA camp who had planned Joe’s ‘assassination’ right at his home. They did not succeed.
As fate had it, after only eight months, my husband was ousted as Speaker. And who would I find at my side but My Tita Cory. Together, we fought for our quest for truth and the evils in our government through prayer rallies and masses. In jest, she told me, ”Gina, I never thought that at my age of 75, I would still be in mass actions.” To which, I replied, “Tita, you cannot retire because the country needs you. The people need an inspiration and a unifying force. You are that person.”
To the world, she will always be the symbol of a bloodless revolution. To me, she will always be my Tita Cory -- a role model in integrity, the glow of reason in times of darkness, and someone who finds strength and perseverance in prayer. I believe the Lord has blessed Tita Cory with the gift of His peace — an inner tranquility that calms the heart and soothes the soul.