"One man can only do so much, but a nation can definitely do more."
I voted for Noynoy Aquino in 2010. It was a choice fueled by a youthful idealism shaped by many years of post-EDSA education, and by emotions stirred by the death of democracy icon Cory Aquino. Not only did I vote for him, I campaigned for him, believing that he would propel the change that my generation earnestly hoped for.
In his first State of the Nation Address as president, I remember posting on Facebook that the election of Noynoy Aquino made me proud to be Filipino. It was, I believe, the political euphoria that seemed at that time to prevail over politics in the country.
Then the debates for the Reproductive Health Act happened.
Then the Disbursement Acceleration Program.
Then supertyphoon Yolanda devastated our home region of Eastern Visayas.
By the time six years was almost over, the mighty torch of optimism had become but a flicker, and I was more than eager to see the next president take on the job.
It is a very Filipino trait to speak well of the deceased – I agree with it. We all hope to be remembered well for our past actions and decisions, and hopefully leave behind a legacy that will outlive us. The least we can do is to do the same for those who come before us.
Notwithstanding my own personal disagreements and frustrations with how the last years of his presidency turned out to be, I believe Noynoy Aquino deserved to be remembered well – for his immense audacity to embrace so gargantuan a task to be president of the nation.
For that reason alone, Noynoy Aquino deserves our nation’s gratitude.
He was not perfect. He was not without his flaws. He certainly knew his weaknesses.
He knew politics was a thankless, damn-if-you-damn-if-you-don’t job.
But despite the odds, he pressed on.
His parents, Ninoy and Cory Aquino, were acknowledged giants in our nation’s history. I can only imagine how much of a responsibility it was to be their son. How it was even more difficult to follow their footsteps in serving the country.
Funerals, it is often said, are more for the living than it is for the dead. The familiar rituals of death are often for the consolation of the grieving than they are to edify the deceased. The same is true with Noynoy Aquino’s passing from this life. Suddenly, we all have to pause, not only to observe the usual obsequies, but to remind ourselves even more powerfully of the frail and fragile reality of human existence.
At the end of this life, both princes and paupers will have to leave this world for the next. By then our politics, power and possessions would no longer be of consequence.
Truth be told, these past two years of the pandemic have made us all too familiar with death. Many of us have lost dear family and friends, often without the usual comforts of a final send-off. Physical distancing has kept us from hugging each other, and restricted us from crowding during wakes. More often than not, remains have to be cremated, denying even the closest of our family one last final glimpse of the deceased.
Seeing Noynoy Aquino’s urn placed on top of a simple table bedecked with flowers reminded me of how this crisis has changed even the way a nation grieves for a former president.
In her death, Cory Aquino stirred our nation’s conscience and made us think of what went wrong that needed to be corrected.
In his passing, Noynoy Aquino prompts us to remember the good that every Filipino needs to do.
There is no doubt that since his term as president ended, our country has become even more polarized and divided.
Both sides of the divide have been wanting to speak, but care less to listen. Both have been too eager to point out the wrong, but too proud to admit their mistakes. Both have deigned to be selfless, only in the end to be blinded by their own selfish interests.
I pray that with his death, Noynoy Aquino will remind us that all of us Filipinos are but one nation and for both sides of the divide to remember that despite imaginary mountains of partisanship and ideologies that seem to separate us, we are all neighbors after all.
Neighbors that according to Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti are bound together into a single human family.
The truth, however, is that presidents do come and go, and in the end, the ultimate task of building this nation depends not only on the actions of one man, but upon our own collective efforts. A president can lead us where to go, but the choice whether to make the journey is for all of us to make.
I have no doubt Noynoy Aquino did the best he could to serve our nation well.
Many of us would think his best was not good enough – that is a question that we better ask ourselves. For his every action with which we disagreed, each one of us bore part of the responsibility of correcting it.
In the end, lest we forget, we will have to account for our own actions in the same way we demand it from others.
One man can only do so much, but a nation can definitely do more.
Thank you, PNoy!