Courageous Cory faces her toughest test yet

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 March, 2008, 12:00am

Former Philippine president Corazon Aquino, the housewife and martyr's widow who toppled a dictatorship, is facing what must be her most personal test of her inner strength.

And once again, the response to an ailing former president has been overwhelming and instantaneous. People from all walks of life have shed a tear and, in response to her family's plea, prayed for her recovery.

The icon of Philippine democracy whose trademark yellow dress is as recognisable as the rosary beads in her hands, has been diagnosed with colon cancer.

Unlike the battles she has waged since being an accidental presidential hopeful when her husband, Benigno Aquino, was felled by an assassin's bullet on August 21, 1983, this time it is a war from within the delicate body of a woman who has endured more than her share of tragedy.

The former president is undergoing chemotherapy as an outpatient at Makati Medical Centre.

Mrs Aquino's appointments secretary, Margarita Juico, said: 'She is active; actually you know the effects of chemotherapy. But she is up and about.'

In her usual stoic fashion, Cory, as Mrs Aquino is known by her followers, has been telling her children since the diagnosis: 'I'm 75 years old. What more do I want?', according to The Philippine Star.

Her youngest daughter, Kris Aquino, revealed her mother has colon cancer in the primetime news programme on Monday. Ms Aquino, between sobs, pleaded for privacy to let her mother heal in peace.

'We are asking that people understand that our mother, like all other recovering patients, needs time of quiet. We respectfully ask that she be accorded her privacy,' said Ms Aquino, a popular talk-show host and former movie star.

'Our mom remains a believer in the power of prayer. We ask for your compassion and for your prayers for our mother's recovery.'

The family's sadness continued yesterday when it was revealed that Ms Aquino suffered a miscarriage the day after the announcement.

She told the Star: 'Maybe it's God's will, so that I can spend as much time as I can with my mom without risking my pregnancy.'

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who had a falling out with the Aquinos over political differences, offered her prayers for Kris as well as her 75-year-old mother. 'The president prays for Kris, especially owing to the fact that she campaigned for her in the 2004 elections,' presidential aide Cerge Remonde said.

Many private Masses, closed to the press, have been held for the ailing former president, with Mrs Aquino's family and friends attending.

People close to her have also kept the family's privacy. One of her two drivers, Teody, who has worked for her since 1963 when he was 22, said that when household staff were told about her cancer, 'to show moral support, we tried not to look sad'.

The driver, now 67, was talking outside the Aquino compound in West Triangle, Quezon City, which is marked by a memorial plaque for Ninoy, as Benigno Aquino was popularly known.

The plaque includes the late Aquino's famous words: 'The Filipino is worth dying for.' The opposition leader and ardent critic of then dictator Ferdinand Marcos was shot dead on the airport tarmac on his August 21, 1983, homecoming from medical treatment in the United States. He had been given medical parole after being jailed for eight years as a prisoner of conscience after Marcos imposed martial law in 1972.

Mrs Aquino went on to topple Marcos in a bloodless coup dubbed People's Power in 1983 and, as ex-president, she lent support to People Power II, which cut short the term of the hugely popular Joseph Estrada amid allegations of corruption.

People Power II installed Mrs Arroyo, whose popularity as president has dropped amid allegations of corruption.

Mrs Aquino most recently has been attending rallies calling for the resignation of Ms Arroyo.

Will her medical time-out blunt the opposition force which is determined to make Mrs Arroyo accountable? Or, as was her role after her husband was shot dead, will she become an even more potent rallying point?